THE fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
So reads a favorite poem by American poet Carl Sandburg. He was born in Galesburg, Illinois on January 6, 1878 to Swedish immigrant parents, August and Clara Anderson Sandburg.
Young Carl spent his youth in Galesburg and then went on to write poetry, children’s stories, and a six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. The author-poet won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (four of the six volumes), and was awarded a second Pulitzer in 1951 for Complete Poems.
Along with a prize-winning author, Galesburg’s history includes railroads, Abraham Lincoln, and some architectural gems. The city is just 45 minutes northwest of Peoria, Illinois.
Carl Sandburg Historic Site
Today you can visit the modest three-room workman’s cottage where Carl Sandburg was born. Next door is a visitor’s center with excellent displays.
Located behind the Sandburg cottage is Remembrance Rock Park, which features a pathway of stepping stones featuring short quotes from Sandburg’s poetry. The path is called Quotation Walk.
The ashes of Sandburg and his wife, Lilian Steichen, are beneath Remembrance Rock.
Old Main, Knox College
A must-see in a tour of Galesburg’s history is Knox College’s Old Main. This building was constructed in 1857, and a year later was the site for the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate. Old Main is the only original building that remains from these 1858 debates. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
October 7, 1858 was a blustery day when over 10,000 people gathered on the east side of Old Main to hear Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debate. The venue had been changed from a local park to the more protected area at Knox College because of the weather. At stake was the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois.
The entrance doors on that east side of Old Main were blocked by the debate platform, so the participants had to climb through the nearby windows, prompting the self-educated Lincoln to joke with the audience: “At last I have gone through college!”
Today there are bronze plaques on the building to mark the debate site. As we know, Lincoln lost the 1858 Senate race to Douglas after their series of seven debates. But two years later, the men faced off again for the U.S. Presidency, and this time, Lincoln won.
Lincoln returned to Knox College during his presidential campaign and was awarded an honorary doctorate, the very first conferred by Knox. It was also the first academic recognition of any kind for Lincoln, who attended the equivalent of about one year of school.
Inside Old Main are exhibits that show the early history of Knox College and Galesburg. The Alumni Room features a red upholstered Victorian chair that was used by Abraham Lincoln when he was in Galesburg for the 1858 debate.
You can actually sit in the chair, and join the list of others who have taken a seat, including former President Barack Obama.
Central Congregational Church
This grand church was completed in 1898. It was built with sandstone from Michigan and features several beautiful rose windows. It’s located on the site of the Old First Church – founded by the original settlers who came to Galesburg with George Washington Gale to start a religious community and college. These pioneers were strong abolitionists.
Knox County Courthouse
Galesburg is the county seat, and their handsome courthouse dates back to 1886. On the lawn is a statue dedicated to Mother Bickerdyke, who helped wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War.
The railroad arrived in Galesburg in 1854. Today the city has one of the largest classification yards (where they separate railway cars on to one of several tracks) with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Over 160 trains a day pass through the town.
To celebrate all that railroad importance, there’s a railroad museum, Railroad Days, and a newly renovated Amtrak station.
Located downtown is the Seminary Street Historic District. Its buildings have been restored and now house quaint shops, restaurants, and my favorite, Uncle Billy’s Bakery. There you’ll find homemade breads, cookies, scones, and muffins.
This place should be worthy of a visit!
Experience Galesburg, the visitor’s guide says, and enjoy your stay. You will!