streets of galena, illinois

7 Interesting Facts About Galena, Illinois You Probably Didn’t Know

Galena, Illinois is arguably one of the most visited places outside of Chicago that you may have seen mentioned in a few blogs here and there on your search of things to do in Illinois. 

However, have you ever wondered what even is so special about Galena?

In today’s post, I am going to be sharing with you 7 interesting facts about Galena, IL. that you probably didn’t know before, that will help deepen your connection and appreciation of this Midwestern gem of a town the next time you visit!

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Galena was the home to a U.S president

Ulysses S. Grant Home in Galena, Illinois
Galena was full of surprises, this was one of them! Photo credit:

Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War leader and later 18th president of the United States (serving from 1869 to 1877) originally born in Ohio, moved in 1860 to Galena with his wife Julia, and 4 children.

This wasn’t his first time in Galena, as his father owned a leather goods store in 1853, where Ulysses worked from 1860-1861 as a store clerk. 

Nowadays, his home which sits a little outside Galena’s picturesque Main Street is open for tours every day, yay!

Check HERE to reserve your visit, as well as opening hours and public safety protocols.

The DeSoto House Hotel’s history in Galena

Located on Galena’s gorgeous and historic Main Street, the DeSoto House Hotel is notable for quite a few reasons, one of them is its eye-catching beauty as you walk along Main Street.

It has been a hotel that has hosted historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, and Mrs. Tom Thumb (an American circus performer and silent movie star), and it was usually the venue for most local social events and banquets of the time.

The DeSoto House Hotel was also the venue where Ulysses S. Grant held his presidential campaign, specifically in rooms 209 and 211. 

Nowadays, the hotel has been restored to its original charm for all modern visitors to enjoy, whether they stay there or not.

It’s commonly the meeting spot for various tours, including the Galena Ghost Tour, which I’ve been on and was fun and educational (but not really scary). 

There’s more to Galena than Main Street

Kids on a zipline in Galena, Illinois
There’s more than history and cute streets in Galena – there’s also adventure! Photo credit:

When you think of Galena, you may think of its 18th-century style bricked buildings, adorning the street and taking all its guests back to the times of horses and buggies.

However, a few other less common (but seriously beautiful) places to check out outside of Galena’s Main Street include the Galena River Trail, an 8 mile crushed rock trail alongside the Galena River, where you can take an incredibly peaceful and scenic walk or bike ride along with sights of nature and bird varieties.

Another place to check out is Chestnut Mountain Resort, proudly known as the Midwest’s premier year-round resort, located just outside of historic Galena, overlooking the beautiful Mississippi River, and with tons of activities available to both guests and visitors.

Activities such as a scenic chairlift ride, zip lining, bike rentals, hiking, the alpine slide (which is seriously so much fun), segway tours, and even a river cruise!

Check out all there is to do at Chestnut Mountain Resort HERE.

This is a very short list of other things to do outside the historic district, but just to give you an idea, this should get you thinking a bit outside of just Main Street. 

Read More: 10 Incredibly Useful Car Accessories For Your Next Road Trip

Galena was bigger than Chicago back in the day

Because of its proximity to the Great Mississippi River, Galena was at one point (1850) bigger than Chicago, with a population of about 15,000 people in its heyday. 

A very popular port in the late 19th century, steamboats docked along Water street when the river was much bigger and fuller back in the day.

Today if you visit, the river has definitely downsized, but you can just imagine how full and quickly popular the city of Galena became with the river bringing people to and from the city. 

Planning a trip to Galena? Check out some amazing bed and breakfast, hotels, and unique stays here!

Looking for things to do In Galena this weekend? Click here to get a list of activities and things to do and see!

Galena’s buildings are iconically known with this special brick color

streets of galena, illinois

The buildings you see today if you visit Galena are as old as you can get in Illinois, dating back to the early 1800’s.

The orange-tinged bricks, are lovingly known by locals and historians as “Galena brick.”

When you take a walk around the historic Main Street, and you walk up the steep staircase onto its neighboring homes, you’ll notice the charm of the “Galena bricks” that were used to decorate the architecture of the 18th-century homes and businesses. 

Planning a weekend getaway in Galena? Check out this list of restaurants that range from fine dining experiences, local farm-to-table eateries, and casual dining – there’s a nice variety of options that you’ll find in Galena.

Galena has flood doors 

Floods are no stranger to Galena, and when you arrive at the historic downtown, you’ll notice remnants of this part of the town’s history.

Between industrial work-related floods that disturbed the Galena River water levels into overflow, to massive amounts of snow melting and increased rainfall in the spring – the historic town’s proximity to the Galena River has caused businesses in the past damage which inspired creativity in the years to come to combat this.

Between 1948 and 1952, the construction and completion of the 20ft. massive green flood doors made their debut, and are still in use today. The last time they were used was in 2018. 

Galena is surrounded by hilly beautiful lands

Farm house in the green rolling hills
The views of rolling green hills and farmhouses like these are abundant on your drive to Galena, Illinois! Photo credit:

I have to say one of my personal favorite things about Galena other than the interesting history it has, and its physical charm and beauty, it has to be the scenic hilly landscape in which Historic Galena is surrounded by.

I have had the pleasure to drive through the backroads and the hilly grounds that take you through beautiful sights of u pick farms, orchards, wineries, and fields of flowers.

The closer you get to Galena, you’ll start to notice how the land goes from flat roads to curvy, limestone-carved roads with scenic rolling hills and scenic points to stop at with watchtowers- truly a beautiful change in scenery!

A few of the roads lead to some of the most scenic drives in all of Illinois such as Illinois Great River Road, which begins near Galena, and ends towards the southern town of Cairo, IL, all along the Mississippi River.

I’d definitely say that driving to Galena is half the adventure!

If you also love road trips as much as I do, then having a handy little guide to give you all the details of where and how to take the scenic roads is a must!

If you want to make your travels even more memorable and beautiful, leave me your details down below and I’ll be sure to send you my 5 Scenic Drives To Take Through and Around Galena, IL. for FREE with maps and details.


Final thoughts

Galena may be a place you’ve heard of before, or perhaps this may be the first time you hear about it.

Regardless, I hope this list of 7 things you may not have known about Galena was helpful and has piqued your curiosity to learn more about it and actually visit for yourself!

I have been here a handful of times throughout the years, and I have to say that maybe it’s because of the beautiful natural landscape that differs from the rest of Illinois, its quaint and picturesque historical downtown and history, or maybe it’s many things to do there that feel like you’re in some old-time storybook, makes visiting Galena never tiring.

But I definitely also think that if you’ve been here before like I have, knowing a bit more about the history of this gem may just help deepen your appreciation of it. I know that it has for me simply by writing this post.

To more travel moments like this ✨

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