The Cracker Factory is nestled in the scenic Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois. The river separates this distinctive hamlet from St. Louis. Alton has been the home to many attractions, legends, and historic figures, and the Cracker Factory has stood through most of the events that have shaped its home.In 1818,Rufus Easton began to develop Alton, and it was officially founded in 1837. At that time, the First Baptist Church occupied the 201 E. Broadway lot where the Cracker Factory would later be constructed. This was a tumultuous time in U.S. history, and Illinois was a free state while neighboring Missouri was a slave state. They would later become further divided as Union and Confederate states. The First Baptist Church was rumored to be a station of the Underground Railroad in those days. In 1837,The same year as the founding of Alton, Elijah Lovejoy—outspoken abolitionist, journalist, and minister—was murdered by a pro-slavery mob that came to kill him and destroy his printing press. He and a group of supporters held them off for a time, but eventually his life was taken and his press dumped into the Mississippi. President John Quincy Adams would later call him “the first American martyr to the Freedom of the Press, and the Freedom of the Slave.” The seventh, and final Lincoln-Douglas debate was hosted by Alton in 1858, a great event in the developing town’s history. Though the exact timing is unknown, it is said that sometime between that year and 1864, when H.N. Kendall purchased the space on which to build his new Cracker Factory, the First Baptist Church burned to the ground. By 1864the Civil War was in full swing, and Illinois’ first penitentiary had been placed in Alton. It was used for Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, and could hold up to 1,200 men at one time. It is estimated that during the smallpox epidemic of 1863-64, between 1,500 and 2,200 men died in that prison. They were buried en masse in the North Alton Confederate Cemetery. 1865
was an important year, with the end of the war, the assassination of President Lincoln, and the writing of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery. As the Cracker Factory was under construction, the amendment was being drafted in Alton, in honor of Elijah Lovejoy. One of its primary architects was Senator Lyman Trumbull, who called Alton his home. In 1866,the Cracker Factory building that stands today was completed and opened for business. The brick baking ovens were located in the basement, and were reportedly so large that 2 men could stand inside with outstretched arms and not touch the sides. The first floor was retail space and offices were on the upper floors. The third floor was used as a public meeting hall for such groups as Alton’s Knights of Columbus and the Glassblowers Union, and a practice hall for The Alton Murray Band. The war was over, the 13th Amendment was ratified, and Americans were trying to move forward. Things were quiet for a time in Alton, and Kendall’s Cracker Factory was pumping out up to 150 barrels of crackers a day. In the 1890’s,
The Cracker Factory was purchased by Henry McPike, a well-known figure, and one-time mayor of Alton. The great ovens would bake no more. They were left as just a reminder of the history of the re-named McPike Building, which would house a saloon and retail mercantile on its first floor, and various office spaces on the second. The year of 1904was exciting for the region, as St. Louis hosted the World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in celebration of the centennial of the 1803 acquisition. But as the ice cream cone was invented, and thousands of people attended the fair, tragedy struck across the river. Fire broke out in the McPike Building, causing extensive damage. The cause remains a mystery, as it began in the unoccupied basement where the old Cracker Factory ovens had been idle for several years. Henry McPike died in 1910, and the Cracker Factory lived on under several different owners up until 1972. Through two World Wars, the Great Depression, Korea and Vienam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the race to the moon, it remained a home to offices and retail shops. The year of 1972,was the same year during which The Cracker Factory was purchased by former marine, Sam Thames. Sam was a well-regarded community leader, a member of the Alton Area Landmarks Association, and an organizer of the first Alton Antiques Association. He was a key figure in the development of Alton’s now thriving Antique District. The building was soon filled with antique shops, including Sam’s own store, well known for its excellent selection of unusual things. He kept the 3rd floor as his loft apartment. Sam passed away in 1994,the same year that Alton’s famous cable-stayed Clark Bridge connecting it to Missouri was completed. Also known as a “Super Bridge”, it was the first of its kind in the United States, and was miraculously completed despite the Great Flood of 1993. In 1998,another marine by the name of Mike Kelly purchased the Cracker Factory, and gave it one more chance. He has slowly brought the landmark back to a level of grandeur beyond what it has ever known in its long history. Mike could see the value in the long, slow process he had undertaken to completely renovate such an important piece of Alton’s history. Mike’s pursuit was not without its challenges. 2009 brought a devastating windstorm into Alton that ripped through the upper story of the Cracker Factory, dealing it a near fatal blow. It took off the roof and 25-30,000 bricks—most of the third floor. Mike had very difficult decisions to make while in the States between deployments. He chose to continue on his path, and the result is a fully remodeled, structurally sound, historically relevant landmark, housing luxury accommodations that still carry the original rustic character. Though Alton still looks and feels like the relaxed river town of yore, it has become a vibrant and progressive city. Just as the Cracker Factory has developed, so has Alton evolved into the same mix of upscale living and historic flavor. Guests can stay in the luxury and comfort of the Cracker Factory while visiting Alton for business or leisure. While there, they find easy access to many historic sites and the renowned Antique District. A variety of restaurants, entertainment venues, and cultural events are waiting to be enjoyed. The Great River Road, the legend of the Piasa Bird, the Audubon wetlands, museums, and eagle watching are just a few of the attractions that lie just outside the door. the ALTON CRACKER FACTORYAlton’s Riverfront District.
the RIVER BEND
THE GREAT HISTORY
from the comforts of the Alton Cracker Factory
205 E. Broadway, Alton IL 62002 618 - 917 - 4466