Illinois United States

Galena, Illinois: Come for Main Street and Stay for U.S. Grant

We’d read about Galena, Illinois on a few lists like this one, over time. So, on our spring 2023 cross-country trek we detoured north from Iowa City enroute to Chicago to check it out.

We rolled into town on a Friday afternoon and beelined to the Desoto House Hotel, Illinois’ oldest operating hotel, for lunch.

Across the Galena River, whose banks were swollen and overflowing with early spring snowmelt, is the state park-run home of Ulysses S. Grant. To get there, you pass through Grant Park and its civil war monument, statue of Grant himself and its gazebo. Up a barely marked set of steps, to which you are directed by the helpful maps in the park, you arrive at the Grants’ home which was purchased by local businessmen to thank the General for his service in the Civil War (pre-Presidency).

The sign on the door specifically says not to knock or ring the bell and to just wait for the next tour (advertised as fifteen minutes or less) which, despite the somewhat false advertising, was totally worth it. Led by a true, local Grant-o-phile filled with tidbits and crumbs of knowledge we learned about “poor man’s marble” wall designs, and how carpets of the day were stitched together to make them easier to unstitch and drag outside to beat them clean. We learned about the General’s love for cigars (8-10 daily during the war, though perhaps to cover the scent of battle and death) which eventually (perhaps along with his love for the booze) killed him. We learned that Julia Dent Grant’s parents were slave owners and, as such, were the reason for Grant’s own parents boycotting his wedding. And we learned the origins of the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” (youngest was last in the weekly bath, all sharing the same water. Yuck).

While Grant’s tomb may be in New York and his library is, ironically, in the heart of the former confederacy he fought against, this modest house in Galena were he started a business and helped train troops is worth the visit.

Back on Main Street Galena, we bought some wine (plenty of options to do so) and wandered past touristy shops selling oddities and whatnots, ticket outlets for “haunted Galena” tours, ice cream and coffee shops and took in the scenery of Friday afternoon tourism in all its splendor. If you’re passing through Illinois near where Iowa meets Wisconsin it’s worth a quick stop for a meal, a stroll down Main Street and a visit to honor one of the generals who helped hold together the union.

2 comments on “Galena, Illinois: Come for Main Street and Stay for U.S. Grant

  1. Bruce Hochstadt

    David, Enjoying your posts – thank you. Let’s try to get together when you are in Chicago. We live in a northern suburb (Highland Park). Would be good to see you and catch-up. Bruce Hochstadt


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