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History of North Alton, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




Partly in Godfrey Township and partly in Alton Township, the village of North Alton was comprised of three different settlements: Altonia, Buck Inn, and Greenwood. Altonia encompassed the entire area of what is now known as North Alton, while Buck Inn (named after the Buck Inn and tavern, located at the northwest corner of State & Delmar) encompassed the area north of Delmar. Greenwood encompassed a small area south of Delmar. Before settlers arrived, the area was mostly woods and prairie, with a good vein of coal running through.

On June 1, 1839, a sale of lots in the “new town of Altonia” was announced by agents Willard & Carpenter, W. S. Lincoln, and C. L. Frost. The sale was to be held at the Buck Inn, “on the road to Monticello” (Godfrey). The town was laid out on the highland, north and south of the Upper Alton – Grafton Road (Delmar), and east and west of the State road (State Street) leading from Alton to Jacksonville. In addition, the area had an abundance of coal, stone, and a good river landing within three quarters of a mile. There was also a road leading to the Monticello Ladies Seminary (in Godfrey).

Why the town of Altonia failed to develop is a mystery. Very likely the sale of lots was a failure. The 1837 depression was nearing its peak, and that may have played a factor. Had the sale been a success, history would show there would have been three Altons – Lower Alton, Upper Alton, and Altonia.

BUCK INN1861 Map of Buck Inn
The Buck Inn and tavern was constructed in 1837 by James Strong, a native of Cumberland, England. The inn was a large frame building, over the doorway of which the antlers of a buck were suspended (hence the name Buck Inn). This building stood on the south line of Godfrey Township in a heavily wooded area, at the northwest corner of Delmar Avenue and State Street. Buck Inn was at a crossroad of growing importance, and soon began to thrive.

The original Buck Inn was destroyed by fire in 1855, and soon a brick structure was erected. James Strong died in 1869, and his son, Jacob Strong, carried on a store at this point.

In 1868 a post office was established in Buck Inn in the home of Captain P. J. Melling. William Hall, two years later was appointed postmaster, and the office was moved to Greenwood, although the post office was still called Buck Inn up to the time of the incorporation of North Alton.

Adolphus Denz built a steam mill at Buck Inn in 1860. The machinery from the mill was transferred in 1882 to a new mill erected just north of North Alton. There was also a blacksmith shop, wagon shop, and marble cutting shop.

GREENWOOD1906 Map of Greenwood
The town of Greenwood, in Alton Township, just south of Buck Inn, was surveyed into lots by James Clayton Tibbett. Why he named the town Greenwood is unknown. The town plat was recorded in February 1853. His plat took in an area extending about a block south of what is now Delmar Avenue, and extended east to Tibbitt Street, and west to Kirsch. The name of Greenwood did not catch on with the community, and most referred to it as Buck Inn.

The Greenwood Hotel was located on State Street near School Lane (Mather Street). It was later used by the Kolb family as their home. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1901. The Kolb family removed the ruins, cleaned out the cellar, and fixed the remaining foundation walls. A new brick building consisting of two four-room flats was erected in its place.

An athletic club called the Greenwood Athletics existed in 1908. They had their own clubroom, which was used for entertaining. Members of the club included Ollie Meyer, Paul Weissenfluh, C. Cain, Ed Zaugg, Arthur Hibbard. They enjoyed boxing, sparring, and wrestling.

In December 1875, the original plat of Greenwood, Buck Inn, and Coal Branch were incorporated and given the name of North Alton. In 1908 the village was annexed to the city of Alton. The North Alton City Hall was located near where Gent Funeral Home’s parking lot is. There was a large fountain on the tip of the triangle where State and Belle Streets meet. This would have been in front of the Town Hall. Men would often use the fountain to water their horses.

The North Alton firehouse, located at 2411 State Street, was constructed in 1911. It was last used as a firehouse in 1990. The land is now part of the Gent Funeral Home parking lot.

Early North Alton Businesses
By 1882 there were two general stores in North Alton, kept by H. A. Betz & Co., and Charles Henderson. Anthony Buri and Kohler & Walter were proprietors of grocery stores. John Redmond and William P. Kolb were dealers in harness and saddles. George F. Barth was the druggist, and there were two millinery stores, one butcher, and one shoemaker shop. There were also two blacksmith shops, one livery stable, and seven saloons.

A custom mill stood at State and Rozier Streets, and was still standing in 1916, although it was bad shape and no longer used. F. G. Glassbrenner owned a livery and stable in the late 1800s on the west side of State Street, just north of Mather.

The North Alton Beer Gardens, which included a saloon and dance hall, was located at the southeast corner of Belle and Rozier Streets, going down Belle as far as Hawthorne Street. At one time it was owned by a man named Overath, who had a partner named Gerner. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union sets their eyes on the beer gardens, and tried to shut them down. In 1894, after being tormented by an arson who tried to burn him out, Overath sold out and moved to a farm on the Piasa. He hoped to find peace, but the arsonist followed him and burned down the farm house and barn. The family escaped, but everything in the home was destroyed. In 1913 the beer gardens were owned by Anthony Reck, who owned a brewery in Alton. In about 1911 a German Saengerfest was held there, with thousands attending – arriving by streetcar, the railroad, steamboats, interurban cars, and wagons. A chorus of 700 voices sang the greeting song, “Gott gruesse dich.” The Overath home was later renovated and converted into the Gent Funeral Home.

The Michael Walter Grocery and Fruit Distillery was located in the 2500 block of State Street, between St. Peters And Wardein Pharmacy. It was established in the late 1800s. His son, William, ran the store after his father’s death. The building was razed in 1962.

The Culps Motor Lodge opened in North Alton in 1929. It was located at 603 West Delmar. The business offered overnight lodging, 24-hour automobile service, and a fine dining room. The business changed hands in 1931, and became the Dixcel Motor Lodge, with J. F. Green as owner. In 1941 the Hurst Potato Chip Factory moved into the building, and by 1943 the building was up for sale. In later years, the Varble TV shop, a wig shop, the VFW Hall, and insurance offices were located there. The building still stands, although it has been remodeled.

Greenwood – St. Patrick’s Cemetery
Just north of Delmar Avenue on Homer Adams Parkway, is the Greenwood Cemetery (now called St. Patrick’s Cemetery). It was established before 1861. In 1960, a storm damaged the cemetery, knocking over many tombstones and trees.

Confederate CemeteryThe Confederate Cemetery
The Confederate Cemetery, established during the Civil War, is located in North Alton on Rozier Street. The two acres of ground contain the remains of soldiers who died while imprisoned in the military prison in Alton. Some of the undertakers who had a contract for providing coffins and burying the dead were James Althoff, H. W. Hart, and John Hoffman. Several years after the Civil War, the government contracted with Captain Tallon of St. Louis to erect tombstones over the Confederate graves. This was done under the superintendence of Captain P. J. Melling of North Alton. Throughout the years the fence around the cemetery rotted away, the tombstones fell down and were scattered, cattle roamed over the cemetery and it was entirely neglected. In the early 1900s, the cemetery was improved and a fence erected. H. J. Bowman took great interest in the preservation of the cemetery, and organized the planting of trees and caring for the property. The Daughters of the Confederacy sent flowers to decorate the gravesites of the fallen. In 1909 a monument was erected on the property, in memory of those buried there.



Early North Alton SchoolsThe Greenwood/North Alton/Wheatley School
A two-story, two-room, brick schoolhouse was constructed at Greenwood in 1871. The architect of the schoolhouse was Ralph Dixon. The school directors were John Rutledge, James Mitchell, and B. Scheiss. This school went by several names – Buck Inn, Greenwood, and North Alton school. It was located on West Mather Street (on the west side of State Street). Mather Street was then known as School Lane. This school provided early education for local students until 1909. It sat vacant for a while, and then in 1915 it was re-opened for “colored” students. The name of the school was changed to the (Phillis) Wheatley School, after the first published female African-American poet. The building was remodeled in 1928. This school closed in about 1943 and was sold by the school district in 1946 for $5,150. The building still exists and is now used for apartments.

A Presbyterian Mission School was founded by O. S. Stowell and others in North Alton sometime before 1903. It was known as the Elm Street Schoolhouse. Stowell was the president of the Alton Savings Bank, and took great interest in the religious work of the First Presbyterian Church. He headed the church Sunday school for 32 years. The old brick schoolhouse was torn down in 1913, after McKinley School was constructed.

Delmar School, at the northeast corner of W. Delmar Avenue and Shordell Drive in North Alton, was constructed in 1913. The building still stands but is now used as a residential duplex.
McKinley School in North Alton
After the annexation in 1907 of North Alton to Alton, the Alton school board took up the matter of building and new school, and erected McKinley School on Elm Street, at a cost of $18,000.00. It was constructed on an old coal mine, and was named after President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901. McKinley was a two-story, seven room brick structure. McKinley was occupied for the first time in September 1908. The building still stands and is used as the Alton Day Care & Learning Center.




Early North Alton Churches
In 1870, Trinity Chapel, a branch of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Alton, was constructed in North Alton at a cost of $2,000. It included a rectory adjoining the house of worship.

An Episcopal mission was carried on under the care of St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church of Alton.

Early Organizations of North Alton
In 1882, the North Alton Reformed Club, a prosperous temperance organization, which was established in 1877, owned a Temperance Hall, which was used for their meetings.

Greenwood Lodge, No. 421, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was instituted in 1870, with John Rutledge, William Benson, William R. Jones, Thomas Hall, Robert Crawford, Jacob Strong, and George Moulding as charter members.


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