TIP: Parking can be a challenge in Galena on weekends. You can troll Main Street and the side streets for the free spots (2-hour limit), but, if you think you are going to spend the better part of the day exploring Galena, just buck up and pay at one of the all-day lots near the Galena River.
Walking Tour of the Central Core
Plan on spending at least half a day on this tour, longer if you take the house tours. If you want a shorter tour, stick to the sights around Main Street only.
Begin your tour at the former family home of President Grant—the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site (500 Bouthillier St.; 815.777.0248). The interior has been maintained in the style in which the Grants lived in 1881 and has some impressive period pieces, although not original to the house.
The Washburne House (908 Third St.; 815.777.9406) was completed in 1845 as a single-story Greek Revival home and enlarged 16 years later. The home’s namesake, Elihu Washburne, was a lawyer, politician, and friend of U.S. Grant, who learned he won the Presidential election of 1868 while sitting in the library of this house. The house is furnished with period items, although few are original to the house.
Nothing is subtle about the Belvedere Mansion (1008 Park Ave.; 815.777.0747). Built in 1857 by Russell Jones, a future ambassador to Belgium, this Italianate house was his home for barely four years. When he moved away from Galena, he took his possessions and stripped the house to the rafters. Neglected for 20 years at one stretch, it was resurrected in the 1960s as a high-end restaurant. The current owners have called Belvedere home for over 35 years, yet every year they open it to the public for daily tours from May to October. I could be wrong, but I think they have a fascination with fame. The house is furnished with an exquisite collection of antiques they have purchased over the years, many of them at auction. Antiques in the house include chairs from the movie Marie Antoinette, furniture once owned by Liberace, and green curtains from the movie Gone with the Wind (no, not the curtains that became a dress). The tour is certainly worth the time and money it takes to go through the house.
Grant Park (Park Ave.; 815.777.1050) is across the Galena River from downtown and has good views and plenty of shady spots for a picnic. It was created in 1891 to honor the former President, who died six years previous. The park has several antique cannons, including one that was part of the Confederate battery that started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter in 1861.
From Grant Park, take the pedestrian bridge across the Galena River to the main business district. This section includes four churches; if you want to go inside them, you should call each in advance as they are usually locked.
The Old Market House State Historic Site (123 N. Commerce St.; 815.777.2570) is an 1845 Greek Revival structure that has served a dual purpose of market and city council home. The first floor houses a permanent exhibit about U.S. Grant, most of which is quite informative, with some occasional kitsch thrown in to make sure you are paying attention, like the rock paintings of Grant and other presidents. The second floor has an exhibit about the building’s history.
You can watch demonstrations of a craft that once seemed on the verge of disappearing (but can now be found at just about any historical park) at the Old Blacksmith Shop (245 Commerce St.; 815.777.9131). Kidding aside, the blacksmiths are very skilled and worth watching and you can purchase their hand-made iron products in the gift store.
Father Samuel Mazzuchelli designed the brick Church of St. Mary (406 Franklin St.; 815.777.2053) for a growing congregation of German parishioners; he also delivered a sermon at the first mass in December 1860. The high altar and the painting of the Assumption just above it were completed in 1878. The entire church has been through a series of renovations in the past 20 years and is in excellent condition.
The Grace Parish House Gallery (309 Hill St.; 815.777.2590) hosts rotating exhibits spotlighting the work of local artists. Just around the corner on Prospect Street, the Gothic Grace Episcopal Church was completed in 1849 from limestone quarried on-site. The church has Belgian art glass windows and the oldest pipe organ in the Upper Midwest, which was donated to the church in 1838 by the widow of Alexander Hamilton (the first US Secretary of the Treasury), whose son, Colonel William S. Hamilton, worked the mines around Galena from the early 1820s to 1849. The impressive choir stalls and altar are walnut.
The Romanesque Revival First Methodist Church (125 S. Bench; 815.777.0192) was dedicated in 1857 and was once the home church for the Grant family; their pew is still marked. The church has a dozen art glass windows that date to the church’s construction (and were restored in 1980s) and a Moline Pipe Organ installed in 1880.
The Galena/Jo Daviess History Museum (211 S. Bench St.; 815.777.9129) has two floors of exhibits about Galena history. Start your visit by watching the informative 16-minute video about the town’s history. The exhibits about lead mining and Galena’s Civil War history are especially interesting.
The first St. Michael Catholic Church (227 S. Bench St.; 815.777.2053) was completed in 1842 for the astronomical sum of $14,000 but was destroyed by fire just 14 years later. Father Mazzuchelli designed the new church. Construction started in 1856, but troubles with financing delayed completion until 1863. At 135 feet long and 60 feet wide, this is the largest church designed by Father Mazzuchelli and is arguably his finest building. In order to eliminate the need for columns inside the spacious nave, Father Mazzuchelli designed a special truss to support the roof, an innovation well ahead of its time. The interior has been through several renovations, most recently in the late 1980s.
If you feel up to a good climb, take the Green Street stairs uphill (just south of St. Michael), then go left and walk to Linmar Gardens (504 S. Prospect St., 815.777.1177) where you can get a guided tour of the 3½ acres lush with waterfalls, church ruins, and architectural salvage cleverly hidden in a densely landscaped hillside above town.
The last stretch takes you along Main Street. Don’t rush. Take time to explore the shops, grab a bite to eat, and check out the following sights.
Sample locally produced wine at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery (515 S. Main St.; 815.777.3330).
Preserving the history of the Old Stockade (208 Perry St.) has clearly been a labor of love. The building was constructed as a warehouse around 1828 in the French post-on-sill style in which logs were placed vertically on the foundation instead of horizontally. Inside the building, you will see cutaways showing the interior construction and displays of local history.
Dowling House (220 Diagonal St.; 815.777.1250) is the oldest house in Galena, dating to 1826. After sitting empty for 50 years, an architect from Chicago purchased the property in the 1950s and used it as a country retreat. It has since been restored to resemble a country trading post on the first floor (with some fun antique tools) and a 19th-century residence on the second floor. Guided tours only. Buy a combo ticket with Belvedere Mansion and save a few bucks.
The Galena River Bike Trail is a 3.4-mile (one-way) flat, crushed-rock trail, mostly shaded, that is great for biking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. The trail begins at Depot Park; please note that you must pay a fee to park at the adjacent parking lots.
Attractions Away from the Business District
The West Street Sculpture Park (620 S. West St.; 815.777.9591) is the creation of a single artist who works on a very large scale. His playful creations have titles such as Eyeful Tower and Leaning Tower of Farming. A map and description of the pieces is available from an info kiosk on-site.
Buehler Preserve (815.858.9100) is an 18-acre preserve along the south bank of the Galena River and just east of the Meeker Street footbridge; this is a good spot for an easy hike with good bird-spotting.
Attractions in the Country
Adventure Creek Alpaca Farm (Galena Log Cabin Getaway, 9401 W. Hart John Rd.; 815.777.4200) has a free open house on Saturdays (all year) where you can gawk at or, for a modest fee, walk an alpaca. They also have a retail store open on weekends where you can buy alpaca yarn made on premises.
Just four miles from Galena, the 85 acres of Caspar Bluff (870 Pilot Knob Rd.; 815.858.9100) rise above the Mississippi River floodplain. The site has 51 Native American burial mounds, and even though many aren’t visible, the most dramatic—a bird effigy—is a short walk from the parking lot and is fairly easy to discern; it’s at the southern end of the preserve. From Galena, follow US 20 to Blackjack Road, then veer right on Pilot Knob Rd. The park is about 2½ miles on the right.
Located atop a bluff about nine miles southeast of Galena, Chestnut Mountain Resort (8700 W. Chestnut Rd.; 800.397.1320/815.777.1230) is a year-round resort destination. In winter, ski and snowboard on your choice of 19 trails that descend 475 feet. In summer, check out the 2500 foot alpine slide, mini-golf, or rent a mountain bike.