This small, rural town in west central Illinois has a rich history that is intertwined completely with railroads.
Galesburg was a junction for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the latter decades of the 19th Century.
This was the beginning of one of America’s largest rail yards, which produced some of the most iconic trains in America. Some of that industrial architecture can still be seen near the Amtrak station today.
Galesburg is home to the Railroad Hall of Fame. It will soon unveil a new attraction for visitors. A colorful festival is held every June to honor the city’s railroading heritage.
Galesburg is home to a charming downtown and Knox College, where Lincoln and Douglas held their fifth debate in the 1858 senatorial race.
1. Galesburg Railroad Museum
We wrote this article when plans were being made to build a new museum in Galesburg for the National Railroad Hall of Fame.
The attraction was built in 2019, and is expected to become a major tourist attraction, providing a boost for the city.
The history of Galesburg’s railroads is shown at the depot next to the Amtrak station.
There are many artifacts and memorabilia on display, including photographs, books, magazines, uniforms and lanterns, tools and tickets, as well as tons of letters and other memorabilia.
You can see a Burlington Route 13501 Waycar (1930), a Pullman Meath Car (1921), and a Railway Post Office Car (from 1945).
2. Discovery Depot Children’s Museum
His hands-on museum is located in an old industrial building and caters to children aged 1-12 years.
The museum uses interactivity and open-ended education to encourage critical thinking and literacy. It also introduces children to science, engineering and mathematics.
You can explore 14,000 square feet worth of exhibits, enough to last an entire day. Ferris Village is a mainstay, featuring six replicated shops that allow children to role-play everyday situations and professions.
The Art Studio will foster creativity in children and engage them in discussions about famous artists and art.
3. Downtown Galesburg
Galesburg’s historic center is alive with life. It offers top-quality shopping, live entertainment and dining, as well as nightlife.
Downtown Galesburg is a mix of Main St, Simmons St, and the adjacent streets. There are many independent shops selling antiques, jewelry and fashion accessories, vintage records and flowers.
You can find a great live music scene in the area, as well as vibrant performing arts venues such as the Orpheum Theatre.
Download an itinerary to take you on a walking tour through the main sights of Main Street. Or, choose from seven self-guided tours that explore different aspects of Galesburg’s history.
There are many local establishments that offer great food and deserve your attention.
4. Orpheum Theatre
The Second Empire-style Orpheum Theatre (1916) is one of the most prominent buildings in downtown Galesburg. It’s still a central hub for live entertainment.
Chicago-based Rapp & Rapp designed the theatre. It features a French Second Empire façade and an Italian Renaissance interior with elaborate plasterwork.
Despite its splendor, it was designed for all social classes and featured all manner of innovations in its acoustics and ventilation system. The dressing rooms were also supplied with running water.
The Orpheum was originally a stage for vaudeville. It was converted to a cinema in 1930s. This is now a beloved destination for classic movies screenings and plays, as well as concerts, magic shows and comedy sets. It was closed for most of the 1980s because of funding problems.
5. Lake Storey Park
Lake Storey, a reservoir located north of Galesburg, was also built in the 1920s to supply soft water for the locomotives on the Santa Fe, Topeka, and Atchison Railways.
In 1952, the company gave the lake to the city. It is still a popular spot for those who want to escape the city’s northern fringes. The park covers 411 acres.
The unguarded Lake Storey beach is located on the north shore. It has golden sand, and is open every day from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day.
You can rent pedal boats, canoes and pedal boats to take a trip on the lake’s 132-acre shores all summer. You will also find largemouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and muskie in the water.
6. Old Main, Knox College
The Tudor Revival building was built in 1857, and is a major reason why Knox College students should visit it. It was inspired by Hampton Court Palace in England.
Old Main hosted the fifth Lincoln-Douglas Debate in the United States Senatorial Race in the following year. Slavery was a major issue.
The event was held on the grounds, and was attended by 15,000. Lincoln was part of the 1837 institution that gave Knox College its charter. The abolitionist college community erected a banner saying, “Knox College for Lincoln”.
Lincoln lost the Senate race, but was destined for greater things. There’s an interpretive “Looking for Lincoln” heritage marker outside and a plaque depicting both men on the wall.
The Alumni Room houses the Lincoln chair, which you can still see if you have the opportunity to enter.
7. Carl Sandburg State Historic Site
The birthplace of one the most renowned American writers of the 20th Century is a three-room, clapboard cottage located south of Galesburg.
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), the son of a blacksmith from the CB&Q railroad shops won three Pulitzer Prizes. Two for his poetry, one for his biography about Lincoln.
You can get a feel for Sandburg’s humble beginnings by visiting the house and you can also peruse a few family possessions.
The State Historic Site’s visitor centre is located in a nearby two-story Greek Revival home from 1858. It contains a museum gallery and video theater as well as a shop.
There is a small wooded park behind the cottage where you can take the Quotation walk and see Remembrance rock, the large stone under which the ashes Lilian Sandburg and Lilian were placed.
8. Galesburg Civic Art Center
This list was written by the Galesburg Civic Art Center, which was about to move to a historic downtown building.
The gallery is a non-profit and hosts 40 exhibitions per year. All of these are free for the community. The center’s gift shop sells locally made art and crafts.
The center is actively involved in the community by presenting events such as the Standish Arts & Crafts Market (June) and GALEX (one of the longest-running competitions and exhibitions in the country).
9. Iron Spike Brewing Company
The impressive new home of this brewpub is located in downtown Galesburg’s old Central Fire Station (1909), which was built in Romanesque Revival architecture.
Iron Spike Brewing Company’s beer comes from a 10-barrel brewery in Wisconsin and is then brought to Galesburg.
You can find up to 15 taps at once. To name a few, there are Light Rail Cream Ale and Hand Car Hefe Weizen, Galesburg Golden Ale and Flatback IPA.
Iron Spike’s kitchen offers a large menu that includes burgers and flatbreads, sandwiches as well as steaks, fish & chip, fish & chips, and app options ranging from wings to artichoke dip.
10. Knox-Galesburg Symphony (KGS)
This high-quality orchestra represents both Knox College as well as the City of Galesburg. It serves the local community, and the surrounding areas.
The ensemble is located at the Ford Center for the Fine Arts, on the college campus. Most musicians come from Galesburg within 100 miles.
The Knox-Galesburg Symphony is a small-town orchestra that performs at the highest level and has innovative programming. It also works with top-class artists.
KGS has been named Illinois Orchestra of the Year 3 times. Its performances are also regularly broadcast on public radio to help it reach a wider audience. For details on the current season, you can visit the website of the symphony.
11. Prairie Players Civic Theatre
This theatre group is also a major contributor to Galesburg’s vibrant arts scene. It has a long history dating back to 1915.
This group presents musicals and plays, including recent performances of Cabaret, Tommy, and Calendar Girls. The PPCT moved into downtown Galesburg in 2015 at 160 South Seminary Street. It is close to the Railroad Museum and the station.
Galesburg’s annual Chocolate Festival is also held at this fine venue.
12. Galesburg Antiques Mall Co.
This large antiques shop has been open for over 25 years and is located in an elegant Italianate building at 349 East Main Street.
It is a treasure trove of antiques.
This extensive inventory is well-kept by the staff. The store has three floors and displays from Galesburg Historical Society on the top. Please allow time. You can also shop for work by the store’s resident artist.
13. Kiwanis Park
A large community park is located on the southeast side Galesburg, bordered to the east and I-74.
Kiwanis Park is a 50-acre park with lawns that are shaded by mature trees. It’s located in a rolling area. The perfect setting for an 18-hole disc course with well-maintained tees, baskets, and officially one of Illinois’ longest, it is Kiwanis Park.
Here’s a skate park with a splash of color from street art. There’s also a horse show area, a multipurpose trail and a basketball court.
14. Railroad Days Festival
This popular festival, which lasts for four days at the end June, celebrates Galesburg’s rich railroad history.
Railroad Days Festival transforms downtown. It is a dream come true for all those who are interested in railroads and their families. The event will feature a carnival, arts-and crafts market, and live entertainment.
Train enthusiasts will enjoy a beautiful model train and railroadiana display at Knox College. A shuttle will take you from downtown to Peck Park, where you can view locomotives moving past and tour the rail yards.
Galesburg Railroad Museum is the center of the action. It opens for guided tours and Galesburg Antiques Mall displays its railroad memorabilia.
15. Knox County Fair
This is the longest-running county fair in Illinois. Its history dates back to 1851. The fairgrounds have been open for five days during mid-July.
The fairgrounds can be found to the southeast of Galesburg off I-74. They are composed of 60 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and a grandstand.
The Knox County Fair offers a wide range of entertainment including live music, food and craft vendors as well as 4-H competitions and displays. There will also be figure 8 racing and a demolition derby.