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