Ride 36: Historic Galesburg

  Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides 

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Galesburg, IL           August 20, 2005

No adjective is more abused by city fathers than "historic." Any town with a building dating back to the 19th century calls itself historic these days, and a traveler quickly becomes wary of this label. For that reason I hesitated in naming this ride, but Galesburg is the real deal. Old Main at Knox College is the only Lincoln-Douglas debate site still standing. Carl Sandburg, poet and author of a definitive Lincoln biography, was born and is buried here. As a railroad town, it has few peers among cities its size. And if the Galesburg Railroad Museum doesn't present enough evidence, perhaps the National Railroad Hall of Fame, expected to open within the next five years, will. While Galesburg is somewhat  down on its luck economically these days, beautiful buildings public and private are evidence that this was once a prosperous place.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Galesburg recognizes what they have. While visiting a prominent  attraction, I mentioned that I wanted to feature a bike ride through the city because I love its history and architecture - much like a truckers report provides for truckers. The attendant, whose business should be to promote tourism through word of mouth, a bike and truckers report, and excitement for their town, looked genuinely shocked and asked, "Why would you want to do that?" This is a shame since the town could benefit from the attention of more bikers or a quality truckers report.

In fact, I included two rides in the Galesburg area, one through the city and one in the country. Both grew from a weekend trip in September 2002. I took Amtrak from Chicago's Union Station to Galesburg (they provide roll-on bike service) and spent a long weekend alternately riding around and finishing up the Web pages for my cross-country bike trip I had taken the previous spring. I scouted this ride several times when I passed through town, but I didn't get around to riding it until just two weeks before my manuscript was due.

The ride begins near the Galesburg Railroad Museum.


Carl Sandburg's place is next.


The Burlington Northern Santa Fe classification yard on the south side of town is huge. This ride goes over the bridge in the background for a great view of the trains.

Railroad buffs should enjoy this ride.


West of the yard, the BNSF has offices on Henderson Street.

The trail through Lake Storey Park is pleasant.



Lake Storey is man-made. The trail crosses the spillway at the west end of the lake.


With a warning sign like this, the fence doesn't have to be very high!

I rode the trail during the Heritage Days festival, which includes a Civil War re-enactment and a pre-1840s rendezvous. The park was much more crowded than usual, with lots of visitors wandering back and forth across the trail.

If this were Cook County, this would be a commentary on government spending.

Lincoln Park is across the highway from Lake Storey Park.

For all you mountain bikers... Singletrack! And a narrow, wooden bridge. The trail ends soon after, and the Lincoln Park segment of the ride is mostly on park roads.

What sort of sick individual puts a bike route on a brick street?

Railroad tracks are a common sight in Galesburg.

This  National Guard armory was built in 1913.

The Central Congregational Church dominates the Public Square.


The Knox County Courthouse is surrounded by monuments and memorials. I wish I had room to include the story of Civil War hero Mother Bickerdyke in my book.

This cannon was captured during the Spanish-American War in 1892.


Knox College features Old Main, the only site still standing from the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas. This was where Lincoln stepped through a window to get on the stage and quipped that now he'd been through college.


Here a view of Old Main from the south (the debate took place on  the east side, as shown above, and the ride passes on the north side).

The Orpheum Theatre is visible from Simmons Street.

Near the end of the ride, Seminary Street has lots of shops and restaurants. This nursery used to be a gas station.


Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.