Having been here in Illinois for over two months now, we have gotten the skinny on some of the cute, historical, All-Americana towns we might want to visit. The top town, according to locals around here is Galena, 150 miles away in Western Illinois.
For the architecture buff, this town has some real gems. Mostly middle 19th century homes and buildings.
The oldest house in Galena is the Dowling House. Built in 1826 of limestone, it was once the only trading post in the city. The Dowling House was equipped with primitive living quarters and hosted many fur traders in years past.
The Desoto Hotel is the oldest operating hotel in Illinois and steeped in history. U.S. Grant, who lived just across the river, set up his presidential headquarters in rooms 209 and 211. In 1856 a tall man from Springfield spoke from the balcony to a large crowd below about the future of the newly organized Republican Party. Two years later Lincoln’s opponent in the 1858 presidential race, Senator Stephen Douglas, rallied townsfolk from this balcony. In its time, the Desoto House Hotel was billed as the “largest hotel in the West.”
Overlooking the Galena River is the majestic Belvedere Mansion. This Italianate style house was built for a steamboat operator in 1857 and was considered extremely modern, and cost $18,000 to construct. Today, locals refer to it as the Downton Abbey of Galena. And I heard the green curtains inside this house were used in the film Gone With the Wind.
The U.S. Grant home was built for the returning Civil War hero. The Federal style brick house sits on a bluff overlooking Galena. Reminds me of the question Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?
Downtown is dotted with historic buildings and homes. Many homes, like the Spillman House, are opened as B & B’s. The design of the cupola allows for views of the Mississippi River to the west.
Just outside of town is the Apple River Fort the site of an important battle during the Black Hawk War, and the old blacksmith shop.
In order to get a real feel for this Main Street American town, visit the Old Market House right downtown. This historic building houses the visitor center and the “World’s Largest Collection” of Ulysses S. Grant minutia. By the way, Grant is not buried Grant’s tomb. He’s entombed in Grant’s tomb.
Rich in history, visiting Galena is like taking a trip back in time.