Heading west on U.S. 20 in northern Illinois, the road that had been straight and flat begins to wind through gently rolling farm fields as you near Galena. When church steeples and orange brick buildings come into view, you know you’ve reached your destination. A city with fewer than 3500 residents, Galena attracts over a million visitors every year. Visitors come for the history, the shopping, the dining or just to relax in an atmosphere that is like nowhere else in Illinois.
Since the first year Matt and Mike Blaum opened Blaum Bros Distilling Co, it’s been Galena’s top attraction, according to Trip Advisor. The craft distillery is so popular that just three years after opening their doors in 2014, they are having to expand. Although it was quiet on the single-digit day we toured the distillery this winter, Matt told us, “During the summer and fall months it’s just shoulder-to-shoulder in here.”
Historic Galena, tucked away in the northwest Illinois rolling hills, is the quintessential romantic getaway. During the day, guests visit historic sites or browse small shops housed in Main Street’s nineteenth century buildings. In the evening, after dining in one of Galena’s trendy restaurants, they retreat to romantic B&Bs and inns. We were recently invited to the Goldmoor Inn, located just minutes from downtown, to experience the inn’s first Artists in Residents program. One look at the inn, and I fell in love.
I had never touched watercolors in my life—besides the eight-color Crayola® trays that I used in kindergarten. Yet, in only two hours, I created a watercolor painting that I was proud of, during the inaugural session of the Goldmoor Inn Artists in Residence program. The luxury bed-and-breakfast Goldmoor Inn, located in Galena, Illinois, is sponsoring the program for four consecutive weeks during January. Award-winning Chicago watercolor painter Carol Luc taught me and several others basic watercolor techniques during this past weekend’s session.
You picture Abraham Lincoln descending the sweeping curved staircase, stovepipe hat in hand, following his speech orated from the hotel balcony in 1856. Or perhaps you imagine General Ulysses S. Grant being greeted by townspeople attending his welcome home reception following the Civil War. The DeSoto House Hotel in Galena, Illinois, was truly a grand establishment in the mid-1800s, the five story hotel the center of both social and political events. Then with a fire and a boiler explosion ten years apart and an economic decline when railroads replaced steamboats, the DeSoto House fell into disrepair. Fast forward to today, the hotel is fully restored, the top two floors removed years ago and private baths added to all rooms, but reminders of the hotel’s glory days remain, like the sweeping lobby staircase and some of the guests who apparently never completely left.