At the beginning of the 19th-Century, the discovery of lead in the United States initiated a “Lead Rush,” similar to the “Gold Rush,” and the mining of the ore was in full progress in the states of Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin as European pioneers settled the Driftless Region of Upper Mississippi River Valley.
The present-day City of Galena is named after the Latin word for lead, galena.
Galena’s first boatload of lead ore went down the Mississippi River in 1816. Three years later, a trading post was built in Galena that led to the first steamboat arrival in 1824.
By 1845 Galena was producing nearly 27,000 tons of lead ore and Jo Daviess County was producing 80 percent of the lead in the United States. Illinois and Wisconsin lead mining peaked in the 1840s, and a substantial percentage of the mining population was lured away by the excitement of the “Gold Rush” in California.
Today, there is an enormous romance and romantic story-telling about the mines, the miners, and the boom-time cities that were built as a result.
It is one of the many immigrant stories about the founding of America; the settlement of the great frontier and the building and loss of an elusive dream. These early European-American miners helped to build our current states and our current cities, and they will forever be a part of the history of our area for they took on a frontier and turned it into a Nation.
Revised, reformatted, and introduced by architecture critic and journalist, Christian Narkiewicz-Laine. With the Republication of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, May 1866. The book includes historic photographs from the Archives of The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design.