Galena, Illinois-Grant Park-SS
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Explore Galena Illinois: The Town That Time Forgot

Nestled along the scenic banks of the Mississippi River in Northwest Illinois, Galena beckons visitors with its timeless charm and rich historical tapestry.

Steeped in 19th-century allure, this picturesque town — known in some circles as “The Town That Time Forgot” — boasts a treasure trove of well-preserved architecture, captivating museums, and storied landmarks that offer a captivating glimpse into the past.

From the stately Ulysses S. Grant Home to the elegant Belvedere Mansion, Galena invites explorers to wander through its historic streets and uncover the stories of yesteryear.

Galena, Illinois-Grant Park-SS
Grant Park I photo credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock

The Home of 9 Civil War Generals

Galena is a haven for history buffs because it was once the home of nine Civil War generals. Chief among that group is Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th U.S. President and Commanding General of the Union Army in the Civil War. Grant and his family came to Galena in 1860 and he was promoted to General by 1861.

Galena is also the home of these Civil War generals:

  • Augustus Louis Chetlain
  • John Oliver Duer
  • John Eugene Smith
  • John Corson Smith
  • Jasper Adalmorn Maltby
  • Ely Samuel Parker
  • William Rueben Rowley
  • John Aaron Rawlins

U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site

Gen. Grant returned home to a hero’s welcome after the Civil War and was presented with a two-story, furnished house. While he only made sporadic visits to Galena after that, the home has been maintained as a memorial since 1904.

Those who appreciate fine architecture can marvel at the Italianate-style home which features balustraded balconies over covered porches, projecting eaves, and well-defined rectangular shapes — typical of the style of the time.

The Grant Home became a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It features family-owned furnishings and an adjacent building has further information about Grant’s family.

Galena Historic District-Galena, Illinois
Galena | photo via that_kwc

Galena Historic District

Galena is a town steeped in history and nowhere is that history more evident than in Galena’s Historic District. The district includes over 800 properties and encompasses 85 percent of the city.

The appearance of properties within the district, which are made of mostly stone and brick, is influenced by a series of 1850s fires that prohibited construction using wood.

Lead mining in the early 1800s led to Galena being a regional hub in Illinois, but decades passed and Galena experienced a long decline. Galena preserved its historic district with an ordinance in 1965 and in 1969, the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors to the historic district can admire many architectural styles, including Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne. Many buildings house shops, galleries, and restaurants, adding to the district’s vibrant and inviting atmosphere. 

The Belvedere Mansion and Gardens

From its construction in 1857 by J. Russell Jones, the Belvedere Mansion on 1008 Park Ave., has been considered the finest mansion in Galena and is open for seasonal tours.

The Belvedere Mansion and Gardens are open to the public from mid-May to mid-November.

This historic 22-room mansion is undeniably lavish as the most visited Italianate mansion in town. The mansion includes a Victorian dining room; beautiful and mysterious chandeliers, beautifully decorated rooms, and more.

The property also includes exquisite gardens with seasonal plantings that add awesome splashes of color. The gardens also have a Victorian Veranda — perfect for birdwatching and relaxing.

DeSoto House Hotel

With the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad, local investors formed the “Galena Hotel Company” and built the DeSoto House Hotel in 1855 — billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West” in the “Metropolis of the Northwest.”

As one of the finest hotels in Illinois, DeSoto became the city’s center of political activity. Abraham Lincoln spoke there in 1856, Sen. Stephen Douglas spoke there in 1858 and a rally of over 15,000 was held there to support Lincoln’s bid for president in 1860. 

Famous guests who have stayed there include Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Robert E. Lee, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Despite some setbacks throughout its history, the DeSoto House stands tall today with dozens of guest rooms, conference and banquet rooms, specialty shops, multiple dining areas, and private parking.

Galena Main Street

There’s plenty of history to soak in in Galena, but the town’s Historic Main Street is a shopper’s delight and easily walkable.

With over 100 shops and restaurants, visitors can literally shop til they drop, going from one to another. From sweet and ice cream shops to spas, wine tasting, and amazing dining options this is a perfect way to enjoy shopping without settling for name-brand stores.

Such a walkable downtown gives shoppers a fun shopping experience, but also plenty of energy to enjoy restaurants and nightlife at the end of the day.

Apple River Fort State Historic Site-Galena, Illinois
Apple River Fort State Historic Site | photo via ewelina.w.s.77

Apple River Fort State Historic Site

Located just 20 minutes from Galena, the Apple River Fort is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the site of one of the battles fought during the Black Hawk War. The site features an interpretive visitor center and a reconstruction of the former fort.

The fort is open year-round and features living history activities and special events during weekends from May through October.

The visitor center features exhibits and showings of dramatic video depicting the attack on Apple River Fort and other events during the Black Hawk War in 1832. The fort is open for self-guided tours and is a family-friendly place to gain a deeper appreciation of history.

All About a Ghost Tour

History buffs with a fondness for the supernatural can enjoy the All About a Ghost Tour. The tour, which starts at the DeSoto House Hotel, is a walking tour and features authentic ghost stories about the city’s past and present.

Admission is affordable and this is a fun way for visitors to immerse themselves in Galena’s history.

Galena, Illinois | photo via devinbeau_

Explore The Historical Hidden Gem of Galena Illinois

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, architecture aficionado, or simply seeking a retreat into the past, Galena promises an unforgettable sojourn into the heart of American history.

Strolling through the Galena Historic District is a delightful way to immerse yourself in the town’s history and architectural splendor. The district’s charming streets and well-preserved buildings offer a glimpse into Galena’s 19th-century heyday and provide a unique and enriching experience for residents and visitors alike.