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Rufus Easton

Alton's Founding Father

Rufus Easton, attorney, postmaster and statesman made many contributions to the bi-state area, including the founding of Alton.

Born in 1774 at Litchfield, Connecticut, Easton studied law in Connecticut and set up practice in Rome, New York. He arrived in St. Louis in 1804 where he was appointed judge of the Louisiana Territory by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Although an infamous friend named Aaron Burr, who murdered Alexander Hamilton in a duel that same year, offered Easton a part in a scheme for a western empire, Easton declined rather emphatically.

Postemaster of St. Louis, Delegate to Congress & Attorney General

In 1808 he became the first postmaster of St. Louis, and from 1814 to 1818 he served as the Missouri Territory's delegate to Congress. After Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, Easton was named attorney general, a post he held until 1826.

Founds Alton, Illinois

It was during this time that Easton toyed with the idea of platting a town across the river from St. Louis. Easton had surveyed a spot where the Little Piasa Creek entered the Mississippi and regarded it as a natural place for a town.

But there were others who also thought the spot significant; among them Ninian Edwards and the territorial governor, Nathaniel Pope. Although Easton had already platted the site and had drawn maps for the selling of lots in the east, Edwards and Pope brought about a long legal conflict during which the growth of Alton was delayed.

Following Easton's eventual triumph in courts, Alton grew rapidly. With the arrival of Benjamain Godfrey, another Alton's found fathers, the community in the 1840's grew to more than 2700 people.

Although there is no account of Easton ever living in Alton, and his death in 1834 deprived him of seeing the city incorporated in 1837, he did see it a awarded a town charger in 1833. Easton has left many reminders of himself and his family to the community, most notably the city's name, Alton, after Easton's oldest son. Other reminders include an Easton Street in both Alton and St. Louis; Rufus Easton School, now closed' Alby Street, named after his wife' and Henry, George and Langdon Streets named for three of this sons.

Yet a stipulation set on the city prior to 1833 might be the single most contributing factor to Easton's immortality in Alton. He decreed that the Alton riverside be dedicated to "commons" for the people's use without hindrance. To some his decree has been a stumbling block to the development of the Alton riverside. Others believe Easton did the town a great service, in that the riverfront has not been littered by coal yards, fishing docks, or other industrial development.

Rufus Easton remains the man who had the vision and initiative to design a place where a community could take root. He was a man of many great accomplishments, not the least of which is the city of Alton.

Reprinted from Bluff City Profiles Alton, Illinois 1837-1987 Sesquicentenial Commemorative Book
Rufus Easton Alton's Founding Father by Isaac Ruedin

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