Upper Alton Historic District
Alton Illinois is a great example of an American city that still has most of its historic homes intact. Within the three historic districts- Christian Hill, Middletown, and Upper Alton- Victorian, Federal, Italianate, Gothic and Greek revival homes and businesses still thrive and are occupied. Unlike in larger American cities which have demolished much of their historic districts, Alton has embraced their historic architecture and preserved it- choosing to revitalize historic properties instead of build over them- with much help towards that goal provided by the Alton Area Landmarks Association.
Alton is one of the top 10 oldest cities in Illinois which makes Alton's historic districts that much more distinguished. The city has been home to many American political, economic, and social figures, was a last stop and jumping point for Westward Expansion, a stronghold for the Union in the fight against the confederacy, and an important crossroads of industrialization and travel which helped build the infrastructure of the United States.
Great shakers of industry forged economic wealth through railroad companies, limestone quarries, brick and glass factories, flour mills, and powder mills and the Alton area thrived through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The industrial revolution allowed mass produced objects for the home and made obtaining a lavish household more attainable. Many grand houses and buildings sprung up in Alton between the end of the 19th century and the 1930’s- Victorian, Italianate, and federalist architecture dominating the designs of wealthy households.
Industrial magnates, insurance companies, doctors, politicians, and landowners wanted their wealth and influence to be reflected in their architecture and were willing to pay talented architects- men like Theodore Link, Lucas and John Pfeiffenberger, Thomas Walsh, Barnett, Haynes, and Barnett, and Henry Richardson- to design and build glorious buildings made to last. Victorian homes spared no expense in their design- full of extravagant details and ornate layers- the homes are considered the opposite of the more down-to-earth and practical Arts and Crafts Movement which produced the Craftsman Style.
The Upper Alton District ranks as the smallest historic district of Alton with only 75 buildings. Many of the oldest and largest buildings are on Seminary Street and College Avenue, named for the multitude of educational institutions built in the area, and were built to house professors and teachers. Most of the historic houses in the Upper Alton District are Victorian or Federal Style, though the Orlando Castle House is built in the Italianate Style.
The Western Military Academy on Seminary and Loomis Hall are some of the oldest educational buildings in Illinois. Shurtleff College, now Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville and Southern Illinois School for Dental Medicine, lies at the corner of Seminary and College and its campus is home to the life-sized statue of Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man. The Alton Museum of History and Art is across the street from Robert Wadlow's statue.
Go on self-guided Historic Alton Driving Tour to see this district and more!