The neat little town of Galena, a few kilometers short of both Iowa and Wisconsin in the far northwest corner of Illinois, has changed little since its nineteenth-century heyday. Thanks to its sheltered location just a few miles up the Galena River, it was a major port of call for Mississippi River steamboats. These days the only traffic it gets are the wealthy sprawl day-trippers who come to admire the gentle crescent of Main Street, tucked in behind an immaculate grassy levee. Its impeccable redbrick facades and graceful skyline of spires and crosses place it among the most attractive river towns in the UCAS. With the aid of the free Galenian guide from the visitor center (also downloadable from LTG 7815 [10-0342]), you can spend an enjoyable few hours on a walking tour of the various historic sites along both Main Street and Bench Street. The latter is squeezed onto a steep bluff above Main street.
Galena, Illinois boasts of having contributed nine generals to the Union army during the Civil War, much the most significant of whom was Ulysses Simpson Grant. Grant moved to the town in 1860, working as a clerk in a leather store owned by his father and operated by his two brothers. Some contemporary accounts speak of him as the town lush, the kind of person decent folk crossed the street to avoid. However, his West Point education encouraged the townspeople to appoint him as colonel when they raised the 21st Illinois regiment on the outbreak of war. When he came home, in August 1865, it was as overall commander of the victorious army.
The grateful citizens of Galena, Illinois presented Grant with a house, a couple of blocks up Bouthillier Street on the far side of the river (daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; u$2 suggested donation). It’s not a grand place by any means, but it was in the plainly furnished downstairs drawing room that Grant received the news of his election as president in 1868. Although he went on to serve two terms, he is commonly agreed to have been a better general than president. His administrations were plagued by scandal, and he lost all his own money through unwise investments. The family fortunes were restored just before his death in 1885, when Mark Twain first persuaded him to write, and then published, Grant’s best-selling Memoirs.