The Elihu Washburne House at 908 Third Street in
Galena was constructed in 1843 in the popular Greek Revival style and enlarged sixteen
years later to its present size. Elihu Washburne (1816-1887), a prominent Galena attorney
and later a U.S. congressman (1853-1869), political adviser to Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses
S. Grant, and ambassador to France (1869-1877), occupied the house with his family until
1882. Only one other family owned the house until 1968, when it was purchased by the
State of Illinois. Today the house is a state historic site managed by the Illinois
Historic Preservation Agency.
Galena was a thriving
commercial center for a profitable lead-mining region when Elihu Washburne arrived in
1840. A recent graduate of Harvard Law School and a Whig, Washburne knew that there was
work to be found in Galena, where most of the lawyers were Democrats. Galena residents
were, wrote Washburne, a "litigious set" who rarely crossed party lines when
employing an attorney.
Washburne opened a law office "in
the good part of town," joined the Episcopal Church, became friends with the editor
of the local Whig newspaper, and campaigned for Whig candidates. Soon he was employed by
Galena's leading Whig lawyer, Charles S. Hempstead, with whom Elihu boarded for several
years. There he met Hempstead's niece, Adele Gratiot, whom he married in 1845. The couple
had seven children.
Politically active, Washburne served
as a delegate to Whig conventions, but by the mid 1850s he was a member of the newly
formed Republican party. Washburne campaigned for himself (he served in the House of
Representatives from 1853 to 1869) and others. An avid supporter of Abraham Lincoln's unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1856,
Washburne devoted his "whole soul and energies" to Lincoln's campaign for the
presidency in 1860. He advised Lincoln before and after the election and kept him abreast
of political developments in Illinois and Washington, D.C.
- Washburne promoted the military and
political career of another Galena resident, Ulysses S. Grant. Following Grant's election
as president in 1868, Washburne served briefly as Secretary of State before the President
appointed him ambassador to France. Recalled from France when Grant's second term of
office ended in 1877, Washburne did not return to Galena, which was so "terribly dead
and dull," but moved to Chicago. From 1884 until his death on October 22, 1887, he
served as president of the Chicago Historical Society. He is buried next to his wife in Galena's Greenwood Cemetery.
Adele Gratiot Washburne
(1826-1887) was a native of Galena. Her father, Henry Gratiot, prospected for lead at
Galena and later in Wisconsin. He also was an Indian agent who negotiated with the local
Winnebago Indians. So respected was Gratiot that for more than twenty years after his
death in 1836 the Winnebago visited Adele Gratiot in honor of her father. Adele spoke
fluent French, which no doubt served her well during Elihu's tenure as the ambassador to
Greek Revival Design
Washburne's success and social
position were reflected in his house, which was completed in 1845. The temple-like front
portico with its large pillars were characteristic of the Greek Revival style, which was
popular in Galena from the 1820s to the 1860s. Washburne closely supervised the house's
construction, and when it was enlarged while he was away in the nation's capital, he
followed the work in numerous letters.
The interior was organized into
distinct formal, informal, and servant areas. The hallway separated the public and private
rooms at the front of the house. Guests were received in the parlor, while the sitting
room was reserved as a place for family members to read, study, and sew. The servants'
work area was confined to the rear of the home where such housekeeping functions as
cooking and laundry were conducted.
The exterior is restored to its
appearance as sketched in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1866. Inside, the home
has been restored as a model of Victorian age middle-class gentility. Some wall coverings
in the library and dining room have been restored.
For more information on the
Washburne House please contact the Galena State Historic Sites offices at (815) 777-3310.
Grant Home Washburne
House Old Market House Information Center
Information & Special Events Contact Us
- Galena State Hist. Sites
- P.O. Box 333
- Galena, IL. 61036
- (815) 777-3310