With potential grant on line, Galena museum seeks funds for new facility

Informational Meeting

An additional meeting is planned for 7 p.m. June 28 at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, 444 Eagle Ridge Drive. For more information or to donate, contact the museum at 815-777-9129 or visit galenahistory.org/new-museum.

GALENA, Ill. — After learning that their new museum project might receive federal funding, officials with Galena and U.S. Grant History Museum seek donations to match the potential $1.8 million grant.

Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society held a public meeting this week to discuss the project, with another slated for next week.

“It is crucial that the museum relocate to a 21st-century building,” said Executive Director Tessa Flak.

The museum has been housed at 211 S. Bench St. for more than 80 years, and the aging building presents storage and accessibility issues.

In 2017, the society acquired 3.5 acres on Bouthillier Street neighboring the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site. Officials planned to construct a new museum there and refurbish the nearby Nelson Stillman House as an administrative building and event space. But progress stalled in January 2020 due to funding shortfalls and cost increases, and the pandemic further delayed work.

Last fall, City of Galena officials alerted the historical society to a federal economic development grant. Flak said museum officials applied for $6 million, with a 50-50 match. When they learned they would receive $2 million at most, society members reworked plans to cut $1 million from the project.

“We’re doing the bare minimum to get it open and make it functional as a museum,” she said. “We can always add things like a water feature (or) different landscaping down the road.”

In April, the society learned its project had made the shortlist for a $1.8 million grant. Matching funds are required, and the museum must have those funds in hand prior to the awarding of the grant in September.

“It’s a very short period of time, so we are desperately seeking funding,” Flak said.

The new, one-story museum would cover 8,500 square feet and house five major galleries. The museum’s current location on Bench Street is nearly double that size but is divided between two floors, the upper of which is not accessible to 25% of visitors.

The new site also would offer 45 parking stalls, while the current museum lacks off-street parking.

Flak said the new museum would lead to a 300% increase in annual attendance, based partially on visitor numbers from the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site.

As fundraising continues for the museum, repairs are ongoing at the Stillman House, funded by a separate grant from Galena Foundation. Flak said that work should be completed this year and includes foundation repairs and making bathrooms and entrances accessible for all patrons.

If the society receives the federal grant, work must be completed within 42 months, meaning the new museum would open by summer 2026.

Flak said that grant would pay for only part of the project. The expected cost of the building alone is $5 million, with exhibits, furnishings, signage and more not included. However, fundraising for the grant match is the society’s current focus.

“As soon as we know we can get the building, we can start applying for grants for exhibits,” she said. “Right now, we’re focusing on the building.”

Nancy Willett and Marie Wright, of The Galena Territory, attended the meeting. They said they plan to support the fundraising efforts.

“I think it’s a good thing, and we need it to preserve the history of this area,” Wright said.