Our History | About the Hotel Galena

The properties upon which the Hotel Galena now stand were first acquired by Daniel Smith Harris in 1839 – 16 years before the Historic Desoto House opened its doors. The empty lots changed hands many times until the Beltram and Weber Buildings were constructed in the 1850’s. Over the years they’ve been held by many parties and served a variety of uses (grocer viewed below). The original buildings were restored when the current owner purchased the property 30 years ago. Terry and Vicky decided to turn the buildings into accommodations that Galena could be proud of and we are excited to continue their legacy.

Our History 1

The Original Owner
Daniel Smith Harris arrived in Galena at age 15 in 1823 according to GalenaHistory.org

Daniel Smith Harris and his brother, Robert Scribe, began construction on the Jo Daviess in 1832. The Jo Daviess was the first steamboat built on the Fever River, later named the Galena River. The Blackhawk War broke out. Indians defeated the militia at the battle of Stillman’s Run, south of present day Rockford, IL. which caused panic in the Lead District. The Stockade was built in Galena and settlers flocked to town. Blackhawk and his people were defeated at the Battle of Bad Axe, Wisconsin. A new mining boom began as Indian claims were extinguished.

By 1841 The state legislature granted a charter of incorporation to the City of Galena. A census revealed 650 houses and 2,225 people in the city. At the time, The Galena River was over 200 feet wide.

Our History 2

Daniel Smith Harris and his wife, Sarah. Although making an initial fortune in lead mining, Daniel is best known for his illustrious career in steam-boating. Daniel built the first steamboat ever launched in Galena. He was known as the King of the Upper Mississippi River and captained many boats, being an owner/partner in several steamboat companies. His most famous boat, The Grey Eagle, (designed by Daniel on the front porch of the mansion) held a steam speed record for travel on the Mississippi, which was not broken until 1945.

When Daniel died at age 85, he was the oldest settler of Galena and in the State of Illinois. He fought in the Blackhawk War, attaining the rank of lieutenant.

Sarah and Daniel raised ten children in galena. Additionally, Sarah Harris was a doctor — one of the first in Jo Daviess County — and many history books talk of her dedication to that pursuit. She became a physician at age 50 and is well known for her lectures on women’s diseases during a time when that topic was not considered “proper”. Sarah was a botanist and raised 50 varieties of roses in a conservatory on the property. She was a participant in the Underground Railroad of the pre- and Civil War era

Abraham Lincoln spoke from the balcony of the DeSoto House in 1856, the year after the opening of Illinois oldest hotel.

1869-The Women’s Suffrage Convention was held in Galena, organized by Sarah Coates Harris, wife of retired captain Daniel Smith Harris. Guest speakers included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Galena Historical Facts

“Galena” is Latin for lead sulfide

In the peak year of 1845, the mining district, with Galena as its hub, produced almost 85% of the nation’s lead

The “Lead Rush” preceded the California “Gold Rush” by 20 years

Galena claimed 9 residents who reached the rank of General for service rendered during the Civil War

Ulysses S. Grant, Galena’s most famous citizen, moved to town in 1860, one year before the outbreak of the Civil War

So much of Galena’s original architecture remains that over 85% of the community is listed in the National Register of Historic Places

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