Galena historic site prepares to reopen

If You Go

The Elihu B. Washburne House is located at 908 Third St. in Galena, Ill. Tours begin Friday, July 9, and continue through October on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are free, but donations are accepted.

GALENA, Ill. — A historic site in Galena is reopening after more than a year.

The Elihu B. Washburne House, 908 Third St., will open for public tours on Friday, July 9. The state historic site is typically open from May to October but did not open in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tours of the home are provided by volunteer docents from Galena Belles Questers No. 1304, a local chapter of an international organization that supports the preservation and restoration of historic landmarks and artifacts. The Galena Belles Questers are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.

Jae Hezlep, a member of the Questers, said tours will be modified this year due to the pandemic, but the group is excited to welcome visitors again.

“People have worked very hard to make this a smooth transition,” she said.

About 15 docents attended a recent practice to prepare for the reopening. Among them was Marcia Crook, who has been a member of the Questers for about four years. She said she enjoys the chance to share her love of history with visitors.

“It’s interesting because you never know what people are going to ask,” she said. “You have to be able to think on your feet.”

Longtime Questers member and docent Myra Linton said the house can see upwards of 100 visitors a month in a typical year.

Elihu Benjamin Washburne was born in Maine in 1816. After receiving a law degree from Harvard University, he moved to Galena in 1840 and practiced law. He served in Congress from 1853 to 1869 and was a political adviser, supporter and friend of both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

“On election night of 1868, Grant learned that he became the next president of the United States when he was in the library of the Washburne House waiting for the return of the election results,” Hezlep said. “That is one claim to fame for the house.”

Washburne and his wife, Adele, welcomed eight children in the Third Street home, which was constructed in 1843. The site was purchased by the State of Illinois in 1968 and remodeled in the early 2000s. The Questers began offering tours in 2006.

Visitors are guided through the living room, library, dining room and kitchen on the first floor of the house. The upper story features five bedrooms, two of which are typically open to the public. This year, visitors will not be allowed upstairs due to the pandemic but can view photographs of the upper floor on an easel at the foot of the staircase.

Hezlep said there will be a limit of 10 visitors in the house at a time, and guests are asked to wear masks.