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Alton Grain Silos
30 Apr 2014
Published To
Description

Alton’s grain silos are owned by ConAgra, one of North America’s largest food companies. The mill in Alton is one of ConAgra’s 23 milling facilities located around the country, and has been operational for the past 32 years. The Alton mill employs about 90 people, and runs around the clock, processing approximately 95,000 tons of wheat flour per day. The flour produced by the mill is sold to the food manufacturing and foodservice industries, through distributors across the nation. The mill’s location on the Mississippi allows for easy barge transportation; in addition to the flour processed in Alton, grain from all over the Midwest passes through the town on its way to ports downriver, primarily the port of New Orleans.

Visible watermarks on the side of the silos serve as reminders of past floodings of the Mississippi. The highest watermark is a result of the Great Flood of 1993, which caused disastrous flooding along 500 miles of the Mississippi and Missouri river systems. While some towns impacted by the 1993 flood, such as Valmeyer, Illinois, choose to erase or downplay this section of history from their local narratives, evidence of the flood is immediately presented upon entering Alton. One-quarter of all U.S. freight was affected by the flood; barge traffic was unable to reach the port of New Orleans for several days. Modern flooding continues to be problematic for Alton; a voluntary evacuation warning was issued due to flood threat in 2013, although ConAgra mill employees continued to commute to work at the silos via motor boat, as West Broadway, Alton’s main thoroughfare, was completely flooded.

A stately, industrial presence in the center of Alton, the grain silos tower above the Mississippi. The silos’ hum is an omnipresent reminder of their existence, immediately drawing attention to the city’s roots as an agroindustrial shipping town. The large American flag and “Welcome to Alton” slogan painted on the side of the silos facing the road shows the degree to which the silos have been adopted by the Alton community as a local monument. On the side of the silos, the community has marked each major flood’s height as a form of memorial. While the silos’ location on the riverfront of downtown Alton is a matter of practicality, the degree to which they have been monumentalized by the community speaks to their significance, and the way the community identifies with and embraces its agroindustrial shipping roots. The silos link Alton’s people to the Mississippi and the roles that both the city and the river play in national agroindustrial production. They are also a symbol of community resiliency; the process of intentionally marking the flood lines helps the people of Alton to accept the past floods and move forward.

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