Placing Hope In History
 
The American West is littered with ghost towns. What makes people abandon an entire town? In the case of many of the ghost towns in the west, mining strikes that ran dry are the cause. When a town springs up around one industry, if that industry dies, the town is likely to die as well. It's not only the Old West that was affected by this. We can see this happening even today. You have the Rust Belt in the Northeast, a swath of towns that were dependant on the steel industy and manufacturing jobs that now are barely alive because that industry is slowing down. When I lived in Aliquippa, a town just outside of Pittsburgh, I traveled a lot for my work. I would drive through tiny towns that were just a collection of burned out and crumbling buildings, houses and businesses that had been abandoned.

So what happens to those people who lose their main source of income? Some stay because they consider the town their home, regardless of the current condition. Some move, looking for work or a new start elsewhere. But some not only stay, they try to revitalize their town and create a new focus. They see the blight, the unemployment, and the poverty and they watch their population drop but they have hope. Some towns are able to turn it around. They take stock of what they have, not what they've lost, and make it work for them. Galena, Illinois is a great example of a town that was headed down the same road as so many other boomtowns, but the townspeople who were left stopped the bleeding and recreated Galena.


Galena became a town in 1826, brought about by the rich deposits of lead found in the area. It grew steadily as claims were bought up and its location on the bank of the Mississippi increased their port traffic as well. In 1845, Galena shipped 54,494,850 pounds of lead and the population had boomed to 14,000. The town also has had their share of historical figures either visit or reside there. Both Abraham Lincoln and Stephan A. Douglas spoke from the balcony of the DeSoto House Hotel and Ulysses S. Grant lived there before entering the Civil War and returned there after the war.


However, once the lead mines started to run dry and the California Gold Rush promised greater fortune, the population began dropping. The town was beginning the downward spiral that so many other towns succumbed to for the same reasons. But there were those that stayed and they turned what could easily have become another semi-ghost town into a tourist destination that sees approximately one million visitors each year. The population is only around 3,600 today, but they have marketed the history of the town, many of the original buildings are still standing and restored, and the surrounding natural area. Now you can visit Galena, stay in the DeSoto House Hotel yourself, and visit the home of Ulysses S. Grant and many of the other historic buildings in the town; 85% of the buildings are registered as Historic Buildings.


The people who stayed looked at what was left and realized the history of their town could save it. They reinvented the reason to come to their town and worked at getting the word out. Hope and determination are powerful things that can stop and even reverse the slow death of towns that were linked to industries that are no longer profitable or in business. A little hope can go a long way.



Wikipedia - Rust Belt

Geography.about.com

Economist.com

Encyclopedia.com

Cityofgalena.org

Visitgalena.org

Galena.org