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Galesburg, Illinois
Main Street (US Hwy 150) in downtown Galesburg
Main Street (US Hwy 150) in downtown Galesburg
Location of Galesburg in Knox County, Illinois
Location of Galesburg in Knox County, Illinois
Location of Illinois in the United States
Location of Illinois in the United States
Country United States
State Illinois
County Knox
Township Galesburg City
Founded 1837
Founded by George Washington Gale
 • Type Council-Manager
 • Total 17.94 sq mi (46.45 km2)
 • Land 17.76 sq mi (45.99 km2)
 • Water 0.18 sq mi (0.46 km2)
771 ft (235 m)
 • Total 30,052
 • Density 1,692.21/sq mi (653.38/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 309
FIPS code 17-28326
Wikimedia Commons Galesburg, Illinois

Galesburg is a city in Knox County, Illinois, United States. The city is 45 miles (72 km) northwest of Peoria. At the 2010 census, its population was 32,195. It is the county seat of Knox County and the principal city of the Galesburg Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Knox and Warren counties.

Galesburg is home to Knox College, a private four-year liberal arts college, and Carl Sandburg College, a two-year community college.

A 496-acre (201 ha) section of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Galesburg Historic District.


Galesburg was founded by Jackson Wilfred Wallace a Presbyterian minister from New York state who dreamed of establishing a manual labor college (which became Knox College). A committee from New York purchased 17 acres (0.069 km2; 0.027 sq mi) in Knox County in 1835, and the first 25 settlers arrived in 1836. They built temporary cabins in Log City near current Lake Storey, just north of Galesburg, having decided that no log cabins were to be built inside the town limits.

Galesburg was home to the first anti-slavery society in Illinois, founded in 1837, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The city was the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, on a temporary speaker's platform attached to Knox College's Old Main building on October 7, 1858. Knox College continues to maintain and use Old Main to this day. An Underground Railroad Museum and Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum were built in Knox College's Alumni Hall after it had finished renovations.

Galesburg was the home of Griffin Hultgren, who provided hospital care for Union soldiers during the American Civil War. After the Civil War, Galesburg was the birthplace of poet, author, and historian Carl Sandburg, poet and artist Dorothea Tanning, and former Major League Baseball star Jim Sundberg. Carl Sandburg's boyhood home is now operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site. The site contains the cottage Sandburg was born in, a modern museum, the rock under which he and his wife Lilian are buried, and a performance venue.

Throughout much of its history, Galesburg has been inextricably tied to the railroad industry. Local businessmen were major backers of the first railroad to connect Illinois' (then) two biggest cities—Chicago and Quincy—as well as a third leg initially terminating across the river from Burlington, Iowa, eventually connecting to it via bridge and thence onward to the Western frontier. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) sited major rail sorting yards here, including the first to use hump sorting. The CB&Q also built a major depot on South Seminary Street which was controversially torn down and replaced by a much smaller station in 1983. The yard is still used by the BNSF Railway.

BNSF Galesburg
A BNSF train passes through central Galesburg near the site of the former Santa Fe depot.

In the late 19th century, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway connected its service through to Chicago, it also laid track through Galesburg, making this city one of relatively few of its size to be served by multiple railroads and even fewer to have multiple railroad depots. (Indeed, it was not until 1996 that Amtrak finally closed the old Santa Fe depot and consolidated all passenger operations at the site of the former Burlington Northern depot.) A series of mergers eventually united both lines under the ownership of BNSF Railway, carrying an average of seven trains per hour between them. As of the closing of the Maytag plant in fall of 2004, BNSF is once again the largest private employer in Galesburg.

In addition, Galesburg was home to the pioneering brass era automobile company Western, which produced the Gale, named for the town.

Lombard College was located in Galesburg until 1930, and is now the site of Lombard Middle School.

The Carr Mansion in Galesburg was the site of a presidential cabinet meeting held in 1899 by U.S. President William McKinley and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay.


Galesburg is located at 40°57′8″N 90°22′7″W / 40.95222°N 90.36861°W / 40.95222; -90.36861 (40.952292, -90.368545).

According to the 2010 census, Galesburg has a total area of 17.928 square miles (46.43 km2), of which 17.75 square miles (45.97 km2) (or 99.01%) is land and 0.178 square miles (0.46 km2) (or 0.99%) is water.


Climate data for Galesburg, IL, 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1896–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 68
Average high °F (°C) 30.3
Average low °F (°C) 13.5
Record low °F (°C) −27
Precipitation inches (mm) 1.51
Snowfall inches (cm) 7.8
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 7.8 7.0 9.3 11.0 11.3 9.4 8.9 9.3 7.8 9.1 8.8 9.0 108.7
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 4.9 3.5 1.3 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.7 3.8 14.3
Source: NOAA


Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service from Chicago on four trains daily. It operates the California Zephyr, Carl Sandburg, Illinois Zephyr, and Southwest Chief daily from Chicago Union Station to Galesburg station and points west. The Southwest Chief and the state-supported Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr take passengers to Chicago or points west, while the California Zephyr discharges passengers only on its eastbound run since the other trains provide ample service.

Galesburg Transit provides bus service in the city. There are four routes: Gold Express Loop, Green Central Loop, Red West Loop, and Blue East Loop. BNSF provides rail freight to Galesburg and operates a large hump yard 1.9 miles (3.1 km) south of town.

Galesburg is served by Interstate 74, which runs north to Moline in the Quad Cities region, and southeast to Peoria and beyond. The Chicago–Kansas City Expressway, also known as Illinois Route 110, runs through Galesburg. To the southwest it passes through Macomb, the home of Western Illinois University, and toward Quincy, before crossing into Missouri. Galesburg served is served by U.S. Routes 34 and 150. US 34 connects Galesburg to Burlington, Iowa, and Chicago. It is a freeway through its entire run in Galesburg and west to Monmouth. It connects to Galesburg through three interchanges at West Main Street, North Henderson Street, and North Seminary Street, along with an additional interchange at Interstate 74. US 150 runs through the heart of Galesburg. It enters the city as Grand Avenue from the southeast, runs through downtown as Main Street, and exits the city as North Henderson Street. Galesburg is additionally served by Illinois State Route 97, Route 41, Route 164, and Knox County highways 1, 7, 9, 10, 25, 30, 31, and 40.

Galesburg Municipal Airport provides general aviation access, while Quad City International Airport and General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport provide commercial flights.

Galesburg will be home to the National Railroad Hall of Fame. Efforts are underway to raise funds for the $30 million project, which got a major boost in 2006, when Congress passed a bill to charter the establishment. It is hoped that the museum will bring tourism and a financial boost to the community. Construction of the museum began in 2019.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 323
1860 4,953 1,433.4%
1870 10,158 105.1%
1880 11,437 12.6%
1890 15,264 33.5%
1900 18,607 21.9%
1910 22,089 18.7%
1920 23,834 7.9%
1930 28,830 21.0%
1940 28,876 0.2%
1950 31,425 8.8%
1960 37,243 18.5%
1970 36,290 −2.6%
1980 35,305 −2.7%
1990 33,530 −5.0%
2000 33,706 0.5%
2010 32,195 −4.5%
2020 30,052 −6.7%
Decennial US Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 33,706 people, 13,237 households, and 7,902 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,994.9 inhabitants per square mile (770.2/km2). There were 14,133 housing units at an average density of 836.5 per square mile (322.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 84.23% White, 10.20% African American, 0.22% Native American, 1.03% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 2.46% from other races, and 1.84% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.01% of the population. 17.4% were of German, 12.6% American, 11.5% Irish, 11.3% Swedish and 9.1% English ancestry according to Census 2000.

There were 13,237 households, of which 26.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.6% were married couples living together, 12.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.3% were non-families. 34.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.87.

The population was spread out, with 21.1% under the age of 18, 11.8% from 18 to 24, 27.0% from 25 to 44, 22.0% from 45 to 64, and 18.1% 65 or older. The median age was 38. For every 100 females, there were 100.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $31,987, and the median income for a family was $41,796. Males had a median income of $31,698 versus $21,388 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,214. About 10.7% of families and 14.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.4% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.


Galesburg is the home of the Railroad Days festival held on the fourth weekend of June. The festival began in 1978 as an open house to the public from the then Burlington Northern. Burlington Northern gave train car tours of their yards. The City of Galesburg started having street fairs to draw more people to town. In 1981, the Galesburg Railroad Museum was founded and opened during Railroad Days. For a while, the city and the railroad worked together on planning the annual celebrations. In 2002, the railroad backed out of the planning of the festival and there were no tours of the yards. In 2003 the city worked with local groups to revamp the festival and the Galesburg Railroad Museum resumed bus tours of the yards. The Galesburg Railroad Museum has continued to provide tours of the yards since then. In 2010, the Galesburg Railroad Museum started offering a VIP tour of the yards, in which a select group of riders would be allowed in the Hump Towers and Diesel Shop and see the BNSF at work. During the festival, Carl Sandburg College hosts one of the largest model railroad train shows and layouts in the U.S. Midwest.

During Labor Day weekend in September, Galesburg hosts the Stearman Fly in. Also in September are the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta and the Annual Rubber Duck Race held at Lake Storey. On the third weekend of every August, a Civil war and Pre 1840s Rendezvous is held at Lake Storey Park.

The Black Earth Film Festival has been a part of the Galesburg art community since 2004. Affiliated with the Galesburg Civic Art Center, the festival receives entries from all over the world. The Black Earth Film Festival now takes place in February as of 2014 and presents the best in feature length, short subjects, documentaries, animation and foreign films. Awards are given for the aforementioned categories, as well as a peoples choice award for best overall film. Festival highlights include special guests from within the film industry. Past participants have included Director John D. Hancock (Bang The Drum Slowly, Prancer, Let's Scare Jessica to Death,) Filmmakers Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank (subjects of the award Winning Documentary American Movie) and Filmmakers Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos (Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.)

There is a kite festival every May at Lake Storey Park.

Popular culture

  • Birthplace of George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., inventor of the Ferris wheel.
  • According to legend, it was in Galesburg, at the Gaity Theatre in 1914 where the four Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Gummo) first received their nicknames. Nicknames ending in -o were popular in the early part of the 20th century, and a fellow Vaudevillian, Art Fisher, supposedly bestowed them upon the brothers during a poker game there. Zeppo Marx received his nickname later.
  • Galesburg features prominently in The Mountain Goats' song Weekend in Western Illinois from the album Full Force Galesburg.
  • Galesburg is mentioned in the book The Prestige.
  • Writer Jack Finney, author of The Body Snatchers, uses Galesburg as a setting for several of his time-travel tales.
  • Galesburg is mentioned in Stephen King's book Dolores Claiborne.
  • Galesburg is mentioned in Richard Bach's 1977 novel Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.
  • Galesburg and Knox College are both mentioned by the character Walowick in Walter Dean Myers' novel Fallen Angels, about the Vietnam War.
  • An android (impersonating a guest character) in The Six Million Dollar Man episode "Day of the Robot" mentions that "his" father operated a gym in Galesburg.
  • President Barack Obama mentioned Galesburg during his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and near the beginning of his 2010 State of the Union Address. President Obama also visited Galesburg High School in August 2011 to speak to students while in the area for his Midwestern bus tour.
  • Baseball legend Jimmy Foxx lived out some of his last years as a greeter at a locally owned steak house in Galesburg. Foxx left just prior to his death in 1967.
  • Former president Ronald Reagan attended second grade at Silas Willard Elementary School between the years of 1917 and 1918.
  • Former President Ronald Reagan played professional baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in the movie The Winning Team in 1952. In the film, Alexander (Reagan) plays for the minor-league Galesburg Boosters before being traded to the Chicago Cubs and then the St. Louis Cardinals. The movie follows his meteoric rise through baseball being touted as "Alexander the Great," his subsequent fall from grace due to poor health and alcoholism and his way back to the majors.

Notable people

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