For those following this blog, you know that it has been raining in southwest Wisconsin, on and off, for the past two weeks and this week began no differently. We got a break on Monday and were able to travel a couple of hours further south along the Mississippi River to the southwestern corner of Wisconsin without being rained on. Our new location is the Grant River Campground, another Corps of Engineers campground along the Great River. As before the river has been largely tamed with a series of locks and dams that maintain the water levels for shipping and thus the existence of COE campgrounds. This week we are just across the river from Dubuque, Iowa so we had a good choice of stores and restaurants to choose from. Unfortunately, the TV reception was not much better as all of the stations are out of Davenport, still a ways to the south. When we pulled into Grant River we found that the “office” was only open from 5-8 in the evening during the week, so we were on our own to located our reserved site. The first stop, however, was to pull into a small parking lot at the boat ramp to fill up our water tank since this campground is another one without water hookups. Except for this minor deficiency, it was a lovely campground, well maintained by the Corps and had a nice view of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, our campsite had us facing away from the river and directly at the railroad tracks about 50 feet away. In addition, I had managed to reserve the only campsite in the entire campground without a concrete pad for the RV. Instead we were on gravel, which again was not really a problem. The real problem turned out to be the railroad tracks!!! During the afternoon a large train pulling 70-100 cars roared by at maximum speed every half hour. As I mentioned we were only about 50 feet from the tracks and no more than 100 feet from the crossing where the road into the campgrounds went over the tracks. This meant that trains traveling in either direction were blasting their horns at us multiple times as they approached the crossing!! We thought it was kind of a novel experience hearing the horns and feeling the RV tremble every half hour. However, when this nonsense continued throughout the night, with a train at least every hour, it became too much. We talked with the volunteers when we checked in at 5:00, who said the traffic was about twice normal due to the flood damage we had witnessed last week. However, even at half the traffic, it would have been a real problem, especially at night. I guess they never got the backlog cleared up during the week, as we continued to see huge trains with 3-5 locomotives every 20-30 minutes all week!! By the end of the week, we were more tired from not getting a good night sleep then by any other thing we did during the day.
Rather than making dinner that night, Kal agreed to check out the local Potosi Brewery in the nearby town of that name. It was an interesting place since they had taken over an entire block of the town with their brewery, bottling, museum, and restaurant. We had a nice dinner along with 6 five ounce glasses of a sampling of their brews. There were some very good ones.
Once again Tuesday was rainy on and off all day, with the forecast of clearing by Thursday. So we spent the day getting the laundry done and cleaning the RV. While it was good to get these chores out of the way, I was ready for it the weather to improve.
Wednesday was another dreary day, although it was mostly just drizzle all day. For something to do more than anything, we headed into Dubuque to find the Q Casino. It turns out that this casino is owned by the city and run as a non-profit!! This was the first time I know of that we have run into such a thing as a casino being a source of revenue for a city, outside of taxes. In any case, it was a nice casino with a large gaming floor and a wide choice of gaming tables and even a poker room. We did not care about any of that as we were interested in the slot machines. As usual it took only a bit than an hour to run though our stake we neither one of us doing very good. While we did not lose our entire stake, we both lost money for the day. We went back to the campground in poor spirits, partly due to our gambling luck and partly due to the weather.
As forecasted Thursday did turn out to be a beautiful day. So we headed south to Illinois heading to the town of Galena. Last spring we had learned about the importance of lead mining in this area which in part led to the Blackhawk War that Abraham Lincoln served in. We also knew it was the location of the only home associated with President Ulysses S Grant. Our first stop in Galena was his home on top of a hill across the river from downtown. We learned that Grant and his wife moved to Galena from St. Louis after he left the army after a 15 year career. He was an unsuccessful businessman on his own in St. Louis and moved there to assist his brothers in his father’s leathergoods store in 1860. He spent the winter of 1860-61 traveling extensively in the northwest meeting with customers before rejoining the army in 1861 when the Civil War broke out. He began commissioned as a Colonel in the 21st Illinois Volunteer Regiment, but was quickly promoted to more senior commands. Following his great success in the Civil War, Grant returned to Galena to a hero’s celebration. In recognition of his notoriety, a small group of Galena businessmen bought his a nice home, fully furnished, to present to General Grant. He only lived there a few years, as he was elected to be President in 1868 and moved to D.C. Although he returned to visit from time to time, he continued to use it as his permanent address. Following his death, his children continued to keep the house as a memorial to their father and eventually gave it to the city of Galena who eventually turned it over to the state. Since nobody lived in the house since Grant moved out, nearly all of the furnishings are original. This was amazing until I recalled that the house came fully furnished. No wonder the furnishings looked mismatched without any true theme since it probably does not reflect the Grant’s tastes at all. Even then it was an interesting collection of period pieces and artifacts and our tour guide was a lot of fun. After the tour of the home, we spent some time checking out the statue of Julia Grant in front of the house and the spectacular views of the town of Galena across the Galena River. After the weeks of cloudy and dreary skies, the bright sunshine on the roofs and steeples in town was amazing. We also checked out the country store they had moved to a location next to the house and their other attempts to turn this into an historic district.
Following exploring Grant’s home and surrounding area, we were ready for lunch. So we headed off down the hill to the banks of the Galena River where we found Grant’s park. Here is the “official” location of the statue of Grant along with a number of artillery pieces from the wars the citizens of Galena served in. Of particular note was the actual first rifled cannon fired during the Civil War against Fort Sumter. How the town of Galena ended up with this cannon after its extensive use during the Civil War was pretty amazing.
After lunch we were ready to explore more of Galena and I was interested in finding out more about the history of lead mining in the history. Therefore, we headed into town to find the Galena and U.S. Grant Museum. This was a great find since I found a complete history of the town during its heyday as a lead mining metropolis to the years of dominating steamboat traffic on the upper Mississippi. The existence of lead sulfide in the area is due to two factors. First, there are extensive limestone deposits from an ancient seabed that have been filled with nodules of lead and zinc from ancient hot springs. Second, the region was missed by the last ice age which scoured off these limestone deposits from the area to the east and west. The presence of lead was well known by the local Indians who had been using the lead for ornaments and body paints for centuries. The presence of these deposits was noted on French maps from the 1600s and there were a few attempts to mine the lead as early as 1790. With the first official mining lease in 1822, the first mining boom in the US was begun. As the number of lead mines and population of Galena continued to increase the economic importance of Galena on the Upper Mississippi River began to dominate the region. It became a major steamboat port through the 1840s but then the tide began to turn. Deforestation and mining operations soon silted up the Galena River where the town was still three miles from the Mississippi. In addition, railroads were expanding opening up east-west routes instead of the north-south river routes and Chicago became the major hub instead of Galena. However, the biggest problem was the decline in the demand and price of lead which put many mines out of business. The final straw was the Civil War which limited trade along the contested Mississippi and drained most of the work force from the town. Galena never recovered and almost became a ghost town. However, due to its proximity to Chicago it became a favorite location for artists and began to be known as an artist community. This group began moving in, renovating the boarded up shops and homes and today Galena is a preserved snapshot of the architecture of a prosperous pre-Civil War town. In addition to all this history, the museum also has one of the original lead mine shafts uncovered when they added an addition to the building that you can look down into. The second floor is mostly devoted to Grant and the Civil War. The most interesting part of this exhibit was the story of the other 8 Civil War Generals that came from Galena, the most from any single city in the Union. Of course, some of these were promotions after their death, but still it was an impressive accomplishment. After spending nearly 3 hours in the museum, we were both pretty much done for the day and headed back to the campground.
Friday was another beautiful day, although a bit overcast, and I was ready for a hike. For this reason we went in search of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area outside of Dubuque, Iowa. We made the mistake of letting our GPS take us to the Mines of Spain and it led us to the south entrance of the park, which was the wrong end. Without any information about the hiking trails, we first wanted to find some kind of Visitor Center. As we drove through the park, passing one trailhead after another, we came upon the Julian Dubuque Memorial, so we checked it out. This turned out to be the burial spot of Julian Dubuque, the first European settler in the area from whom the city of Dubuque is named. Back in 1788, Julian Dubuque, a Frenchman from Quebec, obtained a signed agreement with the Meskwaki Indians giving him the right to mine for lead in the area along the Mississippi River. Since the territory west of the Mississippi was Spanish territory at the time, he also obtained a land grant from Spain in 1796 and thus the name Mines of Spain. He was never very successful mining for lead but he continued to live in the area, trade with the Indians, and even marry the daughter of the local chief. When he died the Indians erected a log crypt over his grave which was replaced by the stone tower that rises above the Mississippi River today.
After checking this out we once again went in search for some kind of Visitor Center. A map we saw at a couple of the trailheads showed an E.B Lyons Interpretive Center that sounded promising, but the maps were not clear on how to get there. After going all the way back to the southern entrance, we finally figured out that the entrance to the Interpretive Center was on a residential street, not the Recreation Area. We finally found the Interpretive Center where we found the information we needed and a nice trails map. Of course, by this point we had wasted the entire morning, so we went in search of a hiking trail after eating lunch at the center. As the terrain was very hilly, we were neither very sure we wanted to take on any of the moderate hikes and the difficult ones were out of the question. Therefore, we choose an easy 2 mile loop trail on top of a ridge. This turned out to be a very nice hike along the edge of a restored long-grass prairie, with convenient swings through the cool wooded ravine that had benches. Thankfully, the weather remained cloudy limiting the effect of the warm afternoon sun hiking in the open. While not the hike I was looking for when we set out, it was still a nice walk through the tall grasses of the prairie and made for a successful day.
As usual the weekend was time to relax in the campground and get caught up on this blog. At least relax as much as we could with noisy rumbling trains whipping past every half hour!! We were sure glad to leave this campground in search of more peace and quiet.