Named one of the top ten Charming Small Towns by TripAdvisor in 2011, Galena, Illinois is the largest city in Jo Daviess County and a popular tourist destination known for its history, architecture, ski and golf resorts, and wineries. Galena was the home of Civil War general, Ulysses S. Grant, as well as other notable politicians and entertainers. The town hosts well over one million visitors each year and is popular with many Chicagoans, who own second homes in the area.
The town takes its name from the mineral “galena,” a natural form of lead sulfide and was once the center of production for 80% of the lead in the U.S. The city is prone to flooding due to its close proximity to the Galena River and visitors are often awestruck when they encounter the enormous steal flood gates that were constructed in 1951 to protect the area.
Visiting Galena is like taking a journey through a town that has stood still in time. Strolling down Main Street, one is greeted by numerous art galleries, antique stores and eclectic boutique shops. The town has approximately 30 unique restaurants, cafes and coffeehouses as well as three area wineries including the award-winning Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery and the Massbach Ridge Winery.
Guided tours are available offering you a perspective into the town’s rich history and agricultural heritage. Although not in Galena but 20 minutes away along Hwy 20, is one historic home that you should definitely visit. The Victorian home of Charles Banwarth , an immigrant of German decent who settled in Galena and managed a blacksmith business. (408 E. Sycamore St., Elizabeth) Next, make your way to The Belvedere, the 1857 Italianate mansion of Ambassador J. Russell Jones. Jones was a U.S Marshall who later became a congressman. He was an ardent supporter of General Ulysses S. Grant. ( 1008 Park Ave., Galena) From there, plan a trip to Galena’s oldest house, the Dowling House. Built in 1826 by John Dowling, it was once the only trading post in the city. The house was equipped with primitive living quarters and hosted many fur traders over the years. (220 Diagonal Street, Galena) Finally, my favorite historic house in Galena is the General Ulysses S. Grant home. Constructed in 1860, the home was given to Grant by residents of Galena in 1865 as a thank you for his service in the war. (511 Bouthillier St., Galena)
But Galena is much more than a sleepy historic town. There is something for everyone from the nature lover, to the golfer to the pleasure seeker. Galena offers five spas where you can pamper yourself with a luxurious treatment or relaxing massage. When the sun goes down enjoy the live entertainment & nightlife in one of the many establishments along Main Street including the Galena Brewing Company. (227 N Main St., Ste. 101, Galena) Galena is a great weekend getaway and easily reachable from several Midwestern cities by car.