First Lady

Hitch up your buggies, gals—today I’m taking you away to the historic town of Galena, Illinois.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Galena was a booming town along the Mississippi River known for its ample lead reserves. It’s also the site of Ulysses S. Grant’s home and the DeSoto House Hotel, once host to Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln (who spoke from the hotel balcony in 1856).

Despite a swift end to the lead boom in the 1900’s, Galena’s geography is still fascinating. Galena falls in the Driftless Zone, a geographic area that wasn’t covered by glaciers in the last ice age. While glaciers drifted over and flattened the rest of Illinois, Galena remained unscathed and got to keep its characteristic hills, valleys, and cliffs of exposed rock. Because of this, the town is a multi-level treat to behold.

Galena, Illinois, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, IvoShandor

And then there’s the Ulysses S. Grant home, still furnished the way the Grant family liked it and open for tours. On the grounds stands the quiet guardian of Galena, a statue of the woman Grant worshiped—his wife, Julia. The statue isn’t conventionally beautiful. Julia was plump and notably cross-eyed (Grant said he liked her all the more for it). But to look at the statue is to take in the image of a strong, determined, studied woman who risked her safety to join her husband on the battlefield whenever possible. She left a legacy of devotion, as well as her memoir, the first to be written by a First Lady.

Julia Grant, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress

You can also go to Galena to see working floodgates, the iconic Main Street used in the movie “Field of Dreams,” and perhaps even an encounter with the supernatural. Galena is regularly investigated by paranormal researchers due to the high levels of ghostly activity reported by residents. Ghosts or no, Galena is a stronghold for the nation’s history that you don’t have to take a trip out East to see, and a snapshot of times that are both long gone and beautifully preserved.

Did I miss anything, Galena lovers? What other small towns do you know of that just ooze history the way Galena does? Have any of you read Julia Dent Grant’s memoir?

  1. Lorraine says:

    I love Galena. Its about 3 hrs northwest of my home. It has so many fun shops and restaurants. Also, the historical society does a great job of keeping history alive and interesting. We love visiting the museum.

    Another great small town is Morris, IL. It is located ~ 60 miles SW of Chicago – and it has it all. Fun shops, hiking and biking along the I & M Canal, great restaurants, and an active historical society museum – located adjacent to the I & M Canal. Its definitely worth the trip.

  2. Marlene says:

    I spent my honeymoon in Galena . It is a beautiful town in all seasons. Also, went to a ski lodge there years ago and still savor the memories.

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