The DeSoto House Hotel opened its
doors in 1855 and continues to welcome guests with hospitality, charm and
history, awarding us the title of "Illinois' Oldest Operating Hotel." Throughout
the years we have welcomed such memorable guests as Abraham Lincoln, William
Jennings Bryan, and serving as the presidential campaign headquarters for
Ulysses S. Grant just to name a few.
Today, the DeSoto House currently offers 55 guest rooms with private baths,
three dining areas a ballroom, conference and banquet rooms, specialty shops,
and a private parking garage. It encompasses a four-story atrium for Courtyard
dining serving breakfast, lunch and private banquets as well as the Generals’
Restaurant named in honor of Galena’s nine Civil War Generals which offers a
lounge and dining rooms amidst the atmosphere of the original brick walls and
beamed ceilings. Green Street Tavern, the third dining area, in its 1883
location is the perfect place to sit and watch Main Street.
A Desoto House employee talks about the spirits in the
They must have enjoyed their stay at the venerable DeSoto
House Hotel in downtown Galena, Ill., because they keep
coming back. “They” are the ethereal spirits of by-gone
guests, occasionally seen by today’s guests.
“None of our staff has seen ghosts,” said Scott Wolfe, hotel
historian and front desk clerk. “But every now and then,
guests report seeing translucent forms dressed in
old-fashioned clothes, drifting across the rooms and passing
through walls. When we check the rooms, invariably we
discover the walls in question once had doorways.”
This isn’t the stuff of scary movies. Nobody’s scared. In
fact, some say the spirits smile and nod. Plus, today’s
DeSoto House continues to encounter repeat guests of the
“This is the oldest operating hotel in Illinois,” explained
Wolfe. “It first opened in 1855 with 150 rooms, and was
touted as the largest hotel west of New York City. In 1986,
after an $8 million restoration, it re-opened with 55 rooms.
Today’s rooms are larger. In many cases, walls and doorways
were removed or relocated. That may explain why the ghosts
pass through walls.”
The History of the Desoto House
Once the principal river port of the Upper Mississippi
Valley, Galena reached its economic peak during the 1850′s.
With the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad, a group of
local investors formed the “Galena Hotel Company” and built
a grand hotel to reflect the growing prosperity of this
“Metropolis of the Northwest”. Named for the discoverer of
the Mississippi River, the DeSoto House opened on April 9,
1855 and was billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West.”
At the time of its conception, the DeSoto House was built to
service the many people arriving in Galena which was
flourishing as a major mining and trade center. The original
hotel building consisted of five stories and a lower level.
The DeSoto boasted 225 guest rooms, a gentleman’s reading
room, ladies’ parlors, a 300 seat dining hall, a kitchen
with equipments for feeding hundreds, and it own gas works
for lighting halls, dining rooms, and public areas. In
addition, retail stores, offices, a saloon, and a bowling
alley also found their home in the DeSoto House.
The first proprietor of the DeSoto House, John C. Parks,
furnished the hotel at a cost of $15,000 in exchange for a
two year rent-free contract. Furnishings included velvet
carpets, rosewood furniture, marble -topped tables, satin
damask curtains, and a “double round seven octave carved
rosewood Piano Forte”. A reporter from the Buffalo
Commercial Advertiser wrote of the DeSoto House that it was
“the perfection of neatness, convenience, and
Ulysses S. Grant used rooms 209 and 211 of the hotel as his
presidential campaign headquarters.
Thus the DeSoto House began its years as the center of
Galena’s social and political activities. Perhaps its most
notable visitor was President Abraham Lincoln, who spoke
from its Main Street balcony on July 23, 1856, in support of
John Fremont’s bid for presidency. Just two years later, on
July 25, 1858 Senator Stephen A. Douglas spoke from the same
balcony. On September 13, 1860, a crowd of over 15,000
rallied in front of the DeSoto in response to a “Grand
Republican Mass Meeting” in support of Lincoln’s
Ulysses S. Grant’s return to his hometown of Galena
following the Civil War, brought 25,000 citizens to the
streets to welcome him home. Bands, parades, and cannon
salutes preceded a reception ball for 2,000 persons which
was held at the DeSoto House. Grant later used rooms 209 and
211 of the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters.
As the economic focus of Galena shifted, and railroads
instead of steamboats took the lead in transportation, the
DeSoto House also met with problems. Only four years after
its grand opening, the grand hotel suffered a fire on June
2, 1859, which destroyed a dozen rooms on each floor with
water and smoke damage to the entire hotel.
During the next years of Galena’s economic decline, the
DeSoto House had several shining moments. Then the occasion
would arise to welcome home returning soldiers or
dignitaries, or welcome celebrities to the area, the DeSoto
House proved itself to be the ideal place for a great
banquet or ball, providing ample space and just the right
atmosphere for such events.
Misfortune was to haunt the DeSoto House once again on
December 7, 1869, when a steam boiler located in the dye
works in the hotel’s basement exploded. Subsequently, the
hotel was put up for rent in May 1870. Furnishings were
auctioned in October of the same year and the doors of the
hotel closed in December 1870.
Better years came to the DeSoto House. W.H. Blewett
purchased the hotel in 1871 and once again Galena had
entered an economic period of prosperity due to small local
industries. Blewett redecorated the hotel to cater to the
needs of the community. The DeSoto House was host during
this period, to traveling performers such as General and
Mrs. Tom Thumb, Duprey and Green’s Minstrels, and American
aeronaut, Professor S.M. Brooks.
In 1880, the upper two floors of the hotel were removed.
1883 saw the tavern moved to the Green Street side of the
building and a small bowling alley added to it.
Later owners of the hotel redecorated and installed hot and
cold running water and bathrooms on all floors. Gradually,
with the economic tide of the town, the DeSoto House ebbed
into a role of a combination hotel-boarding house.
Renovation of the hotel was attempted once again in 1971 and
Seven years elapsed until 81 year old mayor, Frank
Einsweiller, was able to assemble all the necessary people
and funding to begin the $7.8 million restoration, on the
condemned building which transpired between April 15, 1985
and April 19, 1986.
Today, the DeSoto House currently offers 55 guest rooms with
private baths, three dining areas a ballroom, conference and
banquet rooms, specialty shops, and a private parking
And so, the DeSoto House has come full circle. From its
grand opening in Galena’s glory days, through economic
change and misfortune to once again offering deluxe
accommodations and superior service in a most historic
Desoto House Hotel
230 S Main St
Galena, IL 61036