The Mississippi River spans an astonishing 2,094 miles (3,370 km) and passes through 10 US States, including Illinois. Indeed within the “Land of Lincoln,” numerous small towns find themselves either on the banks or near the mighty Mississippi, each with its own unique charm and beauty. This article looks at the Seven Charming Mississippi River Towns in Illinois.
Named from a Hebrew phrase meaning "they are beautiful," the modern town of Nauvoo was founded by Mormon settlers in the mid-1800s, right on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois's Hancock County. For its historical importance and as an important center for the burgeoning Mormon faith in America, Nauvoo in its entirety is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Situated on a wide bend of the river, visitors to this town of 950 residents will find plenty of quaint beauty and historical uniqueness. One must stop by the Nauvoo Temple and marvel at its beautiful Greek Revival architecture, all while taking in splendid riverside views or a stroll through the Historic District. The special activities include a wagon tour of the town and near the river bank, making a stop in Nauvoo, a most charming small town.
Named for the mining mineral of the same name, the town of Galena is located along the Galena River, which is one of the Mississippi River's tributaries. First settled by French colonists in the 1690s, this historic town with a population of just over 3,000 is indeed a step back in time.
Visitors can tour the iconic Main Street, hop on for an authentic early 20th-century trolley ride, or casually stroll by the many 18th and 19th-century buildings, all lovingly preserved. With an assortment of local restaurants, shops, and museum spaces, Galena is a great place to discover a slice of Americana. And with warm summers and mild winters, visiting this town throughout the year gives tourists a unique opportunity to experience the seasons along the river banks.
Right along the Mississippi River and just 18 miles (29 km) from St. Louis, Missouri, Alton is a town with natural beauty and fascinating history. Home of Illinois’ former State Penitentiary, up to 12,000 Confederate prisoners of war were held in Alton during the Civil War. In addition, the town is famous for its beautiful limestone bluffs along the river’s edge, making for a most scenic experience.
Along the way, one must pay attention to the mural of the Piasa Bird, a Native American mythological creature depicted on the cliffsides of these majestic bluffs. Although the original was eroded over time, a restored version can be seen where the Mississippi River meets with the Illinois River. And, of course, do not forget to travel the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route, a 33-mile (53 km) long trail traversing right through the confluence of the two waterways.
The town of Quincy, affectionately known as Illinois’ “Gem City,” is located right along the Mississippi River and has attracted people for centuries. Formally established in 1825 and named for the 6th US President John Quincy Adams, this town of just under 40,000 residents continues to have a unique historical flavor.
Home of several historic neighborhoods, including the South Side German and Downtown Quincy Historic Districts, respectively, visitors can get an insightful look into how a riverside town resembled in the 19th century. Known in the region for its reasonable costs of living, Quincy is located on rocky bluffs directly overlooking the Mississippi River and provides some beautiful views of plains, wooded areas, and rolling hills.
Named after the French word for “mill,” Moline was established in 1843 and today boasts a sizeable population of just under 43,000 residents. Situated right on the banks of the Mississippi River, Moline forms a part of an area known as the Quad Cities alongside the border with Iowa. Known for its rich manufacturing history, particularly with the John Deere company, the town maintains a strong industrial presence in the region.
Indeed a visit to the John Deere Pavilion is amongst the most popular tourist attractions in town, where the history of the company and the manufacturing sector in Moline is highlighted at this fun and interactive museum. In the historic downtown, visitors can further explore the historic neighborhoods and their preserved 19th-century houses, quaint restaurants, shops, and beautiful waterfront views. One must also visit the Rock Island Arsenal army barracks, just across the river in the nearby town of Rock Island, for an additional encounter with American history.
Peoria is the largest city alongside the Illinois River (a tributary of the Mississippi River) and was established in 1691, making it the oldest European settlement in Illinois. During the 19th century, Peoria was the industrial hub of whiskey manufacturing in the country, and up to 12 separate distillery factories were in operation, the most of any American city. Today, the town remains one of the Illinois River's largest ports and is amongst the region's most important shipping and trading centers. Many agricultural products are processed here, and products like steel, chemicals, and farm equipment are manufactured locally.
Tourists can enjoy a variety of historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in town and also visit the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Center and the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria. And naturally, time spent along the river banks is always full of unique charm and extraordinary beauty.
Situated at the meeting point of the Illinois and Fox Rivers (both tributaries of the Mississippi River), Ottawa is just 79 miles (128 km) from Chicago. Although it has no relation to the Canadian capital, this Illinois town is too steeped in history and waterfront beauty. Often affectionately called "the Middle of Everywhere," visitors in Ottawa can enjoy many diverse activities ranging from the outdoors's splendor to close encounters with American history.
Surrounded by great access to the rivers, hiking trails, and quaint open spaces, visitors can fully take in Ottawa's natural setting while also having convenient access to four nearby State parks, including Buffalo Rock. Home to several historic buildings and landmarks, tourists can also see a pleasant downtown area with a diverse selection of restaurants, charming public art displays, and tons of mom-and-pop stores ready to give any who stops by a generous helping of Midwestern hospitality.
Illinois is one of the 10 states that the mighty Mississippi River passes through, and indeed for the towns that run alongside its banks, a beautiful experience is never in doubt. A visit to these towns is an excursion sure to be filled with extraordinary charm, hospitality, scenic views, and fascinating American history for tourists in the area. Each of these river towns may have its own story, but in common, they share a beautiful front row seat along the majestic Mississippi River.