Altamont is served by Interstate 70, U.S. Route 40, and Illinois Route 128, all of which pass through its city limits. What is now U.S. Route 40 was once known as the "National Road" and before that the "Cumberland Road".
As local legend goes, one Griffin Tipsword came to this part of Illinois and took up his abode with the Kickapoo Indians. At this time these Indians were peaceable and indifferent to the coming and the struggle of a white man. Tipsword was a white man by birth and an Indian by adoption. He was a pioneer, a missionary preacher, hunter and medicine man among the Indians. The Altamont Indians no doubt got their name from Tipsword's association with his friends, the Indians. Tipsword's family name was Sowards. He called himself Tipsword after coming to Illinois. Tipsword was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, first fighting in the battle of Ramsour's Mill in the Carolina's. Griffin died in 1845 and was buried on the banks of Wolff Creek (Tipsword family cemetery, Effingham, IL), leaving three sons, John, Isaac and Thomas, who have left many descendants in the Altamont area today.
Altamont, the "City of Plain", was laid out in Mound Township, considered to be the richest and best township in Effingham County - being mostly prairies and farm ground - slightly rolling along the streams, Big Creek, Coon Creek and Second Creek. Mound Township was settled early by German immigrants coming from the "Faterland" on the banks of the Rhine by way of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The name Altamont, like the name Mound Township, was bestowed upon it by J.W. Conlogue because of the elevation or "mound" which lies to the northwest. The first part of the word meaning altitude, the latter part mount or mound. Conlogue was a romantic, thus naming his town from Latin.
In early History of Effingham County edited by William Henry Perrin in 1883, he wrote: "The name of Mound Township was bestowed upon it in consequence of what is known as the neighborhood of Blue Mound, a slight elevation of Section 8, which is nearly all a kind of mound, the apex being in the center of the section, and having an altitude of seventy-eight feet above the bed of the Vandalia Railroad, which passes near it. Recently, the Government has erected a signal observatory upon it, some seventy-five to one hundred feet in height, from the top of which one may look across the States of Missouri and Arkansas and see the cowboys watching their herds on the prairies of Texas."
On the bank of the small creek just south of what is now Altamont (Southmore Heights) there had been established a little trading center called Montville. The postmaster was G.H. Milleville and in 1871 the post office was moved to this new place called Altamont. Altamont was first organized as a town in 1871.
On August 8, 1872, the Town of Altamont adopted the Village form of government which consists of a Mayor and four Council Members. On April 16, 1901, the voters of the Village of Altamont adopted the City Organization form of government and became the City of Altamont.
The City of Altamont is governed by an elected mayor and an elected city council consisting of four members. Larry Taylor currently serves as mayor, and the city council members are Bill Jones, Richard Frailey, Jerry White, and Heidi Wilson.
Altamont is home to two grade schools and one high school.
Altamont Lutheran Interparish School (ALIS) is a private school serving grades K-8, located at the corner of Division St. and Edwards St., just across the street from Immanuel Lutheran Church. Gail Traub currently serves as principal of ALIS. The cornerstone reads "Immanuel Lutheran School 1959", but the school is now a joint effort of Immanuel, Bethlehem, St. Paul (Blue Point) and Zion Lutheran Churches, all of which are within the Missouri Synod division of the Lutheran Church.
In 1905, a school building was erected behind Immanuel. Later, in 1928, a school building was purchased for $250, rebuilt, and added to the existing school for a second room. The Cornerstone for a new, modern school building was laid on July 26, 1959. This building was dedicated on Sunday, January 31, 1960. The total cost of this project, including land and other items, was approximately $200,000. The final payment on the school was made in 1966.
In early 1973, St. Paul Blue Point and Immanuel, Altamont formed Altamont Lutheran Interparish School in Altamont. St. Paul paid for the addition of two rooms to the school at a cost of $40,000. The school at St. Paul was discontinued and the students were taken to the Interparish School. St. Paul's school had been in use since 1910.
Zion Lutheran School was organized in 1887, before the Congregation had been formed. In 1922 the Zion Church building was dedicated so the school was now used exclusively for school classes. In 1931, the Ladies Aid started a fund for a new school. The new school was dedicated in 1938, complete with electricity, which was also installed in the church parsonage at that time. The school was closed for a period of time but reopened in 1956 with Gladys Heiser as teacher. In 1972 Zion school closed and children began attending Altamont Lutheran Interparish School. Zion became a corporate member of ALIS in 1989.
In 1861, the congregation of Bethlehem Lutheran Church erected a building which served as both a church and a school until 1867 when the present church building was built. In 1873 the school enrollment was 123 students. In 1940, the English language began to be used in quite a few subjects as well as religion classes. The teaching of the German language was discontinued in 1954.
In December 1958 the Bethlehem school building failed an inspection by the State Fire Marshall. Voters decided to make the most necessary improvements in order to keep the school open, hoping to build a new school soon. Immanuel Congregation approached Bethlehem in regards to school consolidation. In 1960 it was decided to drop the school consolidation idea and build a new school. In 1961 enrollment showed 51 students and the congregation decided to build a parish hall in connection with the new school.
On August 26, 1962, Bethlehem Congregation dedicated their new school building which contained three classrooms, office, restrooms, parish hall/gym and kitchen.
Twenty-five years later, in May 1987, the Bethlehem Lutheran School closed and students began attending ALIS in August. In 1988, Bethlehem became a member of ALIS.
To accommodate the additional students from the Bethlehem and Zion congregations a major building project was undertaken in the summer of 1989. Four classrooms were added to the north end of the building and two classrooms, teacher lounge, and storage at the center of the building. The exterior looks were completely changed with the addition of a pitched roof. Each grade now has its own room plus a computer lab and a band room.
In 1990 A.L.I.S. accepted the offer of Dr. D. G. Huelskoetter to donate the Frog Pond Pre-School to A.L.I.S. Frog Pond is not operated as part of A.L.I.S. rather it is rented to three ladies to operate.
Altamont Grade School is a public grade school serving grades K-8 located at 407 S. Edwards St. Michael Gill currently serves as principal of AGS.
Altamont High School is a public high school located at 7 South Ewing Street. It had an enrollment for 2006-07 of 336. It's sports teams are known as the Indians. Jim Strange currently serves as principal at ACHS.
Both Altamont Grade School and Altamont High School are part of Altamont Community Unit School District #10. Jeff Fritchnitch is the current Superintendent of Schools.
Altamont is home to several churches, all of which are denominations of Christianity. Owing to its German heritage, Lutheranism is the largest denomination in the community, but thriving congregations can be found in the Catholic, Methodist and Baptist faiths as well.
Five Lutheran churches can be found in and around Altamont. In the city, Immanuel Lutheran Church can be found at the corner of Division and Edwards. Immanuel's current pastor is Rev. Mitchell Schuessler.
North of Altamont, four miles (6 km) north and two miles (3 km) east, St. Paul (Blue Point) Lutheran Church serves the farm community that surrounds the church. Rev. David Speers serves as pastor.
South and west of Altamont in the community of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Lutheran Church stands amidst the corn and soy bean fields. Rev. Clayton Vail leads Bethlehem Lutheran.
South and east of Altamont is the small farming congregation of Zion Lutheran Church.
All of these four churches (Immanuel, Blue Point, Bethlehem and Zion) belong to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
St. Paul's Lutheran Church, an evangelical Lutheran church, can be found on U.S. Route 40 on the western edge of Altamont.
St. Clare's Catholic Church, a member of the Altamont community since 1876, is located on Ninth Street in the western part of the city. St. Clare is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. The current pastor is Father John Savoree (Father Jack), who will retire on July 1, 2008. He will be replaced by Reverend R. Joseph Simburger, formerly of St. Mary Parish in Farmersville and St. Patrick Parish in Girard, IL.
The First United Methodist Church of Altamont is located at the corner of Second St. and Monroe St. The pastor is Rev. Jeff Van Dyke.
Located in the former bowling alley south of the interstate is Altamont Christian Church, pastored by Rev. Shannon Bopp.
Altamont is home to the Effingham County Fairgrounds. Considered to be one of the best of all county fairs in Illinois, the Effingham County Fair comes to town each year during the first week of August. The fair celebrated its 62nd year in 2007, and has been in Altamont continuously since 1946. Each year the County Fair hosts nationally known country singers, a national touring rodeo, two ITPA truck and tractor pulls, the County Fair Queen pageant, the Effingham County talent show, and the annual Demolition Derby.
In addition to the County Fair, the Fairgrounds are host each year to the Illinois High School Rodeo Finals, the Mill Road Thresherman's gathering and the annual Schützenfest.
The Wright House is a stately Victorian style home built by C.M. Wright I on a five-acre tract of land on upper North Main Street in Altamont, where originally stood a two-story frame house that was the Wright family home. The Wright House was built in 1889 by C.M. Wright I, who studied designs and planned the house and most of the details himself. The builder was C.H. Spilman of Toledo, Illinois who agreed to build the house for a total price of seventeen thousand nine hundred sixty-five dollars with the owner furnishing the materials. The total cost, not including furnishing, was approximately thirty-five thousand dollars. The Wright House has 18 furnished rooms, including seven bedrooms. Much of the original furnishings are still in the rooms. It has a full basement and an unpartitioned attic loft, some twenty-five feet high at the roofs' peak.
The second generation to occupy the home was Dr. C. M. Wright II, who practiced medicine in Altamont for 65 years, his wife and young son, Charles M. Wright III. After retiring in 1977 as a corporate attorney for Shell Oil, Charles III moved back to Altamont to live in the old family home. Charles died in 2001. The Wright home was left in a trust to be preserved, maintained and operated as a public institution by a trustee of the Effingham State Bank. The Wright House Property not for profit) board included the bank trustee and community members.
On May 8, 1986 the house was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. The House is open Sundays in June, July and August from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. Closed most holidays. Group tours are given by appointment any other day.
Ballard Nature Center consists of , including of woodland, 15 acres of restored prairie, 10 acres of shallow water wetlands and 85 acres of agricultural land. Ernie Ballard's donation of for the site of a nature center and the funds to construct a visitor center, show of his great generosity, concern for the environment, and his foresight for the future. He developed a non-profit 501 (C) 3 foundation, in August 1999, to oversee the development and management of the center. Construction of the log building began in October 1999 and was opened to the public in July 2000. His gift is a culmination of Ernie's interest in conservaion and helping people. He and his wife Wanda viewed the property as a "valuable legacy for future generations".
The purpose of the Ballard Nature Center is to provide high quality environmental education, and a place for the enjoyment of nature. Educational programs have been developed for schools, who come to the center on field trips. Educational exhibits on Illinois' natural resources have been designed for all ages to enjoy, and are continuing to be added. Topics of displays include, trees, birds, bats, insects, and mammals. Adult and family programs are offered throughout the year, as well as summer nature study classes for children. Prairie restoration, wetland development, and trail development projects are ongoing. Many projects at the center have been accomplished with volunteer help. The center is a wonderful resource for 4-H, scouts, schools, and environmental organizations.
Ballard Nature Center receives no government funding, and is supported largely by donations and memberships.
The handicapped accessible building includes a library, office, bird viewing area, exhibit room, featuring interpretive displays on various interesting "bits of nature" relevant to the area, and a full basement with kitchen, restrooms, classroom/meeting rooms. A picnic area and pavilions are available for reservation, when they become available. The lower level is available for use by school groups, educators, organizations, and for workshops. Walking trails through prairie, woodlands, and wetlands are available, and interpretive trails are being developed.
The Altamont Living Museum is a not-for-profit organization offering many forms of entertainment. You'll find award winning performers, plays performed by our local theater troupe A.C.T. and Altamont High school students, country/bluegrass variety shows on Tuesday nights, and memorabilia exhibits on display for your enjoyment. The building is also available for special events such as receptions, special music shows and meetings. The museum has a stage complete with stage lighting, lighting booth, sound system, a sound booth and a house that seats about 120. Downstairs is a kitchen and a meeting room that is capable of holding 40 people comfortably.
Altamont is served by three separate parks, administered by the City of Altamont. Gilbert Park, the largest of the three, is located just off U.S. Route 40, east of the Grade School, but west of the Fairgrounds. Gilbert Park is home to four baseball/softball diamonds, an indoor batting cage, playground equipment and soccer fields.
Schmidt Park, located just west off Illinois Route 128 and behind the Dairy Bar, is a large park dedicated to picnic pavilions and playground equipment for children.
Klitzing Park is located just west off Main Street, north of the downtown Triangle, in the location where the old grade school used to be. It too features playground equipment for the younger children. It also has an area for people to skateboard on what used to be tennis courts. Klitzing Park also has a basketball court.
Altamont is home to several service organizations. The Altamont Lions Club has been continuously active in the community since 1938. The Altamont Lions Club currently operates the youth basketball and soccer programs, have an annual Fishing Rodeo, sponsor a golf tournament, participate in Lions International Candy Day each fall, sponsor local youth for trips abroad and within the USA, and contribute toward Ballard Nature Center and the local parks.
The Altamont Garden Club exists for the beautification of the community, and has planted and cared for many areas around town, including on the Triangle and Schmidt Park. The Altamont Junior Women's Club, in existence since 1965, sponsors many annual events including the Halloween Parade and Cuddly Bunny Contest, as well as sponsoring several blood drives each year.