Prior to the trip we reserved seats on an excursion to Ulysses S. Grant's home at Galena, IL, in conjunction with our stop in Dubuque, IA. At one time Galena was the largest port in the Mississippi River system, but extensive logging on the adjacent bluffs caused the Galena river to silt up and the harbor was closed.
When we arrived at Grant's house, we were met by a presenter representing the General. He gave us a synopsis of Grant's time in Galena. One striking difference between the presenter and Grant himself was that prior to his presidency, Grant was a slight man. According to contemporary accounts, at 5' 8", he weighed less than 140 pounds.
Our Road Scholar lecturer also gave a biographical presentation on Grant. He attended West Point and excelled in math, art (!), and horsemanship. After graduation he served with distinction in the Mexican war. As quartermaster to Zachery Taylor and later Winfield Scott, he learned lessons about tactics and supply chains that would serve him well in his later military career.
After the war, he was separated from his family and struggled personally, resigning his commission and eventually moving to Galena to work in the family business. He was not successful in civilian life, but resumed his commission in the Army at the start of the Civil War. The rest is history.
Grant has the reputation of being a heavy drinker, but whether or not he was an alcoholic is controversial. Political opponents seized on the perception to skewer him, but some supporters have cited other causes for his occasional lapses, such as migraine headaches.
After the end of the Civil War, prominent Galena citizens purchased and furnished this house for Grant and his family. The family only lived there full time for the few years between the end of the war and the beginning of his presidency, but he maintained his residency here until his death.
His children retained the house until 1904, when they gave the house to Galena for use as a memorial. In 1931 the city deeded the house to the State of Illinois. The house has been restored to its 1868 appearance and contains much of its original furniture.
This room was Grant's office. He used the table instead of a desk.
As is sometimes the case, economic decline has favored Galena. The main shopping street has been preserved rather than redeveloped and looks much as it did in Grant's day. The church in the distance is the church he attended when in residence, although he never joined a church or affiliated with a denomination.
Galena now thrives on tourism and as a popular getaway destination for Chicago residents. The town is less than three hours away from the city.
It is hard to express the joy at being able to walk and climb on this trip. Over a year of restricted mobility due to a bum foot, has taught me not to take this ability for granted ever again.
Grant Park is across the river from downtown.
While exploring the park I met a local gentleman walking his dog. He reminisced about growing up in Galena before it had been "discovered." We agreed that from a child's perspective a place with rough edges and few rules could be a lot of fun.
The dog was a very friendly rescued pit bull.
The land rises steeply away from the river behind the main street. I had climbed up hoping to get an overview of the valley, but trees blocked the view at street level. The old high school high above the town in the left of this image has been converted to apartments, and if someone had invited me in I expect I could have gotten the desired picture.
This view from Grant Park gives an indication of how large the Galena river had been and a picture of its current diminished size. At present the population of Galena is a little over 3000, and many of the well-maintained houses are second homes for people who live in Chicago, as noted above.
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