March 2024: Reimagining Places of the Past: Historic Preservation Lecture Series

The Genealogy & Local History Library is partnering with Alton Area Landmarks Association (AALA) this winter to bring back our three-part Saturday lecture series in January, February, and March. AALA is dedicated to educating, promoting, and saving the architectural heritage of the Alton area. 

Seating is limited. Register at 1-800-613-3163.

Part 3: The Gateway Arch: An Illustrated Timeline with John C. Guenther

Saturday, March 16, 10:00 a.m.

The Hayner Public Library District – Genealogy & Local History Library welcomes author, architect, and historian John C. Guenther to discuss his new book, The Gateway Arch: An Illustrated Timeline.

The book takes a chronological look at the historical foundations of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, beginning in 1699 with the Louisiana Territory, with 90 historical events which led to the realization of the Gateway Arch and the latest refinements to the memorial grounds and new museum.

As Guenther writes in the book’s Introduction: “As impressive as the Gateway Arch is, the story of how this monument came to be is equally remarkable. This book seeks to “connect the dots” of history, illustrating key points in time which led to the creation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the Gateway Arch. Within this context, the reader may better understand and appreciate the importance of this site, the historical events that shaped our nation, region, Missouri, and St. Louis across time, and how the Memorial and Gateway Arch grew out of these events, honoring, celebrating, and raising our awareness of them.”

Architect John C. Guenther, FAIA, LEED AP holds a fellowship in the American Institute of Architects for notable contributions to the advancement of the profession of architecture in design and was a lecturer in the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, where he co-founded and taught Mid-Century Modernism in St. Louis 1930–1970. John serves as president of the Society of Architectural Historians–St. Louis Chapter. He wrote “Missouri’s Architectural Treasures,” published by Missouri Life Magazine; “25 Must-See Buildings in Missouri” for USA TODAY; and the introduction to The Lost St. Louis Riverfront 1930-1943, which documents the historic riverfront architecture removed in anticipation of Gateway Arch National Park.

It will be recorded and available on to be viewed for free.

*After the lecture, AALA members please stay for short meeting and an election for three board members.

Miles: The Miles Davis House at 1112 Milnor has been nominated as a city landmark. Miles was born in the house on May 26, 1926. He is a world famous jazz musician. Normally, houses are nominated as a landmark because of their architectural importance. But, a property may also be nominated because of the important contributions to the community, state and nation of someone who lived there. Clearly, Miles Davis’s musical greatness qualifies. At its meeting on February 20th, the Alton Historical Commission found the nomination complied with the criteria for the ordinance and set Thursday March 21st at 7:00 pm as the date for a public hearing. Please consider attending the meeting in the city council chambers to support this effort to recognize and preserve Alton’s remaining link to this musical legend.

Bruner: The Captain John Bruner House at 1423 State Street is for sale. A beautiful house that was on the AALA Historic House Tour in 2018.

Turner: Turner Hall, Fourth and Ridge Streets, burned down on February 2nd. It was a social center for German immigrants built in 1867. Cause of the fire is unknown. It was one of the oldest buildings in the state built by a private social or fraternal organization. We lose historic buildings from fires, storms, owner neglect, cars running into them, etc. This just makes us more determined to save a building like 427 East Fourth Street. A property company bought this 1880 house in the Middletown Historic District and now decided they don’t want it, so they have asked for a demolition permit from the Historical Commission to tear it down. Drive by it. It looks to be a solid duplex.

Worse: Possibly the worse block of brick street is the 500 block of William west of downtown. It has holes, dips, patches, waves and bumps. This is the first street someone can turn on coming down the Great River Road. The first two blocks of William from Broadway were “repaired” a couple of years ago and are very difficult to drive on also.

Buckmaster House: Another Pfeiffenberger designed house that is in dangerous condition is the Mrs. Mary A. And Miss Julia Buckmaster House at 1121 State Street in the Christian Hill Historic District.  This two story frame house with four bedrooms and a fireplace was built in 1901 for $2734.75.

Bridge: The Clark Bridge is getting new lighting in 2024. Watch for more news about it later.

Seventh: West Seventh Street is open for traffic. The steepest brick street in America has been closed for sewer work.

Floodwall: Click here to read the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers report on solutions for flooding in our downtown.

Lights: Barth Park, also known as Seminary Square, needs some lighting. It is very very dark walking on the sidewalk through the park at night.

New Park: We recently had a meeting with AltonWorks about their plans for downtown. One of the interesting projects is a proposal to create a new national park beside Alton. The Great Rivers National Park would include the confluences of the Mississippi River with the Illinois and Missouri Rivers. It is only a proposal now, but someday we all may be living next door to a National Park.

Most endangered: For the second year the AALA is nominating the Koenig House to Landmarks Illinois’ Ten Most Endangered Places in Illinois list. The Koenig House (829 East Fourth Street) is owned by the Alton Museum of History and Art. The Koenig House and its neighboring house the Wilhelm House (314 Oak Street) were given to the Museum by relatives of the Koenigs. They are both in dire condition. The Museum, which has not been open for several years, is derelict in its duty to maintain the buildings.

Donations: Donations or dues can be mailed to the AALA, Box 232, Alton, IL 62002 or made through our website. Individual dues are $15.00 a year.  Family membership is $25.00 a year. Contributions are tax deductible.  Help us be a strong voice in preserving historic Alton. Thank you for your support. And remember to contribute to the other local organizations that enrich your life.

Booklet: We are revising the brown Driving Tour of Alton booklet. Do you see any buildings that should be added or subtracted from the booklet? With the expansion of the Middletown Historic District to include the Broadway corridor, what buildings downtown should be included in the booklet?

Sparks: The Sparks Building at 210 William Street is the first building one sees when one drives into Alton on the River Road. It is in terrible shape with weeds growing in its gutters. Next to the Civil War Prison and owned by Ardent Mills, the Lucas Pfeiffenberger designed building is one of the few buildings downtown near the river that is above the flooding level. Designed in the Craftsman style, it cost $12,000 to build in 1915.

Ardent tried to demolish the building a few years ago, but the city stepped in and stopped them.  The roof has rotted through in places. Now it is demolition by neglect.

House Tour 2022:  We are featuring a free video tour of the Lyman Trumbull House on the AALA website. The Lyman Trumbull House is the only building in Alton that rates the National Historic Landmark status from the National Register of Historic Places.  The AALA thanks homeowners Erica and Jason Swagler for allowing this video to be made of their home. Please consider a donation to the AALA. It is easy to do through our website also.

UPDATE: It’s official! The amended brick street ordinance which the AALA has strongly supported received final approval from the Alton City Council. The vote was unanimous. Under the ordinance, almost all of Alton’s 10 miles of brick streets are now protected from being paved. Over 40 brick streets were added to the protected list, including Market St., Alby St., 15th St. and 7th St, the world’s steepest brick street. Any repairs to brick streets will have to be done with vitrified street brick. No more new concrete patches in any brick streets.

Next, we need to start repairing some of these brick streets.

Bricks:   The Historical Commission with assistance from Landmarks has completed a survey of all of the brick streets in Alton finding 82 streets totaling over 10 miles of streets. One of the great advantages of being on the protected list is that utilities are required to repair any excavation in a brick street with brick. Otherwise, the utility can repair with concrete or asphalt leaving ugly scars on the street. There are enough of those already that were made before the brick street ordinance was adopted without adding more.

Haskell House:  The important news about the Haskell House is the discovery of its architect. While sorting through blueprints in its attic, it was found that the house was designed by renowned German born American architect Theodore C. Link. Link was the architect of the Hayner Library at 401 State, the First Presbyterian Church at West Fourth and Alby Streets and the St. Louis Union Station.

Last summer $250,000 was allocated from the American Recovery Act funds to do renovation work on the house.

THE WEDGE: The 1904 Wedge Bank building in downtown Alton is getting a $21 million renovation by its owner John Simmons and AltonWorks. It will become the Wedge Innovation Center.

AALA vs. Historical Commission:  Have you been confused about the difference between the AALA and the Alton Historical Commission? They are both involved in historic preservation in Alton, but there are significant differences between them.

The Alton Area Landmarks Association is a not-for-profit association that was formed in 1970 dedicated to the historic preservation of buildings and sites in the greater Alton area, including those in the three historic districts in Alton. The AALA, among other activities, sponsors an annual house tour of historic homes, sponsors educational lectures on historic preservation topics and is a resource for those interested in historic preservation. The AALA also started the very popular house history repository at Hayner Library.

The Alton Historical Commission was created by an Alton city ordinance in 1997 and is composed of seven members appointed by the mayor. The Commission, among other duties, reviews applications for building permits that alter the appearance of buildings in the three national register historic districts and those buildings separately listed on the National Register. It gives out annual awards to recognize property owners who have completed projects that further the goals of historic preservation. It advises the city on issues affecting historic preservation. It reviews applications for new city landmarks and historic districts. It performs other duties as directed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency such as commenting on the proposed addition of Alton landmarks and historic districts to the National Register.

Tour:  Type in address below to see the 1974 AALA tour of lower State Street.

House Tour 2024:  The 49th AALA House Tour is available to the public for free. “Then & Now” is a free download from our website. Paper versions of the tour are at the downtown Visitors Center at Piasa and West Broadway. The tour features historic pictures of buildings still standing in Alton. The tour is a drive-by only tour. Except for the buildings which are ordinarily open to the public, you can not go into the buildings. Please consider a donation to the AALA for this free tour.  Remember the 2020 drive-by tour is still available on our website for free, also. That tour is of Sears and other manufacturer’s kit houses in Alton.

Sidewalks: Consider adopting a brick sidewalk to clean off. Our brick streets and sidewalks give Alton its character. Too many of our brick sidewalks are covered with grass. If they are cleaned off, people will use them and they will remain clean. Any bushes and shrubs should be cleared off sidewalks for safety. Lots of people are walking for exercise and fun. They deserve clean sidewalks.

REVITALIZED: Local attorney John Simmons and his wife Jayne have announced their plans to invest $75 million to the revitalization of downtown Alton. Mr. Simmons has been acquiring buildings in Alton. His plan divides the downtown into three districts: the Grand Entertainment District, the Broadway Makers District and the Jacoby Arts District. This could be an exciting rebirth for our area.

Accepted: The Abbott Machine Company building, formerly the Alton Gas & Electric Power House on the Great River Road, has been accepted to be on the National Register of Historic Places.  The building, at 700 West Broadway, was built in 1913. Other than the Union Brewery at 1421 Pearl Street, this is Alton’s first industrial building to be on the Register.