The Dowling House – Galena, Illinois - Atlas Obscura

Galena, Illinois

The Dowling House

The oldest house in Galena, Illinois, now is a reminder of when this city was the world's lead mining capital. 

If you’re looking for a day trip from Chicago, travel outlets repeatedly suggest Galena, Illinois. The city’s rolling hills, oft-overlooked history, and impressive 19th-century architecture appeal to nearly a million visitors a year. 

Upon arriving in Galena, you’ll learn fairly quickly that the city is named for the mineral galena (a form of lead sulfide), which Native Americans mined in the area for centuries.

You’ll also discover that because the city produced a massive amount of deposits—and took advantage of its prime trading location near the Mississippi River—Galena created the first major mineral rush in the United States. For reference, at its peak in 1845, more than 54 million of the 65 million pounds of lead for the U.S. were produced in Galena.

During this boom, Irish immigrant John Dowling and his son Nicholas built The Dowling House. The family lived upstairs while downstairs served a trading post. Not only does The Dowling House bear the impressive title “oldest in Galena,” but it is also considered to be the oldest stone structure in all of Illinois. 

Galena abandoned The Dowling House for decades. After a rehabilitation process in the 1960s, the building was opened to the public. The house’s original fireplace remains, and primitive furniture, artifacts, and Galena pottery are situated throughout. 

Know Before You Go

Thirty-minute guided tours ($10) take place between May and November.

Community Discussion