IDOT announces new signs to commemorate
Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Highway
U.S. Route 20 signs will remind travelers of
northwestern Illinois Grant sites as 150th
anniversary of Civil War approaches
GALENA – The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) today announced that new signs are being installed along U.S. Route 20 through Illinois to commemorate the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Highway, an update that will draw more attention to the role Illinois played in the 18th President’s rise to fame.
“These new signs will serve as an important reminder to travelers of the rich history and wonderful historic sites Illinois has to offer. As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approaches, the signs will bring special attention to just that, including the Ulysses S. Grant Home just off of Route 20 in Galena,” said IDOT Acting Secretary Milt Sees.
The approximately 125 new signs being installed by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have a portrait of General Grant as he appeared during the Civil War and include the words “U.S. Grant Memorial Highway.” U.S. Route 20 was officially designated the Grant Memorial Highway by the Illinois General Assembly in 1955. It winds for 196 miles through Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry, Boone, Winnebago, Stephenson and JoDaviess Counties in northern Illinois on its way between Indiana and Iowa.
Most of the original signs had been removed in the 52 years since the highway’s designation. The new U.S. Grant Memorial Highway signs were ordered following requests by former State Rep. Ron Lawfer and current State Rep. Jim Sacia.
“Illinois is the Land of Lincoln and the Land of Ronald Reagan, but it’s also the Land of Ulysses S. Grant. These new road signs will remind motorists that Illinois produced one of the nation’s most important military leaders and its 18th President,’ said Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Director Robert Coomer.
Captain Ulysses S. Grant ended a 15-year military career in 1854 but had enjoyed little business success as a civilian. He hoped to reverse his economic misfortune by moving to northwestern Illinois in 1860, where he worked in the Galena store owned by his father and managed by his younger brothers.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Grant left Galena to deliver a group of volunteers to Springfield to join the U.S. Army. He arrived at what is now the Old State Capitol in Springfield and began helping the Illinois Adjutant General muster troops into Union Army service. Shortly thereafter Grant was commissioned a colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment and led his forces west to the Mississippi River to join the fight.
A strong and capable leader, Grant was progressively promoted to more significant commands of Union forces, and as a General he engineered the Union victory at Vicksburg in 1863. In March 1864 Grant was appointed Lieutenant General and commanded all Union forces to the war’s end, receiving Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.
On August 18, 1865 the citizens of Galena greeted the return of their victorious General Grant with a grand celebration, and presented him with an Italianate style home on a hilltop in the picturesque city. This home, now operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as a state historic site, is open for free public tours. Grant was elected President in 1868 while residing in the home and visited the residence occasionally thereafter, returning for the last time in 1880.
Other state-owned Grant-related sites in Galena include the Elihu B. Washburne House and the Old Market House. Washburne was a Congressman, advisor to Presidents Lincoln and Grant, and served as Ambassador to France during the Grant Administration from 1869 to 1877. The Old Market House was the city’s commercial and government center before, during and after Grant lived in the city.