The Elihu B. 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, the Sheehan 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.
Elihu B. Washburne
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 Washburne 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 which he and his three brothers helped establish. An avid supporter of Abraham Lincoln's unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1858, 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.
Adele Gratiot Washburne
Adele Gratiot, (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 France.
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.
The Washburne House is open every Friday from 10a.m. - 4p.m .May through October. The guided tours are given by The International Order of Questers, Galena Belles Chapter 1304. For more information call 815/777-3310. The Washburne House is located at 908 Third Street.
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