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Getting the lead out in Galena, Ill.


My On the Go column is just that, pictures and thoughts pieced together while traveling both for business and pleasure. Recently on a quick trip to northern Illinois, I decided to take a different route home via U.S. Highway 20.

Here is a fact I doubt many know. Highway 20 is the longest road in the United States at 3,365 miles. Both 20 and U.S. 30 were designated to crisscross the states with the designation of the “0” in the route number.

From Boston to Newport, Ore., this scenic road is considered the Northern route and follows the footprints of settlers as Western expansion took place. Generally it coincides with port cities or bridges, also very important in crossing the Missouri or the Mighty Mississippi.

On this venture, I was in for a pleasant surprise, stumbling upon a town that local folklore refers to as “The Town that Time Forgot”.

With a population of just under 3,500, Galena, Ill., is a town rich in history. It’s named for the mineral “Galena” which was mined in the area along the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

Located in the corners and referred to as the Tri State area of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, this robust little city boasts over 1 million visitors a year. The winding main street with nearly 100 businesses and attractions is rich in architecture and heritage with row after row of storefronts mirroring 150 years as a “Boomtown” and riverboat port. Today over 1,000 buildings in this city are registered on the National Historic Society.

Strolling along the shops takes you back in time and one may feel as if you are on a movie set. And in fact you are, as the popular Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” filmed scenes there.

Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, I find nostalgia comes easy. In fact, it’s even evident in my writing or stories. I find it hard to understand sometimes what is termed “Modern, Progressive and Advanced” may also be defined as “Expensive, Excessive and eventually Extinction.”

In its peak in 1850, Galena was residence to 14,000. In 1865, the town presented a home to Ulysses S. Grant in honor of his service after the Civil War. Grant moved back to work in his father’s leather store in Galena.

Near this time, as mines ran out, the land or homestead act and gold was struck in California, Galena started its decline. Still a popular port city and with the rich soil in the rolling hills, agriculture saw the city through the early 1900s. And like many towns in the 1950s, grain and livestock carried them into the 1980s.

Galena went through the rise and fall of a mining town. As a farming community in the 1980s, survival wasn’t easy.

Small town survival looms in the horizon for many rural settings. Cell phone and Internet shopping at the push of a button, along with large retail stores and strip malls everywhere in larger cities, have all but eliminated rural business.

Tourism can often revive regions and towns. Such is the case with Galena, which in 1980 started a campaign to protect its history and preserve the architecture of the many buildings. Planning and foresight, or in this case, retrospect saved this town from becoming a ghost town.

And if you’re wondering as to what the mineral galena is, for which this town is named, galena is an ore, or lead sulfide or simply just called lead. And in this town’s history, “Getting the lead out” has proven fateful.

But then again, everyone likes a comeback story.

It’s fall sale season, and if there is anything I can help with, let me know. I will be attending many production sales in Nebraska and the surrounding states in the coming months. Look for this column for sale averages and comments.

Original blog post by Chris Beutler on Sept., 28 2016