“ Trolley tour of Galena, Illinois, USA. „
Galena - Tri-State trolley Tour
Galena is a former lead mining town in Illinois that has re-invented itself as a historical Town when in the 1960s some residents had the fore thought to preserve the old 1800s buildings rather than knocking them down. Galena also boasts that no less than nine Union Army generals hailed from the city and the most famous of these was Ulysses S. Grant who became the country's 18th President. The entire central town is now on the Register of Historical Places and has been since 1969.
We spent some time exploring the city/town on foot but decided that the trolley tour looked fun and might take us further than we felt like walking so we went and booked ourselves on to the 1.30 pm tour. The buses looked good too as they are authentic 1940's San Francisco style trolley buses on wheels rather than rails.
TIMES AND PRICES
The tours last an hour and run 7 days a week from May through to October. The run tours at 10.30 am, Noon, 13.00 pm, 3.00pm and 4.30pm and on holidays and special weekends there is a 6.00pm tour as well.
The prices are $16 for adults and children over 13
$10 for children aged 6-12 and younger children are free
We were the ONLY people on our tour which we picked up beside the De Soto Hotel and opposite the Post Office. The driver was also the guide and was a very chatty chap and even gave us free tickets for a local vineyard trip which we didn't take up as my husband isn't a wine drinker and we also had a schedule to keep to!!
The tour began opposite the Post Office post office which is on the corner of Green and Commerce streets in Galena. The P.O. is a very fine looking building and the second oldest continuously operating Post Office in the USA. This building was built in 1858 of Navoo limestone in a Renaissance Revival style which became the first standardized style to be used throughout the country by the U.S. government. Interestingly the construction was overseen a Native American from the Seneca nation, Ely S. Parker who was raised on a reservation in western New York State.
Just in front of the trolley bus at the time we boarded on the same street and the corner of Main street was very solid brick building known as the De Soto House Hotel. It was apparently taller than it is today but when they restored in the top floors were so badly in need of repair that they just removed them. This is Illinois' oldest operating hotel and was first opened in 1855. Ulysses S. Grant used it as a meeting room for his generals and the campaign base for his Presidential campaign. Famous visitors include another president Lincoln who stayed here at one time. Today the hotel has fifty five guest rooms, three restaurants and a number of shops within its walls. The restaurant looked a bit expensive when we looked there for our lunch.
The trolley then did a circuit of the town down Main Street and various sites of interest were pointed out as we passed including the oldest stone building and oldest home in Galena known as The Dowling House which was built in 1826 and is now a pottery. This is on a street just off Main Street, Diagonal Street.
We also passed a huge set of steps known as the Green street steps which led up the hill to the street above. The steps are impressive There are forty steps from main street to green street and then a further one hundred and fifty up to Prospect Street .On the hill behind the Main Street were a number of terraces which were the former lead mines and we also saw boarded over entrances to these lead mines which are no longer in use today.
On the street closer to the river we passed former warehouses which had been on the banks of the river back in the 1800s. Galena was once one of the most important cities in the state and a major hub on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and St. Paul. Due to erosion and silting up the Galena River is now inaccessible to oats like it once was. The old fire house is along the street too and although neither of these building was particularly pretty it was interesting to hear about the river changing and to know that way back in 1830 Galena had that same fire station. Along this same road was the Fulton and City Brewery which has been brewing in the town since the 1800s, again not a beautiful building but part of the town's history.
WE then went out of town a little across the bridge over the river and to the former home of Ulysses S. Grant which stands very proudly on the top of a hill overlooking the town. In the garden stands a statue of his wife, First lady Julie Gant and she has a great view of the town. The house was given to General Grant by residents of Galena in gratitude for his war service in 1865 but he really didn't live there for long at all. It has been maintained as a memorial to Grant since 1904 and was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. We had actually been up to the house before the trolley tour but sadly it was closed but we could walk in the gardens and all around the house but just could not go inside.
Another fine building was the former home of a less famous galena resident Elihu Benjamin Washburne This house was constructed in 1844-45 as a one and a half story Greek Revival home for Washburne who was a congressman and served a short stint as U.S. Secretary of State while Ulysses S. Grant was president.
We were shown a tiny little reconstructed home which was more typical for the normal residents of Galena . It was tiny and families of seven and eight would have lived in virtually a one room swelling in contrast to the mansions that we had been seeing along the way.
Another rather posh house we passed was Annie Wiggins guest house which as the name implies in now a hotel. It was beautiful and is a restored 1846 mansion which apparently is furnished with antiques. I am not sure of the prices but I suspect it isn't cheap to stay there. Actually I now looked on the internet and find that it isn't ridiculous as the rooms range from $185 to around $95 per room per night so it would be a nice experience to stay there. As breakfast appears to be included in that.
After touring that side of the river we returned over the bridge and up to Prospect street where we saw former lead miners homes that were built into the hill. They looked pretty small from the front but did go down the hill a way. Apparently the miners that had houses would rent out space to others in the winter and could have up to ten miners on the floor in each room. This was more comfortable than living in a tent in the winter and those with houses made a bit on the rent too.
In contrast to this small houses we were shown a huge house that actually had a ballroom which filled an entire story of the house and so the lives of galena residents were very varied according to their occupation and wealth and we saw both sides of the story while on the tour.
Galena has a couple of museums , one of which concentrates on Ulysses Grant's life which is in the Old Market House State Historic Site and the Galena and U.S Grant museum which has Civil War exhibits, , an 1830s lead mine shaft and more about Galena the town.
I thought the trolley tour was excellent and our guide was not only informative but entertaining with all his little stories too. It is not a cheap tour but I do feel you get a really good look at the town and it takes you further than you would want to walk in a day. The guide also told us things that we didn't find in any guides that we picked up so it was worth it for that alone.
We spent the entire day wandering around the town and popping into other sites of interest such as the Candy Store, Grant's former leather shop where he worked before the Civil Wars and enjoyed a lunch in a little cafe there called The golden hen which I have reviewed as well.
Galena is well worth a visit and is a similar town to Deadwood, South Dakota but to me it is much more interesting than Deadwood as the old buildings have been converted into different shops rather than casinos which don't really grab me at all.
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