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Bill Thayer

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Jane Addams

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Ulysses S. Grant
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Washburne House in Galena, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

Elihu B. Washburne House, Galena, Built 1840's.

 p186  Abode of a Statesman

During the early part of the nineteenth century there lived in Maine a large family whose sons, upon reaching maturity, played important roles in the history of various states and the nation at large. This was the Washburn family, established at Livermore, Maine, by Israel and Martha Washburn. One of the best known of the sons was Elihu Benjamin Washburne, who, early in life, attached an "e" to his name after his English forbears. As a congressman from Illinois, as Secretary of State during President Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant's administration, and as United States minister to France, Elihu B. Washburne was one of the outstanding men of the 1870's and 1880's.

In view of such a career, his home at Galena, Illinois, which he built about a century ago, is one of the principal sights in a city rich in historical sights. It was in the library of the Washburne house that General Grant received news of his election as President of United States in 1868. This news was conveyed over telegraph wires into the Washburne abode and marked the first time in American history that a presidential candidate himself received such welcome news by telegraph. It was welcome news, too, to Congressman Washburne, for he had long been a close friend and champion of Ulysses S. Grant.

When Grant arrived in Galena in 1860 to work in his brother's leather store, Washburne was representing that community and that region in Congress. The two were introduced and became friends. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, many Galena men volunteered for service and a company of these volunteers was drilled by Grant on the lawn adjacent to Congressman Washburne's house. Subsequently, Washburne sponsored the bills in Congress that brought promotions to his friend Grant — lieutenant general and, later, general. And after the war, Washburne was a leader in the campaign to elect Grant President.

The congressman was equally devoted to Abraham Lincoln. It is said that he used "his talents in Congress to aid his personal and political friend Lincoln." He is on record as having been the only person to welcome President-elect Lincoln at the train upon the latter's secret arrival in Washington for the inauguration of 1861. This secrecy was put into effect following rumors of a plot to assassinate the President-elect.

After General Grant became President in 1868, Elihu Washburne left his home in Galena and went to live in Washington. He was appointed Secretary of State in Grant's cabinet and, later, was named United States minister to France. In that capacity he saw the downfall  p187 of Napoleon III's empire and the establishment of the Paris Commune. His two volumes of memoirs, Recollections of a Minister to France, 1869‑1877, are regarded as valuable historical records of France in the days of the Commune. On his retirement from public life, Elihu Washburne took up residence in Chicago and devoted the remainder of his days to literary and historical pursuits.

The residence in Galena which remains today as a memorial to Elihu Washburne is believed to have been built between 1845 and 1850, according to the Historic American Buildings Survey. It is known that Washburne was married in 1845 to Adèle Gratiot, descendant of French settlers from St. Louis,​a and the presumption is that he built his house in the years immediately afterwards. It is a two‑story brick abode and resembles Greek Revival residences of Southern plantations — that is with a two‑story "temple" portico.

The records show that in 1882 the Washburne house was sold to Thomas Sheean and that a porch was added to the north side of the house that same year. In 1931 title to the property was conveyed to Frank T. Sheean, member of the same Sheean family and judge of the Circuit Court. Although a century old, this historic house is well preserved and is often visited by sight-seers and students of history.​b

Thayer's Notes:

a The Gratiot family were important in the history of St. Louis for the better part of a century, and were among the founders of Galena, where their history is detailed by Florence Gratiot Bale in J. Ill. S. H. S. 24:671‑682. The most prominent member of the family was Adèle's uncle, U. S. Army Chief of Engineers General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Gratiot: follow this second link for further detailed genealogical information.

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b And as of writing — 2011 — the house still stands, open to visitors: see the offsite link in the footer bar below.

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Page updated: 13 Jan 11