Galena vs Galena
A Tale of Two Galenas
Galena, Illinois is without a doubt a special place. It's charming, scenic, rich in history, and it's been a famed getaway for generations. While Galena is unique in a number of ways, its name is not one of them. Galena, the name of the natural mineral form of lead, lends its name to a number of locations. There are 16 other places in the U.S. named Galena. Not all are technically towns, but you'll find Galenas in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington. In this somewhat regular feature (meaning I'll do more as I get to them) we'll compare Galena, Illinois with some of the other Galenas strewn about the nation. In this, our feature debut, we'll compare the Galenas of Illinois and Kansas.
Of the two, which would you guess is bigger? Population-wise Galena, Illinois is larger, but not by much. US Census projections put the Illinois town exactly 300 people greater than Galena, Kansas; 3,158 to 2,858 for 2019. Total residents in both communities have been declining steadily. Galena, Illinois boasted over 8,000 people during the civil war era. Galena, Kansas had a population of more than 10,000 as the 20th century began.
Geographically the two towns are a bit more than 300 straight-line miles apart. Area-wise, Galena, Kansas is a bit larger at 4.62 square miles vs. 4.16 for Galena, Illinois. Both are located in tri-state areas; Galena, Illinois near the Illinois - Wisconsin - Iowa intersection in Illinois' northwest corner. Galena, Kansas, in the southeast corner of Kansas, is close to the junction of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Near the southern edge of the Driftless Region, Galena, Illinois is a hilly community built along river bluffs. Galena, Kansas is in the heart of the U.S. Great Plains. Neither town is located on an Interstate Highway. Galena, KS is about a dozen miles north of I-44, while as near as I can tell, it's a good hour and a half to an Interstate from Galena, IL. It's about two and a half hours from Galena, Kansas to Kansas City. Galena, Illinois is about a two and a half hour drive from Chicago.
As the name common to both suggests, both Galenas were once hubs of lead mining activity. Little more than a few structures where the railroad tracks crossed a creek prior, lead was discovered at Galena, Kansas in 1877, and the town boomed.
Native Americans had long-established mines at Galena, Illinois centuries before the town was established in the mid 1820s. Accessible from the Mississippi River via the Fever River (later named Galena River), the Illinois town boomed as the first major mineral rush in U.S. history brought lead miners to the area and a bustling steamboat center grew.
Both of these Galenas trade on historical pride. Galena Kansas, one of just two Kansas towns located on "The Mother Road," former U.S. Route 66, is the home of the truck which inspired the "Mater" character in the film Cars. A number of Route 66 attractions can be found there. Galena, Illinois enjoys a vibrant tourism business as guests visit the historic home of General Ulysses Grant in a town famous for being home to nine civil war generals. Much of the city's architecture and historical charm are protected in an effort to retain the town's unique style.
Culturally, one of these Galenas is a place where men in boots tip snap-back and cowboy hats to passing ladies. One is a place where men in overpriced golf shirts and loafers tip baristas.
To the one on The Mother Road, and the one on The Great River Road, cheers to two great American Galenas!