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Historic Galena, IL, Eyes Future While Embracing the Past

Historic Galena is a river town in Illinois farm country with a deep past and a digital future.

By Livability.com on March 27, 2023

Main Street, Galena, IL
Galena Country Tourism

Galena is a historic small town in the northwest corner of Illinois, nestled in the hills, valleys and bluffs along the Mississippi River that make this one of the most scenic areas of the Midwest. Chartered in 1841, Galena was at first a center for lead mining operations that helped it become at one time the busiest steamboat port between St. Paul and St. Louis.

Now, the city of 3,000 is the county seat for Jo Daviess County, population 21,000, and a busy hub for the surrounding farm country that boasts strong community ties, a thriving local business community, cultural activities, low cost of living, quality eduction and low crime rates that together make it a comfortable place to visit and to live.

Geographically Galena is only a dozen miles from Dubuque, Iowa, and even closer to the Wisconsin line. Rockford, Illinois, is about 75 miles to the southeast, while Madison, WI, is about 90 miles to the northwest. U.S. 20 is the main highway through the area, and commercial air service is available about a half hour away at Dubuque Regional Airport.

Some 85% of Galena is in a National Register Historic District and it can be like a step back in time, but the city also is well-served by high-speed fiber internet, including service at up to a blazing 2 Gigabytes per second from Sand Prairie, which easily empowers everyday activities like streaming video, working from home and accessing online services at a level equal to the most connected cities in the country.

Historic Downtown Offers Abundant Charm and Culture

Downtown Galena is known for its charming and historic architecture with many well-preserved 19th-century buildings that now house museums, galleries and shops. Main Street is the main drag and typically bustles with visitors perusing antiques, boutique clothing and handmade crafts, and checking out the diverse eateries, ranging from casual pubs to fine dining.

Highlights also include the Old Market House State Historic Site, an 1845 structure that served as the town’s marketplace and social center and now is home to a local history museum. There’s also the Galena-Jo Daviess County History Museum on Bench Street with its focus on the town’s mining and military past. Also of note is the Grant Home State Historic Site, a restored former residence of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States.

Galena hosts several annual events and festivals throughout the year, including the Galena Country Fair, a Halloween parade and the community Christmas tree lighting. Cultural offerings, meanwhile, include theater, concerts and art exhibits at the Galena Center for the Arts and the P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre. The latter puts on shows year-round and boasts of being the only theater of its kind in the Midwest. Turner Hall, vintage 1874, is also used as a performing arts center and there are several art galleries offering the works of local and regional talent.

The Galena Arts & Recreation Center adds to the local flavor with health/wellness, arts programs and childcare and preschool offerings. Adding to the wellness picture, Galena is home to several healthcare facilities, including Midwest Medical Center and the Galena-Stauss Hospital.

Fall colors in Galena, IL
Galena Country Tourism

No Shortage of Outdoor Opportunities

The Galena and Mississippi rivers and the forested hills and dales of the area make Jo Daviess County a haven for outdoor lovers during all seasons. Along with fishing and boating, popular nearby destinations include Apple River Canyon State Park, Casper Bluff Land & Water Reserve and Horseshoe Mound Reserve, along with the in-town Galena River Trail.

Many of these parks and more include trails that range from easy to challenging and offer scenic views of the surrounding countryside. Hunters, meanwhile, can easily access the vast Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, as well as private hunting clubs and outfitters.

In sum, the Galena area offers abundant outdoor recreation opportunities for visitors and residents alike, with activities to suit all ages and skill levels. Whether you’re a seasoned angler, an avid hiker or just looking to enjoy the area’s natural beauty without much else in mind, there’s something for everyone in and around Galena.

Local Schools Keep the Learning Lights On

A key focus of education here is the highly regarded Galena High School, home of the Galena Pirates and three-time state football champions since 1998. The 800-student Galena Unit School District 120 also has one elementary and one middle school. The county also is well served by 330-student River Ridge Unit 210 School District through River Ridge Elementary School and River Ridge High School.

As for higher education, there are several colleges and universities nearby. These include Highland Community College about 25 miles east of Galena in Freeport, Ill., and Northeast Iowa Community College about 20 miles west of Galena. Four-year schools include the University of Dubuque, Loras College and Clarke University, all about 20 miles away in Dubuque, and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville about 25 miles away.

The recent pandemic only underlined what already had become clear: Robust internet service in rural areas is essential to education for both full-time home learners and those just home from school for the day. Fiber internet from Sand Prairie ensures all our students at all times can access online learning resources and programs, from textbooks to Zoom chats.

Fiber Internet Helps Farmers Grow Their Reach

Galena is farm country in the heart of America’s bread basket. Jo Daviess County is known for its fertile soil and productive farmland with growers engaged in the large-scale production of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. Livestock farming is also important here, especially in the cattle and hog industries.

While helping to feed America, the agriculture industry here also supports such businesses as seed and fertilizer suppliers, equipment dealerships, and grain elevators. And like every other business, the internet is a vital part of these growing operations.

Indeed, fiber internet from Sand Prairie allows farmers to better access data-driven tools and technologies like precision agriculture, which can help them optimize crop yields and reduce waste. That’s in addition to accessing and monitoring markets and keeping up with the weather at a granular level unimaginable just a generation ago.

Broadband Connectivity, the Member-Owned Cooperative Way

Sand Prairie is well on its way to closing the digital gap in Galena and the surrounding areas served by the internet service provider’s parent organization, Jo-Carroll Energy. Jo-Carroll is a 25,000-member cooperative formed more than 75 years by farmers working together to bring affordable, reliable electricity to this area of northwest Illinois.

Now Sand Prairie is doing the same with internet service, the digital lifeblood for connection to friends and family, businesses and schools, first responders and healthcare providers, e-commerce and financial services, really putting the entire world at our fingertips here.

Now in its third decade of service, ISP has embarked on an ambitious fiber-to-the-premise project in the same spirit as its cooperative founders who were committed to making sure their communities were no longer unserved or underserved.

Sand Prairie offers multiple tiers of high-speed internet service — as fast as 200 Gigabits per second, enough to power up to 50 devices at once. The company also offers phone and television services.

Fiber broadband internet service from Sand Prairie is a key component of ensuring the ability of Galena and our surrounding communities to provide the modern infrastructure needed to continue growing the economic, educational and social well-being that have long made this a great place to live, work, play and thrive.

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