Upon planning my trip to Galena in Illinois, I had come across the DeSoto House Hotel and immediatedly got excited. Why? Well I had heard it was quite haunted because of the rich history that happened in and outside this famous building AND because good old Abe Lincoln had been here himself! If you have followed my travels this past year, I have had an ongoing series called “The Love of Lincoln” and it basically traces his steps all over IL. So I was happy to add another piece of the puzzle to that, AND so much more history that I would uncover.
Let’s start with the DeSoto House Hotel itself, makes sense since that’s the title. Sitting on the corner of Main Street in Galena, it commands your precense in it’s shadow. Opening on April 9th, 1855, it was financed by the “Galena Hotel Company” and named after the founder of the great Mississippi, DeSoto. Upon it’s grand opening, it was billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West” and at first glance, you can see why. Even with two floors now missing, its still quite large and grand. On it’s opening day it had 225 guest rooms, a ladies parlor, gentleman’s room, dining hall and full kitchen. Later was added retail stores, a saloon, offices, and a bowling alley.
John C. Parks would go on to furnish the Hotel with ravish furnishings and velvet carpets. With this now in place, this was THE Hotel to be at in the Midwest. Hence why Abraham Lincoln would choose it to speak on the Main Street balcony on July 23rd, 1856 in favor of John Fremont’s bid for Presidency. Two years later on July 25th, Stephen A. Douglas spoke from the same balcony. Then on September 13th, 1860, a crowd gathered at the Hotel in support of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency bid- a VERY famous balcony indeed!
After the Civil War, Ulysses S Grant came back to his hometown of Galena, bringing 25,000 people to the downtown area. Can you imagine? They had parades and parties as the welcomed him home, with a grand ball at the DeSoto House Hotel! I mean if those walls could talk…the history they have seen. And if you really want to be a part of history, request rooms 209 or 211, where Grant held his Presidential Campaign.
Once the railroads took over the steamboat industry, this beautiful little town and the Hotel would take an economic hit. On top of that, a fire broke out at the Hotel only four years after it had opened along with their steam boiler exploding later in 1869. They kept the Hotel afloat by using it as the centerpiece for the big events in town, including the welcoming of soldiers home- it must have been an incredible sight to see!
Over time it would be rented, renovated, several times over, until it became what it is today. The biggest change were removal of the top two floors in 1880 and moving the Tavern to the other side in 1883. With millions in renovations in the 1970s and 1980s, the DeSoto now houses 55 guest rooms, a ballroom, three dining areas, a full food court with atrium, a really cool tavern, and the General’s Restaurant which named the rooms after the famous Generals. Rooms run $139 and up… check them out at desotohouse.com.
Is it haunted? Heck yeah! How could it not be? Several of the ghost tours in town will take you through it, and you can also grab a free walking tour guide, which is what I did so I could just take my time and explore. It’s a beautiful hotel and I would love to stay here someday. It is in a GREAT location on Main Street, and with this Town still a busy place today in 2020, it would be great to stay in the middle of the action! The balcony that that made this place so famous still exists and I couldn’t stop staring it, seeing Abe’s ghost standing there. On a side note, many celebrities have stayed at DeSoto, including Tom Thumb of Circus fame (and the dork in me who LOVED Greatest Showman was excited about this!!). I highly encourage you to book a stay, enjoy the downtown area, and experience the beauty of Galena through this amazing piece of history.
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Going from “What If? to “Why Not” is my life motto and I work hard at living that every day. I share everything from moving to Florida to live near Disney World to road trips across the States. I love the cool, quirky, and crazy stuff that I can find on my Adventures, and every dollar you donate helps support my efforts and hard work. Thank you to ALL who support me!