- American Bottom
The American Bottom is a
flood plainof the Mississippi Riverin 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 floodingby a leveeand drainage canalsystem. The area across the river from St. Louis, Missouriis industrial and urban, but many swamps and the major Horseshoe Lake are reminders of the ripariannature 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 limestoneand dolomite, above which begins the great prairiethat 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 Territoryby 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 Moundsare 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 Valleywas 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 Countrynear the end of the Revolution. The Goshen Settlementwas 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 Orthodoxchurch 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.
Flood of 1993, major portions of the southern Bottom were flooded; 47,000 acres (190 km²) of land, below Columbia, Illinoiswas 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
*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 Karstregion draining into the Bottom.
Fort de Chartres, early French colonial fortification
* [http://www.museum.state.il.us/RiverWeb/landings/Ambot/ RiverWeb - American Bottom Landing Site]
* [http://www.cahokiamounds.com/ Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and Interpretive Center]
* [http://www.historyillinois.org/Markers/old_markers/8.htm Text of an American Bottom historial marker]
* [http://www.swircd.org/swircd/projects/American-Bottom-Ecosystem.htm American Bottom Ecosystem Project]
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