1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alton (city)

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ALTON, a city of Madison county, Illinois, U.S.A., in the W. part of the state, on the Mississippi river, about 10 m. above the mouth of the Missouri, and about 25 m. N. of St Louis, Missouri. Pop. (1890) 10,294; (1900) 14,210, of whom 1638 were foreign-born; (1910) 17,528. Alton is served by the Chicago & Alton, the Chicago, Peoria & St Louis, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St Louis, and the Illinois Terminal railways. The river is here spanned by a bridge. The residential portion of the city lies on the river bluffs, some of which rise to a height of 250 ft. above the water level, and the business streets are on the bottom lands of the river. Alton has a public library and a public park. Upper Alton (pop. 2918 in 1910), about 11/2 m. N.E. of Alton, is the seat of the Western Military Academy (founded in 1879 as Wyman Institute; chartered in 1892), and of Shurtleff College (Baptist, founded in 1827 at Rock Spring, removed to Upper Alton in 1831, and chartered in 1833), which has a college of liberal arts, a divinity school, an academy and a school of music; and the village of Godfrey, 51/2 m. N. of Alton, is the seat of the Monticello Ladies’ Seminary, founded by Benjamin Godfrey, opened in 1838, and chartered in 1841. Among the manufactures of Alton are iron and glass ware, miners’ tools, shovels, coal-mine cars, flour, and agricultural implements; and there are a large oil refinery and a large lead smelter. The value of the city’s factory products increased from $4,250,389 in 1900 to $8,696,814 in 1905, or 104·6%.

The first settlement on the site of Alton was made in 1807, when a trading post was established by the French. The town was laid out in 1817, was first incorporated in 1821, and in 1827 was made the seat of a state penitentiary, which was later removed to Joliet, the last prisoners being transferred in 1860. Alton was first chartered as a city in 1837. In 1836 the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy (1802–1837), a native of Albion, Maine, removed the Observer, a religious (Presbyterian) periodical of which he was the editor, from St Louis to Alton. He had attracted considerable attention in St Louis by his criticisms of slavery, but though he believed in emancipation, he was not a radical abolitionist. After coming to Alton his anti-slavery views soon became more radical, and in a few months he was an avowed abolitionist. His views were shared by his brother, Owen Lovejoy (1811–1864), a Congregational minister, who also at that time lived in Alton, and who from 1857 until his death was an able anti-slavery member of Congress. Most of the people of southern Illinois were in sympathy with slavery, and consequently the Lovejoys became very unpopular. The press of the Observer was three time destroyed, and on the 7th of November 1837 E. P. Lovejoy was killed while attempting to defend against a mob a fourth press which he had recently obtained and which was stored in a warehouse in Alton. His death caused intense excitement throughout the country, and he was everywhere regarded by abolitionists as a martyr to their cause. In 1897 a monument, a granite column surmounted by a bronze statue of Victory, was erected in his honour by the citizens of Alton and by the state.

See Henry Tanner, The Martyrdom of Lovejoy (Chicago, 1881), and “The Alton Tragedy” in S. J. May’s Some Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston, 1869).