Galena Mining & Historical Museum, Galena, Kansas, USA
The town of Galena sprang to life in 1876 when Galena, the natural mineral form of lead sulfite, was discovered there. Incorporated in 1877, Galena is the oldest mining town in Kansas. The road that would later become Route 66 was initially an important corridor for the mining network. Around the turn of the 20th century, Galena boasted a population of nearly 30,000 people, and its burgeoning prosperity was such that it became one of the most important towns west of New York City. Even with all this affluence, the hard life in the mines continued to manifest itself when Galena became the site of several bloody United Mine Workers’ strikes between 1935 and 1937, one of which involved intervention by the National Guard.
The establishment of Route 66 along the town’s main street in 1926 added greatly to Galena’s prosperity. As more and more travelers in search of adventure began to pour through town, gasoline stations, restaurants, and hotels opened for business to greet them. Some businesses, in an attempt to keep the old town alive, utilized the buildings from Galena’s glorious past, a recycling tradition that continues to this day. A perfect example of this is the former Miners’ & Merchants’ Bank, later named Galena National Bank, which was located on the first floor of the three-story New Century Hotel. The hotel and bank were razed several years ago leaving the annex and the bank’s huge walk-in vault, which proved too large to move. Vi-D’s Café later moved into this site and, after removing the locking pins from the vault, turned the vault into its pantry. Today, the site is in operation as the Main Street Deli.
Despite its struggles, Galena’s importance as a mining town lasted throughout World War II, when the entire tri-state area of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma became a major producer of zinc and lead ores which were vital to wartime production. In the early 1970s, the zinc and lead mines finally played out and the interstate bypassed Galena, which made the town decline, but there are still things to see and do.
The Litch Historical and Mining Museum, named for the town’s local historian and beloved citizen Howard “Pappy” Litch, is housed in the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Lines train depot (MKT), acquired in 1983 and donated to the museum and historical society. The museum contains items of local history and numerous artifacts from the days of lead and zinc mining operations in southeast Kansas. Another point of interest named after Mr. Litch is the Howard “Pappy” Litch Memorial Park on Main Street, which was at one time a Federal weigh station on Route 66. An original Will Rogers Highway plaque from 1952, formerly located on the Missouri-Kansas State line, is now on permanent display in the park, named an official Route 66 Roadside Attraction.
Walking the streets of this once-booming mining town offers a glimpse into a grand past. East Galena’s historic business district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.