DEINDUSTRIALISATION, globalisation and technological advance have wreaked havoc in many cities in the Midwest. In Galena, a small town on the border of Iowa and Illinois, this disruption happened 150 years ago. The thriving lead-mining centre and Mississippi-river steamboat hub was then one of America's most important industrial cities. French settlers took over lead mines created by Native Americans, issuing the first leases in 1822. By the mid-19th century the town produced 85% of the nation’s lead and was bigger than Chicago. Industrialists built grand mansions and even miners lived in decent cottages. But the civil war changed everything, says Daryl Watson, a local historian. Zinc supplanted lead and railways trumped steamboats. With its impressive railway hub, Chicago swiftly surpassed Galena to become the biggest city in the region.
In the last few decades, and in particular between 2000 and 2010, quite a few Midwestern cities have become notorious for post-industrial blight, but Galena hit this existential snag much earlier. How it managed to pull itself back from the brink offers a valuable lesson of how...Continue reading