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The Haunted DeSoto House Hotel
230 s main st, galena, il 61036.
Known for its famous ghost, the “Lady in Black,” and presidential guests, the Desoto House Hotel in Galena, IL, has a rich history. It is the oldest operating hotel in the state and has suffered a series of misfortunes in addition to the ghosts that haunt it. These hauntings have a long history as well and date back into the 1800s.
The hotel features 55 Victorian-style rooms with names that reference some of the famous guests of the past. With all of the misfortunes that have befallen the hotel, it not only appears haunted but cursed as well.
History of the Desoto House Hotel
Galena’s economic peak occurred in the 1850s when it was the principal river port of the Upper Mississippi Valley. A group of local investors formed the “Galena Hotel Company” and built the DeSoto House, which opened in 1855. The name came from the discoverer of the Mississippi River. Its purpose was to show the growing prosperity of the area and serve the people arriving in Galena due to it being a significant trade and mining center. The original hotel had 225 guestrooms, ladies’ parlors, a gentleman’s reading room, a large kitchen, and a 300-seat dining hall.
The hotel’s first proprietor, John C. Park, provided $15,000 worth of furnishings in exchange for a two-year rent-free contract. The DeSoto House was the center of Galena’s political and social activities. President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the Main Street balcony in 1856 to support John Fremont’s bid for the presidency. In 1858, Senator Stephen A. Douglas also spoke from this balcony.
Ulysses S. Grant caused a stir in Galena when he returned home from the Civil War. There was a grand reception with parades and 25,000 citizens to welcome him home. Later on, he also used rooms 209 and 211 of the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters.
In June of 1859, the misfortunes began. Just four years after its grand opening, the hotel suffered a fire, which caused water and smoke damage to the entire hotel. It also destroyed about 12 rooms on each floor. Then about ten years later, in December of 1869, the hotel suffered a massive blow, literally. A stream boiler in the hotel’s basement exploded.
The hotel was put up for rent a few months later and then closed in December of 1870 before being bought in 1871 by W.H. Blewett. He redecorated and was able to revive the hotel. The building changed a lot more in the 1880s when they removed the fourth and fifth floors, and moved the tavern to the Green Street side of the building. In the 1980s, the hotel underwent a major restoration with Frank Einsweiller’s $7.8 million contribution.
Currently, the DeSoto House has three dining areas, conference and banquet rooms, a ballroom, 55 guest rooms with private baths, a private parking garage, and specialty shops. It also has a four-story atrium for Courtyard dining.
The Hauntings of the DeSoto House Hotel
The history of ghosts at the DeSoto House Hotel goes back over 100 years, with some ghost stories published in local newspapers. In these articles, a woman claimed she saw a black figure come to her window. Sightings of “The Lady in Black” have also been documented since the 1800s. For many years, people have reported seeing a woman in a black period dress descending a staircase and then walking into a wall. There seemed to be nothing unique about this particular wall, so it was interesting that people always said this is where she disappeared. In 2011 part of the mystery of her appeared to have been solved.
That year Galena had a flood that destroyed some of the drywall in the hotel’s lower level. They had to remove this and what they found was a doorway opening right where the Lady in Black appeared to disappear. Instead of just disappearing, she must be going through a door she remembers. Instead of covering it back up, they put in plexiglass so that you can see the doorway. There is also a picture that caught The Lady in Black in a full apparition form.
Other people have reported voices in the halls and phantom cigar smoke.
Most Haunted Areas
The third floor appears to have the most haunted activity. There was a desk clerk who never believed in the paranormal until she began working at the DeSoto House. While on the third floor late at night, she experienced a chill and a bright ball of light that zoomed past her. She also said that room 333 gave her an uneasy feeling, so if you are looking to find some ghosts, make sure to request that room.
Guests have also complained about hearing footsteps and noises coming from above while on the third floor, but there are no longer floors above it. Others have felt a presence on the end of their bed. While there are no official ghost tours offered at the hotel, there are many local ones from which to choose, including one that begins in the DeSoto House Hotel’s lobby.
Visiting the DeSoto House
Costs range from $150 to $340 per night depending on the room you pick, whether you choose a special package, and the day of the week. Some rooms overlook the courtyard restaurant, downtown Galena or the park.
You can also pick from romance packages that include chocolate and champagne or historical packages that include a tour of the history museum. Additional specials are available on their website. Plus, you may get the bonus of seeing the Lady in Black like so many others!
Galena, IL, is believed to be a super haunted town. The high concentration of ghosts seems to be due to the high number of tragedies, the fact that it is a valley and the energy stays contained, and that so many of the buildings are preserved, so the ghosts still feel at home.
It is a great town to get your dose of the supernatural through the haunted buildings and expert ghost tours. DeSoto House Hotel is a great place to stay for a great chance to see a well-established ghost in The Lady in Black.
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The Oldest Hotel In Illinois Is Also One Of The Most Haunted Places You’ll Ever Sleep
I'm an east coast girl living in a west coast world. I grew up in New England before moving to SoCal for several years. I then lived in NYC or a year before moving to AZ in 2009. I worked in the entertainment industry for many years of my adult life and I love photography, writing, and traveling around the U.S. as well as to far-flung locations around the world! Travel is my life and writing about it is a dream.
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As local travel experts, we know what travelers are looking for when it comes to finding the perfect accommodations for their next trip. To compile our lists, we scour the internet to find properties with excellent ratings and reviews, desirable amenities, nearby attractions, and that something special that makes a destination worthy of traveling for.
The oldest continuously operating hotel in the Prairie State happens to be located in the charming, historic town of Galena. The DeSoto House Hotel first opened its doors on April 9, 1855, at a time when the town was a major hub for trading and mining. Over the years, guests have reported strange events that can only be described as ghostly or paranormal. If you don’t mind spending the night at a hotel that’s reportedly haunted, then read on and plan your getaway to the DeSoto House Hotel.
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Would you dare spend the night at a haunted hotel? If you’ve stayed at a haunted hotel in the past and had a paranormal experience, please share the experience in the comments. For more information and to book your stay, visit the DeSoto House Hotel website and Facebook page .
Another supposedly haunted hotel you may consider staying is Hotel Baker located in St. Charles, Illinois.
OnlyInYourState may earn compensation through affiliate links in this article. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
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The DeSoto House Story
Once the principal river port of the Upper Mississippi Valley, Galena reached its economic peak during the 1850’s. With the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad, a group of local investors formed the “Galena Hotel Company” and built a grand hotel to reflect the growing prosperity of this “Metropolis of the Northwest”. Named for the discoverer of the Mississippi River, the DeSoto House opened on April 9, 1855 and was billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West.”
At the time of its conception, the DeSoto House was built to service the many people arriving in Galena which was flourishing as a major mining and trade center. The original hotel building consisted of five stories and a lower level. The DeSoto boasted 225 guest rooms, a gentleman’s reading room, ladies’ parlors, a 300 seat dining hall, a kitchen with equipments for feeding hundreds, and it own gas works for lighting halls, dining rooms, and public areas. In addition, retail stores, offices, a saloon, and a bowling alley also found their home in the DeSoto House.
The first proprietor of the DeSoto House, John C. Parks, furnished the hotel at a cost of $15,000 in exchange for a two year rent-free contract. Furnishings included velvet carpets, rosewood furniture, marble -topped tables, satin damask curtains, and a “double round seven octave carved rosewood Piano Forte”. A reporter from the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser wrote of the DeSoto House that it was “the perfection of neatness, convenience, and accommodations”.
Thus the DeSoto House began its years as the center of Galena’s social and political activities. Perhaps its most notable visitor was President Abraham Lincoln, who spoke from its Main Street balcony on July 23, 1856, in support of John Fremont’s bid for presidency. Just two years later, on July 25, 1858 Senator Stephen A. Douglas spoke from the same balcony. On September 13, 1860, a crowd of over 15,000 rallied in front of the DeSoto in response to a “Grand Republican Mass Meeting” in support of Lincoln’s presidential bid.
Ulysses S. Grant’s return to his hometown of Galena following the Civil War, brought 25,000 citizens to the streets to welcome him home. Bands, parades, and cannon salutes preceded a reception ball for 2,000 persons which was held at the DeSoto House. Grant later used rooms 209 and 211 of the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters.
As the economic focus of Galena shifted, and railroads instead of steamboats took the lead in transportation, the DeSoto House also met with problems. Only four years after its grand opening, the grand hotel suffered a fire on June 2, 1859, which destroyed a dozen rooms on each floor with water and smoke damage to the entire hotel.
During the next years of Galena’s economic decline, the DeSoto House had several shining moments. Then the occasion would arise to welcome home returning soldiers or dignitaries, or welcome celebrities to the area, the DeSoto House proved itself to be the ideal place for a great banquet or ball, providing ample space and just the right atmosphere for such events.
Misfortune was to haunt the DeSoto House once again on December 7, 1869, when a steam boiler located in the dye works in the hotel’s basement exploded. Subsequently, the hotel was put up for rent in May 1870. Furnishings were auctioned in October of the same year and the doors of the hotel closed in December 1870.
Better years came to the DeSoto House. W.H. Blewett purchased the hotel in 1871 and once again Galena had entered an economic period of prosperity due to small local industries. Blewett redecorated the hotel to cater to the needs of the community. The DeSoto House was host during this period, to traveling performers such as General and Mrs. Tom Thumb, Duprey and Green’s Minstrels, and American aeronaut, Professor S.M. Brooks.
In 1880, the upper two floors of the hotel were removed. 1883 saw the tavern moved to the Green Street side of the building and a small bowling alley added to it.
Later owners of the hotel redecorated and installed hot and cold running water and bathrooms on all floors. Gradually, with the economic tide of the town, the DeSoto House ebbed into a role of a combination hotel-boarding house. Renovation of the hotel was attempted once again in 1971 and 1977.
Seven years elapsed until 81 year old mayor, Frank Einsweiller, was able to assemble all the necessary people and funding to begin the $7.8 million restoration, on the condemned building which transpired between April 15, 1985 and April 19, 1986.
Today the DeSoto House currently offers 55 guest rooms with private baths, three dining areas, a ballroom, conference and banquet rooms, specialty shops, and a private parking garage.
The DeSoto House encompasses a four-story atrium for Courtyard dining serving breakfast, lunch and private banquets as well as the Generals’ Restaurant named in honor of Galena’s nine Civil War Generals which offers a lounge and dining rooms amidst the atmosphere of the original brick walls and beamed ceilings. Green Street Tavern, the third dining area, in its 1883 location is the perfect place to sit and watch Main Street.
And so, the DeSoto House has come full circle. From its grand opening in Galena’s glory days, through economic change and misfortune to once again offering deluxe accommodations and superior service in a most historic setting.
If one listens closely enough, one can hear the DeSoto’s rich heritage whispering of historic conversations and music from grand balls of days gone by.
We invite you to enjoy your time with us and it is our honor to add your name to our list of notable guests.
The DeSoto Dispatch
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JANUARY INTERNET MIDWEEK SPECIALS
Best place to stay in Galena! In our opinion there isn't a better or more convenient place to stay in historic Galena. On Main Street in the heart of the tourist-happy shopping district. Food always excellent and plentiful in any of the three restaurants. Very comforatable rooms and an excellent staff. Yes they do it right at the DeSoto House. Taylor B. - Chiciago, IL