January 18, 2006


A reader wrote in with the following question:

Do you like living in Galesburg, and if so why? What makes it tolerable? What are the good things about the town (as opposed to the many benefits and satisfactions associated with Knox...)?
and I thought it would be a nice topic to write about here.

The first answer is, yes!, I love living in Galesburg. "What makes it tolerable" is exactly the wrong question, because it means you've already rejected the city and are trying to talk yourself back into liking it. I don't tolerate the city, I enjoy it—not that it's perfect, of course.

The second half is also a bit fallacious, because divorcing the college from the town is really throwing out quite a lot of good. When school is in session, hardly a weekend goes by that there isn't some sort of performance on campus, and near the end of the term there are often so many that one can't even attend them all. Local theatre fans already know that Knox has a fabulous theatre department, with a major production three times a year and a score of smaller "black-box" productions, directed by students and sometimes even written by them. They aren't always great, but they are rarely terrible, and some of the best have actually been the student productions. Knox also doesn't hurt for musical ensembles, both vocal and instrumental, which perform regularly. (The Knox Jazz Combo performs at McGillacuddy's every week school is in session.) Sporadically, there are also art shows, film screenings, and lectures, most of which are open to the general public, and easy to find out about if you're interested in that sort of thing.

But the cultural cachet of the town isn't restricted to Knox's offerings. Sandburg (the community college) has its share, as does the community at large; there are two local community theatre groups, various city musical groups, an art gallery downtown, and Q's Cafe has recently opened its walls as a gallery for some pretty good local artists (in addition to selling great sandwiches, and don't miss their bread pudding).

Which brings me to the food. Alas, we do not have a wide selection of ethnic food (though the Mexican food is decent—Jalisco's is fantastic, and El Rancherito isn't half bad either). But we do have some pretty good restaurants, including the Packinghouse and the Landmark (try the Bananas Foster Crępe, the rum caramel sauce is out of this world) down in the Seminary Street district and the Steak House up on Henderson Street. Uncle Billy's is a high-quality bakery, also in the Seminary Street district, that uses all-natural ingredients, organic where possible, and is attached to Cornucopia, which is a pretty complete natural foods store. I manage to buy nearly all my food there, the only lack being soda and organic/free-range meat. For that, though, one can go (though I haven't, yet) to Thrushwood Farms or one of the local food co-ops, and get locally-grown meat that may not be technically organic but fills a similar niche.

And I can't help but mention that Galesburg is small and cheap to live in. Small, so you can walk or bike pretty much everywhere; and cheap, so you can buy or rent for a small fraction of what you'd pay most other parts of the country. If you own a house elsewhere, and have more than a year or two of equity in it, you'll probably be able to buy a house in Galesburg for cash. Better yet, get a mortgage here and use the rest to restore your century-old house to its original Victorian, Edwardian, or Tudor splendour. It's a local hobby.

Galesburg has downsides, of course. If you get the midnight munchies, your options are pretty much limited to Steak and Shake, Alfano's Pizza, Taco Bell, or one of the 24-hour supermarkets. There's no club scene downtown, just live and DJed music at the various bars, not that everybody will see this as a downside. It's still rebounding from recent manufacturing plant closures, though the local economy is coping pretty well, and new businesses are still opening every month. The trains run through town on two major cross-country lines (Chicago–San Francisco and Chicago–Los Angeles) more or less constantly, which is really something that you get used to fast, but it does bother some people. And it's really lacking in specialty stores like yarn shops and game shops and ballroom dance shoe shops, but for these things it's nice to note that Peoria and the Quad Cities are each a 45-minute drive away and Amtrak runs three times a day from downtown Galesburg to downtown Chicago and back. This also helps some people get their Thai and Indian food fix. :)

So yes, I really do like living in Galesburg. It's a small city, but it's a city, and it's an interesting city with nice people, and it busts most of the bad stereotypes that coastal folks seem to have about "small Midwestern towns" (though to be sure it fulfills several of the nicer stereotypes). I'm always happy to encourage people to join me here!

"I don't have to be subject to the tyranny of AltaVista." --Stan Zdonik

Posted by blahedo at 11:53pm on 18 Jan 2006
Tudor? Posted by lee at 6:59am on 19 Jan 2006
Yes, Tudor. There are several in Galesburg. Posted by blahedo at 2:30am on 20 Jan 2006
Wow. You've got me nearly convinced. I do feel a bit like a narrow minded stereotypical West Coaster ("tolerate," etc.), but NO! I'm not. Really. I lived there until I was 19, and the town was undergoing a pretty major shift economically. I've been back several times, and I can say that the town resembles very little the one I grew up in the late '60s and '70s. I grew up in a big Victorian house there, so I know the charm. My mom still lives there, just a few blocks from you, on North Kellogg. And I also emphasize in conversations with other Californians that it was special in the sense of being as you say, a city, not a town, albeit a small city. Lots of good things about that. I guess I'm a little weirded out about such a white environment after living in such a racially diverse one. However, the racial diversity here is matched with a horrible level of social stratification, and I find myself hoping that that might be a bit less the case in Galesburg. At any rate, thanks so much for your response. And, funny, my last trip there, I went to Uncle Billy's Bakery and yammered on about it to friends here for month. It really is great. Looking forward to taking a fresh look-see soon. Maureen Posted by Maureen at 4:54pm on 21 Jan 2006
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