of the Alton Federal
Near the intersection of Broadway
A State marker designates the remnants of a portion of a cellblock of the Alton Federal
Prison as the site of the First Illinois Prison, built in 1831. Because
prisoners were not kept in solitary confinement, the system was considered humanitarian
time. In 1841 Dorothea Dix's prison reform movement had the
Alton prison as one of its targets. Because of unsanitary conditions, she
proposed the closing of the prison in 1847. By 1860 all of the inmates had
been transferred to a new facility in Joliet and the prison was abandoned.
During the Civil War, the prison reopened as a military
detention camp because of overcrowding in the two St. Louis prisons that housed Confederate
prisoners of war. The first military prisoners arrived in Alton in February, 1862.
According to official reports, a total of 11,745 Confederate prisoners were kept
at the prison during the three years it was open ,with an average of
1,261 housed there at any given time.
Conditions at the Alton prison were oppressive and overcrowded.
Diseases such as pneumonia and dysentery were common killers. A smallpox
epidemic in December, 1862 killed as many as 2,200 prisoners. The prison closed July, 1865 and the buildings were completely
demolished shortly there after. The land was
eventually used by the city as a park named after the Joel Chandler Harris
character, "Uncle Remus." Stone from the prison's buildings can be found in
walls and other structures all over the Alton area.