Population (2010)



The oldest city in northern Illinois, Galena was more populous than Chicago at one time and has the infrastructure for a city three times its current population. It has a compact center of well-preserved 19th-century commercial buildings tucked into a narrow river valley; terraces race up the steep hillsides north and west of downtown, giving the town a feeling of beauty on the edge. Galena survived decades of down economic years before slowly growing into an artist colony and tourist Mecca. Galena, however, has evolved into a town with two distinct personalities: it may be the only town in America where you can spend thousands of dollars on an original piece of art, then walk two doors down and buy a T-shirt that reads “Firemen like it hot and wet.”

Visitor Information

Greater Galena Marketing Inc. maintains tourist information at the Old Market House (123 N. Commerce St.; 815.776.9200).


Galena became a town, a very wealthy one at that, because of lead. The success of early mining ventures attracted attention. In 1818, John and Tyler Armstrong arrived from Green Bay and built the first home in what would become Galena. They moved on to Wisconsin after a few months and Francisco Bouthillier, an interpreter for the British at Prairie du Chien, moved into their cabin and set up the first ferry service across the Fever River. A steady flow of settlers soon followed, including many Irish, French, and relocated Americans, who would soon be joined by immigrants from Wales. Many of the American settlers came from south-central states like Missouri and Kentucky. Many stayed only for the summer months, then returned home for the winter.

In 1822 Colonel James Johnson received a lease from the US government to mine around Galena. After negotiating a deal with local Ho Chunk leaders, he was allowed to proceed. His mine flourished, and the following year, the US granted nine more leases. In 1823, 425,000 pounds of ore were shipped down the Fever River; just six years later, that jumped to 13 million pounds. Galena grew in nearly equal proportion, even if folks had a hard time deciding on a name: are we La Pointe, Fever River Diggings, or Bean River Settlement? Stores and taverns opened, including a trading post owned by Frederick Dent, the father-in-law of Ulysses S. Grant.

In 1823, the Virginia was the first steamboat to navigate the Upper Mississippi River and the first of many steamboats to travel up the Fever River. You wouldn’t guess it by what you see today, but the Galena River used to be wider and deep enough (300 feet wide and 15 feet deep—about four feet deeper than the Mississippi at that time) to handle steamboats from the Mississippi.

By 1826, the town had become a bustling trading post populated with miners, gamblers, traders, rivermen, trappers, and other reputable characters. In that year, a certain Doctor Newhall wrote to his brother that “neither law nor Gospel can pass the rapids of the Mississippi.” By the end of the year, residents met to formally name their settlement. After rejecting the names Frederickstown, Jo Daviess, Harrison, and others, they settled on Galena—the Latin word for lead sulphide.

In 1828, the year John Dowling built his house, the number of buildings in town doubled and the population reached 800. In the same year, the burgeoning town experienced its first serious flood, which had an upside when one resident caught a 106-pound catfish. Galena suffered a brief decline from 1829–1832 in part because lead production was cut, intentionally, in an attempt to increase prices and because of uncertainty created by the Black Hawk War. Once hostilities ended, however, the economy once again kicked into high gear. Excitement about the area started to attract a wider range of settlers, many of whom were more interested in farming, and Galena also became a regional hub for grain shipping. By 1840, there were more farmers than miners. Because most goods were shipped via the Mississippi River, Galena had strong ties to St. Louis and New Orleans.

The 1840s were very prosperous years for Galenians, with productive mines, good farming, and a growing city. For the next two decades, Galena was the richest town in Illinois and arguably its most prominent community, producing several future governors and a future US Secretary of State. Galena, which had been organized by an act of the US Congress in 1835, incorporated under Illinois law in 1841 and elected its first mayor. Its population at that time had reached 2,225 and would more than double to 6,000 by 1850.

Lead production peaked in 1845 at 54 million pounds. In just a few years, the US had gone from importing lead from England to the world’s largest exporter of lead; 80% of that lead came from the mines around Galena. By 1854, residents were concerned that the name of the local river, the Fever River, might scare away potential settlers, so they petitioned the state legislature to call it the Galena River; the legislature agreed.

Signs of trouble were beginning to appear, however. Years of clear-cutting hillsides for mining and farming had sped soil erosion, sending tons of silt into the Galena River and making navigation increasingly difficult. Mining was also in decline, as remaining deposits were deeper and more expensive to extract. Further complicating matters, Galena was bypassed by the railroads in the 1850s. Galena had become an important trading outpost, with large warehouses and trade connections to Eastern cities. This commerce helped offset the decreasing production from lead mining, as did a burgeoning industrial sector, at least until the railroads built elsewhere. When East Dubuque became the terminus for the Illinois Central railroad, much of the shipping business was shifted from Galena. In 1858, Galena’s population peaked at 14,000; four years later, on the eve of Civil War, it had fallen to 10,000.

Galena was deeply affected by the Civil War. Nine men with ties to Galena served as generals in the Union Army. One of the generals, Ulysses S. Grant, was a recent transplant. Grant was a West Point graduate and 15-year Army veteran. After he retired, he tried a number of private sector jobs and failed at all of them. He and his family arrived in Galena in 1860, where he began work as a clerk in his father’s tannery business. He lived in town for just one year before Fort Sumter was attacked and the Civil War began. Grant quickly became involved with organizing and training local recruits, but his eyes were on a more prominent position in the Union Army. His initial attempts to contact the War Department went unanswered, so he entered service as Adjutant General of Illinois, where he organized state troops and was commissioned Colonel of the 21st Infantry Regiment before President Lincoln hired him to lead the Union forces.

As men abandoned their normal trades to enlist in the Army, Galena transformed from regional commercial hub into a center for recruiting and equipping volunteers. Several Galenians became high-ranking military officers, including Major General John Rawlins (Grant’s Chief of Staff). Grant returned to Galena in August 1865 to a cheering crowd of 10,000. Galenians presented him a new, fully furnished home as a token of thanks. He was elected President of the US just three years later. The Grants returned to Galena in 1879 after a world tour, again to an enthusiastic crowd, and lived in Galena until 1881. U.S. Grant died in New York City on July 25, 1885.

By 1870, the value of farm products had surpassed lead production but the overall economic trend was downward. The decline sent property values plummeting: the city’s total assessment went from $1,500,000 in 1857 to $450,000 just ten years later.

Galena’s economic decline is perhaps the main reason that the downtown core has remained intact: they didn’t have the money to tear down the buildings and experiment with urban renewal. That nearly changed in 1970 when city leaders, based upon the recommendations of outside consultants, proposed a plan to demolish 22 buildings and replace them with parking lots and strip malls. The plan triggered a revolt and Galenians voted down the plan 80% to 20%. In short order, the process of renovating downtown buildings began. The key event may have been the collapse of one wall of the Coatsworth Building (the building that once housed the leather goods store where US Grant worked). Mayor Enisweiler turned back efforts to demolish the building, instead seeing it as the anchor that could kick-start rehab efforts for the whole district. It worked. In 1978, the DeSoto House Hotel got money for an overhaul and the momentum was rolling. You can see the results as you walk down Main Street today.

Exploring the Area

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.


Galena Trolley Tours (314 S. Main St.; 815.777.1248) will take you around town with either a 1-hour tour of historic sites or a 2 1/2-hour tour of three historic homes.

Tri-State Trolley (buy tickets at 220 N. Main St./next to the DeSoto House Hotel; 800.779.4869/815.777.0820) also operates daily narrated tours from its ADA-accessible trolleys from late May through October.

If you want to go deeper into the area’s lead mining history, consider arranging a tour with professional historian Tracey Roberts (815.218.3571), who leads custom tours highlighting sights and stories from the lead mining era.

Galena Birding (815.777.0621) offers guided birding tours along the Mississippi River and other habitats in the region. Call for tour times and locations.

A town as old as Galena is bound to have its share of characters who refuse to go away. Steve Repp’s All About a Ghost Tour (DeSoto House Hotel, 230 S. Dodge St.; 815.777.9252) offers a 90-minute walking tour that will introduce you to some of those characters and other mysteries in Galena’s past.

Amelia’s Galen Ghost Tours (303 Main St.; 815.994.2868) also several tours into Galena’s mysterious past and present.

Getting on the River

Fever River Outfitters (525 S. Main St.; 815.776.9425) is the place to rent canoes, kayaks, bicycles, and other outdoor gear to get you closer to nature. They also offer several packages, including some with guides and some with shuttle service.

Ninety-minute eco-cruises on the Mississippi River depart from the base of the bluff below Chestnut Mountain Resort.

Entertainment and Events

The Galena Farmers’ Market is held on Saturday mornings at the Old Market House Square from May to October (123 N. Commerce St.; 815.777.1838).

Mark Twain and the Laughing River (111 N. Main St.; 815.777.8030) is actor Jim Post’s well-regarded musical interpretation of the life of one Samuel Clemens (you might know him as Mark Twain).

Two Tarot Ladies (411 Park Ave.; 815.777.0404) offers tarot readings that may offer a glimpse of your future, strictly for entertainment purposes, of course. Call to arrange a personal reading or catch them when they make appearances around town.

The Great Galena Balloon Race (800.690.1287; mid-June) features 20 or more hot air balloons at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena Territory. The Country Fair (Grant Park; 815.777.0817; Columbus Day weekend) draws about 20,000 people every year for its well-regarded art and craft vendors. Plan far in advance if you want to stay around Galena for this weekend. Amtrak offers service from Chicago for this event only.

Frank O’Dowd’s Pub (The Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel, 9853 US Highway 20 West; 866.284.7474/815.776.0707) has live music, mostly on weekend nights.

The Cornerstone (125 N. Main St.; 815.776.0700) is another pub with live music; the performers are generally of the singer/songwriter genre.

**Galena is covered in Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1 and Small Town Pleasures. But wait—there’s more: Galena is also featured in the second Frank Dodge mystery, Double-Dealing in Dubuque. Click the links above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.

Where to Eat and Drink

Enjoy a taste of locally made liquors at The Blaum Brothers Distilling Company (9380 W. US Highway 20; 815.777.1000); you can sample beverages on site–like their gin, bourbon, or vodka–before deciding what to take home with you. They also offer guided tours of their distillery.

Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape (242 N. Main St.; 815.214.0003) is a wine and martini bar, so there’s something for everyone.

The Gold Room Tavern (249 N. Main St.; 815.777.0319) is a popular spot for unwinding.

The Galena Brewing Company (227 N. Main St.; 815.776.9917) is a popular hangout for tourists and residents alike, with several taps of locally-made beer at the ready.

Galena has more than its share of fine dining establishments. If you’re on a budget, though, don’t fret. You have options.

Coffee Houses
Besides coffee, Kaladi’s .925 Coffee Bar (309 S. Main St.; 815.776.0723; WiFi) serves panini and gelato to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Budget Eating
Gobbie’s Sports Pub & Eatery (219 N. Main St.; 815.777.0243) serves up gigantic sandwiches and awesome pizza with crusts from thin to pan in a sports-bar atmosphere.

Durty Gurt’s Burger Joynt (235 N. Main St.; 815.776.9990) has a fun faux-hillbilly atmosphere and burgers bigger than most men’s heads; you can splurge, if you dare, and get a burger with four half-pound patties layered with cheese and bacon. Go crazy, just don’t complain to me in the morning.

The Galena Brewing Company (227 N. Main St.; 815.776.9917) serves up filling and tasty sandwiches and salads.

Cannova’s (247 N. Main St.; 815.777.3735) is a popular place for Italian comfort foods like pizza and pasta.

The Market House Restaurant (204 Perry St.; 815.777.0690) is best known for its Crab Louis Salad, which is like a creamy, sweet cole slaw with crab. The rest of the menu is a fairly standard collection of sandwiches/burgers, including a few vegetarian options; dinner entrées cover the familiar pasta, steak, and seafood territory. The garden room is a beautiful and relaxing space to eat a meal.

Vinny Vanucchi’s Little Italy (201 S. Main St.; 815.777.8100) is another favorite for its Italian food, with meatball and sausage sandwiches, pastas, and main dishes like chicken cacciatore, veal marsala, and pollo compomare.

Fine Dining
Frank O’Dowd’s Pub (Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel, 9853 US Highway 20 West; 866.284.7474/815.776.0707) serves food with a decided Irish influence, albeit a modern one, with dishes like the Irish seafood bake and Gaelic steak.

One of the best spots for a splurge is Fried Green Tomatoes (213 N. Main St.; 815.777.3938), an atmospheric restaurant housed in a restored commercial building that serves classic Italian dishes, steak, and seafood.

Fritz and Frites (317 N. Main St.; 815.777.2004) serves an unlikely mix of German fare like Wiener schnitzel and classic French dishes such as poulet roti, but the food is top-notch and the bistro setting comfortable; the menu changes with the seasons.

The Log Cabin Steakhouse (201 N. Main St.; 815.777.0393) is a long-time favorite of Galenians; steak reigns supreme, but they have a host of seafood entrées, as well as entrées with a Greek touch.

Where to Sleep

Galena may be the boutique accommodations capital of the Mississippi Valley, with a healthy number of bed-and-breakfasts and small inns, although budget accommodations are in short supply. During summer weekends, rooms fill up quickly, so book in advance.

Author’s Pick
The Inn at Irish Hollow (2800 S. Irish Hollow Rd.; 815.777.6000) is a luxurious option in a bucolic location. The Inn has three spacious rooms accented with seasonal decorations. They also rent five cottages that range from simply elegant to spectacular; some cottages have showers with four showerheads! All units have a private bath and are the epitome of tasteful elegance. The setting is peaceful and isolated, all the better to savor the gourmet meals. Breakfast is up to three courses and guests have the option of partaking in a 7-course dinner. If you are looking for a special splurge, look no further. Check their website for package deals.

The Palace Campground (11357 US Highway 20 West; 815.777.2466) is the only full-service campground in the immediate area; it has nearly 200 campsites on a sprawling site.

In Galena? Are you kidding? You won’t have much luck finding a room under $90/night in summer. Here are two of the less expensive options. Grant Hills Motel (9853 US Highway 20; 877.421.0924; WiFi) has 33 updated rooms on the outskirts of Galena; all rooms have a refrigerator and some also have a microwave; all guests have use of a common kitchen and dining area, picnic area with grills, and laundry room.

The Palace Campground has five rustic cabins that are like camping but with walls.

Galena Log Cabin Getaway (9401 W. Hart John Rd.; 815.777.4200) is only a few miles outside of Galena but feels hours removed from civilization. The 11 cabins were constructed with 19th-century building techniques but furnished with the 21st century in mind, with amenities such as a microwave, satellite TV, and small refrigerator. The property includes over two miles of hiking trails and a herd of alpacas (see above).

Bed-and-Breakfasts: In Town
All of these places serve a full breakfast.
Abe’s Spring Street Guest House (414 Spring St.; 815.777.0354) has two suites in a former ice house decorated with the handiwork of local sculptor and potter Charles Fach, one of the owners. One suite has a bathroom with Jacuzzi tub in a very cool former root cellar. Guests have use of a private sauna and hot tub.

Abbey’s High Street Bed & Breakfast