US Grant home highlights Galena’s history

Grant's Home

Ulysses S. Grant was a war hero. He was the 18th President of the United States.

And he called Galena, Illinois, home.

A native Ohioan, Grant  and his wife Julia settled in northwest Illinois in 1860, following a successful military career. He managed a store owned by his father.

Then, as the “War Between the States” started, he was called back into the Army in 1861.

battle cannon

He served under President Abraham Lincoln, himself a resident of Illinois, during the Civil War. Grant eventually rose to the position of Commander of the Union Army.

He led the Union to victory, culminating with the surrender of the Confederacy. Confederate General Robert E. Lee signed the papers to end the war at Appomattox. This scene lives on through a painting in Grant’s home.

Grant painting

Following the Civil War, Grant returned to Galena.

In 1867, Grant was named as Secretary of War (today’s Secretary of State).

In 1868, Grant won the US presidency. He served two terms.

Following his tenure as President, Grant and his bride spent a couple of years abroad traveling before returning home.

President Grant's Home

The Grants’ home remains in Galena, open to the public for tours.

It is a small quaint brick structure.

One of the things that impresses me with the homes of many of our historical leaders is the size of the houses they lived in. While considered extravagant back in the day (I imagine), they are small compared to today’s houses.

Grant's parlor

The living room was impressive. Many of the items displayed actually belonged to the Grants.

The family bedrooms were located upstairs. It was a warm day during our visit. The heat definitely rose. You have to wonder how they dealt with it back in the day.

family bedrooms

The bedrooms were nice enough and it seemed each family member had their own. Having grown up in a family of 10 kids, that didn’t happen until my teen years.


The kitchen was small.

Grant's kitchen

Just off the kitchen was a gold-plated bathtub. A note on the display read that families would usually bath once a week (can you imagine?). The kicker – everyone used the same water!!!! Dad went first. Then, Mom. Then, the kids went by age, with the eldest bathing after Mom. I’m the ninth of 10 kids, so…yeah…At least, I’d have bathed before my younger sister. Ha!

Grant's bathroom

A statue of Julia Grant stands on a small hill overlooking the historic Galena downtown.

statue of Julia Grant

A few blocks away from the Grant Home stands another historic home – The Belvedere Mansion and Gardens.

The mansion was built in 1857. While called the Belvedere, it wasn’t the family name. The name indicated it had a commanding view.

Belvedere Mansion and Gardens

Former Ambassador J. Russell Jones lived there. Imagine – a small Illinois town having two major dignitaries – a former president and a former ambassador.

Belvedere Mansion front

The mansion has 22 rooms. Part of the upper area is closed to the public.

Belevedere Mansion

The entrance houses a 14-foot high mirror.

Nearby, a sitting room – the Red Room – was used for female visitors.

Belvedere Red Room

The most popular room on the main floor was another sitting room.

In the room, hung the curtains from the movie, “Gone with the Wind.” Yes, those curtains. In the 1939 classic, Miss Scarlett made a dress from the curtains.

Gone With the Wind Curtains

Two paintings used as props in the movie also hang in the house – one in the ladies’ sitting room and another in the entrance.

In addition to the curtains, a set of chairs in the “green room” once belonged to President Teddy Roosevelt.

The dining room has a chandelier that is considered priceless.

Belvedere Mansion Green Room

A gold-plated shelf unit once belonged to pianist Liberace.

Shelf that belonged to Liberace

I imagine nothing in the house would have been purchased at Target or Walmart. LOL.

The second floor had the servants’ area – a sitting room where they could visit and play games or read.

Sitting Room

Other rooms on the second floor included well-decorated bedrooms.

Decorated bedrooms

Outside, the mansion’s gardens were well-cared for. They were pretty to view.

Mansions Gardens

While we enjoyed the tour overall, I have to say I thought it was overpriced at $12 per adult. I believe admission could be more reasonable, maybe $5, like they suggest for the Grant Home.

Belvedere Mansion Flowers

Downtown Galena gave us a look into the history of the town. Most of the downtown buildings are on the National Historical Landmark registry.

The first building you truly notice downtown is the DeSoto Hotel. It also helps that the name is on the side of the building in huge, huge letters.

Desoto House

As we rounded the corner to get a view of what lay ahead of us, three women knocked on the window of the bar at the DeSoto. They wanted their picture taken. We obliged.

Take my picture!

Businesses obviously occupy the old downtown buildings – from ice cream to soda pop to souvenirs – historic downtown Galena has a bit to offer visitors.

Up for a Root Beer?

We bought an ice cream cup and a local was nice enough to share his bench with us. He comes to the main street to take in people watching. You do see a lot of people – that street was packed with pedestrians and vehicles. Several folks on motorcycles pulled along the main street. It was definitely loud with the roar of the bikes.

Main Street

After enjoying our ice cream and the visit, we moved on.

We wanted to check out The Dowling House, which was the first house built in Galena. Unfortunately, we missed the visiting hours. We did check out the exterior, along with another family.

Dowling House

At the end of the street was a Thomas Mangelsen photo gallery. Mangelsen is a world famous photographer based out of Omaha. He has stores in several cities, but it’s always neat to see a Nebraska-based business in another area.

Following our self-guided tour of downtown Galena, we headed back to the car. Grant Park offers a lovely view of the area and downtown. Of course, a statue of US Grant stands in the middle of the park.

US Grant statue

Overall, we enjoyed our visit to Galena. It was a nice way to spend about 3 hours on a nice sunny day. I recommend visiting the area.