Galesburg’s History in Photographs


by Terry Hogan


I visited the Galesburg High School Class of 1964 Internet homepage recently and came across a reference to the old photos of Galesburg that were available on the Internet.  With the magic of computers and a high speed connection, I soon had access to 33 pages of historic Galesburg photos (321 images).  They are the product of hard work and diligence of Galesburg’s own public library and Patty Mosher. The photos are an enjoyable stroll through Galesburg’s history.  If they don’t bring back some memories, you must be from Galesburg, Michigan.


They are truly a wonderful collection.  Some of the photos I have seen elsewhere.  Some I have never seen before.  They range from the unknown folks to Presidents visiting Galesburg.  You can find a photo of the bricks first being laid on Main Street and the trolley car lines being removed from the streets by the WPA laborers.


There are old photos of the Orpheum and West theaters.  There is even Kelly’s barbershop where I used to get my butch haircut that later became a “flattop” by high school days.  There were even several photos of Kiddyland that was located on North Henderson.  A reader had suggested that I write about Kiddyland several years ago, but I couldn’t find photos or enough information about it. Well, there are photos now. 


Of course, there could be no photo history of Galesburg without at least a few photos of Carl Sandburg in town.  There is one that I particularly like.  He is standing with young children. My guess is that it was associated with him planting a tree at Lombard Jr. High School.


There are photos of many buildings that are no longer casting shadows on Galesburg’s sidewalks, ranging from the recently demised O.T. Johnsons, to the CB&Q depot, the old Galesburg Public Library, and Beecher Chapel to name a few.


You want to see Cedar Fork flooding Galesburg?  This site has it. Did you remember about Galesburg’s own automobile, the Gale?  You can find a photo of one of the models.


Several of these photos evoked old memories, once stirred to life, crawled out of a crevice or two of my brain. Kelly’s Barber Shop and the West Theater reminded me of the infrequent Saturday morning trips from Lake Bracken to town when I was quite young.  I would be due for my butch haircut at Kelly’s.  After the haircut, I would walk next door and the West featured Saturday morning kid shows.  Thus, I’d get a haircut and entertainment without being a noticeable drag on my parents’ errands to be done in town.


Another photo showed Main Street with the old downtown W. T. Grants store.  That brought back some memories, but not all that good.  During my freshman year in college, I worked as a part-time janitor and stock boy there. I had such exciting jobs as emptying trash, mopping the all-too-sticky floor behind the “soda counter” at closing time. I also assembled things that had “some assembly required.” That is where I established my habit of ignoring assembly instructions. (My wife follows them diligently.) I remember I had to take a written exam to get the job.  Being a freshman at Knox, I was a little offended at having to take an exam to be a janitor.  Much to my disgust, I missed one question.  The question was (I still remember it after all these years):  “How many pencils are there in 12 gross?”  I didn’t know.  I didn’t know what a “gross” was. I don’t, to this day, know where my public school system failed me.  Was it English (should have had it as a vocabulary word?) or perhaps Math? I think “gross” fell through the crack of the compartmentalized school curriculum. Through this oversight, I became less than a perfect candidate to be a part time janitor at Grants. (It obviously couldn’t have been my fault.) It is strange what a photo will stir up.


There is even a 1953 photo taken at “Butlers” showing steel being bent into shape by large presses.  A careful look will show that the machine operators were standing on wood pallets to soften the strain of otherwise standing on concrete all day. There were also no hard hats or hearing protection in use.  This was much the same when I worked at Butlers during the summers in the mid 1960s as a college student.  Butlers had worked it out with the union that it could hire college students in the summer for 25 cents an hour less than permanent employees, but the union could still collect union dues from us. (Something like taxation without representation). Although it varied slightly, my wage was typically around $2.25 an hour. That was pretty good money at the time.  I was glad for the work. One of my work partners at Butlers was a former high school classmate and friend – Bob Bishop.  He went on to become the editor of the English-speaking newspaper Paris Voice in Paris (France, not Illinois).  I guess he found a better job.


I remember on my first job interview, the interviewer was looking at my all-too-short resume and saw that I had worked summers at Butlers.  He asked me what I had learned there.  I answered, that “I didn’t want to spend my life working at Butlers.”  Not surprisingly, my youthful frankness did not get me a job.


An all too common theme in the photos are fires in downtown buildings.  It seems as if Galesburg was prone to playing with matches and the early fire department was none too quick on arrival. Some of the problems related to Galesburg’s low water pressure that was solved by the mighty Mississippi. Speaking of that, there is even a 1958 photo showing the first load of water pipe for linking Galesburg to the Mississippi.  Do you remember the signs in public restrooms in the small river towns like Oquawka – “Flush twice, Galesburg needs the water”?


Peck’s China and Glass Store, located at 1358 North Cedar is also represented.  The photo was taken in 1897.  I had not heard about Pecks until I started following eBay for historic Galesburg items.  Tourist items for Galesburg show up from time to time and often they bear the Peck’s name and were imported from Germany.  Little vases with representations of the Public Library, Old Main, the old high school, were among the local souvenirs that could be purchased.


If you want to tour through these great old photos, you can find them at the internet address shown below. I hope you find some good memories there.


Internet Address for Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive – Galesburg site:

I should note that all the photos used with this article were provided courtesy of the Galesburg Public Library and can be found at the internet site shown above.


Pay the site a visit and see what memories stir to life and scramble from the dark recesses of your own mind. It’s worth the trip and doesn’t consume any gasoline.