Galesburg is a city in Knox County, Illinois, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 32,195. It is the county seat of Knox County. Galesburg is home to Knox College, a private four-year liberal arts college, and Carl Sandburg College, a two-year community college.
Galesburg City Township is an active township that is coterminous with the city.
Galesburg was founded by George Washington Gale, a Presbyterian minister from New York state who dreamed of establishing a manual labor college (which became Knox College). A committee from New York purchased in Knox County in 1835, and the first 25 settlers arrived in 1836. They built temporary cabins in Log City near current Lake Storey, just north of Galesburg, having decided that no log cabins were to be built inside the town limits.
Galesburg was home to the first anti-slavery society in Illinois, founded in 1837, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The city was the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, on a temporary speaker's platform attached to Knox College's Old Main building on October 7, 1858. Knox College continues to maintain and use Old Main to this day. An Underground Railroad Museum and Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum are planned for Knox College's Alumni Hall after it is renovated.
Galesburg was the home of Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who provided hospital care for Union soldiers during the American Civil War. After the Civil War, Galesburg was the birthplace of poet, author, and historian Carl Sandburg, poet and artist Dorothea Tanning, and former Major League Baseball star Jim Sundberg. Carl Sandburg's boyhood home is now operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site. The site contains the cottage Sandburg was born in, a modern museum, the rock under which he and his wife Lilian are buried, and a performance venue.
Throughout much of its history, Galesburg has been inextricably tied to the railroad industry. Local businessmen were major backers of the first railroad to connect Illinois' (then) two biggest cities—Chicago and Quincy—as well as a third leg initially terminating across the river from Burlington, Iowa, eventually connecting to it via bridge and thence onward to the Western frontier. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad sited major rail sorting yards here, including the first to use hump sorting. The yard is still used by the BNSF Railway.
In the late 19th century, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway connected its service through to Chicago, it also laid track through Galesburg, making this city one of relatively few of its size to be served by multiple railroads and even fewer to have multiple railroad depots. (Indeed, it was not until 1996 that Amtrak finally closed the old Santa Fe depot and consolidated all passenger operations at the site of the former Burlington Northern depot.) A series of mergers eventually united both lines under the ownership of BNSF Railway, carrying an average of seven trains per hour between them. As of the closing of the Maytag plant in fall of 2004, BNSF is once again the largest private employer in Galesburg.
Lombard College was located in Galesburg until 1930.