Quaint Galena Is No Longer the Forgotten City

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i>

This city has made a comeback.

Situated by the Galena River near the Mississippi in northwestern Illinois, Galena was the Midwest’s business and cultural center in the mid-1800s. People exchanged local produce and ores for luxury goods brought up the river from the South.

Main Street, lined with two- and three-story buildings, was dominated by DeSoto House, a hotel built in 1855 that accommodated traders, tourists and, on one occasion, Abraham Lincoln. Ulysses S. Grant, who lived in Galena, had a Victorian house on the hill overlooking town.

Galena’s fortunes changed when local politicians told the railroad to build its terminal elsewhere. River boats, they believed, were all the transportation that Galena needed. So the iron horse steamed into Chicago, then just a small town.


Population Moves

Chicago’s star subsequently rose and Galena’s faded. When the mines gave out, much of Galena’s population moved on and the town was all but forgotten.

But after a century of neglect, Galena is thriving, with visitors attracted by the town’s turn-of-the-century quaintness.

Galena was featured in the recent hit film “Field of Dreams.” A refurbished DeSoto House is often full, and Main Street’s storefronts, all restored, offer antiques as well as reasonably priced clothing, personal accessories and home furnishings.


Main Street runs from north to south, with shops concentrated in a five-block span. Begin at either end, but don’t miss these:

The Toy Soldier Collection (DeSoto House, 228 S. Main St.) sells miniature warriors (from $40) outfitted in Napoleonic, Civil War and other uniforms, plus diminutive Grants. Owner W. Paul Le Greco, a Grant look-alike, is well known for portraying Galena’s most famous native son.

Casual Clothing

Winona Knits (224 S. Main St.) sells country casual clothing, including cotton sweaters (from $23) and jersey knit coordinates (from $20) in pretty pastel colors.


Great Galena Card Co. (222 S. Main St.) stocks “Grant vs. Lee” playing cards ($10, double set), old photos of Galena ($6), local post cards ($1) and stuffed pigs to put in your refrigerator as diet aids ($13).

Cover to Cover (221 S. Main St.), a bookstore, is a source of information about Galena and the surrounding area, and offers many best-sellers.

Follies (220 S. Main St.) sells lace pillow covers ($19 to $38) and antique jewelry (dated 1915 to 1965), including a silver daisy necklace/bracelet/earrings set ($85), as well as David Wheeler and Ron Elliott’s beautiful hand-painted character masks ($75 to $145).

Galena Clock Co. (204 S. Main St.) offers old and new clocks. Turn-of-the-century schoolhouse clocks cost $325, Ingram-Mixon wall clocks (1900-1920) sell for $145 and Howard Miller’s contemporary table-top clocks are $308.


Carl Johnson’s Gallery (202 S. Main St.) belongs to Galena’s best-known artist. Johnson’s realistic prints (from $30) and watercolors (from $300) feature scenes of Galena and its countryside. Also, one can often see Johnson working at his studio in the gallery.

Handmade Rugs

The Gifted Drummer (127 S. Main St.), run by the Jo Daviess Workshop for the handicapped, has colorful handmade rag rugs (from $22) and tote bags ($13), old-fashioned alphabet blocks ($10), heart-shaped fly swatters ($8), checker games with little houses for playing pieces ($22), corn-husk flowers ($2) and wooden tulips ($1.25).

The Store Next Door’s (110 S. Main St.) antiques and memorabilia include cases of printer’s type ($1 each); old wooden trunks ($150); plant stands ($35); oak highchairs ($150); a 38-piece, no-label china set ($40); vintage lace clothing and place mats (from $22); glass-fronted oak bookcases ($700), and ancient editions of Harper’s Weekly. One of the latter features a Lincoln lithograph and costs $20.


Galena’s Kandy Kitchen (100 N. Main St.), owned and operated by the heirs of William Paxton (the man who invented “Chuckles” jelly candy during the 1920s and sold the recipe for $100), sells original-shape Chuckles for $3.85 a pound, as well as homemade chocolates--including fudge for $5.50 a pound, pecan Georgies for $8, almond bark for $7.50 and macadamia nut clusters for $12 a pound--and 70 varieties of yummy-gummies (from $3 a pound).

The American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor (102 N. Main St.) lives up to its name with homemade ice cream--cones (95 cents) and other treats served from behind the shop’s original and beautiful wooden soda fountain.

Gary’s Antiques (105 N. Main St.) is filled with American and European antiques and memorabilia. Particularly interesting are a variety of wood or tin shipping boxes with original labeling (from $38), a black metal box labeled “Queen Victoria School” ($148), antique molds for making chocolates (from $18), plant stands of delicately carved wood (from $58), cut crystal bowls (from $125), parquet tables (from about $900) and antique horns (those that are used to play music and others that grow on stags’ heads, from $14).

Fiesta Tableware


The Galena Shoppe’s (109 N. Main St.) stock includes stereoscope cards ($8), a 1920s doctor’s sign ($225), antique glass tea caddies ($22.50) and a lot of Fiesta tableware (from $2).

Ragamuffin Dolls (115 N. Main St.) has bisque dolls (from $29) dressed in old-fashioned costumes as well as a fine selection of pre-assembled doll-house furniture.

Candles by Leila (118 N. Main St.) has unusual hand-carved candles (from $7) with baroque curlicue shapes.

Mister Flower Shop (207 N. Main St.) offers an array of more than 10,000 collectible sample greeting cards (from $3), including designer Johnny Gurelle’s original Raggedy Anns and Andys and some Felix the Cats (from $10).


Also, penny-arcade pictorials ($150), antique rockers ($185), old clocks and tin boxes, and a selection of fresh flowers and potted plants. Owner Jerry Kaiser’s entertaining anecdotes about Galena life are wonderful.

American Eagle Galleries (209 N. Main St.) specializes in wildlife prints, particularly those featuring eagles. Other subjects include C. J. Brown’s beautifully realized “Norwegian Barn” ($115) and Bev Doolittle’s “Sacred Ground” ($545), with a Native American riding a horse through the woods.

Memories Gone By & Foley’s Antiques (212 N. Main St.) is an intriguing den of wagon wheels (from $15), axes, planing tools, drills, horseshoes, crockery and lots of Depression-era glass (from $2).

Leather Belts


Wild & Woolly’s (214 N. Main St.) wearables include tapestry ($125) and colorful rag ($115) jackets, woven leather belts ($40 to $65), papier-mache watermelon necklaces ($37), beaded sneakers ($75), quilted garment bags ($100), hand-painted big cotton shirts ($59) and Sharon Smith’s hand-embroidered patchwork shirts ($250) made from old linens and lace.

The Galena Antique Mall (221 N. Main St.) houses seven independent antique dealers offering Americana, including oak beds (queen-size, $485), patent game tables for cards and checkers (complete with patent, from the 1890s, $495), 1950s Coke pitcher and six-glass sets ($19), a 1910 brass bed (queen-size, $275), 1890s wicker wheelchairs ($450), pigeon carriers ($30), shopping baskets on wheels ($68) and framed ad posters (from $20). A glass-fronted store counter holds beans in six canisters ($875). Great buys, unusual items.

Tin-Pan Alley Antiques (230 N. Main St.) has traditional pie safes ($875), old Victrolas ($475) and 78 r.p.m. records featuring favorite oldies and goodies, and books, including a 1912 “History of the Civil War” with illustrations by Matthew Brady ($85).

Red’s Antiques & Collectibles (232-234 N. Main St.) offers wood- banded trunks with original brass fittings and lining ($145), old cigar boxes (from $1), old ironing boards ($10), pocket knives (from $6), crockery jugs (from $10), iron skillets (from $6) and a wide variety of cookie cutters ($12 each). Also, corn-shaped pans for corn muffins ($6).


Thomas L. Brisch Bookseller (238 N. Main St.) sells illustrated used books, especially about Western Americana, on California, the cattle trade, Montana ranchers and “Portraits of North American Indians,” a picture book (1972, $60).