131st Bomb Wing – Missouri ANG Community
Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first Europeans to visit the area, arriving in 1673 in what is now Madison County, in the north part of Metro East; the priest noted a fearsome Indian image painted on the river bluff in present-day Alton “upon which the boldest savages dare not Long rest their eyes.” Alton these days boasts a 20th-century version of this “Piasa Bird,” the original having been quarried out in the 1870s by a limestone company.
The county’s largest community, Alton is 25 miles north of St. Louis and had a 2015 population of 27,003, according to the U.S. Census. Founded in 1837 as a river trading town, it became an important pass-through on the Underground Railroad. Alton hosted the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, is the birthplace of jazz great Miles Davis and is the final resting place of Robert Pershing Wadlow, whose height of 8 feet 11.1 inches officially made him the world’s tallest man (his grave in Oakwood Cemetery is raised so its length can be compared with other graves). The city’s economy has transitioned from industry and manufacturing to tourism, antiques and a lively arts culture.
Edwardsville, Madison County’s county seat, is 23 miles northeast of St. Louis and the third-oldest town in Illinois, founded in 1818 on the bluffs overlooking the American Bottom. Five Illinois governors have been born in the city, which had a 2015 population of 24,992. The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus, at 2,660 acres, is among the largest in the United States. Two of the town’s four Historic Districts are on the National Register of Historic Places, and other attractions include 1909’s Wildey Theatre and the Watershed Nature Center. In June 2013, the website NerdWallet ranked Edwardsville as No. 1 among Illinois cities for young families, based on its superior public schools, affordability and economic vitality.