Galena is the largest city in and the county seat of Jo Daviess County, Illinois, with a population of 3,429 at the 2010 census. A section of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Galena Historic District. It is named for the mineral galena, which was mined by Native Americans in the area for over a thousand years. Owing to these deposits, Galena was the site of the first major mineral rush in the United States. The first American settler arrived in 1821, and by 1828, the population was estimated at 10,000. The city emerged as the largest steamboat hub on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. Galena was the home of Ulysses S. Grant and eight other Civil War generals. Today, the city is a tourist destination known for its history, architecture, and resorts.
Precolonial and colonial history
The city is named for galena, the natural form of lead sulfide (PbS) and the most important lead ore. Native Americans mined the ore for use in burial rituals. The Havana Hopewell first traded galena in the area during the Middle Woodland period (c. 1–400 CE). However, the use of galena in the Havana territory is uncertain; very little has been identified in burial mounds. During the Mississippian period (900–1500 CE), galena saw use as body paint.
The French, probably via contact with the Sioux, first noted lead deposits in the Upper Mississippi Valley in 1658. A 1703 French map identified the northwestern Illinois area as mines de plumb. Northwestern Illinois was inhabited by Sac and Fox when the French arrived. In the 1690s, French trappers discovered the area and began mining the lead. However, conflicts with the Sioux prevented large-scale mining until Julien Dubuque's Mines opened across the river in 1788.
The French called Galena La Pointe and early Americans adopted this name as "The Point". Early documentation officially records the name as "Fever River", an early name for the Galena River, though it does not appear that this name was commonly used. George Davenport, a retired colonel in the United States Army, successfully shipped Galena's first boatload of lead ore down the Mississippi River in 1816. Three years later, Jesse W. Shull built a trading post. The Thomas H. January family, who arrived in 1821 from Maysville, Kentucky, are considered the first permanent American settlers. The next year, the US Department of War assumed control of the mines and leased the lands out. A large group of colonists led by Dr. Moses Meeker and James Harris arrived in 1823. Steamboat trade began in 1824.
The first official lease of the mines on behalf of the US government was to James Johnson, brother of US Senator Richard Mentor Johnson, on September 30, 1822. Martin Thomas, appointed by the government in 1824 to oversee mine leases, was commissioned to survey the mines in 1826. The name "Galena" was purportedly given during a town meeting that year; rejected names included Jackson, Harrison, and Jo Daviess. Thomas platted the town and, starting in June 1827, settlers could lease plots from the government. The land remained in government possession until the leasing system was eased out in 1836–37. When Jo Daviess County was founded in 1827, Galena was named its county seat. This established the first courts in Galena; previous legal proceedings were heard in front of the Superintendent of Lead Mines. 21 million pounds of lead were mined in Galena from 1825 to 1828 and the population exploded in that time from 200 to 10,000.
Local native tribes, now mostly Winnebago, permitted settlers to mine in established areas in Galena. However, the growth of the city led settlers to encroach on native land claims, seeking new veins of lead. Following a murder of a pioneer family near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, by the Winnebago, Galena closed its mines for safety and prepared for war. Citizens established forts at nearby Elizabeth and Apple River; although they were not used during the affair, the forts provided residents with security and protection. The ensuing Winnebago War was little more than a skirmish, but the lands near the city were annexed by the US in the resulting 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien.
A meeting on February 1, 1830, established the first fire department. At a town meeting at the county courthouse on September 7, 1835, sixty-five residents approved a motion for incorporation as a town. Eight days later, five individuals were elected as the first trustees. Incorporation was approved by the county board of trustees on October 2, and the first meeting of trustees occurred the next day. The 15th Illinois General Assembly (1836–37) codified the trustee election process. A steamboat was selected as the town seal on May 22, 1837. A state law resulted in the first elections for mayor and aldermen on May 24, 1841, replacing the board of trustees; Charles S. Hempstead was elected the first mayor with 185 of the 356 votes cast. The first census was also held that year, finding 1,900 inhabitants. By 1845 Galena was producing nearly 27,000 tons of lead ore and Jo Daviess County was producing 80 percent of the lead in the United States. Once one of the most important cities in the state, Galena was a hub on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and St. Paul. Due to erosion, the Galena River is now inaccessible to steamboats. Galena received national attention in the 1860s as home of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Following a sharp decline in the demand for lead (which had been the city's chief income source during the early 19th century), Galena's population dropped from 14,000 in the mid-19th century, to 3,396 in the early 21st century.
Galena's official flag was adopted in 1976 to symbolize mining, agriculture, steamboats, and the nine American Civil War generals who lived in the city. Until the late 1980s, Galena remained a small rural farming community. In 1990, local industries included a Kraft Foods cheese plant, Lemfco Foundry, John Westwick's foundry, and Microswitch, Inc. In the 1980s, Galena Mayor Frank Einsweiler initiated a tourist campaign. Since that time the face of Galena has changed a great deal. Long-standing businesses in the downtown area including Stair's Grocery, Sullivan's Grocery, Clingman's Pharmacy, the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in Illinois, and Hartig Drug have closed their downtown locations. Clingman's and Hartig's have relocated to the outskirts of Galena, while Stair's and Sullivan's closed their doors permanently. In late 2010, Clingman's joined the Hartig's family and moved their pharmacy to Hartig's Drugs location along Highway 20.
The Country Fair in Grant Park has helped guide the change to a tourist town. It is a craft show that attracts thousands of visitors to the area. The once boarded-up Main Street buildings have also been given a rejuvenation in the past two decades. In 2010 Galena started a campaign called Vision2020, that is modeled after neighbor Dubuque, Iowa's Vision 2010, a committee which gives the community five ideas out of hundreds brought forth in the community that they want Galena to do in the next decade. In 2010, the 32nd annual Halloween Parade attendance was estimated at 15,000. In 2011, TripAdvisor listed Galena among its top-ten "Charming Small Towns".