A special ceremony to mark the completion of the Congressman Elihu Washburne House exterior restoration project will be held Friday, October 26 at 3 p.m. at the Washburne House, located at 908 Third Street in Galena. The event is free and open to the public.
The exterior restoration was made possible by a $50,000 state grant obtained by State Rep. Jim Sacia, as well as donations from the International Order of Questers – Galena Belles, Chapter 1304 and Washburne's great-great-grandson Ray W. Washburne. The Galena Foundation, a group of citizens who provide support for projects that preserve or enhance Galena's heritage, also lent its expertise to the project. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) Director Amy Martin will join these individuals and organizations in the October 26 ceremony.
The State of Illinois purchased the Washburne House in 1968. After many years of restoration, it was officially opened to the public by Governor Jim Edgar in 1997. The home is open on Fridays from May through October from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours of the home are offered by the International Order of Questers - Galena Belles, Chapter 1304.
Elihu Washburne was born in 1816 in Livermore, Maine. He moved to Galena in 1840 and had his home built in 1843. He was a lawyer in Galena and in 1852 won his first of eight elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. He took office in 1853 and served until 1869, where he earned the titles "Father of the House" and "Watchdog of the Treasury" for his fiscal responsibility.
Washburne was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln's U.S. Senate campaign and advised Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Washburne wielded great political power during the Civil War, which impacted on military decisions as well. He often traveled to the front as a civilian observer with the President or as a personal guest of his close friend General Grant, which enabled him to be present during such major battles as First Bull Run and the Wilderness.
Ulysses Grant, a close friend and confidant of Washburne, was elected the 18th President of the United States and took office on March 4, 1869. He appointed his friend Congressman Washburne as Secretary of State. Washburne was later appointed U.S. Minister to France, a position he held until 1877.
The Washburnes returned to the United States and made their residence in Chicago, where he became the President of the Chicago Historical Society. In 1879 - 1880 there was talk of Elihu Washburne running for either President of the United Statesor Governor of Illinois, but neither materialized. Washburne died in 1887 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Galena.
The Elihu Washburne House State Historic Site is administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.