Alton Prison

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Address: 214 William St., Alton, IL 62002

Latitude/Longitude: 38° 53' 27.3978", -90° 11' 21.8004"

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Built in 1833, the Alton Prison is Illinois’ first state penitentiary. The prison closed its gates in 1860, when the last prisoners were moved to a new facility at Joliet.

By late 1861, there arose an urgent need to aid the overcrowding at 2 St. Louis prisons. So, Major General Henry Halleck ordered Alton’s closed penitentiary to be inspected. It was then reported that the prison could be made into a military prison and could house up to 1,750 prisoners, with some improvements estimated to cost $2,415.

During the next three years, over 11,764 Confederate prisoners passed through the Alton Prison. Confederate soldiers made up most of the population of the 4 different classes. Citizens were imprisoned for treasonable acts, anti-Union statements, aiding an escaped Confederate, and other similar actions.

Conditions in the prison were harsh, and the changing Midwest climate took a heavy toll on many prisoners, already weak from poor nourishment and inadequate clothing and sanitation facilities.

The smallpox infection became alarmingly high in the winter of 1862-1863, and a quarantine hospital was established across from the prison on an island in the Mississippi River.

Up to 300 prisoners and soldiers died and were buried on the now underwater island. A North Alton cemetery holds a monument listing 1,534 names of Confederate soldiers that were known to have died.

One wall of the prison remains, standing at the corner of William St. and Broadway St. in Alton, Illinois. Visit the last few bricks to learn more about the history of the Alton Prison.

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