Galesburg, Illinois

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"Welcome to Galesburg" sign

Galesburg is a city in Knox County, Illinois, in the United States. As of the 2000 census[1], the city population was 33,706. It is the county seat of Knox County. Galesburg is home to Knox College, a private four-year liberal arts college, and Carl Sandburg College, a two-year community college.

There's not a whole lot to do in Galesburg, but we love it anyway.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 44.2 km² (17.1 mi²). 43.8 km² (16.9 mi²) of it is land and 0.5 km² (0.2 mi²) of it (1.05%) is water.

<googlemap lat="40.959678" lon="-90.367012" type="map" height="350" controls="small" align="right"> </googlemap>


Galesburg was founded by George Washington Gale, a minister of the gospel from New York state, who dreamed of establishing a manual labor college which became Knox College. A committee from New York purchased 17 acres (69,000 m²) 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 are planned for Knox College's Alumni Hall after it is renovated.

Galesburg was the home of Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who provided hospital care for Union soldiers during the American Civil War. After the Civil War, Galesburg was the birthplace of poet 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 sited major rail sorting yards here, including the first to use hump sorting.

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 to be served by multiple railroads and even fewer to have multiple railroad depots. (Indeed, it was not until the 1990s 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 tracks 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.

The closure of the Maytag and Butler Manufacturing plants have caused Galesburg to become a nationally cited example of the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. The city is having some difficulty adjusting its economy to new post-industrial needs, but several major new retail and residential developments are planned or under construction. The ultimate outcome of the adjustment remains to be seen.

Galesburg has multiple radio stations and newspapers delivering a mix of local, regional and national news. WGIL-AM, WAAG-FM, WLSR-FM and WKAY-FM are all owned by Galesburg Broadcasting while Prairie Radio Communications owns WAIK-AM. WVKC-FM is run by Knox College students.

The Galesburg Register-Mail is the result of the merger of the Galesburg Republican-Register and the Galesburg Daily Mail in 1928. Those two papers can trace their roots back to the mid-1800s. A daily, it is the main newspaper of the city, and was owned by Copley Press out of San Diego until it was sold to Gate House Media in April 2007. The Zephyr was started in 1989, is published on Thursdays and is the only locally-owned newspaper. There is also The Paper, which is delivered without subscription to all households every Wednesday and is also owned by Gate House Media.

Relations with Knox[edit]

Knox's Web site states: "So strong is the connection between Knox and Galesburg that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Knox is a few short blocks from the center of town and through internships, consultancies and volunteer activity, both students and faculty are actively engaged in the social, political and cultural life of Galesburg."[2]

This is a lie. Many people on campus feel relations with the town are strained, and a rift between students and "townies" is palpable. Students on campus note the Knox Bubble — the idea that there is an invisible border between "Knox" and "Galesburg" that surrounds the school.

However, the 'Knox Bubble' is very much self-imposed. Many students at Knox come from very suburban areas and think Galesburg is a dangerous place. It is relatively safe if you act like a decent human being and show respect for others. The 'bubble' is a reflection of the insecurities of suburban Illinois, if anything. Many students actively try to make relations between Knox and better. Though it is difficult when people from the town harass students... It is important that as members of this community, for only four years, that we act mature and try to improve the area around us.


Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Galesburg, operating the California Zephyr, the Illinois Zephyr, the Carl Sandburg, and the Southwest Chief daily in both directions between Chicago and points west from Galesburg.


Year 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000
Pop 323 4953 10158 11437 15264 18607 22089 23834 28830 28876 31425 37243 36290 35305 33530 33706


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 770.1/km² (1,994.9/mi²). There were 14,133 housing units at an average density of 322.9/km² (836.5/mi²). 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.

There were 13,237 households out 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.

In the city 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% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. 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.

Several major employers (most recently Maytag and Butler Manufacturing) have moved all operations from Galesburg. The economic down turn for Galesburg began in the early 1980s when economic recession forced the closure of The Galesburg Mental Health Center (formerly known as The State Research Hospital), and the Gale Products Manufacturing Division of Outboard Marine Corp., resulting in the combined loss of nearly 3000 high paying union jobs. At the time of its demise in 1983, a union employee at Gale Products was earning an average wage of fourteen dollars per hour. It was the beginning of over two decades of economic hard times for the once-thriving midwestern community, which unfortunately, has never fully recovered from its economic woes. Since the early 1980s Galesburg has lost nearly 8000 union jobs and seen a population loss of just over 1500 residents.

Galesburg will soon be home to the National Railroad Hall of Fame. Efforts are underway to raise funds for the $60 million project which got a major boost in 2006, when the United States Congress passed a bill to charter the establishment, and provided some federal funding for the project. It is hoped that the Museum will bring tourism and a financial boost to the community.

Major Employers In The City Of Galesburg[edit]

The major former employers in the City of Galesburg, in chronological order, are as follows:

  1. CBQ: 1849-1970
  2. Santa Fe: 1859-1995
  3. Admiral/Maytag]: (1905-2004)
  4. Rowes: (1908-1979)
  5. Gates Rubber Company: (1911-?) Still open but major downsizing in 2003.
  6. Gales/Outboard Marine: (1937-1984)
  7. Butler Manufacturing: (1939-2005)
  8. Galesburg State Research Hospital: (1949-1985)
  9. Burlington Northern: 1970-1995

In addition to the above: Circa 1970: Interstate 74 opens, rerouting traffic around Galesburg instead of through the city. Many area small businesses suffer losses, especially restaurants, gas stations and motels on Route 150.

The major current employers in the City of Galesburg as of 2006 are as follows:

  1. BNSF, Railroad Yards, 850 employees. (Formed from merger in 1996)
  2. Galesburg Public Schools, Education, 700 employees.
  3. Galesburg Cottage Hospital, Health Care, 643 employees.
  4. OSF St. Mary Medical Center, Health Care, 598 employees.
  5. Dick Blick Company, Art Supplies, 450 employees.
  6. County of Knox, Government, 447 employees.
  7. Henry C. Hill Correctional Facility, Prison, 316 employees. (Opened in 1986)
  8. Knox College, Education, 312 employees.
  9. Wal-mart, Retail, 254 employees.
  10. City of Galesburg, Government, 245 employees.
  11. Carl Sandburg College, Education, 237 employees.

Total Employees: 5052 (all info as of March 2007)


  • Admiral/Maytag was founded in 1905 as the Coulter Disc Company. It obviously underwent a lot of changes in its history. It was purchased several times over the years. In Aug. 2001, the company began shifting jobs to Mexico; the plant closed completely on Sept. 16, 2004.
  • Rowes opened in 1908. It was sold in 1973 and ultimately closed in 1979.
  • Gates Rubber Company opened in 1911. It was bought by Tomkins PLC of London, England in 1995. They began transferring jobs to Mexico in 2001. The last hosemaking jobs were transferred sometime in mid-2003.
  • Gales/Outboard Marine opened in 1937 and closed on July 13, 1984.
  • Butler Manufacturing opened in 1939. It was bought by Bluescope Steel Limited of Australia in 2001 and closed on Aug. 31, 2005.
  • The first sections of interstate 74 around Galesburg were reported opened for traffic in the Dec. 22, 1965 issue of the Register-Mail. The section 4 miles north of the city was slated for completion in the fall of 1966; the Galesburg to Peoria section was slated for completion in 1969.


Galesburg hosts the Sandburg Days Festival in the spring of every year, paying homage to its native-born world-famous poet and biographer. Galesburg is the home of the Railroad Days festival, held on the fourth weekend of June. The festival began in 1978. During the festival, Carl Sandburg College hosts one of the largest model railroad train shows and layouts in the U.S. Midwest. Labor Day weekend in September hosts the Stearman Fly in.


  • According to legend, it was in Galesburg, Illinois in 1914 that 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.


FM Radio[edit]

  • 90.7 WVKC "The Voice of Knox College", College Radio
  • 92.7 WLSR "92.7 FM The Laser", Active Rock (RDS - Artist/Title)
  • 94.9 WAAG "FM 95", Country (RDS - Artist/Title)
  • 95.7 WVCL, Religious
  • 97.7 WMOI "Sunny 97.7", Adult Contemporary (RDS)
  • 100.5 W263AO (Translates 91.5 WCIC), Christian AC (RDS)
  • 105.3 WKAY "105.3 KFM", Adult Contemporary (RDS - Artist/Title)

AM Radio[edit]

  • 1330 WRAM, Classic Country
  • 1400 WGIL, News/Talk
  • 1590 WAIK, News/Talk/Sports


Notable natives[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. 2000 Census from Wikipedia
  2. Galesburg, Illinois from the Knox Web site
  3. Decennial US Census


Much of the information on this page was obtained from Galesburg, Illinois on Wikipedia. It has been modified by users of The Wiki Fire.