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Picturesque Historic Site of Galena, Illinois
Scenic Day Trip
One year when my mother and I were visiting her sister and brother-in-law (my aunt and uncle) in Bettendorf, Iowa we decided to take a bit of time to see some sites outside of the Quad-City area and take a scenic day trip.
As some of you might know, the Quad Cities are truthfully a misnomer. It should be called the Quint Cities but the name Quad has remained.
Bettendorf and Davenport are in the State of Iowa and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline are on the Illinois side of the rivers. The mighty Mississippi River and the Rock River meet at this point where these cities are located.
There is much to do and see in this area, but my mother, aunt and I decided to head out and explore the city of Galena, Illinois which is located in the far northwestern tip of Illinois.
I was driving and after crossing the Mississippi River most of the scenery we saw on that beautiful day was on the Illinois side of the river.
Galena, Illinois is located on the banks of the Galena River which flows out to the Mississippi River. It is an extremely picturesque spot due to all of the rolling hills and exposed rocks in this area.
The Galena River (earlier known as the Fever River) is only 52.4 miles (84.3 km) long originating in Wisconsin before flowing into Illinois and ultimately joining the Mississippi River.
The town of Galena straddles the Galena River and it is only an area of 3.7 square miles (9.6 km) with elevations that rise up to 633 feet (193 m) above sea level.
The terraced streets twist and turn and historic buildings were built upon the bluffs overlooking the river.
Sauk and Fox Indians originally lived in this area and probably the most famous of them was the Indian Chief known as Black Hawk.
Galena actually derives its name from the lead ore that was used by the Indians for body painting. When the French settled in this area and started mining the lead, this is what spurred the growth of this town in the early 1800s.
The mansions built during that time stand as a testament to the riches derived from the lead mining although it was short lived when the amount of lead quickly played out.
Galena for a time was once a major steamboat port during the heyday of the lead mining operation.
My mother, aunt and I decided to take a trolley tour of Galena and were glad that we did because the trolley operator gave a running commentary on what we were viewing as he navigated the sometimes steep and winding streets.
The Dowling House pictured above is supposedly Illinois's oldest stone structure and oldest home which was once a 1826 trading post.
DeSoto House Hotel
Just one of many historic sites in Galena, Illinois is the DeSoto House Hotel which opened its doors in 1855.
Galena at one time was larger than the City of Chicago! So obviously visitors needed a place to stay and arrive they did!
It is located in the middle of the downtown area and as we were being driven by the hotel while on the trolley, we were informed that Abraham Lincoln once gave a speech from that very balcony!
Other notable persons in history have also stayed there including such people as Stephen A. Douglas, William Jennings Bryan and Ulysses S. Grant.
The DeSoto House Hotel is still operating today accepting guests who wish to explore more of the things to see and do in this pretty little town.
The Old Galena High School
The Old Galena High School now has another purpose.
Rebuilt in 1905 after a fire destroyed the school it was sold in 1980 and people now live in condominiums within that pretty building which is reputed to be a Richardsonian Romanesque style.
This building certainly dominates the landscape in Galena. It would be fun to see what the condominiums look like on the inside.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant actually lived in two different homes in Galena, Illinois. The first one was modest but after the Civil War he was so esteemed by the residents of Galena that he was given a mansion in which to live.
The year was 1865 and he only lived there for about four years after which he became the 18th President of the United States.
The mansion has been preserved and still contains memorabilia and furnishings from those days and is now a State Historic Site.
President Ulysses S. Grant's final home...
Galena Post Office and Custom House
Another historic site in Galena is the U.S. Post Office and Custom House.
This Renaissance Revival Building constructed of Nauvoo limestone was built in 1858. It has the ranking of being the oldest continuously operating post office in all of the United States!
Turner Hall got its name from the "Turners" or Turnverein Clubs that originated in Germany.
My great -grandparents who were of German descent were members of the Turnverein Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Turnverein members promoted physical exercise as well as mental stimulation and also philanthropic benefits to the communities in which they lived.
This building called Turner Hall originated in 1874. Today although it has changed ownership it is utilized for entertainment purposes, social engagements, educational and gymnastic activities and other events. It remains to be a terrific asset to the town of Galena, Illinois.
Galena Railroad Depot
The Galena Chamber of Commerce is located in the old Galena Railroad Depot located at Bouthillier Street and Park Avenue. This is where we discovered the options of what there was to do and see in Galena and where we signed up for our trolley tour of the town.
It operates as the Visitor Information Center for Galena.
Galena Public Library
This current building of the Galena Public Library originated in 1906. Prior to that the town library was housed in the Daniel A. Barrows mansion dating back to 1858.
Located at 601 S. Bench Street, it is a beautiful structure serving a population of over 4,500 residents.
Bed and Breakfast Inns
There are a great number of Bed and Breakfast Inns in which one might choose to stay when visiting Galena, Illinois.
In addition to learning more about the history of the area, there are numerous things with which one might be entertained for a time.
Although our visit was only for a day, we learned that there are river cruises, home tours, spas, hiking, gardens to visit, shopping, ski and golf resorts and even some ghost tours for those so inclined to explore those areas.
Naturally there are a number of restaurants in Galena and we grabbed a bite to eat in one of them while waiting for our trolley tour to begin.
Galena, Illinois turned out to be a delightful days journey away from my aunt and uncle's home in Bettendorf, Iowa and we learned much about this county seat and largest city in Jo Daviess County of Illinois.
It is a tourist destination worth visiting in my opinion and our one day visit...considering the driving time to go there and return home...only gave us a glimpse of what there is to offer people who can spend a bit more time there.
The topography of the land is spectacular.
Built on both sides of the Galena River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, this small town of Galena, Illinois is big on natural beauty and amenities.
© 2011 Peggy Woods