Museum History

A Short History of the Barrows Mansion 




The 1858 Daniel A Barrows house (211 S. Bench St.) was designed for Barrows by William Dennison, the architect who designed the U.S. Grant home on Bouthillier Street. This three-story house was tailored to hold Barrows’s large family, consisting of his wife Anna, one son, five daughters, his mother, and one female servant. Barrows’s previous house, along with the first St. Michael’s Church and many of the businesses on Main Street, had been destroyed in April 1856 in the largest fire Galena has ever suffered. Barrows was no stranger to the devastation caused by fire, having had his confectionary business on Main Street burned out at least twice prior to the 1856 fire. Barrows did not give up easily; in addition to rebuilding his home, he had a new Main Street store constructed out of brick. That building was completed in 1857 at a cost of $8700 and is now part of the Coatsworth Building, the site of U.S. Grant’s father’s leather store. Construction on the mansion was completed in 1858.

In spite of efforts to re-establish himself, these events marked the beginning of a gradual financial decline for Daniel Barrows, one that mirrored Galena’s decline. He depended upon a lumber business that he had established in the early 1850s, but his business suffered as fewer and fewer boats could navigate the silted-in Galena River. Flooding of the riverfront location was also a problem. Over the years, Barrows pursued other businesses in an attempt to make ends meet, including flour milling and whiskey production. In 1883, having defaulted on his mortgages, Barrows relinquished the Bench Street house to S.O. Stillman. Stillman sold the house to John Ross in 1885.

John Ross, also a lumber merchant, and his wife, Phoebe, had two sons and daughters, all of whom were of adult age by the time they purchased the Bench Street house. The house remained in the Ross family for many years, sheltering John Ross’s daughters Loll and Belle into their old age. Upon Belle’s death in 1922, Loll sold the house to the Wildey Lodge of the International Order of the Odd Fellows, and she moved into an apartment in the Coatsworth Building.

Major renovations were made by the Odd Fellows to convert the house from a family home into a lodge/community building. The kitchen, dining room, and porches from the rear of the house were removed to allow construction of a two-story, 40-by-80 foot addition that including two halls and a kitchen. The $40,000 required to make these changes over-extended the Odd Fellows’ budget, during the depression years, causing them to sell the house to the City of Galena in 1938.

The Galena Museum Association (now the Galena/Jo Daviess County Historical Society) was created that same year. They signed a 99-year lease with the city, allowing them to operate a museum in the building. Although the Society pays no rent, they are totally responsible for all grounds and building maintenance.

The Barrows house today is filled with over 6,000 square feet of exhibit space.