In a snug little wedge at the tippy top of Illinois, the village of Galena—population 3,400—reigns over the Mississippi River.
The historic town is less than three hours away from the hubbub of Chicago, but it might as well be a million light years. Once known as a great place to discover antiques, Galena and the surrounding rural communities in Jo Daviess County have grown into a haven for craft artisans, outdoor sports enthusiasts and nature lovers.
The rolling hills that tumble into the Mississippi River and the neighboring states of Iowa and Wisconsin are well populated with ash, birch, hackberry and maple trees that literally sing, thanks to the flocks of purple finch, red-tailed hawks and American goldfinch that ruffle through the wooded playground. Experiencing the outdoor bounty is inevitable, whether you’re hiking through Apple River Canyon State Park
, canoeing down the Mighty Mississippi or Galena River, skiing at Chestnut Mountain or sitting on a picnic bench sipping a vintage white from Galena Cellars Winery
The abundant natural beauty of the area is what attracted Karen Allen, a native of Chicago, to move here 35 years ago. “If you can’t live out West in the mountains, this is the next best thing,” Karen says. “It’s quiet and beautiful in all four seasons.” She also was drawn to the town’s 19th-century architecture steeped in the pointed arches, Greek columns and gingerbread detailing (85 percent of Galena’s buildings are in a National Register Historic District.) And, of course, there’s the cabin architecture, most notably seen in The Log Cabin Restaurant on North Main.
Don’t let the brick exterior fool you; the interior walls are log paneling, decorated with vintage tools and artifacts. Locals and visitors have come here since 1935 for steaks, chops and seafood. In local tradition, supper clubs were the social gathering halls for newly arrived ethnic communities. Timmerman Supper Club in East Dubuque keeps the tradition alive. Because if there’s one thing this quiet corner of northwestern Illinois can do, it’s preserving the past well into the future.