Gay-friendly Illinois Personified: Owners of Aldrich Guest House

By @ 05/06/19 in Gay travel, Gay-friendly Illinois, Illinois, LGBT Illinois, LGBT travel Illinois, Personified, Travel

Douglas and Richard in Galena Illinois and in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineDouglas and Robert, owners of the Aldrich Guest House in gay-friendly Illinois, have been together for just over 12 years. They had their Civil Union on their fifth anniversary, shortly after those were legalized in Illinois. A couple years later, when marriage equality passed, they converted it into a marriage. 

Both have been in the service/hospitality industry their entire lives – nearly 50 combined years. They both grew up in the Midwest — Douglas in Indiana, Robert in Michigan.

They initially considered Chicago’s Andersonville or Edgewater neighborhoods for their B&B, but after 11 years in Chicago, they wanted to get back to small town living. When they came to Galena, they found a community where everyone was open and welcoming and extremely friendly! They discovered the Aldrich Guest House on their first trip to Galena and it ticked all of the boxes.  They made an offer and a couple months later, they were the proud owners of Aldrich Guest House!

Built in 1845 as a one room, two-story house by a man named Cyrus Aldrich, a congressman and friend of Abraham Lincoln, the guesthouse is steeped in history. Now, Aldrich Guest House has five guestrooms and can accommodate up to 10 guests.

They’ve been voted one of the top 15 best bed and breakfasts in the entire United States and won first national runner up in a Breakfast at Aldrich House, Gelena, Illinois and in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazinenationwide breakfast competition. They’ve renovated the entire house (no more of that crazy wallpaper!) with the goal of creating a feeling that is relaxing yet elegant.

What they’re most proud of, though, is their unique style of service that is intuitive, personal, and professional yet unobtrusive. They’re always honored that guests choose to stay with us since they’re choosing to make us part of their story, plus guests are our favorite part of what we do.  We recently caught up with Douglas and Robert to chat about Galena, Illinois, small-town life, and the burgeoning LGBTQ community throughout the state.

How is Galena different from other places you’ve lived/visited?

Living in and visiting Galena helps you remember what a human pace is. Having lived in Chicago for so long, we had almost become immune to the hustle and bustle of the city along with the noise and crowds. It wasn’t until we went back to Chicago after our first trip to Galena that we noticed all of those things. Being in Galena definitely helps you slow down and appreciate the people and things around you.

Describe the impact the LGBTQ community has had on Galena over the years you’ve been coming here?

In Galena, we’re very fortunate as part of the LGBTQ community since there have been many before us setting the foundation for a culture of acceptance and equality.  In the 1940s, Galena was a small artist colony which was inherently very open and welcoming. One of the things that’s great for LGBTQ visitors is that there is NOT a ‘gay part’ of town or any ‘gay’ bars etc.  The reason that’s great is because the entire city is open and welcoming so we don’t need a gay section of town – it’s the entire place! There are several small lodging properties in addition to many shops that are owned by LGBTQ folks and even if the innkeepers, shopkeepers, or restaurants aren’t specifically LGBTQ, everyone is welcome. Truly, in Galena, being LGBTQ is a complete non-issue which is just how it should be as that’s what equality looks like!

What are some places in Galena that inspire you?

What we find most inspirational is the outdoors. Galena is situated in what is called the ‘driftless zone’ meaning that the glaciers never scraped the landscape into a pancake like in much of the Midwest. We have hills and valleys, the Mississippi River is just 3 miles away, along with miles and miles of great hiking trails.  Being able to connect with nature in such a grand way is a very special part of living and visiting Galena.

How can LGBTQ travelers support LGBTQ community here and Illinois in general?

The best way for LGBTQ travelers to support the LGBTQ community both in Galena and Illinois is simply by living however you’re most proud. By being you and being confident and proud of that, stereotypes, misinformation, and the taboo of being LGBTQ will continue to disappear as hearts and minds are changed little by little. Thankfully Galena is ahead of the curve, so the opportunity to support LGBTQ businesses by staying at welcoming bed and breakfasts, patronizing supportive stores, etc. is a very real thing in here and is greatly encouraged!

Do you have any tips for people coming to Galena for the first time?

Although there are less than 3,500 people that live here, Galena is not a one trick pony!  We have over 130 mom & pop shops and restaurants along our half mile long Main Street – the Helluva Half Mile! In addition to that, there’s an awesome history that can be experienced through tours of Grant’s Home, the Washburne House, and the Belvedere Mansion as well as the History Museum and Old Market House. If that’s not enough, the great outdoors can keep you busy as well from canoeing/kayaking on the Galena River to biking, hiking, and both cross country and downhill skiing in the winter…and that’s just in Galena not to mention all of the other wonderful places to experience that are within a short drive.  We’ve been here for nearly 5 years, and we still have a long list of things we want to do. So our biggest tip is to plan more than a day…or plan a day, but know that you’re going to want to come back again and again!

What are a couple of your personal hidden gems in Galena (and Greater Illinois, ideally outside of Chicago)? 

In Galena, there are two things that we love – Fritz and Frites Bistro and the P.T. Murphy Magic Show. If you only have an evening in Galena, those are two things not to miss!  Just 15 minutes outside of Galena is Elizabeth which has the Elizabeth Grand Antique Mall and Common Cents both of which are great places to find hidden treasures if you’re into antiques.  While you’re there, stop at E-Town for a great sandwich and visit the Apple River Fort where you can learn how, during an attack by Blackhawk in 1832, the men of the fort had to swallow their pride and let the women help defend the settlement and how the women’s participation is what actually kept the outpost from being destroyed.

What’s been your most embarrassing moment as a guest house owners? Any funny stories you can share?

This is a tough one! Having been in hospitality for so long, nothing really fazes us or surprises us anymore.  That’s part of what’s so great about being innkeepers and in hospitality – no two days are ever the same!

More Gay-friendly Illinois

This is just one of our many favorite stories and hotspots to help you discover gay-friendly Illinois for yourself. Continue your exploration here.

Enjoy a more immersive Illinois experience in the magazine:

ManAboutWorld is an app-based travel magazine by gay men which provides travel inspiration and trip-planning information for all whether you’re in the LGBTQ+ community or are an ally. It’s built exclusively for mobile devices and is not available in print. We first published these articles in the spring 2019 issue and make them available here for your enjoyment. The app and issues are all free. Download it for Apple devices or Android devices.

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