Founded in 1938 and home to the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum and the Old Blacksmith Shop
Sharing stories unique to Galena and the Driftless
Bringing Galena and the Driftless to light and life; passionately preserved, actively promoted, nationally acclaimed
The Galena & U.S. Grant Museum
A Step Back in Time
Imagine being able to escape the bustle of the here and now and take a walk back in time, immersing yourself in:
- the untouched beauty of the Driftless;
- the region’s earliest native settlements;
- the hurly-burly of the first trading post on the Fevre River;
- the mines, foundries, breweries, and farms that fed life along the river;
- the Grant family’s leather shop and Ulysses’ path to the presidency; and
- a bustling main Street alive with shops, carriage traffic, and social and political life.
The city of Galena is a living showcase of a prosperous 19th century Midwestern town. Today, Galena is one of the country’s most historically significant, culturally vibrant, and scenically breathtaking places. Carved into a steep, rocky hillside in the early 19th century, Galena’s historic downtown offers a glimpse of the region’s past as an economic boomtown, larger than Chicago in the 1830s.
For almost 80 years the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society has been a trusted and prudent steward of Galena’s vibrant history and culture. Galena’s past is proudly on display at the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum on Bench Street.
Preserving the Stories
The story of Galena symbolizes the story of America itself: the history and culture of Native Americans; exploration of the frontier and the travails and triumphs of early settlers; the growth of industry and commerce; the natural beauty and bounty of the land; discovery and invention; war and peace; and the age-old tale of boom years, hard times, and rebirth.
The Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society is dedicated to collecting, interpreting, and preserving the rich history and stories of Galena and the Driftless geologic region. Housed in the historic Daniel Barrows Mansion on South Bench Street in downtown Galena, the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum offers visitors an intimate view of what some refer to as “the town that time forgot” for its timeless beauty and charm. The society’s board has officially added U.S. Grant to the museum’s name to signify Grant’s legacy as one of Galena’s most well-known and preeminent residents: a businessman, leader of Union troops during the Civil War, 18th President of the country, and revered husband and father. The historical society also owns and maintains the Old Blacksmith Shop and the Gateway to History gift shop and ticket outlet.
A Treasure Chest of Artifacts
The museum holds a treasure chest of unique artifacts, letters, and exhibits that tell the captivating story of Galena’s past. Its one-of-a-kind collections range from one of Ulysses S. Grant’s cigar butts to 3-D holograms and its many exhibits span the history of time in our region. Among the museum’s rare objects are:
- “Peace in Union”, the original 9’ x 12’ painting by artist Thomas Nast depicting confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in 1865, perhaps the museum’s most valuable piece and an American treasure;
- the collected and often intimate letters of Civil War generals and soldiers to family and friends “back home”;
- one of U.S. Grant’s cigar butts and a boot and bow tie he once wore;
- a state-of-the-art, life-size 3-D hologram of General Grant and his wife Julia that welcomes visitors to Galena and provides a glimpse of Civil War era life in the town;
- uniforms, helmets, and artillery shells from World War I and other conflicts; and
- uncommon artifacts from the Antebellum and Post-Civil War era homes around Galena and the region, including clothing, recreational items, household items, and much more.
Permanent and temporary museum exhibits provide visitors with an in-depth look at Galena’s past, including the major stories that shaped its history, depicted by themes such as the Driftless, lead mining, Galena rivers and steamboats, and commerce and industry.
The Galena & U.S. Grant Museum is proud to be a Blue Star Museum. This designation is given to museums across America that offer free admission every year from Memorial Day through Labor Day to active-duty military members and their families, including National Guard and Reserve personnel. The Blue Star Museums program is a collaboration of the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Board of Directors
- Christine Harris, President
- Bonnielynn Kreiser, Vice President
- Doug Hilgendorf, Treasurer
- Kris Chapman, Secretary
- Mike Blaum
- Steve Coates
- Bonnie Cox
- Alice Ericksen
- Dawn Freese
- Kathleen Morgan
- Cory Ritterbusch
- Frances Rivoire
- Bryon Taylor
- Jean Matthiessen, Interim Executive Director