Galena’s Tourism Industry

Galena’s Tourism Industry: It’s Older Than You Think

By Daryl Watson
If you think Galena’s tourism industry developed over the past 15 or 20 years, guess again. In point of fact, Galena has been a noted travel and tour destination for over 150 years! There have been ups and downs, to be sure, but the record is clear: as a long standing travel destination, Galena remains one of the top three in Illinois (along with Springfield and Chicago).

Galena started out as a frontier mining town. It was platted in 1826 and given a name that means lead sulfide in Latin. Galena quickly became the hub and mercantile center of the first major mineral rush in U.S. history.

In fact, no one had seen anything quite like it. Northern Illinois was largely uninhabited at the time, but the Mississippi River and the steamboat permitted migrants to leap frog into the area to seek their fortunes.

They came from southern Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. New England sent many, as did Ireland, England and Germany. Reports of the mining boom-town on the frontier quickly spread. One observant gentleman described the town in 1841:


By the 1840s Galena was the largest river port north of St. Louis and was the chief beneficiary of a region producing over 80% of the nation’s lead. Galena boats gained a near monopoly on the Upper River trade as the city sought to enhance its position in trade, commerce and transportation.more…