A weekend in Galena, Illinois is like a step back in time. Formerly a bustling 19th century Mississippi port city, the small town is now a destination rich in architectural, political, and economic history, a gorgeous setting amid rolling hills, and a wealth of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Centuries-old buildings on the main commercial streets house unique stores, antique shops, and restaurants.
We chose to stay just outside of town at the Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa in the 6,800-acre Galena Territory. All the usual resort amenities are available as well as 63 holes of championship golf, fishing in Lake Galena, miles of hiking and biking trails, and horseback riding.
Rather than booking into one of the Inn’s 80 guest rooms, we rented a furnished condo for a “home away from home” experience. Condos, villas, and free-standing homes are available throughout the resort and take full advantage of the beautiful scenery.
Hannah and Kurtis check the layout of the two-story condo. It’s compact but cozy and well equipped for comfort and company.
Driving into town is gorgeous in the fall. Just three miles from the Mississippi, Galena was founded around the lead mines from which it took its name in 1826 (galena is lead sulfide). The town grew to be the most important port city north of St. Louis (albeit on the Galena River tributary) and in its heyday, rivaled Chicago in size and importance.
Before the coming of railroads that bypassed the town, Galena was the lead mining capital of the world and the wealthiest city in Illinois. Many citizens rose to national prominence in the 19th century and the results of that wealth and stature are preserved in the beautiful homes and buildings that characterize the town.
A steep bluff rises from one side of the downtown area and since parking, although free, is at a premium near the shops, you may find yourself with quite a climb. If you’re willing, though, it’s worth the trek just for the view. Hannah stops on the way down to appreciate the scenery.
Just off Main Street, the shopping artery of Galena, stands the town’s oldest house. Constructed of limestone. Dowling House was built by John Dowling in 1826. It was once the only trading post in the city and offered accommodation to fur traders in primitive living quarters.
220 Diagonal St.
Galena is only two miles long so a leisurely walk along the streets is a pleasant way to experience what the town has to offer. You won’t find any national chain stores or restaurants downtown so every storefront puts its wares on display to lure shoppers within. If you’re looking for a guided view of the area, though, Galena Trolley Tours provide narrated tours of the community’s attractions, shops, and history. Horse-drawn carriages offer a cozier way to take it all in.
Our first stop was Grammy’s Attic, which features antiques, collectibles, jewelry, garden items, and other unique finds in a country store setting. Hannah picked out a pair of vintage shoe lasts and a few ropes of pearls and rhinestone costume jewelry.
421 S. Main St.
Each year, the Galena Garlic Company plants more than 20,000 garlic cloves in the nearby hills using organic practices for a thriving crop that forms the basis for their signature garlic blends. Taste-testing the infused olive oils and balsamics is a pleasure for the palette. Hannah and Kurtis consider the variety of sea salts and rubs on offer.
After perusing the stock at Galena Garlic, we’re feeling peckish. Satisfy appetites that split along dietary lines at Fritz & Frites. Their menu combines delicious French and German classics in a European-style bistro. Whether you’re in the mood for schnitzel or quiche, hearty beer or fine wine, you’ll find it here.
If you’re a book lover with a passion for out-of-print volumes, first editions, and signed copies, as well as vintage maps, autographs and other ephemera, you’d do well to make an appointment at Main Street Fine Books & Manuscripts (mainstreetfinebooks.com). But if drop-in convenience is more your style, check out the 30,000 used books surrounded by antiques and collectibles, art, albums, advertising and more at Peace of the Past.
408 S. Main St.
With a satisfying meal under our belts, a big supper isn’t in the cards so a stop at the Galena River Wine & Cheese shop (housed in a 1845 steamboat provisioning warehouse) gives us a chance to pick up a few nibbles to get us through the evening back at the resort. Kurtis picks out a selection of cheeses and a couple of new wines to try.
The day is drawing in so after one more shop, this one featuring collectible playthings (who ever grows out of loving to look at toys?), we’re ready to head back and face that steep climb to the car.
Back at the resort, a quick visit to the General Store gives us a chance to pick up a few supplies we forgot in town. Part convenience store, part deli, part gift shop, the Store is well stocked for essentials, snacks, or souvenirs. With everything we need for a cozy night in, we’re ready to enjoy the evening around a roaring fire.
See more at Visitgalena.org
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