Monday, November 8, 2010

Ohio River Scenic Byway stop 7: Alexander County

One of the most historic towns Illinois has to offer is located in Alexander County. Cairo is the last stop on the Illinois leg of the Ohio Scenic River Byway..

Alexander County was named for Dr. William M. Alexander, a pioneer and physician held in high esteem in the early 1800’s. He was an agent for the town of America, the first county seat and later became Speaker of the House of Representatives. The county was organized in 1819 and was the first county established in Illinois. At the 1820 census, the county boasted only 625 residents in its 236 square miles of land. Since its organization, the county seat has changed several and is today located in Cairo. The county population swelled to more than 19,000 in 1900 but as of the 2000 census the count sat at 1900.

After leaving Mound City, follow Illinois Route 51 south to Illinois Route 3, turn east. This brings you into the city of Cairo, once a bustling city and key location during the Civil War. General Ulysses S. Grant made his base of operations here at Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Fort Defiance itself is no longer here but a state park occupies the same grounds at the very tip of the state. Here you can actually see the waters of the two mighty rivers swirling as they rush to meet each other. The Boatman’s Memorial, erected on this site gives a breathtaking view of the two rivers and honors those who have lost their lives on the river. Read More

Recommended Reading:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Trail of Tears and the Illinois Connection

The history of Illinois’ role in the Trail of Tears is commemorated with an auto tour through the state.

In the early 19th century, the United States was experiencing tremendous growth and was hampered by the fact that both Spain and England held land on the continent. Thomas Jefferson suggested creating a buffer zone between the states and the European-held lands which would be inhabited by Native Americans, relocated from the eastern states. In 1829, Andrew Jackson created a policy in his inaugural speech that allowed for the relocation of the eastern American Indians to lands west of the Mississippi. The Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830.

The removal began in 1831 with the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, who left voluntarily claiming they would prefer to live freely in a new land, than to remain and be governed by laws in which they had no say. Somewhere between 5000 and 6000 remained in Mississippi, while some 17,000 made the journey. So grueling was the trek that a Choctaw chief believed to be Thomas Harkins ...    Read More

Suggested Reading:

Monday, November 1, 2010

City of Alton Part 3: Ghost Tour review

The Alton Penitentiary or Confederate Prison is a testament to man’s inhumanity to man.

I read about a ghost tour offered in Alton IL and decided to take it with some friends. We spent the day seeing the sites before having dinner and setting out for the tour. Previous articles outline other stops and you can read them by following the links below. This article features another fascinating stop on the tour - the ruins of the Alton Penitentiary, also referred to as the Confederate Prison.

Opened in 1833, the penitentiary was one of only a handful in existence in the country. While jails had been around for some time, no formal places had been developed for the long term incarceration of prisoners. Prisoners entering the penitentiary were expected to work hard all day, usually in the local quarries and then spend the night alone in their cells. Discipline was strict and usually amounted to beatings or floggings.

Originally designed with just 24 cells, it had 256 cells by the time it was shut down. The prison was leased from the state and the manager in charge was allotted $5000 to feed, house, guard and provide medical attention for the prisoners. He could keep whatever was left over. Undoubtedly this contributed to the rapid deterioration of conditions in the prison. Prison reformers focused attention on the dire Read More

Sunday, October 31, 2010

City of Alton Part 2: Ghost Tour Review

Alton Il offers some unusual opportunities for visitors whether your tastes run to scenic, historic or the supernatural.

After reading about the Alton, Illinois: one of the most haunted small towns in America and writing about the tours offered, I was intrigued. So this is the second in a series covering the day I spent in Alton IL. Some friends and I decided see the sites and to take the ghost tour ourselves for fun.

Without giving away everything that happens on the ghost tour, the last stop was the most intriguing and not without incident.

Our tour guide, Len Adams, a wonderful storyteller, had mentioned that the Unitarian Church was the one place even he was afraid of as we passed by earlier in the evening. As the intensity of the rain increased that evening, our tour was cut short. To make up for it, we headed back to the church where we were allowed to explore parts of the building not usually available on the tours. Read More

Sunday, October 24, 2010

City of Alton Part 1: Ghost Tour Review

My Personal Take on Various Stops Along the Tour
(This post will be broken into 3 sections because of its length)
After reading about the Alton, Illinois: one of the most haunted small towns in America and writing about the tours offered, I was intrigued. The tours are actually offered almost year-round and offer more than just a Halloween scare. The tour company’s website is well developed and promised lots of local interest and history as well as few ghost tales reportedly based on eyewitness accounts. The idea is captivating and fun so some friends and I decided to book a tour. What could be better for the weekend before Halloween? So I took the tour and this is my account of it.

The confirmation of the guest’s reservation directs them to arrive early at the tour’s starting point: History & Hauntings Book Co. The book store offers a unique selection of historical books, paranormal tomes and fiction based on the supernatural. Hauntings and ghost stories can be found sorted by geographic location or by the type of phenomenon they contain. Historical references are primarily sorted by geographic region. Enthusiasts could be lost in the stacks for hours.

With check in completed, the tour began promptly at 7 pm. The party of 50 or so walked excitedly to the first stop, the Enos Sanatorium. Built in 1857 by Nathaniel Hanson, a farm implement manufacturer, the Read More
Watch for part 2 in a couple of days.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Southern Illinois Haunted Places: Choate Mental Health and Development Center

Choate Mental Health and Development Center has history, mystery and a Pumpkintown to see in October.

Southern Illinois has its share of supposedly haunted places and the 140+ year old facility called Choate Mental Health and Development Center is one of them. I visited last fall during Union County’s Colorfest Celebration and learned about the history of the place. As you plan your fall or Halloween activities, keep Choate Mental Health and Development Center in mind.

The original building was known as the Anna State Hospital for the Insane. It was built in 1869 and the firs residents were housed in the north wing in 1875. A fire damaged the north wing in 1881 and was the wing was rebuilt the following year. A series of fires over the next several years caused more damage and ultimately several upper floors were removed.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tips for Travelling with a Baby on a Road Trip

Preparation is the Key to a Successful Road Trip with a Baby

I have raised 3 children of my own and am now a grandmother so I've learned a few things about travelling with a baby on a long road trip. It is not something you jump into without preparation unless you enjoy misery. Travelling with my own kids by car has taught me valuable lessons that are now second nature to me as a grandmother. I'd like to share a little of what I've learned.


It is the law that children travelling in cars be secured in car seats suited to their age and size. Make sure your car seat is in good condition before undertaking a long road trip with a baby. Read More

Southern Illinois’ Parks and Trails

Whether you enjoy the beauty of nature, the challenge of the hike or just seeing new places, the Shawnee National Forest which makes its home in southern Illinois has a wide variety of parks and trails for hikers to explore.

Fort Massac State Park – Metropolis

Fort Massac, the first state park in Illinois is nestled in a corner of Metropolis, the home of Superman, along the banks of the Ohio River. The fort, a replica, has passed through the hands of four different cultures over the course of its lifetime. In addition to being the focal point of the park, it plays host living histories and reenactments throughout the year. Situated on 24 acres, the park has two trails for beginner level hikers and up. Designated as a Tree Identification Trail, the first is creates a 1-mile loop which starts and stops near the fort. Guide brochures are available in the visitors’ center for this trail. A longer trail, The Hickory Nut Trail, encompasses 2.5 miles of beautiful scenic river views.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Illinois' Wondrous Wetlands: The Cache River State Natural Area

I have lived in Illinois for all but one of my 48 years and never knew that it was home to a swamp until I visited The Cache River State Natural Area. A natural wonder, The Cache River Wetlands brings together four unique ecological regions which I recently had the pleasure of exploring with friends. There is more to see than can be taken in during a single visit.

Makeup of the Preserve

The wetlands, commonly called swamps, are inhabited by bald cypress and tupelo trees, ancient looking beings that look as though they came from another time and indeed they have as many of them reach 1000 years of age. The Cache River which feed the wetlands flows in the bed of what used to be the Ohio River before the ice age pushed it further south.

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Legoland Discovery Center in the Chicago Area Awakens Imaginations to the Possibilities

On a recent trip to Chicago, my family visited several familiar landmarks and tourist spots but one of the most unexpected pleasures was the time we spent at Legoland Discovery Center. This is no small feat considering my kids are 12, 17 and 25 and we all found something to enjoy at Legoland. From rides to workshops and countless displays, Legoland kept us entertained for several hours.

All of my kids have been Lego building block fans as kids and I have a 20 year collection of the connectible cubes to prove it. So it was a no-brainer that when we planned our weekend getaway to Chicago, Legoland would be among our stops. What was surprising about it was how much they crammed into that relatively small space and how inspiring it can be to creative imaginations.

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