Before Altamont was platted in 1870, the area was a mixture of prairie and woodlands. In the late 1700s, Native Americans from the Kickapoo tribe settled in the area after being pushed out of Michigan and Ohio by white settlers. The Kickapoo lived off the land in dome-shaped houses called wickiups, growing corn and squash and hunting local game.
In 1814 or 1815, Griffin Tipsword, an eccentric from Virginia, became the first settler in the area. According to legend, he befriended the Kickapoo, learned their language, hunted with them, and later brought his family from the east to live with the tribe. He was allegedly a skilled witch doctor, able to heal diseases. Another legend states Tipsword stopped the Kickapoo from massacring white settlers that had started to settle in the area. He died around 1845 and was buried along the banks of Wolf Creek, north of Altamont. Many of his descendants still live in the area.
By the 1830’s, the National Trail reached Effingham County bringing even more white settlers to the area. One of these settlers was Riley Howard. In July 1830, after acquiring land east of Altamont, Howard became the first landowner in Mound Township.
With the National Trail extending into the area, multiple communities were created. Freemanton was founded in 1834, three miles east of Altamont near present-day Dexter Road. It had a reputation as a rough frontier town. Mountville was founded south of the National Road on the banks of Big Creek, near present-day Southmore Estates and Effingham Equity in Altamont. Mountville consisted of a store, tavern/inn, and a log house. Later, Bethlehem was founded as a small farming community in 1865, and it was planned around its Lutheran Church built in 1860. After the introduction of the railroad these towns, besides Bethlehem, diminished.
In 1870, J.W. Conlouge, superintendent of the Vandalia Railroad, chose an area of Mound Township as the location of a new town. Conlouge surveyed and platted the land, and on July 19, 1870, he named it Altamont after the Blue Mound west of town. The name Altamont came from the Latin words “Alta” meaning high and “Mont” meaning mound. The first lots were purchased by Abner Dutton and R.S. Cutter, who opened the first stores in town. Altamont officially became a town in 1871.