"Home of the Gentle Giant" Alton by mydreamquest

Alton Travel Guide: 12 reviews and 46 photos

Alton, Illinois

Last July 2011, I embarked on a special kind of vacation that I implore all of you to attempt at least once in your lifetime: explore your ancestral history. My last name is Ukena, which is originated in a small town in an area of Germany known as Lower Saxony, specifically in the East Frisia (Ostfriesland) Region not far from Leer, a city that means "empty" in english.

My Ukena ancestry left Germany and wound up near Edwardsville, Illinois, not far from St. Louis, Missouri. For about a year, I had been researching my family history attempting to understand why they chose this part of the US. The most likely explanation was a combination of available supply of land and a surplus of farmers in Germany/Europe. This region of Illinois appears to have encouraged German immigration. If you go to Illinois, you'll notice it is filled with farmland.

In doing my research, I found a distant cousin who lives in Swansea, not far from St. Louis and within a 20-30 minute drive of where my (our) Ukena ancestry settled. She and her husband Steve were kind enough to take me on a fun road trip to visit this region of Illinois where my family name migrated to. After my 3rd Great Grandmother died (Gesche Ukena), one son moved his family north up to Pana. Another wound up in Bethalto, Illinois. One traveled to Arkansas. My 2nd Great Grandfather moved to Kansas. The one who went to Bethalto, had children who settled here in Alton, Illinois.

As my cousin, separated from me by 3 lines of generations, drove me to historical family haunts, I found myself as interested, if not more interested, in this as if I were were visiting Civil War memorial, or a site of a famous historical event.

For I was visiting areas where people connected to me in blood lived their lives. Lives distant from my urban life in the San Francisco Bay Area, but lives that were a deep part of me that were close to and in fact, a part of, my heart.

It was July and it was extremely hot that day, over 100 degrees and extreme humidity. Alton is a quiet river city with a population of around 25,000-30,000 people. The best way to approach Alton is along the Mississippi River on the Great River Road where is provides many scenic river views and where you can see the state of Missouri just on the other side. In the center of the city, it is filled will many mature trees and well kept residences with clean parks. The first highlight I experienced was that of visiting the life sized Robert Pershing statue. Robert Pershing is in the Guiness Book of Worlds Records as being the tallest man known in history. He lived to be 8 feet 11.1" tall.

Site of one of the 7 Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

In 1858, Alton held the final of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, the most famous political debate in American History that sparked and intensified the discussion of Slavery and whether or not it should be abolished. Abraham Lincoln was pro-abolitionish where Douglas had a more moderate viewpoint favoring states to decide on slavery.

Although Illinois was a "free state" that did not allow slavery, these debates served as a catapult that put Lincoln just enough on the forefront to eventually be elected president by a narrow margin. His election would lead to the Civil War because of Southern States fighting to protect their way of living, which included slavery.

Home of the Big Elwood!

Fast Eddie's is a fun landmark in Alton, Illinois that you must visit. It is like an adult's playground where there's plenty of food and drink. On a hot day, there's no better place in the world to be for an ice cold beer and cheap eats.

As I walked in, a band was playing, and yes, as in a 100 other cities throughout the world, they were playing Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a rock."

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Scenic, Interesting Historical sites, Cold Beer
  • Cons:Very Hot and Humid, prone to flooding by the river.
  • In a nutshell:An Important Subtle Landmark City worth a day trip's visit from St. Louis.
  • Last visit to Alton: Jul 2011
  • Intro Updated Dec 19, 2011
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