Galena had a dual personality. It was developed in 1860 as a mining property by R. S. and Andrew Hatch. The Hatch brothers' quartz mill and smelter were among the earliest erected on this side of the Sierras. The gold float from the local mines contained a heavy admixture of lead sulphide, "galena," which caused the mining operations to be non-paying, but the mills continued to operate, processing ores from the Comstock mines. The severe winter of 1864-65 interrupted freighting to Virginia City, and the ensuing mining depression forced the Galena mills to close.
The town also developed into an important lumbering center. Eleven sawmills were operating by 1863, and Galena boasted stores, lodging houses, a justice court, a school which doubled as a community hall, saloons, and dozens of homes. After two disastrous fires in 1865 and 1867, Galena was abandoned.