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Area History

Area History

History is rich in the beautiful rolling prairies of this northwest central Illinois city. Knox County was established January 13, 1825, by the state legislature, and the first known settlers arrived in 1826.

The county was named in honor of Revolutionary War hero General Henry Knox, who was Secretary of War from 1785 to 1795.

Galesburg is a unique town in that it was a planned city whose purpose was fostering religious education. Knox College was the main reason for its existence. The college was granted a charter by the Illinois State Legislature in 1837, but it was not until 1841 that it opened its doors to the first freshman class.

Old Main was completed in 1851 and has the distinction of being the only building still standing where a Lincoln-Douglas debate was held, the fifth and most famous of the debates.

It has historical ties to the railroad, too, with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy) coming to the City in 1854. Funding for the linking of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (CB & Q) Railroad came from a Galesburg investor, beginning a rail history that still lives today. The CB & Q later merged with other railroads to form what is now Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Because of that Galesburg investor's commitment, Galesburg has seven main rail lines coming in and out of the City. Galesburg still prides itself in its railroad history, with several museums and a festival devoted solely to the railroad.

Old Main's construction in 1857 reflected the prosperity that the new railroad began bringing to Galesburg three years earlier. It is the sole remaining original site of the great Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858. The debate was staged against the east wall of Old Main, and two large bronze plaques with…
Found in: Local History
Experience railroading of the early 1900s at the new Galesburg Railroad Museum building that sits next to the Amtrak Depot. The building holds an extensive collection of railroad memorabilia on view for the public to see. Take a tour through the restored passenger engine built in 1930 by the Baldwin…
Found in: Local History
Seminary Street Historic Commercial District is one of the Midwest's stunning success stories in downtown restoration. Buildings once nearly abandoned now thrive with restaurants, distinctive specialty shops, a day spa, coffee roastery and a bakery. Antiques and collectibles from some of the Midwest's finest dealers can be found at The…
Found in: Local History
Author-poet Carl Sandburg was born here in a three room cottage on January 6, 1878. From these humble beginnings, Sandburg went on to achieve international acclaim for his poetry, children’s stories, and a six volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. A Visitors’ Center and gift shop is located next to the…
Found in: Local History
The cornerstone of this sandstone building was laid in 1884 and construction was completed in 1886 at a cost of $150,000. The ornate details are typical of the Romanesque period. To the west of the Court House is Standish Park Arboretum with over 170 trees and shrubs.
Found in: Local History
The Orpheum Theatre opened in 1916 after a construction cost of $135,000. Originally built as a vaudeville house, the Orpheum hosted many early stars of stage and screen, including Jack Benny, George Burns, Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice and Blackstone the Magician.
Found in: Local History
This imposing Richardsonian Romanesque church building, constructed in 1898 of dark red sandstone transported from Michigan, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has a number of magnificent rose windows, and is located on the site of the “Old First Church”— founded by the original settlers who…
Found in: Local History
Completed in 1885, the church has a 150' spire and neo-Gothic architecture. Only ten Catholic churches in the U.S. have a saint’s body, and Corpus Christi houses the holy relic of St. Crescent, taken out of the catacombs in Rome in 1838.
Found in: Local History
Galesburg and Knox College were founded in 1837 by anti-slavery advocates who came to Knox County from upstate New York. George Washington Gale and many of the early founders were abolitionists and set the tone for the new town and neighboring communities. Galesburg was home to the first anti-slavery society…
Found in: Local History
George Washington Gale arrived in Illinois in the mid 1830s with a colony of people from upstate New York to establish Galesburg and Knox College. These serious minded people were mostly Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Once they had settled in Western Illinois, they committed themselves to establishing their schools. The education…
Found in: Local History
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