American Bottom

American Bottom

The American Bottom is a flood plain of the Mississippi River in southwestern Illinois, extending from Alton, Illinois, to the Kaskaskia River. It is also sometimes referred to in the plural as "American Bottoms". It is about convert|175|sqmi|km2 in area, and is mostly protected from flooding by a levee and drainage canal system. The area across the river from St. Louis, Missouri is industrial and urban, but many swamps and the major Horseshoe Lake are reminders of the riparian nature of the area. The southern portion of the American Bottom is primarily agricultural, mainly planted with corn, wheat, and soybean. The American Bottom is in the Mississippi Flyway, used by migrating birds, and has the greatest concentration of bird species in Illinois. The flood plain is bounded on the east by a nearly continuous, 200-300 foot high, convert|80|mi|km|sing=on long bluff of limestone and dolomite, above which begins the great prairie that covers most of the state. The Mississippi River bounds the Bottom on its west; the river abuts the bluffline on the Missouri side. Portions of St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, and Randolph Counties are in American Bottom. Its maximum width is about convert|9|mi|km, to the north, and is about 2-3 miles in width throughout most of its southern extent.


The name "American" derives from the time between the acquisition of the Northwest Territory by the United States after the American Revolution, but before the Louisiana Purchase. The French colonists west of the Mississippi River referred to the bottomlands to the east as the "American" bottoms because of this change in sovereignty. The area to the west of the River was sometimes called the "Spanish Bottom".

Before European settlement, the area was home to peoples of the Mississippian culture, known as the Mound Builders; the Cahokia Mounds are a collection of large artificial earthen mounds rising from the flood plain, the most prominent of which is Monk's Mound, the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in North America. This was the largest city north of modern-day Mexico, and was abandoned before 1400. Archaeological investigation has determined that the smaller mounds were used for burial, while the larger were used for homes and temples. Remains of a wooden stockade and a "Woodhenge" solar calendar were found at this site. The area surrounding the mounds consists of lakes, called borrow pits, from which soil was taken to make the mounds.

The earliest European settlement in this region of the Mississippi Valley was by the French, whose settlements included Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Prairie du Rocher, and Prairie du Pont. Examples of French colonial architecture are found here, including the old Cahokia courthouse and Holy Family Catholic Church, both made with distinctive vertical log construction.

American settlers began arriving after the conquest of the Illinois Country near the end of the Revolution. The Goshen Settlement was an early American settlement at the edge of the Bottom.

The area directly across from Saint Louis, Missouri, is highly industrialized; due to the prevailing west winds, polluting "smokestack" industries, such as steel mills, chemical plants, and oil refineries were located here. This northern area of American Bottom attracted many immigrants and African-Americans from southern states to work in these factories. Many Eastern Europeans immigrants made their home here, and founded the first Bulgarian Orthodox church in the United States, in Madison, Illinois. East Saint Louis remains predominantly African-American. Heavy industry is still prominent in this area, although total employment in these industries is declining.

During the Flood of 1993, major portions of the southern Bottom were flooded; 47,000 acres (190 km²) of land, below Columbia, Illinois was inundated, destroying the town of Valmeyer. The waters came within five feet of overtopping the East Saint Louis levee, which would have flooded 71,000 acres (290 km²) and destroyed this urban industrial area.

Major cities in American Bottom

*East Saint Louis
*Granite City

ee also

*Little Egypt, a major geographical region of Illinois
*Metro-East, the urban area east of Saint Louis, Missouri
*Illinois Caverns State Natural Area, part of a major Karst region draining into the Bottom.
*Fort de Chartres, early French colonial fortification

External links

* [ RiverWeb - American Bottom Landing Site]
* [ Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and Interpretive Center]
* [ Text of an American Bottom historial marker]
* [ American Bottom Ecosystem Project]

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