Thank you to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Brian E. Clark for the excellent coverage of Farmers Guest House in his article.
History, architecture, food, romance and scenery are just a few of the reasons Tedd Zebrowski and his wife, Bridget, return to Galena, Ill.
“We especially like visiting in the autumn around our anniversary each year,” said Zebrowski, a businessman from Hales Corners. “It’s a special place and we feel like we are stepping back in time 150 years or more when we go there. The overall setting is really picturesque, too.
“We like to stay in B&Bs that have some historic significance, which is the majority of them,” he said. “This October, we used the Farmers Guest House and last year, we chose the Victorian Mansion. Both of them are more than 150 years old.”
Set amid rolling hills near the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois, Galena was a lead-mining center in the early 1800s and once had more than 14,000 residents. Today, its population is around 3,500. But the heart of the town remains intact and is filled with red brick buildings, most of which have been turned into shops or restaurants. Hundreds of buildings in Galena are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town sits on both sides of the Galena River, a tributary of the Mississippi. It was once a busy stop for steamboats, and many captains of shipping and business built mansions along the riverbank. For a time, Galena had more commerce than Chicago and St. Louis.
Galena’s most famous former resident is President Ulysses S. Grant, one of eight Union generals who lived in the town in the mid-1800s. Grant’s home, 500 Bouthillier St., was given to him when he returned to the city in 1865 as a Civil War hero. He lived there with his family during the 1868 presidential campaign, but used it mostly for his official political and voting address. These days, the brick Italianate structure is the site of the U.S. Grant Home and is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday through February.
Because of the town’s size — it’s only two miles long — Zebrowski said he and his wife were able to park the car and walk to all the museums, historic homes, shops and restaurants they wanted. Though Galena is hilly, he said the longest walk to points of interest is about 15 minutes.
A Civil War buff, he said he was especially interested in Grant’s home.
“There isn’t a lot of Civil War history in northwest Illinois,” he said. “But Grant left a big footprint in Galena, so that’s another draw for me to the town.”
Though Galena has enough to interest him for another weekend visit, he said he and his wife may use Galena as a base next year to explore the countryside to the south along the Mississippi River.
“We really like the town, the B&Bs, the restaurants and the hospitality there,” he said. “Fall is a good time to visit because school’s back in session, so there aren’t quite as many people in town.
“Regardless, it’s been a great long weekend escape for us….And while I’m not much of a shopper, I thought Galena had a bunch of really cool little stores and specialty shops, too.”
Things to do
Take a tour of Grant’s home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the rooms are decorated and furnished to represent a mid-1860s appearance. Many of the furnishings belonged to the Grant family. The area around the residence includes several small mid-19th-century homes composing the Grant Home Historic Neighborhood. Also in the park is the Long House, a log building representing a typical mid-19th-century settler’s home in Jo Daviess County.
The home tour focuses on Grant as a victorious war leader, the 1868 candidate for president and the 18th president. The adjacent building contains exhibits on Grant’s life and history of the Grant Home. Special tours are offered from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when the home is decorated for the holidays.
The town’s blacksmith shop, 245 Commerce St., dates to 1897 and has original working forges, tools, other equipment, a gift shop with forge items and a historian.
The U.S. Grant Museum, 211 S. Bench St., is in a 19th-century Italianate mansion and houses Civil War memorabilia, items from the region’s agricultural and mining history and a huge painting by Thomas Nast called “Peace in the Union.” It also has a flag from the Vicksburg siege and another painting dubbed “General Grant on the Battlefield.”
Nearby in Grant Park, 600 Park Ave., is a Blakely cannon that fired on Fort Sumter in 1861, which started the Civil War. Other historic sites are the Old Market House on N. Commerce St.; the Washburne House on 3rd St.; and the DeSoto House Hotel on Main St. The DeSoto is Illinois’ oldest operating hotel and welcomes guests for self-guided tours.
Hop on one of the trolleys operating out of the Galena Trolley Depot, 314 S. Main St., for a guided, one-hour tour through the town’s historic district. Or take a 21/2-hour tour that includes admission to some of Galena’s main historic attractions. The trolley company also offers ghost tours and magic shows by P.T. Murphy at the Depot Theater.
Where to eat
Try Fried Green Tomatoes on N. Main St., for seafood, steaks and pasta; Fritz and Frites, a French-German bistro on N. Main St.; and for local beer and pub food, the Galena Brewing Co. on Main St..
Where to stay
Farmers Guest House has eight guest rooms and the two-story Annie’s Galena Cottage; the only cottage in Galena within walking distance to Main Street.
If you go
For more information on where to stay, eat and shop in Galena, call 815.777.3456 and ASK SUSAN.
Galena is about 150 miles west of Chicago via I-90 and Highway 20. Galena is 170 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94, Highway 151 and Highway 80.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison writer and photographer.