Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our Visit To Galena, Illinois: Part One

Last fall my husband and I took a weekend trip to Galena, Illinois.  We took so many pictures that it was extraordinary difficult to narrow them all down into one blog post.  So I decided since I'm really all caught up with my 2016 travel adventures, that I would just separate our weekend to Galena into two posts.  Part one will consist of the shopping district of Galena and Part Two will be the surrounding historic neighborhoods.

Galena is a small town in northwestern Illinois that is known for it's well-preserved 19th century architecture.  It is a four hour scenic drive from our house and even though I have lived in Wisconsin the majority of my life, it was the first time I drove through what is known as "The Coulee Region".  My, what beauty this part of the state has!  I said to my husband while we were driving that the landscape was so different I didn't even feel like I was in the state of Wisconsin.  Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of our drive down, but I do plan on exploring the area further in the future as I was so awestruck by it's beauty.

The first American settler arrived in the area in 1821, and by 1828 the population was 10,000 due to the very first major mineral rush in the United States.  The town is actually named after this mineral:  Galena.  Now the population of the town is only 3,429.

There is so much to do in Galena, however,  they charge you for everything, and I mean everything!  And although the prices seem somewhat reasonable, at the end of the day they can really add up if your traveling with a family with kids over twelve.  The trolley tour for example costs $18.00 per person.  It is a one hour narrated historical and architectural tour that showcases  Galena's historic district.  I wanted to do it, but my husband thought we had enough to do for our first visit to Galena just walking around, and, he was right.  We walked all day just exploring the shops, streets, and neighborhoods on our own.

A 581 acre section of Galena is listed on the National Register of Historic Places...and it is gorgeous.  If you're like me and you "ooh" and "ahh" over old buildings, streets, and homes, you will love Galena.  It is a architecture lover's feast for the eyes!

This cute little ivy covered building is the tourist information building for the oldest house in Galena, which is next door.  I would have loved to have gone in and explored it, but it cost $10.00 per person.  I just thought it looked too small and primitive to pay that much to see it.  However, since returning home I discovered you can buy reduced cost combination tickets where you can take a trolley tour, tour the Dowling House and the Beleveder Mansion and Gardens.

This is the Dowling House below.  It was built of limestone in 1826 and it was the first trading post in Galena.

The tour provides a complete history of the development of the city of Galena and Dowling House as you browse through artifacts of the 19th century.

This was one of my favorite corners of Galena.  I always love it with the architecture of a building echoes the shape of the street.  How fun!  And if your noticing the Porta-Potty, construction cones, and lawn chairs it's because we were there on Halloween weekend and they were setting up for their big Halloween parade.  We didn't stay for the parade because it was at night and we had to leave to start heading home.  But by the looks of how crowded it was, I'm sure it's pretty fun.  In one aspect, it was hard being in Galena on Halloween weekend because it was so, so, crowded.  I even heard one other tourist say "Wow! I've never seen this place so crowded before."  But on the other hand, it was fun seeing all the excitement for the parade and everyone dressed up for Halloween.

There was an old-fashioned ice cream shop that seemed reasonably priced, but I didn't have any ice cream so I can't tell you if it was any good.  I wanted ice cream, in fact, I'm making a face at my husband in the picture below because he wouldn't buy me any.  He wanted to eat lunch first, then have ice cream afterwards.  But we never ended up going back for our ice cream, because we were too full from lunch.  Oh well, it was fun to walk through and drool at least!

Like most historic small towns, the main street traffic and parking was terrible.  Then again, maybe it was just because of the Halloween parade, I don't know.  I always like it when historic towns close off traffic on the main street and have it only open to pedestrians.  It's so nice to be able to walk freely across the streets.  You can also take great pictures because there are no vehicles blocking your view.

Most parking is coin parking.  I did not see any parking structures just for tourists, which I did not like.  I always appreciate tourist towns that provide free parking.  However, later in the day, as hundreds more people arrived for the parade, we saw they opened up a grassy area with parking lot attendants.  We arrived very early in the morning so we just found a free place to park in a nearby residential area.

We walked the entire main shopping district and I was pleased with the variety of stores and restaurants.  It seemed there was a nice blend of both affordable and high end shops and restaurants, so anyone, of any income level, could enjoy themselves.

Look at the side of this old building.  I wonder how old that billboard is?  I also love the moss, mold, and mildew growing on the brick.  I know, some people would think that's weird, but I love the way it looks!

This is a view taken from up high on the river walk.  I will show you those pictures next week.  The town is built right along the Galena River on a hill.  You really get a good butt and thigh work out visiting this town climbing all these hills.  But you also get amazing views as well!

One of the most interesting things about Galena is the floodgates that were built to prevent the city from flooding.  These doors to the main street of Galena close when the city is threatened by floods.

The four pictures below were all taken from the viewpoint on top of the dike.  They made the area very beautiful with a lovely river walk, pathway, bridge, and park....but I will show those pictures next time!

See that staircase in the distance in the picture below?  Yes, we climbed that!  Like I said, the city is built on a hill and if you want to see the pretty houses, bed & breakfasts, churches and other fun things, climb you must!  I suppose we could have driven up, but we saw a lot more by walking!

There was one free thing you could in Galena (although there was a donation box), and that was to visit the historic blacksmith shop and museum.

It is an authentic 1897 Blacksmith Shop with working forges, original tools, and equipment.  There is also an on-site historian and a gift shop that sells Galena-forged items.

Well by the afternoon you know what I afternoon coffee/tea pick-me-up.  But I have to tell you, for a tourist town, I had a dilly of a time finding a coffee shop.  There were restaurants that also sold coffee, and a coffee store that brewed coffee but mostly sold coffee grounds and other coffee equipment.  But I just wanted an authentic coffee shop, like a Starbucks or Caribou...but not mainstream.  I tried several different places before I finally found this one.  Isn't it pretty?  I love the ceiling.

I'm not sure what this building is or was, but it's impressive isn't it?  Has anyone been to Galena before and knows what it is?

Sometimes the other side of a main street can be just as interesting as the front side.  I loved the back of the buildings as much as the front.  Aren't these porches and staircases fun and fascinating?

How cute is this post office?  I love the brick road in front of it too.

When it was time for lunch, we decided to keep it quick and simple and just have burgers and fries at a small pub.  But later we saw lots of people eating these amazing tortilla wrapped sandwiches from this vendor and  we regretted our decision to have burgers.  Don't get me wrong, our burgers were good, but you can eat those any day.  It's not often you get a great hot tortilla wrap!

If I have any regrets about my visit to Galena it would be not doing enough research before hand.  It was a trip that wasn't planned ahead too much, so I just thought we'd check out the Visitor's Center when we get there.  The problem was, we couldn't find the Visitor's Center because it's located behind the main shopping district.  We did see it on the way back to our car and popped in briefly to check it out.

This is the Visitor's Center pictured below.  It's very located inside the Old Market House which was a public building that was the center of community life during Galena's "Golden Era".  In addition to information about Galena and the surrounding area, the building also houses a U.S. Grant Exhibition with several Grant artifacts.

Although I will conclude my post next week, I will say now that I hope to get back to Galena in the summer to explore it more fully.  I'd like to take the trolley tour and tour some of the mansions.  I also hope to visit on a week day when it's less crowded.  Has anyone else ever been to Galena that could offer some suggestions?  I'd love to hear from you!

Have a Great Day!  Amy

Linking Up with these Fabulous Blogs HERE and Travel Tuesday!



  1. That building sure looks like a convent to me. Try a search on google for historic buildings of galena, illinois and click on images, you may be able to find it.

    1. Thanks Julie, you're probably correct. I did try to google it and although I did see lots of pictures of other buildings I saw in Galena, I couldn't find this one.

  2. The big building behind it was a high school, that comes up on Google, so I would bet that the building you have a photo of would be the convent of the sisters who ran the school. Just looks like Catholic history to me. I grew up with this kind of history so it looks very familiar.

  3. This looks like an adorable town!!! Thanks for sharing! Stopping by from the Confident Twosday linkup!


  4. Great pictures Amy. I was there before but can't offer much info because we only spent a few hours there. I thought the ice cream in that little shop was delicious :-) I agree with you about all the cars on Main Street. It would be a much better experience if there wasn't parking or driving on that street. Gorgeous buildings, I think we parked on the street of your first photo :-)

    1. Thanks Elli, I'm glad you got to taste the ice cream!

  5. Amy, this town has a lot of charm. I love the old buildings! My husband would have gone for the ice cream and skipped lunch if he had to. He's the kind of feller who rather has his dessert first. I'm usually the one wanting "real" food first. lol One thing we've discovered in small town ice cream shops is they do not make their own. It's usually a national brand that easily bought from a grocery store. Let's face it, if I want grocery store ice cream then that's where I'll buy and save a lot of money getting a half gallon carton verses two 2-scoop servings. I want to try something different, something made locally, or right in that shop. I enjoyed strolling through this lovely quaint town. It looks like y'all had a lovely time. Have a good day and thanks for visiting!

    1. I so agree! The best ice cream I've had was always hand made, but then you pay a lot too!

  6. What a gorgeous town! I do love old architecture and the Dowling House looks like it has a lot of history. Just looking down that street at all of the brick buildings is beautiful. I def. would have stopped in that ice cream shop. :)



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