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History of Upper Alton, Illinois - Including Salu and Milton

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




A Rocky Beginning
Upper Alton sprang into existence about the same time as [Lower] Alton, although in the early years of its history it had a more vigorous growth than its rival. Joseph Meacham, a native of Vermont who came to Illinois in 1811, was the original proprietor. He surveyed the site of the town into lots in 1817, and proposed to sell the lots by lottery – each ticket entitling the holder to one lot, or thirty acres, more or less. For some years there was considerable problems with the titles. Meacham had only paid the land office one fourth of the amount due. Under the existing rules then in force, he received a certificate of entry, and was entitled to a patent on payment of the balance of the purchase money. Subsequently he became financially embarrassed, and was unable to pay his debts. He assigned his certificate to James W. Whitney, Erastus Brown, John Allen, and Ebenezer Hodges, who paid the balance due the Land Office, and obtained a patent. Meanwhile, Ninian Edwards and Charles W. Hunter had procured judgments against Meacham, and sold a number of lots for which deeds had been given by Meacham while he held the certificate of entry. Litigation followed, and a compromise was finally made where Whitney, Brown, Allen, Hodges, Edwards, and Hunter, divided most of the lots between them, while the original purchaser was crowded out entirely. Meacham, after founding Upper Alton, purchased what was known as the Bates farm, and projected a town which he advertised as “Alton on the river.” Major Charles W. Hunter became interested in this last enterprise in 1818, and out of it grew Hunterstown, now part of Alton. This “Alton on the River,” later called Hunterstown, was land east of Henry Street in Alton.

For some years after 1817, Upper Alton (known then by the name of Alton) surpassed Lower Alton in population and improvements. Among the early settlers were:

Dr. Augustus Langworthy, Ebenezer Hodges, James W. Whitney, Robert Sinclair, Elisha Dodge, William Kessler, Benjamin Spencer, Hezekiah H. Gear, Isaac Woodburn, Benjamin Steadman, David Smith, George Smith, Erastus Brown, Rev. Bennett Maxey, John A. Maxey, John Seeley, Nathaniel Pinckard, William G. Pinckard, John Allen, Willis Webb, Benjamin Hail, Samuel Delaplain, Henry P. Rundle, Alanson S. Wells, Jonathan Brown, Ephraim Marsh, Levi McNeil, Thomas Allen, Zachariah Allen, Shadrach Brown, William Heath, Daniel Crume, Enoch Long, and Joel Finch.

James W. Whitney was a lawyer. He died in Adams County at the age of eighty-five. He was familiarly called “Lord Coke.” Among the papers of George Churchill was found this memorandum: “Whitney is a Yankee from the vicinity of Boston, and came to this country in 1800. He has been two thousand five hundred miles up the Missouri, and was taken prisoner by the Indians.”

Dr. Augustus Langworthy had come to Illinois from Vermont. On the establishment of the post office in 1818, he was appointed postmaster. The office was then called Alton, and was supplied by a weekly mail, carried on horseback, on a route from Carlyle to St. Charles, Missouri, crossing the Mississippi at Lower Alton.

Dr. Erastus Brown had the first drugstore in Upper Alton, and the Rev. Bennett Maxey was the first minister of the Gospel. John Allen and Benjamin Spencer filled the office of Justices of the Peace in 1818, and Willis Webb and Benjamin Hail served the same year as constables.

The grandsons of Bennett Maxey ran a saloon out of the front of the Maxey homestead on Washington Avenue, two blocks north of College Avenue. This home was one of the oldest in Upper Alton, being built about 1812. The land had previously been owned by Ebenezer Hodges, and consisted of 255 acres. After several lawsuits concerning the land, it was divided up, and after passing through several hands, become the property of Rev. Bennett Maxey, who built a log home on the property. This home also served as the post office. Travelers would stop at the Maxey saloon for a drink and rest during their travels through the area. Samuel B. Taggart bought the homestead from the Maxey heirs in about 1872. Israel H. Streeper occupied the home with the Maxeys at one time. The home was torn down in about 1912.

Robert Sinclair was Deputy Sheriff in Upper Alton. He was shrewd, eccentric, and illiterate. He was found guilty of complicity in a robbery, and though present when the verdict was rendered, he escaped before the officials could secure him. He fled to Arkansas, became popular there, and was elected a member of the State Legislature.

One of the early residents of Upper Alton, who came to the place in 1818, describes the town on his arrival as a little village of log cabins. There was one store kept by Shadrach Brown, in a little log house in the extreme south part of the town. It was a general store, but with a very poor and small stock of goods. There was a double log cabin, where in one room whiskey was kept for sale, and in the other was the only hotel in the town. William Morris was the proprietor. There was one small frame building, erected by Benjamin Spencer, and used by him as a shop. In 1818 Nathaniel and Oliver Brown moved from Champaign County, Ohio to Upper Alton.

William G. Pinckard, William Heath, and Daniel Crume and their families, all from Ohio, first settled at Hunterstown in the Fall of 1819, and came to Upper Alton (or Salu). These families, fifteen people in all, spent the following winter in a log cabin of two rooms. That winter Pinckard and Heath constructed a pottery, and in the spring of 1820 began the manufacture of pottery ware, for which there was a great demand. Nathaniel Pinckard, father of William G., became a resident of Upper Alton at the same time. Thomas Stanton Pinckard, a son of William G. Pinckard, stated that his father, in 1834, moved to Lower Alton, and in 1837 to Middle Alton, and in 1846 back again to Lower Alton. Thomas had a vivid recollection of several of the old settlers who were living when he was a boy. “Abel Moore,” he wrote, “in his Dearborn wagon with his wooden leg. Tommy Nichols, with his favorite byword ‘Dad-burn it.’ Old McAuley; old George Bell – all old rangers in the Indian troubles. Often these men visited my father’s house when I was a boy, and by a bright, glowing fireplace, seated on father’s knee, I listened to the hair-breadth escapes and thrilling incidents of border life. The murder of the Regan family in the forks of the Wood River in 1814 was often spoken of by these old rangers, some of whom participated in the pursuit and killing of the savage murderers. It was a common occurrence for us children to pick up Indian arrowheads in the timber and fields of Middle Alton, up to 1840.”

In 1820 a Fourth of July celebration in Upper Alton was held. Hezekiah H. Gear, mounted on horseback in full military uniform, was the Marshal of the day. J. W. Whitney read the Declaration of Independence, and William Jenks delivered an oration. The company then repaired to the table, where a plenteous and excellent meal was served by Dr. Augustus Langworthy. James Smith, an aged Revolutionary Patriot and one of the first settlers, presided, assisted by K. P. Day, the Vice-President. Several toasts were made, and suitable pieces of vocal and instrumental music were played, each accompanied with the discharge of a piece of artillery, together with the reiterated cheers and plaudits of the company. Benjamin Spencer, Hezekiah H. Gear, Dr. Hewetson of Alton, and Robert Sinclair were among those who participated in the toasts.

The first postmaster in Upper Alton was Augustus Langworthy, who was appointed in 1818, and was succeeded by Rev. Bennett Maxey in 1824. Maxey’s residence was in Salu, and consequently the post office’s name was changed to Salu. In 1826, he resigned the office, and George Smith received the commission. The office was then brought back to Upper Alton, and then name changed to “Alton.” In 1835, David Smith received the appointment as postmaster. The name of the office was then changed to Upper Alton, and the post office at Lower Alton, which bore the name of Lower Alton, was changed to Alton. In 1849 Frank Hewitt was appointed postmaster, and was succeeded in 1853 by Joseph Chapman. James Smith was next placed in charge of the office. Aaron Butler was commissioned in 1861, and was followed in 1866 by Rev. T. B. Hurlburt. Aaron Butler was re-appointed in 1867. Joseph H. Weeks was appointed in 1877, and remained so through 1882.

In 1831, Upper Alton was described as have thirty-five families and two hundred souls. It had two stores, one tavern, one blacksmith shop, one ox flouring mill, one wagon maker, one tannery, one saddlery, one shoemaker, one brick maker, two carpenters, two physicians, one pottery, a post office, and a brick schoolhouse. Three years later, in 1834, Upper Alton had three stores, one house of entertainment, three physicians, various mechanics, a pottery, a brick schoolhouse, a steam flouring mill, but no grocery or whiskey shop. About sixty families resided there at that time. J. S. Nutter and J. L. Bingham opened a new livery stable in Upper Alton in 1836, and a new Lyceum was opened. In 1839, Upper Alton had eight stores, five groceries, two lawyers, five physicians, mechanics of various descriptions, a steam saw and flour mill, and about three hundred families.
The Rock House - erected in 1835
In 1835 a stone building was erected by John Higham and Mrs. Caswell, both pioneer residents. It was an early residence of Rev. T. B Hurlbut, and was located at the southeast corner of College Avenue and Clawson Street. The first Anti-Slavery Society in Illinois was organized there in 1837. It was later owned for years by Dr. Isaac Moore, and then his son, Major Frank Moore. It was later turned into a double dwelling house. Mr. Higham occupied the east side of the building. His daughter was Mrs. John Bostwick, who met Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy as she was returning from school at Jacksonville in a stage coach. Mr. Lovejoy produced a cigar and asked if she objected to tobacco smoke. She said she did. To this he replied, “Some people do,” and proceeded to smoke his cigar. This stone building still stands today, and is known as the “Rock House.” It is used for apartments.

Upper Alton business in 1861 included:
Physician and Surgeon – Frederick Humbert, Edward Rodgers, and H. K. Lathy
Madison House (hotel) – Benjamin Delaplain
Upper Alton House (hotel) – Mrs. Day
Postmaster – J. Smith
Dry Goods and Groceries – F. Hewit
Stove, Hardware and Tin store – John Kell & Son
Grocery and Provisions, Masonic Hall – William Campbell
Salamander Pottery – Hugh Sawyer
Aetna Insurance Agent – Joseph Chapman
Attorney & Justice of the Peace – J. B. Randall
School for Young Ladies – Mrs. Willetts

In 1867 the horse streetcar was established in Upper Alton, connecting Upper Alton to Alton. There was a side switch to enable cars to pass one another.

By 1882, the following business were located in Upper Alton:
General merchants – E. G. Webster, Thomas R. Murphy, and Henry Loehr
Grocers – Mahlon Malson, E. O. Reader, August Hildebrand, and Albert H. Hastings
Drugstores – Henry C. Swift and Fred J. Stebbins
Books, stationery, and gents’ furnishings – M. A. Leverett
Stoves and tinware – Evan E. Betts
Boots and shoes – Mrs. K. K. Boyle and Louis Ehrler
Baker – F. L. Vogelpohl
Butchers – Bradley & Co., and Albert H. Hastings
Shoemaker – Henry L. Walke
Wagon makers – Robert R. and John McReynolds
Architect and builder – Oliver G. Stelle
Undertaker – Israel H. Streeper
Cigar Manufactory – H. S. Darnielle and H. H. Rippe
Attorney – Cyrus W. Leverett
Justices of the Peace – Daniel W. Collett and Amos E. Benbow
Physicians – T. P. Yerkes, Edward C. Lemen, and Henry T. Burnap
Principal of Public Schools – Benjamin P. Harris

Upper Alton Annexed into Alton
In 1911, Upper Alton was annexed into Alton. At that time, it had several miles of paved streets, two street railroads, a water works system, and electric lights. No saloons existed after the establishment of Shurtleff College, who forbade the sale of liquor within one mile of the college.

The Stone Spring (Rock Spring Park)
As early as 1862, reference was made in the early newspapers to a stone spring between Middletown and Upper Alton. It was a popular spot for picnics and strolling through the tree-lined paths. This same spring had been used by Indians as they passed through the area. A clear spring poured through a cleft in a large rock at the foot of a hill, and provided drinking water to all who wanted to partake.

During the Civil War, soldiers encamped near the wooded area east of Upper Alton. Legend has it that the ladies of Upper Alton baked them pies, and Upper Alton took on the nickname of “Pie Town.”
Streetcar at entrance to the Rock Spring Park
In 1896, Harry Marsh owned the property, and sold it to Joseph F. Porter, President of the Alton Railway and Illuminating Company. This land was along the route of the electric streetcar, and it was his dream to renovate the park for picnics, concerts, and other popular amusements. He ran a track into the park, and began making improvements such as planting 200 trees, shrubs, flower beds, a pavilion, a playhouse, a greenhouse, and a small lake with a bridge. On June 15, 1907, the park officially opened to the public. Over two thousand attended the grand opening, and enjoyed an arcade, merry-go-round, dance hall, shooting gallery, parlor bowling, novelty balls, refreshment stands, and the Rock Spring Theater with vaudeville.

In 1907, William Eliot Smith offered 60 acres of land adjacent to Joseph Porter’s Rock Spring Park to the city as a permanent park site, provided Joseph Porter would donate his land also. This was accepted by Porter, and Rock Spring Park officially became the property of Alton in 1908. In May 1914, the Rock Spring Country Club had its formal opening, which was a new social center. The new clubhouse and club grounds were very popular with golfers.

Early Schools of Upper Alton
The first schoolhouse was a small log cabin, about fourteen feet square. The floor was of rough-hewn, split logs, laid in a manner as rough as the material. This structure stood in the south part of the town, and was soon replaced by another building more centrally located on the street leading to Milton. This was likewise built of logs, but was more commodious and comfortable than its predecessor, and was used for several years. The seats were made out of slabs hauled from the sawmill at Milton. One of the pupils of those days writes: “The small scholars were required to sit on these miserable benches without backs, and be very quiet, though some of the smallest could not reach the floor with their feet. The larger scholars were better provided for, as their seats were next to the wall, and a board was placed in front of them for a writing desk. Our school books were – Webster’s Speller, Walker’s Dictionary, Pike’s Arithmetic, Murray’s Reader, and Murray’s English Grammar.” Among the early teachers of this school were: Mr. Rose, Nelson Aldrich, H. H. Snow, Enoch Long, Rowlet Maxey, and Levi McNeil. For a short time, a man named Jinks served as teacher, but was discharged for lying down and sleeping on the benches during school hours. His devotion to whiskey was the cause. Except for this, he was an excellent teacher.

In November 1841, Mrs. Hurlbut opened a private school in a building formerly occupied as a store. Orthography, reading, writing, geography, grammar, history, arithmetic, philosophy, composition, rhetoric, logic, botany, chemistry, and astronomy were taught.

Lincoln School (later called Dunbar) was constructed in 1895 for the colored children living in the Salu area. When Upper Alton was annexed to Alton, and there being a Lincoln School in Alton already, the name was changed to Dunbar. Dunbar closed in 1975, and was razed in 1991.

Gillham School was located on Main Street just south of Upper Alton. It was a two-room frame building. This building was later torn down, a new building erected in 1921, and named Clara Barton School.

Upper Alton High School was erected in the late 1800s, at the northwest corner of Edwards and Seminary Street. When Upper Alton was annexed into Alton in 1911, this school ceased to exist as a high school. The building was converted into Horace Mann Elementary School. Later, the old building was torn down and a new modern Horace Mann School was erected.

Early Upper Alton Churches
From the time they made their home in Upper Alton, the houses of Nathaniel Pinckard and William G. Pinckard were the stopping places of the pioneer preachers, and religious services were often held at their houses, and also at that of Jonathan Brown. The Reverends Samuel Thompson, Thomas Randle, John Dew, and Jesse Walker were among the early ministers. The first Sunday School in Illinois was opened in Upper Alton in 1817.

A Methodist Sunday School was formed at Upper Alton in 1817, with members Ebenezer Hodges, Mary Hodges, Jonathan Brown, Delilah Brown, Oliver Brown, and John Seely. Mrs. Mary Woodburn was added, along with the wife of William G. Pinckard. The first religious services were held in the cabin of Ebenezer Hodges, which stood where the Baptist Church was later erected. John Dew may have been the first preacher. Rev. Samuel H. Thompson officiated as pastor from 1818 to 1820. In 1835, the first church edifice, a frame building, was erected. In 1849 a brick church was constructed.

The Baptist Church in Upper Alton was organized in April 25, 1830 by Rev. John M. Peck. There were eight original members – Ephraim Marsh, James D. W. Marsh, Don Alonzo Spaulding, Mrs. Frances Marsh, and Rachel Garrett. Rev. Ebenezer Rodgers was the pastor from 1834 to 1838. The name at that time was Alton Baptist Church. For nearly six years services were held in either private homes or in what was known as the brick schoolhouse. In 1836, a house of worship was completed, and used by the congregation for more than thirty years.

In May 1868, the Second Baptist Church (colored) was organized at the Salem schoolhouse in Upper Alton. The names of the original members were Cyrus M. Howard and wife, John A. Howard, W. Scott and wife, Eliza Grason, Mary A. Wilson, Martha Broner, Martha Foster, and James Brown. The council that organized the church was Rev. Washington Leverett, Rev. Tilbury, Rev. H. C. Hazen, and George A. Cressy. Subsequently, they were recognized as a regular Baptist Church. In 1869 they erected a house of worship at a cost of $1,400. It was dedicated in September 1869. The church was 36 x 56 feet, with 14-foot ceiling. Early pastors of this church include J. Robinson, W. H. Howard, William Webster, W. H. Willitt, and W. C. Carter.

The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1837 at the home of Deacon Enoch Long, at the corner of Main and College Avenue, with twenty-four members. The first minister was the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy, then a resident of Alton, and publisher of the Alton Observer. He was killed by a mob in Alton in November 1837. In 1838, twenty-six new members were added. A house of worship was erected in 1838, and in 1858 destroyed by fire. A new church building was partially completed in 1861, and was dedicated in 1865.

Milton was laid out by John Wallace and Walter J. Seely sometime in about 1809. It was located in section 17 in Wood River Township, where the Wood River, with its small rapids, divided the future East Alton from Alton. John Wallace erected a large mill on the Wood River, which at that time was large enough for keel boats to navigated up from the Mississippi.

There were other mills in Milton - two sawmills, and a grist or flour mill. William and John Whiteside attempted to build a water powered mill on the Wood River as early as 1806, but their effort was not successful.

Milton became a bustling, active village – even larger than the fledgling settlement at the future site of Alton. A. W. Donohue erected a store building at the bridge in Milton, with R. T. McHenry in charge. Milton also had a distillery and a tavern.
Rev. Thomas Lippincott
Reverend Thomas Lippincott was an early resident of Milton. He was born in Salem, New Jersey, February 6, 1791, of Quaker parentage. He moved to Philadelphia in 1802, and in 1814 moved to New York, where he married Miss Patty Swift. In 1817, with his wife and infant daughter, he moved to Shawneetown, Illinois. He moved to St. Louis, MO, and after Colonel Rufus Easton laid out the new town of Alton, Lippincott was hired to make a copy of a map of this place in order to sell lots. After clerking in Easton’s store, he proposed that Lippincott take a stock of goods to Alton and start a store. Lippincott and his goods were loaded onto the Fountain Ferry in 1818, and he stepped off the ferry near Fountain Creek (later known as Piasa Creek) at Alton. His goods were loaded into a wagon and taken to Milton by wagon trail. Milton at that time was a bustling new town compared to Alton. Within a few months of Lippincott’s arrival, he received a commission as Milton’s Justice of the Peace. Upon his arrival in Milton, he discovered a public house kept by Joel Bacon in a cabin near the bridge crossing the Wood River. In the summer of 1819, Bacon erected a frame house a little higher up, where he moved his family and tavern. The tavern was not a drinking house, but entertained travelers as comfortably as the circumstances allowed. Above the door a sign hung which read, “Entertainment for Man and Beast.” Lippincott boarded with them for some weeks or months until he was ready to occupy the little room in the rear of his store.

Travelers arriving in Milton in their wagons procured necessary supplies at the Lippincott store and pushed on westward, not going up the river to Alton. Some traveled up the hill to the town of Salu (Upper Alton), then on northward through Scarritt’s Prairie (Godfrey). Thus, Salu grew quite quickly, many stopping there permanently.

In September 1818 William Greene Pinckard and family arrived at Milton in a wagon, after a long overland trip from London, Ohio. They purchased supplies from Rev. Lippincott, and proceeded west up the river to what was called Shield’s Branch (now Bozzatown). Here, he and his family, along with his brother-in-law, Daniel Crume, remained for the winter.

In the summer of 1819, Mr. Robert Collet, a merchant of St. Louis, bought out the interest of Mr. Walter Seely in Milton – thus Wallace and Collett became the proprietors of the village and mill. Mr. Collett kept a store there.

Power for the mills was obtained by a dam across the Wood River. The still, stagnant water in back of the dam soon caused an outbreak of sickness. Many of the inhabitants of Milton died of malarial fever, and were buried on the adjacent hillside in the Milton Cemetery. The remaining settlers quickly abandoned their homes and left Milton, in fear of coming down with the sickness. The tavern was moved to Upper Alton. The sawmill was abandoned in about 1830, when Alton began to show signs of life. Today, nothing is left of Milton except for the cemetery, which holds the remains of the original inhabitants. The log buildings were torn down and the materials used elsewhere.

Bennett Maxey, Erastus Brown, Isaac Waters, and Zachariah Allen laid out the town of Salu, adjoining Upper Alton to the north. In an advertisement in the Edwardsville Spectator in 1820, the town of Salu was described as thus:

“The site for the town of Salu is considered more eligible than others, which can be selected on the waters of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. This town is situated on the first high, rolling, and commanding ground from the river, north of Upper Alton. There are no ponds nor stagnant waters – the source of so much disease in this country, but it is well supplied with springs of pure water. Good mechanics of moral, industrious habits and respectable men of other occupations will receive liberal encouragement to settle in this town. It may be considered extraordinary that a new town, bearing a new name, should be laid out adjoining Upper Alton, as this town is well situation, and already contains more than thirty families. It is from these considerations that the town of Salu is laid out, and the lots offered to actual settlers. No clear and indisputable title could heretofore have been obtained for any lot in Upper Alton, and the legal questions connected with the land are complicated and difficult. Under these circumstances, the people who had settled in Alton could not prudentially make improvements, but had become more and more convinced of the unusually healthy and commanding situation for a great town, and were unwilling to remove to any other town, or part of this state or country. Therefore, the subscribers purchased the site for the town of Salu, which has all the advantages of Alton, and have given the new town a new name, because Alton embraced Upper and Lower Alton, two separate and distinct sites for towns, situated more than one mile apart; from these considerations it was not thought advisable to extend Alton to greater limits, and therefore the subscribers have named the town Salu.”
Signed by Bennett Maxey, Erastus Brown, Isaac Waters, and Zachariah Allen.

In 1832, Isaac Warnack settled in the village of Salu with his mother, Elizabeth, and his brother, Henry Warnack. Warnack purchased 34 acres where a pottery was established by 1843. It was located on Salu Street, west of Seminary Street. The Warnack pottery employed five men in 1850. They used a technique of dipping salt-glazed vessels, which created a distinctive two-tone effect. The pottery ceased production in 1868.

In later years Salu became home to most of the black population in Upper Alton, including former slaves. Salu was annexed into Upper Alton.


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