Frozen in Time

This past weekend, I took a short trip to Galena, a historic village in northwest Illinois just 20 miles from the Iowa border and a few miles from Wisconsin. I love strolling the winding narrow streets and seeing the beautifully preserved architecture that is as striking today as it was in the mid 1800s. Eighty-five percent of the city has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The city is named for a type of lead, “galena,” that was sought after in the 1800s and that became important during the Civil War.  Mining, lumber, and other industries boomed during the mid-19th century, with people making fortunes and building stately and elaborate homes from the now famous red Galena brick.  Galena received national attention in the 1860s as home of General Ulysses S. Grant and Galena’s hotels hosted such prominent guests as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, William Jennings Bryan, and Thomas Nast,  to name a few.

Galena, once one of the most important cities in the region and many times the size of Chicago, was the major riverboat commerce hub on the Mississippi River between Saint Louis and Saint Paul. When the Galena River became inaccessible to steamboats and the railroad passed through a different community, Galena gradually lost its preeminence and faded into anonymity. Fortunately for those of us today who adore its “frozen in time” appeal, it did not develop economically into the modern-day mode, keeping most of its gorgeous red-brick buildings intact in the business district and residential neighborhoods.

Another feature I like is that Galena is built on steep hillsides, and if you view the town from the higher streets, you look down on church steeples and the peaceful city and park scenes below. On many visits, I climb the more than 150 stairs that go straight up from the quaint business district on Main Street to the residential lanes. Even in the frigid January weather, with my muffler covering my face, I enjoyed this gem that seems frozen in time.

If you’re interested, just google “Galena,” and you’ll find great websites. Wanting to travel to other historic places worldwide? Visit Iowa Voyagers at

Diane Baker
Director, Iowa Voyagers

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