Population (2010)



Elsah was built into a ravine along Askew Creek at the base of the bluffs. It’s easy to miss as you zip by on the highway but take time to slow down and detour through the narrow streets. Tucked tightly into a small valley, you’ll feel like you are walking the streets of a 19th-century village when you visit Elsah, with its modest but well-built collection of buildings in a variety of architectural styles.

Visitor Information

For information on Elsah, check with the Grafton Welcome Center (950 E. Main St.; 618.786.7000) or Visit Alton (200 Piasa St.; 618.465.6676).


Around 1847, Addison Greene built a home here and made a living by selling cordwood to passing steamboats; folks called this spot Jersey Landing. Six years later, General James Semple, a US Senator from Illinois with Scottish roots, bought the land and moved in. He offered free plots of land in town, which he called Elsah, to anyone who agreed to buy stone from his quarry. The town’s name might be derived from Ailsa Craig, which is a rocky island off the southwest coast of Scotland and is one of just two places with the right kind of rock to make curling stones.

The town soon had the usual mills, plus a distillery. For a brief time, Elsah was a busy port for shipping local agricultural products to markets down river. The town was also a site of much speculation, briefly, when railroad baron Jay Gould unveiled plans to build a bridge across the Mississippi River at Elsah. Alas, Gould was merely using the threat of building a bridge as leverage to drive down the cost of the Eads Bridge at St. Louis, which he was trying to buy. After he closed on the Eads Bridge, there was no more talk of a bridge at Elsah.

Because of the limitations of its geography, Elsah didn’t get much bigger beyond that initial burst of settlement. The townsfolk have lived through many floods, the worst in 1993, but rebuilt and moved on each time. Elsah today is a quiet village that is home to just under 700 people.

Exploring the Area

The Village of Elsah Museum (26 Lasalle St.; 618.374.1059) has a modest collection of exhibits that document the town’s history from its founding in the 1850s to today. It’s generally open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 (April through October).

The Elsah General Store (22 Lasalle St.; 618.556.0709; Sa,Su 1-4 from April to Oct.) brings back to life the feel of a small-town store from the past.

Principia College (1 Front Gate Rd.; 618.374.2131) sits atop a bluff above Elsah. The college was founded in 1898 and built above Elsah in the 1930s by Christian Scientists, who still make up all of the student body. If you want to take a quick drive around campus, there are strict rules about when and how you are allowed to do so.

Entertainment and Events

Elsah’s Home for the Holidays (December) is the best time to tour the historic homes of Elsah, plus you get to see them all dressed up for the holidays.

**Elsah is covered in Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1. Click the link above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.

Where to Sleep

For a quiet, relaxing evening, consider staying at one of the two bed-and-breakfast inns in Elsah.

The Green Tree Inn (15 Mill St.; 618.374.2821) has five cozy rooms, plus one room that is available specifically for people traveling with pets.

The Maple Leaf Cottage Inn (12 Selma St.; 618.374.1684) rents five adorable rooms, plus the two-bedroom Buggy Shop House.

Where to Go Next

Heading upriver? Check out Chautaugua.

Heading downriver? Check out Godfrey.

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If you like the content at the Mississippi Valley Traveler, please consider showing your support by making a one-time contribution or by subscribing through Patreon. Book sales don’t fully cover my costs, and I don’t have deep corporate pockets bankrolling my work. I’m a freelance writer bringing you stories about life along the Mississippi River. I need your help to keep this going. Every dollar you contribute makes it possible for me to continue sharing stories about America’s Greatest River!

Elsah Photographs

©Dean Klinkenberg, 2016