Galesburg History Timeline

  • 1834


    Reverend George Washington Gale, a Presbyterian minister and head of the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, announced his intention of founding a manual labor college somewhere in the West. This college would be based on a similar structure to Oneida, where students worked in exchange for education.

    Pictured: George Washington Gale

  • 1835


    Presbyterians and Congregationalists in the East, mostly in New York, showed interest in becoming a part of Gale’s plans. This year, Gale authored the “Circular and Plan” which outlined the broad concepts for the college and town. Gale’s original idea for the settlement was a gird system based around North, South, Academy, and Seminary Streets.

    Pictured: Gale’s “Circular and Plan”

  • 1835


    Later that year, a purchasing committee sent West in an effort to purchase an entire township, taking into account suitability for living and establishing the college. They were not able to find an entire township, but they bought most of what would become Galesburg Township for $1.25 per acre.

  • 1836


    The purchasing committee’s report was accepted.

  • 1836


    A Board of Trustees for the college was elected. At the time, it was called “Prairie College.”

  • 1836


    The first wagon trains of settlers arrived later that year, and established a small village called Log City. This is where settlers lived temporarily while permanent structures were built. The village, at the suggestion of Sylvanus Ferris, would eventually be named Galesburg. 

    Pictured: A drawing of Log City

  • 1836


    Hope Cemetery, then known as the Burying Ground, was established under the direction of the Presbyterian Society of the First Church of Christ. Many of the initial settlers were ill with a “malarial fever,” requiring the cemetery to be established quickly.

    Pictured: Hope Cemetery marker

  • February 7, 1824

    February 7, 1824

    The charter for Knox Manual Labor College, which would eventually become Knox College, was obtained.

  • July 4, 1837

    July 4, 1837

    A local chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed. The founders, including Gale, were instrumental in hiding formerly enslaved people. It was thanks to these people that Galesburg became a stop on the Underground Railroad.

  • September 20, 1837

    September 20, 1837

    The post office was established, with official postal records spelling the name “Galesburgh.” Nehemiah Losey was the first Postmaster. 

    Pictured: Nehemiah Losey

  • 1838


    The Knox Academy building was constructed at the corner of Main and Cherry Streets. It was a preparatory school to get students ready for college. The Academy was co-ed, allowing boys and girls in the same classroom to study the same subjects.

  • 1840


    Old First Church was erected on the public square. This was a precursor to the Central Congregational Church.

  • 1841


    Reverend Hiram Huntington Kellogg was hired as the first Knox College president. He was one of the original founders of the college. Kellogg also owned Galesburg’s first hotel.

  • 1841


    Knox Female Seminary was built on Seminary Street. The founders of the college believed in higher education for women, but female students were not allowed to study in the same classrooms as the men of Knox College.

  • January 27, 1842

    January 27, 1842

    Galesburg was officially incorporated as a village. The village had around 500 residents at the time.

  • 1845


    Reverend Jonathan Blanchard, who was nationally known for his rabid anti-slavery and abolitionist position, became the second Knox College president.

  • June 1846

    June 1846

    Knox College’s first class graduated.

  • 1849


    The Purington Brick Company manufactured its first brick in East Galesburg. Henry Grosscup purchased 90 acres of land from Knox College to establish Purington, which he repaid with bricks that were used to construct Whiting Hall and Old Main.

  • 1851


    A charter was obtained for the Illinois Liberal Institute, which would become Lombard College. Reverend Paul Raymond Kendall of the Universalist Church was the first president. This generally co-ed, four-year college is thought to be the second in the nation, after Oberlin College in Ohio.

  • 1851


    Joseph P. Frost started J.P. Frost, later Frost Manufacturing, located on West Simmons Street. Today, that location is home to Mary Allen West tower.

  • 1852


    Illinois Liberal Institute built its first building on South Seminary Street, near Tompkins Street. Sixty students were enrolled with a boarding house nearby. The next year, the school’s charter was amended to include a college and preparatory school.

  • 1853


    Nearly two decades in, Knox was struggling. The manual labor concept wasn’t working and the lands they were trying to sell were in poor demand. The college was also caught up in the struggle between the Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Because the college wasn’t explicitly either denomination, neither enthusiastically supported it.

  • December 7, 1854

    December 7, 1854

    The first engine from the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Company reached Galesburg. The construction of the railroad had caused a boom in Galesburg’s economy in the years leading up to this.

  • 1855


    A major fire at the Illinois Liberal Institute put the school’s future at risk, but a large donation from Benjamin Lombard rescued the institution. The school was renamed after Lombard in honor of this gift.

  • 1855


    A general liquor ban was adopted in Galesburg. Alcohol could only be purchased for medical purposes with a prescription from a physician.

  • 1855


    Central Congregational Church was organized.

  • 1856


    Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke arrived in Galesburg. Mother Bickerdyke was a field nurse and hospital administrator for the Union during the Civil War and a lifelong advocate for veterans.

  • 1856


    A police force is established in Galesburg.

  • 1856


    George W. Brown brought his cornplanter business from Tylerville in Warren County to Galesburg. Brown had invented the cornplanter in 1851, a fact that was established in court after a long dispute.

  • 1856-1857


    Knox Female Seminary’s building, designed by architect Charles Ulricson of Peoria, was built. The building, now Whiting Hall, was expanded in the 1880s and 1890s.

  • 1856-1857


    Knox College’s main building — Old Main — was built.

  • August 24, 1857

    August 24, 1857

    Abraham Lincoln switched trains in Galesburg during his campaign for Senate. It was reported that he got a haircut while here.

  • October 7, 1858

    October 7, 1858

    Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas came to Galesburg during their debate tour. It was one of seven debates during their run for Senate.

  • 1858


    Professor Albert Hurd established the Young Men’s Literary and Library Association, which would later become the Galesburg Public Library.

  • 1858


    Galesburg’s schools were unified into one school district, known as Union Graded School District No. 1.

  • 1862


    The 77th Illinois Infantry was formed in Peoria. Several men from Knox County enlisted in the regiment.

  • 1862


    Orson Thomas Johnson opened his retail establishment on Main Street. O.T. Johnson’s would become Galesburg’s largest locally owned department store.

  • 1863


    The 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was formed in February. This was the first unit to include people of African descent in its ranks. Between 25 and 50 Black men from Galesburg volunteered to join this regiment.

  • 1865


    Second Baptist Church, an African American Church, was built.

  • 1866


    The Galesburg Gas Light & Coke Company erected buildings to manufacture gas and coke for city lighting.

  • 1871


    Lodge No. 445 of the International Order of Odd Fellows was likely the first to use the building at 343 East Main Street. Today, the building is home to the Civic Arts Center.

  • 1873


    The county seat moved from Knoxville to Galesburg. The increase in population and commerce due to the railroad was a significant factor in the decision to move.

  • 1873


    Mary Allen West became one of the first women school superintendents in Illinois. She served as superintendent for nine years before becoming the president of the Illinois Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

  • 1873


    The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company double-tracked the route from Chicago to Galesburg.

  • 1873


    The Galesburg Public Library was officially established through a city ordinance signed by Mayor O.T. Johnson. It was established as a free public library and reading room.

  • 1874


    The public schools were officially desegregated, though segregation was generally maintained through district lines.

  • September 1874

    September 1874

    The Knox County jail and Sheriff’s House was completed on South Cherry Street.

  • 1876

    The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was built.

  • January 6, 1878

    January 6, 1878

    Carl Sandburg was born in a small cottage on East Third Street.

  • September 1879

    September 1879

    Saint Joseph’s Academy, a Catholic school, was opened by Father Costa.

  • September 1879

    September 1879

    President Rutherford B. Hayes visited Galesburg, the first sitting president to do so. He spoke to an estimated 10,000 people from the platform of a railcar at the old depot location near Knox College.

  • October 1879

    October 1879

    Former President Ulysses S. Grant spoke to a crowd from the back of his railcar.

  • The first telephone was installed in the city.


    The first telephone was installed in the city.

  • 1883


    Street lighting was officially installed in the city.

  • 1884


    The Knox County Courthouse was built.

  • 1884


    The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Galesburg, further expanding the city’s railroad connectivity.

  • 1884


    The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad announced that they would build a new station on Seminary Street.

  • 1885


    A petition to add streetcars to Galesburg was approved.

  • 1886


    Galesburg’s population reached 4,000 people.

  • 1887


    Father Costa, who helped design Corpus Christi Catholic Church, was given the body of Saint Crescent to house in the church. According to local legend, the presence of Saint Crescent’s body on display at Corpus Christi protects Galesburg from tornadoes.

  • December 6, 1890

    December 6, 1890

    The Galesburg Free Kindergarten opened. It later became known as the Harrington Home and was torn down in 2023.

  • 1891


    The first Galesburg Hospital was founded on North Seminary Street.

  • 1898


    The Central Congregational Church building was completed. The church is now a registered historical landmark.

  • 1899


    President McKinely held a cabinet meeting at Clark E. Carr’s home at 560 N. Prairie Street.

  • 1900


    Frost Manufacturing Company was built. The company, housed on ten acres, produced engines, boilers, and other ironwork.

  • 1901


    Andrew Carnegie donated $50,000 for the building of a public library in Galesburg. A tax levy raised the remaining necessary funds for the building.

  • June 3, 1902

    June 3, 1902

    The Carnegie Library was dedicated.

  • 1905


    The city purchased land to construct a city hall, police station, and fire station.

  • August 6, 1906

    August 6, 1906

    The first meeting is held at the new city hall.

  • 1906


    Railroad companies began recruiting Mexican workers to help work on the railroad. These people lived in Boxcar communities in multiple locations around Galesburg.

  • 1912


    Ella Park Lawrence initiated a campaign among the Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution chapters to design a state flag. The final design was adopted by the state in 1915.

  • 1914


    Plans to build the Custer Hotel were announced.

  • 1916


    The Orpheum Theatre, designed by C. W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, opened.

  • 1921


    Two bear cubs, Hal and Al, escaped their enclosure at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

  • 1927


    The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad began to construct Lake Storey. The lake was originally named “Santa Fe” but was later named after the president of the railway, W. B. Storey.

  • 1930


    Lombard College was officially absorbed into Knox College after being unable to continue operations due to cost.

  • 1931


    The Great Depression looms heavily on Galesburg as businesses such as the Coulter Disc and Ingersoll Steel Companies close.

  • 1935


    The Orpheum Theatre begins showing movies in addition to live performances.

  • 1936


    Midwest Manufacturing opened in Galesburg. Stu Battles and Clarence Bullock, business partners who met during their work with the Ingersoll Company, had started to move their plant to Galesburg during 1935, moving into the old Ingersoll manufacturing plant. In this facility, they assembled metal cabinets to be sent to Johnson Motors. Later in the decade, they began to supply ice cream cabinets to the Liquid Carbonic Company.

  • 1937


    Gale Products started in Galesburg. The company initially assembled refrigerators from parts made in Waukegan, Illinois. The company soon moved on to make other household products as well. The company was bought by the Outboard Marine Corporation in 1941 and transitioned to making outboard motors.

  • 1939


    Butler Manufacturing signed a contract with the U.S. Government to manufacture 14,500 grain storage bins. In order to complete this project, Butler moved into a dilapidated but functional plant in Galesburg. The factory churned out almost 250 storage bins per day and completed the order one day ahead of schedule. The production rates during this time are declared “the stuff of legends.” After completion of the government contract, Butler converted the Galesburg plant for year round use the next year.

  • 1940


    The film Those Were the Days premiered at the Orpheum Theatre. The film was largely shot in Galesburg on the Knox College campus. In celebration of the premiere, a parade was hosted in the city. The star of the film, William Holden, allegedly refused to attend the premiere unless the showing was desegregated.

  • 1941


    Midwest Manufacturing, like many manufacturing companies, diverted its production stream in order to support the war effort.

  • May- December 1943

    May- December 1943

    The Mayo General Hospital was built. The complex was named after brothers and doctors William and Charles Mayo, who served in the Army’s Medical Reserve Corps and helped their father to establish the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The hospital in Galesburg treated more than 18,000 wounded soldiers starting in February of 1945.

  • 1946


    After the end of World War II, the Army designated the Mayo General Hospital as surplus, and abandoned this hospital to the State of Illinois.

  • 1947


    The University of Illinois converted the Mayo General Hospital complex into a satellite campus, and enrolled 3,000 students, many of them disabled veterans. The program was canceled in 1949 and the building was again left unused.

  • 1950s


    During this decade, the population of Galesburg surpassed 30,000.

  • 1950


    The Admiral Corporation, founded in 1932, took over Midwest Manufacturing. Admiral was one of many companies that switched to making appliances after the war.

  • 1950


    The Illinois Department of Public Welfare converted the Mayo General Hospital complex into the Galesburg State Research Hospital, specializing in mental health.

  • 1952


    Lake Storey was deeded to the city.

  • 1955


    Restoration began at Green Oaks, a Biological Field Station owned by Knox College. The area had been used for strip mining in prior years, but with the efforts of Knox College faculty, staff, and students, has begun to recover from the damages from mining.

  • May 9, 1958

    May 9, 1958

    The Carnegie Library burned to the ground. The flames could be seen from a significant distance and the damage was extensive.

  • 1958


    Galesburg was declared an All-American City.

  • 1958


    A local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens was organized by Galesburg’s Latin American community.

  • 1960


    The population of Galesburg peaked at 37,000.

  • November 4, 1961

    November 4, 1961

    The new public library opened to the public.

  • July 22, 1967

    July 22, 1967

    Carl Sandburg died. The Carl Sandburg Community College also received its charter during this year.

  • 1970s


    Employment at the Admiral Corporation peaked at about 3,300 employees. ALthough the Galesburg appliances division was doing well, the corporation as a whole was struggling due to competition in the consumer electronics market.

  • 1974


    The Admiral Corporation merged with Rockwell International. The Galesburg facility was chosen for automation and upgrades.

  • 1974


    The Purington Paver Brick Company officially closed its brickyard.

  • 1974


    The Carl Sandburg Mall opened.

  • 1979


    Magic Chef, a manufacturing company that dealt in appliances, hosts a groundbreaking ceremony in Galesburg after acquiring Admiral and Norge Manufacturing Corporation.

  • 1982


    The Orpheum Theatre closes due to high operating costs.

  • 1983


    The Galesburg Mental Health Facility closed its doors, causing 900 people to lose their jobs.

  • 1986


    The Henry C. Hill Correctional Facility was constructed. Its building and management helped to ease the job losses from the Mental Health Facility closing.

  • 1986


    Maytag Corporation acquires Magic Chef.

  • 1988


    The Orpheum Theatre reopened as a performance venue after renovations.

  • 1988


    The Maytag company invested $100 million in a plant in Galesburg.

  • 1989


    The Maytag factory produced its first official refrigerator.

  • 1991


    The Maytag Corporation expands the Galesburg plant to include an automated door factory.

  • 1993


    The Admiral division of Maytag Corporation officially became Maytag Galesburg Refrigeration Products.

  • 1994


    The Maytag Board of Directors vote to invest an additional $160 million in the Galesburg plant to bring it up to the 1990 energy efficiency standards. At this point, the plant employed about 2,700 people and was one of the largest plants in Western Illinois.

  • 2004


    The Maytag factory closes its doors. The closure of the facility designated the loss of thousands of jobs in the community.

  • 2006


    The O.T. Johnson store, built in 1903, burned to the ground.

  • 2014


    Pegasus Manufacturing, founded by Ruth and Ray Whitehead in 1989, moved to Galesburg.

  • September 2018

    September 2018

    The Sandburg Mall closed.

  • 2020


    A proclamation acknowledging Pride Month was made during June of this year.

  • 2021


    A pride flag was flown outside City Hall in celebration of Pride Month in June for the first time.

  • 2022


    Cottage Hospital suddenly closed its doors, leaving many in Galesburg without jobs and only one hospital.

  • 2024


    The Galesburg Public Library opened in its new building at 264 W. Main Street.