NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Galena and Things You Didn't Know About President Grant

Anyone driving to Galena is in for a treat, the countryside in Jo Daviess County is gorgeous, including the limestone alongside the road.

When I saw the Gray Headed Coneflowers (aka Yellow Coneflower and Pinnate Prairie Coneflower) along the top I had to pull off to the side and get up there for a closer look.  I haven't seen such a dense collection of them anywhere else this summer.

Ratibida pinnata

A little further along I found another place to pull over and admire the view of the farms in the morning light.

Hazy morning promising heat and humidity on its way

I got to Galena before the town's shops opened and used the hour to get my exercise in before the heat and humidity got too high.

Main Street shops

Wayne and I stayed at the DeSoto House for one of our anniversaries, don't ask me which one except it had to be more than 5 years ago because it's been at least that long since I quit going to hotels unless I had absolutely no other choice.  With my allergies the cleaning agents and other products that get used make me too miserable and most establishments now have windows that don't open as well.  When I set up my tent or our RV I know I won't be going to bed with a migraine!  When we did stay at the DeSoto House I don't remember having any problems, but who knows what their policies may be at this time.

I popped inside for a quick look at the lobby which has a lovely tin ceiling.  Named for the discoverer of the Mississippi River, the DeSoto House opened on April 9, 1855 and was billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West.”  The original hotel building consisted of five stories and a lower level, 225 guest rooms, a gentleman’s reading room, ladies’ parlors, a 300 seat dining hall, a kitchen with equipments for feeding hundreds, and it own gas works for lighting halls, dining rooms, and public areas.  In addition, retail stores, offices, a saloon, and a bowling alley also found their home in the DeSoto House.

President  Abraham Lincoln spoke from its Main Street balcony on July 23, 1856, in support of John Fremont’s bid for presidency.  Just two years later, on July 25, 1858 Senator Stephen A. Douglas spoke from the same balcony.  On September 13, 1860, a crowd of over 15,000 rallied in front of the DeSoto in response to a “Grand Republican Mass Meeting” in support of Lincoln’s presidential bid.

Ulysses S. Grant’s return to his hometown of Galena following the Civil War brought 25,000 citizens to the streets to welcome him home.  Bands, parades, and cannon salutes preceded a reception ball for 2,000 persons which was held at the DeSoto House.  Grant later used rooms 209 and 211 of the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters.

Starting out on Main Street near the Floodgates built in 1951

I highly recommend touring Grant's home, though I didn't stop there last weekend.  Wayne and I really enjoyed all the information we learned about the 18th U.S. President when we visited.  Did you know that he was born Hiram Ulysses Grant? A clerical error had listed him as Ulysses S. Grant when he enrolled at West Point Academy.  Not wanting to be rejected by the school, he changed his name on the spot.  Ironically, he didn't do well at West Point, and planned to resign from the military after he served his mandatory four years of duty.

85% of the buildings in Galena are in a National Historic District

He resigned from the army in 1954 after 10 years of service and failed to make a go of farmland that was given to him by his father-in-law, then went on to fail to find success with a real estate venture, and was denied employment as an engineer and clerk in St. Louis. To support his family, he was reduced to selling firewood on a St. Louis street and eventually went to work below his younger brothers in the tannery business.  I found a great caricature of him as the "Galena Tanner" , part of his campaign that portrayed him as a workingman of the people, amusing because the family's leather business was the last place he wanted to end up.

lots of flowers planted along the way

In 1961 he re-entered the military during the Civil War and after some significant victories was promoted to major general of volunteers.  Did you know that Grant suffered from intense migraine headaches due to stress?  They  nearly disabled him and only helped to spread rumors of his drinking, as many chalked up his migraines to frequent hangovers.  He did not come by his success easily and when he was elected President in 1868 he was politically inexperienced and the youngest president up to that time at 46 years of age.

While he had some success during his time in office, including pushing through ratification of the 15th Amendment and establishing the National Parks Service, his administration's scandals rocked both of his presidential terms, and he didn't get the opportunity to serve a third.  We can thank Grant for signing the bill in 1872 that established Yellowstone as the first national park.  Want to know more about the efforts of others in establishing the park?  Try this link.

stairs going up from Bench Street to Prospect Avenue

For now, back to my walk in Galena, a city which in 1845 was producing 80% of the lead in the United States from mining efforts.  At one time 14,000 people lived here, but now less than a third of that number call Galena home.  The city's Main Street lies along the Galena River where you can get a trolley tour through its streets or you can do like I did and walk up all those stairs between the tiers that make up the town.

historic mansions above downtown

I walked 159 stairs from Bench Street up to Prospect Avenue alone, pausing twice to let my heart beat settle down a bit.  I thought about continuing upward but instead enjoyed watching a hummingbird sampling some blooms.

After eyeing a few mansions I took another stairway back down.  And down. And then another stairway down to Main Street, though that one was half as long as the first one.

Efforts to turn the nearly forgotten town of Galena into a tourist destination began in the 1980's and were very successful.  Once again it is a town visited by folks from all over the Midwest, and as far as old fashioned towns with quaint shops go I'd say it's one of the best if you like that sort of thing.  Unlike some towns, there are actually things worth buying in quite a few of the shops and the restaurants are decent as well.


I was only there to revisit two of the shops, and as soon as they unlocked at 10:00 I was picking out my spices at Garlic Garlic and my chocolates at Chocolat on Main Street.

I ended up being a bit disappointed in the chocolates.  They were twice as expensive as the ones I bought in Townsend Tennessee and only half as tasty.  Not a very good trade!

Walking back to my car as the humidity started sapping my energy I popped in to the U.S. Post Office out of curiosity and was amazed at the glamour I found inside!

High style for a place to buy your stamps!  Hope you enjoyed the little tour of Galena, if you're looking to come to the area in your R.V. I'd really recommend staying at Blanding Landing which is a Corps of Engineers park on the Mississippi River that is less than half an hour south.  I camped in my tent at Apple River Canyon State Park a half hour northeast of town which has no hookups but if you want a more rustic feel and have a smaller unit or tent I'd highly recommend it as well.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation on where to park our RV when we come that way. I haven't been in Galena in a ton of years, but your post reminded me of how much I loved driving thru the town and that part of Illinois. My dad used to drive us kids (nearly every summer) from our home in Niagara Falls to his birthplace of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Galena was a favorite of his for one reason: The old joke that never grew stale: "Do you know who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" One of the kids fell for it every time!

    Great photos!

    1. I love it when other people's posts bring up memories, like when yours reminded me of that great Truckee sourdough bread!

  2. I can believe we haven't stopped here on our journeys back and forth across the country. John is a major history buff and we general route around to see towns just like this. Thanks for the tour! The steps remind me of our visit to Bisbee, AZ and their 1000 steps.