One expects local "historical museums" to be quiet, dusty affairs, heavily populated with 1920s moth collections and long-departed mayors.The Galena/Jo Daviess Museum, though, shatters such stereotypes with a lively, informative and very unexpected celebration of history.
Galena has several sets of steep steps from Main Street upwards. The Museum is one level up (afterwards, walk to the top...what a view!) The $8 admission ticket is purchased in the gift shop to the right.
In the historic building's parlor room, you settle in to plush 19th century chairs to view a terrific hologram of the Grants welcoming you. Ulysses's voice is more high-pitched than I expected, but both he and Julia were convincing. The Galena history and Grant history is sort of mixed together in places on the first floor, but it's all good.
Check out the lead mine shaft...I have new respect for the courage and strength of miners. Tough work.
The Grant artifacts are fun, including cigars and a single boot. The famous Thomas Nast painting of the Surrender is much larger than I envisioned and incorporates interactive screens which enable you to identify who's-who in the iconic painting. One display profiled the unusual number of Civil War generals with Galena roots.
The local history is well-explored, too. In addition to impressive exhibits about lead-mining, there are good displays about the "driftless zone", the Sac and Fox tribes, and steamboats. Check out the ancient telephone switchboard; a "party line" is like a "chatroom" I guess.
A 3D topo map of the region really helped us get our bearings. A mural depicting early farming in Jo Daviess County had a vaguely Diego Rivera feel. And we learn who JoDaviess was, too!
The place was lively when we were there...A busload of senior citizens rolled in from Wisconsin. The volunteer staff were gracious and well-informed. The gift shop is full of great stuff. Be sure to get a chunk of Galena zinc and a U.S. Grant bobblehead!