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Galena, Illinois

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Before the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant clerked in his father’s leather goods store in Galena, for $600 a year.
  • More than 85% of Galena is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Galena’s DeSoto House Hotel is Illinois’ oldest operating hotel (1855).
  • Nine Galena men were made generals during the Civil War (though not always for service under fire).
  • The lead mining district, with Galena at its hub, in 1845 produced nearly 85% of the nation’s lead.

Small town, outsized appeal

Galena is a tiny dot on the map of northwestern Illinois, a town of around 3,300, but a place with appeal that way outstrips the simple matter of its size. It attracts all personality types and it wins plaudits for its rural riverside location and the physical charms of the town itself.

Galena sits amidst rolling hills on the Galena River (which was previously more colorfully called the Fever River) and it is only 14 miles to the main channel of the Mississippi. Area parks, rivers and at least one mountain tall enough to ski on offer opportunities for lovers of outdoor holiday pursuits. The rolling greens are good for golfers, too.

But the town itself is full of historic — and nicely restored — 19th century buildings, many now museums, boutiques, restaurants, B&Bs and other facilities of interest to tourists from anywhere on the personality spectrum. The town looks the way it does because of a mid-19th century boom period. Galena was founded after the discovery of lead sulfide, and, in fact, the town name is Latin for lead sulfide. As area lead production grew, Galena became a bustling metropolis of 14,000. That was 1858. Remember, the population today does not surpass 4,000.

The bulk of the town’s structures are considered historically significant. Some are survivors of a devastating 1856 fire, including the historic DeSoto House Hotel, which opened the year before the conflagration. Local ordinances now forbid the use of wood for construction in the downtown.

Galena’s other claim to fame is its connection to Ulysses S. Grant, who relocated to Galena with his family in 1860 and went to war a year later. The general returned after the Civil War but went to the White House in 1869.

Never mind that his two presidential terms were scandal-ridden affairs, he remains the Civil War hero in his Galena hometown. His life and times are remembered in several historic sites including the Ulysses S. Grant Home, and the town celebrates his birthday each year.

Tourists are today’s lead mines, as it were. More than a million come to Galena annually.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Join the annual Cemetery Walk to Greenwood Cemetery, produced by the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society, in June. Reenactors tell the stories in live theater format of nine former residents now buried in the cemetery — while you visit their gravesites.
  • Compete in the Galena Triathlon and Duathlon, held in May.
  • Go fishing or hiking in the Apple River Canyon State Park. The nearly 300-acre park is notable for its huge limestone cliffs and deep ravines. You also can fish or hike at Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park near the village of Lena. Both places have camping.
  • Make the bicycle your transport mode of choice for seeing some area attractions. Or, rent a motorscooter to do your area sightseeing.
  • Go kayaking in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. Or, contact Fever River Outfitters to combine the de-stressing characteristics of a kayak tour and yoga.
  • See a local troupe, providing free entertainment, perform Irish dances for patrons of the Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub and Grill. For a change of pace, the town has wine bars, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sign on for a bird-watching excursion to see waterfowl as they migrate along the Mississippi, or see other migrating fowl in wooded and open areas.
  • Stay at the rustic Inn at Irish Hollow where you can hike miles of reclaimed rail routings. Follow that with a stone massage.
  • Go beyond Galena for northern Illinois’ rolling hills, river valleys and the evidence of what has gone before. Start with the Gramercy Park/Hopewell Indian Mounds in East Dubuque. Also, see the Apple River Fort State Historic Site in Elizabeth, which recalls days when settlers quickly built a fort as protection during the Black Hawk War of 1832, and the Chicago Great Western Railroad Museum, also in Elizabeth.
  • See the area from a hot-air balloon — in June, watch the Great Galena Balloon Race, too. View the area differently from a Mississippi riverboat.
  • Come to Galena in April in time for the Ulysses S. Grant birthday celebrations, which include a period Birthday Ball, lamplight tours of his home and living history reenactments where you may meet “Ulysses S. Grant.”
  • Ski at the Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort, which is close enough to have a Galena address. You also can cross-country ski on the 3.4-mile Galena River Trail.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Shop on Galena’s historic Main Street, which is well supplied with boutiques and galleries — also, restaurants for a food break.
  • Make the historic DeSoto House Hotel your home away from home. It was President Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign headquarters.
  • Learn more about the country’s 18th president by touring the Ulysses S. Grant Home, which was given to the general in recognition of his war service. Also, see the Galena History Museum, and the Old Market House for more on the general and president.
  • Drive the area’s scenic Stagecoach Trail. It follows an early 19th century stagecoach route between Galena and Lena. There are opportunities to ride in a horse-drawn stagecoach, as well.
  • Treat yourself to a wine-tasting session at the Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery. It is on the Northern Illinois Wine Trail, which also includes the nearby Massbach Ridge Winery in Elizabeth. Or, time your trip for the March Galena Wine Lovers’ Weekend, which features wine and wine makers, food and celebrity chefs.
  • Join a themed sightseeing tour of this small town full of historic settings. Your choices include tours by trolley or horse-drawn carriage. They also include mansion tours and ghost tours.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau at