Column:  A visit to Galena, Illinois


With spring upon us, we will explore places closer to home. Today, we visit Galena, Ill., 344 miles from Indianapolis.

Galena, located along the Galena River in far northwestern Illinois, was named for its deposits of galena, a lead-bearing ore mined by Native Americans for more than 1,000 years. When European settlers discovered these deposits, they rushed to the area. By 1825, the town’s population had reached 10,000, roughly the same as Chicago’s. Mississippi riverboats traveling between St. Louis and St. Paul stopped in Galena for its exuberant nightlife along the river. In 1860, Ulysses S. Grant moved to Galena with his wife, Julia, to work in his father’s leather goods business. After commanding the victorious Union forces during the Civil War, Grant returned to Galena, where grateful Republican residents gave him a two-story brick house. Grant visited Galena often while serving as the 18th president but did not return when his second term ended in 1877.

Today, Galena has a population of about 3,200. The house where Grant and his wife lived is a National Historic Landmark, providing guided tours. The grounds include a statue of Julia Grant, erected in 2006. Galena includes many other well-maintained Victorian homes built by steamboat captains and mining executives. The most visited is the 22-room Belvedere Mansion, built in 1857 by J. Russell Jones, a friend of Abraham Lincoln who championed Grant’s run for the presidency and became ambassador to Belgium. Beautifully maintained Grant Park, located along the Galena River, includes a 9-foot statue of Grant, erected in 1896, and a victory column honoring Civil War veterans from the area. A bridge connects the park to the so-called ““Helluva Half Mile,” Galena’s downtown, itself a National Historic Landmark, featuring a variety of shops and restaurants catering to the more than 1 million people who visit each year.