ALTON | Alton is well known for its Gentle Giant, Free-Press Martyr, and some of the spookiest haunts in the nation. But the city is also home to some spectacularly historic churches which often are overlooked. The Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau’s “Steeple Chase Shuttle” at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 11 provides the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with three of these treasured churches: Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Union Baptist Church, and First Presbyterian Church.
The Old Cathedral, St. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, is the first destination. Architect Thomas Walsh constructed this $35,000, Gothic style church of native limestone in 1855 after a fire destroyed St. Matthew’s Church. The steeples were replaced with steel after they were damaged by a windstorm in the 1950’s. “Christian Hill” received its name from the location of this church. The Bishop made his home here after Alton was made the headquarters of the Illinois Diocese. The first two Bishops were actually buried in a crypt below the main alter.
Next stop is the Union Baptist Church, one of the oldest African American Churches in Illinois and part of the famed Underground Railroad. This Church was founded by freed slaves in 1836 and one of its founding members, John Anderson, worked as a pressman for Abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. Originally organized in upper Alton at the home of Charles Edwards, services were held in various buildings until a simple structure was completed. A new building was constructed in 1854.
The church occupied the second floor while the first floor was home to the first African American School in Alton. The church was forced to be sold when it fell on hard times in 1876. In 1902 Alton’s Mayor gave the church land across the street from its original location and renowned architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger built a new brick church with stained glass windows for $8,000.
The final destination is the First Presbyterian Church. This church has history which dates back to Alton’s founder, Rufus Easton, in 1818. Easton’s clerk, Thomas Lippincott was sent out east to sell lots and came back an ordained Presbyterian Minister. Lippincott organized the congregation and original structure in 1831. Architect Theodore C. Link built the current church building in 1897 at a cost of $30,000. Link was also the architect for St. Louis Union Station and Monticello Seminary in Godfrey. Interestingly, the church bell, which was cast in Louisville, Ky. and had been used for three Presbyterian Churches, went missing when the former building was sold. It reappeared the following year at the location of the new church. Visitors to this majestic building can take in the breathtaking view of the church’s splendid stained glass and perhaps have the opportunity to hear the pipe organ.
The shuttle departs from the Visitors Center at 200 Piasa St. and will return there at the end of the tour. The Steeple Chase Shuttle Tour begins at 10 a.m. Ticketholders are asked to arrive 15 minutes before the start of the tour. Tickets are $25 per person. Reservations may be made online at www.VisitAlton.com or by calling the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-258-6645.