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Tannerman
September 30th, 2003, 08:11 AM
After such jam-packed weekend trips to the Smoky Mountains (http://forums.tannerworld.com/showthread.php?threadid=2493) and the lighthouses of Lake Michigan (http://forums.tannerworld.com/showthread.php?threadid=2835), Amy and I decided that our next adventure would be to just one place for the whole weekend. We wanted to enjoy and explore an area without having to worry about moving on to the next destination. This desire brought us to the picturesque town of Galena, IL (http://www.galena.org/), roughly 3 hours from Chicago (http://www.cityofchicago.org).

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Galena, which is Latin for lead sulfide (http://mineral.galleries.com/minerals/sulfides/galena/galena.htm), was built in 1819 as a trading post for the lead mining industry. Adventurers from around the world flocked to this area, which is near the intersection of Illinois (http://www.enjoyillinois.com/), Iowa (http://www.traveliowa.com/), and Wisconsin (http://www.travelwisconsin.com/), and conveniently placed by the shores of the Mississippi River. In fact, the nation's first mineral rush occurred here more than 20 years before California's famous Gold Rush (http://www.museumca.org/goldrush/). This prompted much steamboating and commerce in the area.

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With more money, great architecture followed. By the 1850's, Galena was the busiest Mississippi River port between St. Louis, MO (http://www.explorestlouis.com/), and St. Paul, MN (http://www.stpaulcvb.org/). At that time, the population grew to over 14,000 (today it's just above 3,000). It was also the home of Ulysses S. Grant (http://www.mscomm.com/~ulysses/), General of the Union Army during the Civil War and the 18th President of the United States. Today, Galena draws folks because of the rolling hills, unique shops, historical architecture, and the many golf and ski resorts in the area.

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Our drive during the weekend of September 26-28 was slower than usual, prompted by rain, traffic, and a large accident on US-20 outside of Galena. We had to backtrack through the large Eagle Ridge Inn & Resort (http://www.eagleridge.com/), using their roads to bypass the traffic. According to the state trooper (http://www.isp.state.il.us/) we talked to, it was a bad accident, completely stopping traffic on the winding, hilly road for hours. We got to our destination late Friday night, Carrie's Vintage Inn (http://www.carriesvintageinn.com/). Our accomodations were in the Nature's Lodge (http://www.carriesvintageinn.com/roomrates.htm) suite that featured, per their website, "a sunken bedroom, 2 person whirlpool, cable TV and a private bath and shower. Decorated with a wooded nature theme including a cast iron stove-type fireplace."

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It was a pretty unique room, especially the rock walls that made up most of the area. The only drawback was the lack of air conditioning, but we made due with the sliding porch door and ceiling fan. Since we arrived so late, we couldn't do much in town. But before we went to bed we caught an interesting show on Bravo (http://www.bravotv.com/) called The Animated Century which profiled the past 100 years of animation. Very insightful, especially as I've spent the last few weeks reviewing animation history for my Mickey Mouse in Black and White DVD inserts (http://www.tannerworld.com/dvd/).

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We woke up on Saturday and headed to the 54th Annual Tour of Historic Galena Homes (http://www.firstgalena.presbychurch.org/falltour.html), which was one of the reasons we decided to travel here over this particular weekend. The tour is sponsored by a local church that donates all the proceeds to charity. The church building itself is part of the tour, as it is the oldest church in continuous service in the Old Northwest Territory (http://images.library.uiuc.edu/projects/historical_maps/images/large/40701796.jpg) (organized in 1831 with only six members). Usually, the 4 homes on the tour are private, but on this weekend the owners allow the public to take "a step into the past." Much of the tour is focused on the historic significance of these buildings from the 1800's.

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Our favorite home on the tour was The Samuel Martin House on 224 North Bench Street. It was built by a guy who ran a liquor store in Galena, which made him quite popular with the local miners. Nothing is square or level in this house. It was built on an odd-shaped plot of land, which caused the rooms to be built with diagonal walls. Still, it was restored with a classy charm, preserving the non-level floors. The present owners have done a nice job keeping the decor contemporary, yet true to the historic origins.

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The second home was The Old Parsonage (123 South Bench Street), which was a Victorian Queen Anne style house built in 1894 next to the Methodist Episcopal Church. This was the church where Ulysses S. Grant and his family worshipped before leaving for the Civil War. The house was sold in 1979 and the owners began a 20-year period of restoration. The current owners purchased the house in 2000 and have added a sitting room and a men's smoking parlor for a special Victorian touch.

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The third home on the tour was The Old Banking House (403 South Bench Street). Built in 1826, this is believed to be one of the 15 original log cabins erected along the geological "bench" now known as Bench Street, which was then part of a bustling business district. When fire destroyed the town bank in 1835, the home owner, a cashier at the bank, moved operations to his house. A stone vault accessible to the house was dug into hillside behind the building and may have been used to store money or fruit (who knows?). On the outside, the building is covered with clapboard siding, however the interior exposes the log wall structure.

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The final home on our tour was The Frederick Stahl House (603 South Bench Street), which was built as a gift by Mr. Stahl for his wife in 1842. The structure reflects Federal-style architecture, featuring a central hall which extends from the front door to the back of the house, with formal parlors on one side and a stairwell against the outside wall. What amazed us was that this building was 4 floors tall! At one point, the structure was subdivided into 6 apartments, but the present owners (having WAY too much money) bought the house last February and are working to restore it back to its original state. We were able to tour the first floor and they've done a remarkable job.

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After the home tour, we spent time shopping and checking out the stores in downtown Galena. Their Main Street is very Disney-esque, as it has a historical, turn-of-the-century charm. The tough zoning laws have helped preserve that visual style. Additionally, the street bends on a curve with the river, thus your eye deceives you when you try to find the end of the long row of shops.

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We headed to the home of Ulysses S. Grant (http://www.granthome.com/) for a lamplight tour of the building. While you can tour the site in the day, at night they light oil lamps to recreate the 1868 atmosphere. That was a very cool idea and it was an interesting tour.

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After the tour, we got hungry. It was 9 p.m., after all! We headed to a restaurant located right next to the Inn we were staying at called Cafe Italia (http://www.cafeitalia.biz/). They are known for having the "best pizza in Galena" so we ordered their Texas Best variety; grilled chicken breast with hickory smoked bacon, Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce, southwestern spices, sliced red onion, and mozzarella and provolone cheeses.

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Wow... this pizza was very spicy! It burned the back of your throat going down! Plus, being straight out of the oven, it burned the top of my mouth as well. In any case, this goes up there with one of the best BBQ chicken pizzas I've ever had. It might even be better than the pizza we had at PM Steamers (http://www.pmsteamers.com/) (Ludington, MI (http://www.ludingtoncvb.com/)) on our lighthouse trip (http://forums.tannerworld.com/showthread.php?threadid=2932)!

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On Sunday, the final day of our trip, we checked out and grabbed breakfast at a local European bakery called Jakels' Backerei Café & Bread Shop (http://www.galena.org/BusnOutput2.cfm?ID=188) (now that's a name!). We knew it had to be a great place because on the wall they had a poster which showed Mickey Mouse and some bakery items at Walt Disney World (http://www.disneyworld.com). We then walked around the town a bit, taking the pedestrian bridge over Galena River to nearby Grant Park (not to be confused with the large area by the same name (http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/parks.detail/object_id/83AA6305-ADBE-4D8A-B333-004449057EA9/RequestTimeout/500) found on Chicago's lakefront).

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The light green doors in the lower-left corner of photo are floodgates</center>
It should be noted that Amy and I have been to Galena before on various other trips, both together and separately. One thing we both like about the town is how it is built tiered, much like the angled streets of San Francisco (http://www.sfvisitor.org/) or Seattle (http://www.seeseattle.org/). This is due to the steep valley caused by the Galena River, which runs right through town. The streets are built on "shelves" formed by the natural limestone bluffs. You've probably heard the phrase "open the floodgates"... in Galena, that's actually true! The lowest point in town, Main Street, it protected by a very high berm (probably 30-40 feet high) that sits next to the river. At the end of the street, next to the berm, is a set of floodgates that are closed when the river rises too high, protecting the homes and businesses found in the historic downtown. It's one element I really like about this town!

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That said, after we left Grant Park we hiked up the hill to Prospect Street, which is the highest point in town. There are multiple staircases you can climb to catch this view and it's worth it. We literally walked down the street as it decreased in altitude, taking in the many historic houses along the way. Galena has such an architectural history that 85% of the community is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/)!

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Finally it was time to leave Galena and drive 8 miles of winding roads to the Chestnut Mountain Resort (http://www.chestnutmtn.com/), a ski area that overlooks the Mississippi River. As a kid, we had camped nearby many times at Mississippi Palisades State Park (http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/PARKS/R1/PALISADE.HTM) and traveled to Chestnut Mountain for one reason... the Alpine Slide (http://www.chestnutmtn.com/s_activities.htm)!

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For those of you who don't know, an Alpine Slide (http://www.geise-engineering.com/alpine_slide.htm) is a gravity-powered bobsled-like track, usually found at ski resorts and other hilly areas to generate revenue in the off-season. You ride a plastic sled which features a control handle, allowing you to regulate your speed by raising and lowering a series of brake pads. Gravity does the rest! When you get to the bottom, you take a chairlift back to the top.

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The weather was quite chilly, so Amy and I opted to go down the mountain just once. It's a creepy feeling as you descend because an illusion is created making you think you are heading directly into the Mississippi. We had a fun time and no one was hurt! I remember on previous visits I had taken a videocamera down the slide with me, documenting the whole trip from the first-person perspective. In college (http://www.tayloru.edu), we used this footage for an attraction my roommate and I built in our room for an all-dorm carnival. We called the experience Turbo Chair 3000. I still need to patent that idea! :)

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Finally, we started the trip home, stopping in Rockford (http://www.gorockford.com/) to grab a quick bite to eat at a pretty lame restaurant. Traffic was decent heading back into the city, so it was a pleasant drive. Along the way we listened to updates of NFL (http://www.nfl.com) games on the radio.

Even though our plans were to have a laid back and relaxing trip, we were still very tired once we got home, mainly from not being able to sleep due to odd conditions at the Inn. Still, it was nice to see the sights of Galena once again. If you haven't been to this part of the state, we'd recommend it for a quick getaway!