With just under 28,000 residents, Alton stands as the most populous municipality in the American Bottom, a fact that highlights both the resurgence of this largely white, middle-class, riverside bedroom community and the catastrophic decline in population—and resources—of East St. Louis. This relative prosperity is matched by both industrial development and historical preservation such that economic and cultural confluences crosshatch the community space: to the north of town, the Piasa bird of Illini myth still continues to be painted on the bluffs; in the heart of downtown, a tropical-colored riverboat casino floats within reach of the ConAgra grain silos that mark in red paint the high water mark of the 1993 flood; one block west lies the brick building in which Lincoln slept the night before the final of his debates with Stephen Douglas. For a brief period in the 1920s, Miles Davis, James Earl Ray, and Paul Tibbets (the pilot of the Enola Gay) all roamed the streets, while nearby in East Alton, the Olin Corporation was producing the guns and ammunition that would later bolster American war efforts.

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