Galena today looks much as it did in Grant’s time. Hundreds of buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and an estimated 85 percent of the town has been declared a National Historic District. Grant’s modest Italianate style home still stands overlooking the cemetery. It was a gift given to the Grant family in 1865 by a group of Republicans who purchased it for $2,500. More than 80,000 people per year visit the home of the former president.
Walking about the village is akin to stepping back in time. Main Street has been named one of the most attractive streets in America. It is lined with well-preserved Federal-style storefronts. They host a variety of shops and restaurants that serve the more than 1 million visitors who come to the village each year. Tucked into a building at 201 N. Main is the Log Cabin Greek Steakhouse. Sue and I had dinner at the restaurant that has been in operation since the 1930s.
The owner of the Log Cabin is an American success story. Frank Rigopoulos immigrated to Ellis Island from Greece when he was 17n years old in 1954. His first job in his new country was as a dish washer in a restaurant. He continued to work in the food business, learned the trade, and saved his money. In 1975 he purchased the Log Cabin, and the fine establishment is still operated by him and his family.
The desk clerk at Desoto House remarked guests from every state and many foreign nations make their way to Galena annually. This was illustrated by license plates on the cars in their parking garage. Among others there were vehicles from California, Arizona, Nevada, and Maryland. A sign over the door to the garage announced it was Desoto House Parking since 1855.
Perhaps that’s where Abe Lincoln parked his horse when he electioneered there in 1856.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.