May 2024

Court: If you would like to read the court order about the commons, go to the AALA website (see above) and click on “Our History”. Read the article by Bob St. Peters about the case and then click on “Court Order” at the end. Also there is good article about the case labeled “News Article”.

Ader: We have also been in touch with David Ader, the lawyer who handled the commons case through 13 years of court. He is well and healthy and has volunteered to help the AALA if there is more legal battles concerning the Alton commons. Thanks, Mr. Ader.

The Berm Highway Case: Binding legal precedent that controls the use of the Alton Riverfront

In 1973 the Illinois Department of Transportation sought to extend the Berm Highway (Illinois Route 3) alongside the Mississippi River through Alton’s Riverfront Park. The newly organized Alton Area Landmarks Association objected and made its mission to preserve the river front park as intended by Alton’s founding fathers Rufus Easton and William Russell.

The Alton Area Landmarks filed suit and over the course of 13 years of litigation the Courts declared that Easton Commons and Russell Commons shall be held by the City of Alton in Trust for perpetuity for the benefit of Alton’s citizens and the use of the land restricted as set forth in the original Plat dedication “for park and park-like purposes”. The Berm Highway was rerouted off the Riverfront grounds and Landmarks Boulevard was named in honor of Alton Area Landmarks Association’s victory preserving the riverfront for the citizens of Alton.

The City of Alton has trust over the land but not ownership. The Court order mandates that the city follow its continuing obligation to promote the use of lands for park and park-like purposes. Any ordinance passed by the city regarding the land must be filed with the Court for approval. Alton Area Landmarks continues to be the guardian of the land, overseeing the preservation of the park and ensuring its continued use for park and park-like purposes.

In the recent past an amphitheater, playground, picnic shelters and a bike trail have been constructed in the park, all improvements within the founders’ intention for use for park and park purposes. More recently, Alton Area Landmarks Association was asked to approve and endorse the construction of a $10 million dollar visitors center including an area dedicated to parking of tour buses in Riverfront Park on the land where the Alton’s Farmer’s Market is held. The AALA objected, citing the Berm Highway case, legal precedent that mandates the land be used exclusively for park and park-like purposes. Alton Area Landmarks Association stands ready to continue its mission to preserve the Alton Riverfront Park for the citizens of Alton to enjoy in perpetuity.

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.

Miles: At its March 21, 2024 meeting, the Alton Historical Commission unanimously voted to designate the Miles Davis house at 1112 Milnor Avenue an Alton city landmark. Miles Davis is the internationally recognized jazz musician who was born in Alton in 1926. Alton has recognized Miles Davis with a statute on Third Street downtown and now further recognizes him by designating his house as a landmark. Several members of the public spoke in favor of the nomination at the public hearing, including Terry Sharp, president of Landmarks. While Alton has hundreds of homes listed on the National Register, the city landmark process is another method to protect historic homes in Alton.

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. Another house for sale is at 609 Beacon. Soon 427 East Fourth Street will be for sale.

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. Recently someone did some work on the house. The city posted a “stop work” notice on the unauthorized renovation.

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.

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.

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.

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 2021:  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.

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.