In 1690 Frenchman Nicholas Perrot set up a trading post on the east side of the Mississippi River opposite the  site of present day Dubuque, Iowa. Downstream from the trading post on the Fever River, he came across Sac and Fox Indians mining lead. In 1826 the town of Galena was established on the Fever River, named after the Latin word for Lead Sulphide. The Fever River provided a vital transport link to the Mississippi and soon the town became the centre of a lead rush. By the middle of the 19th century Galena was the busiest port between St. Paul and St. Louis. In 1854 the Illinois Central Railroad arrived and the Fever River was renamed Galena River. Like many mining towns, Galena’s meteoric rise was followed by a decline. Lead mining had caused silting of the Galena River making navigation difficult and making the city increasingly prone to flooding. The the population dropped as the lure of gold persuaded many to head out west.  Galena had around 14,000 people in the mid 19th century, today it has around 3,600. The worst flood occurred in 1937 leaving Main Street under 1.5 metres (5 feet) of water. A dyke with floodgates was completed in 1951 to protect the city from flooding. The decline of Galena left it with many fine old buildings and in the mid 1960s the Galena Historic District was set up. By 1968 85 percent of Galena was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.




Main Street

Entering Galena is a little strange as you pass through large flood gates set into the protective dyke. Once inside the dyke you are in a different world. But for the modern cars parked all along Main Street you could have travelled back through time.


Ulysses S Grant Home

The most famous resident of Galena was Civil War General Ulysses S Grant. Born in Point Pleasant in Ohio, Grant chose not to  to join his father’s tannery business but instead took up a career in the U.S. Army rising to the level of Captain. In 1854 he resigned from the military and tried his hand at farming, with little success.  In 1860 his father offered him a position at a leather shop that he owned in Galena, so Ulysses and his family moved there and rented a small house in the town. In 1861 the Civil War broke out and Grant left Galena to rejoin the  U.S. Army. On August 18, 1865 General Ulysses S Grant returned to Galena in triumph. A group of Republican supporters bought a house that had been constructed in 1860 for former City Clerk Alexander J. Jackson and they presented it to Grant. In 1868 Grant was elected President and from then on he visited his home in Galena only occasionally. When he left office in 1877 he embarked on a two year world tour then on his return he settled in New York. He last visited his Italianate style home in Galena in 1880. In 1904 Grant's children gave the house and its contents to the City of Galena, stipulating that it should kept as a memorial to the late General Ulysses S Grant.   The city could not afford the cost of maintaining the house, so in 1931 the State of Illinois took over responsibility. The Ulysses S Grant Home has been restored to its 1868 appearance  complete with much of Grant’s original furniture. It is open for guided tours Wednesday to Sunday.

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Dowling House, Diagonal Street

The oldest house still standing in Galena is the Dowling House, built of limestone in 1826 by John Dowling. It started life as a fur trading post. Dowling House is open for guided tours.

Old Market House, Commerce Street

By 1838 Galena was booming and in desperate need of infrastructure to support its growing population. A particular problem was that vendors were scattered across the city so plans were made to build a Market Hall where they could all be housed together. There were delays due to financing problems, but in 1845 work started on a Greek Revival style Market House designed by Galena city alderman Thomas Blish. It opened in July 1846 with 12 stalls on the lower floor, the surveyor's office and city council chamber on the upper floor. It was also used to house a fire engine  and for a time there were jail cells in the basement. Increasing flooding brought markets to an end in 1910 and in 1938 the city council and fire department moved out.   The State of Illinois took over the Old Market House in 1947 and by 1954 they had restored it. The Old Market House is now a State Historic Site and it houses the Galena Welcome Center.


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- The beautifully preserved historic buildings.
-  Surely a way can be found to provide parking off Main Street so that the historic buildings can be seen without a row of parked cars in front of them?
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Main Street, Galena, IL, USA


Ulysses S Grant Home, Galena, IL, USA
Dowling House, Diagonal Street, Galena, IL, USA
Old Market House, Commerce Street, Galena, IL, USA

E B Washburne House, 3rd Street

Elihu B. Washburne was a recently qualified attorney when he moved to Galena in 1840. He was a supporter of the Whig Party and he expected that he would find plenty of work in Galena as most of the attorneys there were Democrats and he thought that people would prefer to use a lawyer who shared their political views. He was proved right and in 1843 he had made enough money to be able to start construction of a large house. His Greek Revival style mansion was completed in 1845 and enlarged in 1859. Washburn became a Republican when the party was founded. He went on to become a congressman, political adviser to both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and US ambassador to France. After he returned to the US at the end of his ambassadorship, he decided to relocate to Chicago. Washburne House was sold in 1882 and was then owned by the same family until 1968 when the State of Illinois bought it. Guided tours of Washburne House are available in  season on Fridays.

E B Washburne House, 3rd Street, Galena, IL, USA


Desoto House Hotel

The Desoto House Hotel claims to be the oldest hotel still open for business in Illinois. It opened as a 5 storey, 225 room hotel in 1855, a time when Galena’s lead mining industry was still booming. Abraham Lincoln spoke from the Main Street balcony of the hotel on July 23, 1856 in support of John Fremont’s bid for presidency. In 1859 there was a major fire that destroyed a number of the rooms and caused smoke damage throughout the hotel. It was restored and in 1865 it hosted a reception ball for 2,000 people to celebrate the triumphant return of General Ulysses S Grant from the Civil War. In 1869 the hotel was damaged by a steam boiler exploding in the basement and the following year it closed. It reopened under a new owner in 1871. Galena had by then started to decline, and the Desoto Hotel was too big for the reducing demand. In 1880 the top two floors were removed. As Galena continued its decline, much of the hotel became a boarding house. By the 1980s the building had been condemned leaving the hotel under threat. Mayor Frank Einsweiller raise enough funds to renovate the building and Desoto House was reborn as a 55 room hotel.

Desoto House Hotel, Main Street, Galena, IL, USA


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