The establishment of Ottawa as a town evolved between 1823 and 1837, with its incorporation as a city arriving the same year as the railroad – 1853. Early LaSalle County settlers who lived along the Illinois and Fox Rivers, at Indian Creek, Covel Creek, and in the surrounding area, were instrumental in Ottawa’s founding. The confluence of the Fox and Illinois rivers and the vision of early French explorer and fur trader Louis Jolliet to develop a water connection between the Illinois River and Lake Michigan were important factors in establishing the city.
The idea of a canal linking the Great Lakes with the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River did not begin to materialize until 1829. In that year, a representative of the Canal Commission laid out the towns of Chicago and Ottawa and serious planning got underway for the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Early Ottawa was important as a seat of county government, for protection against the Indians, for transportation and for trading. Ottawa is an Indian name derived from the Algonquin word “adawe” which meant to trade. The term was common among the Cree, Algonquin, Nipissing, Montagnais, Ottawa, and Chippewa Indians. It was applied to the Ottawa Indians, who were considered the great traders and barterers of the Great Lakes Region.
Ottawa still retains its two original town squares. Surrounding Ottawa’s historic Washington Square are splendid examples of Greek revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival architecture. The historic Government Square located three blocks south of Washington Square features the LaSalle County Courthouse, the third courthouse built upon the site.
One trip to Ottawa and you will feel the history, see the historic landmarks and learn more about our country through this unique and interesting town. Ottawa is rich with history.
There are currently 18 History listing(s) available.
This is just a small sample of Ottawa's history. For more information, stop by the Ottawa Visitors Center and pick up your FREE copy of the different self-guided tours available!
|A Brush with History Public Art Murals
Ottawa's Old Town District | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 815-434-3357 |
Celebrate an undying romance between a 19th century wife and her soldier husband. Relive the artistic vision of an Ottawa businessman whose talent and skills were legendary around the world. Follow the building of an ambitious state transportation project that symbolized the spirit and cultural diversity of a young state. Or join the parade of Ottawans marching through a pivotal decade, the 1950s, or get a glimpse of one of the exciting moments in the lives of some of Ottawa's earliest settlers, the Native Americans.
Let your cell phone be your guide through town as you explore part of Ottawa's rich heritage with these beautiful murals by calling 1-866-MURALS-1 or stop in the Ottawa Visitors Center and pick up your copy of A Brush With History mural tour booklet and truly browse these wonderful murals at your own leisure. Mural booklets available for download on the Downloads section of our website...Visit Website
|Abraham Lincoln/ Stephen Douglas Debate Site
Washington Square Park, Bordering Lafayette & Jackson Street | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 888-OTTAWA-4 |
The first Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debate was held in Ottawa's historic Washington Square on August 21, 1858. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas stood in this beautiful park to deliver the first of seven senatorial debates. It was estimated that 20,000 spectators gathered to witness this famous debate. The site of the debate is marked by a boulder and plaque, and a fountain topped by bronze statues of the "Railsplitter" and "The Little Giant" forms the centerpiece of the beautifully landscaped square.
|Appellate Court Building
1004 Columbus Street | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | |
A splendid example of Greek Revival architecture, the central portion of the then-State Supreme Court building was completed in 1860 at a cost of $29,630. The building was built to house the State Supreme Court, which initially met in Ottawa, Mount Vernon and Springfield. Today Ottawa is the seat of the Third Appellate Court District, which serves 21 northern Illinois counties.
|Art Sculptures in Allen Park
400 Courtney St | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | |
Towering forty feet above the Illinois River and weighing an astonishing seventeen tons each, these two massive steel sculptures are now registered with the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog and can be found in Ottawa's own picturesque Allen Park. Created by native artist, Mary Meinz-Fanning, these historical art structures are fashioned from parts of Ottawa's old Hilliard Bridge, originally built in 1933. The yellow sculpture is named "Reclining" and the red one is known as "Bending". It was Fanning's vision that both sculptures serve as a commeration to the old bridge. Come marvel at their unique construction as you stroll along the river....Visit Website
|Boy Scouts of America & W.D. Boyce Memorial
Ottawa Avenue & Boyce Memorial Drive | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 888-OTTAWA-4 |
William Dickson Boyce was a resident of Ottawa. He is remembered as the man who brought scouting to America. He was inspired by a chance meeting with a British Scout in a thick London fog. The boy showed him the way, saying that he was a Boy Scout and their motto was "Do a good deed everyday."...Visit Website
|Civil War Heritage
One of that conflict's greatest generals, W.H.L. Wallace, made his home here before the war. Wallace's life story went beyond his military career; it was a love story: As he lay dying from wounds received at the Battle of Shiloh, his young wife - who had crossed the battle lines from Illinois to be with her husband - was at his side.
|Fox River Aqueduct
This early engineering marvel carried waters of the Illinois & Michigan Canal over the Fox River. The Fox River Aqueduct is the largest aqueduct along the I&M Canal Corridor. Built in the 1840s by David Sanger & Sons Construction Co. of Ottawa, the aqueduct spans a length of 464 feet. Supported by seven towering piers constructed of Joliet limestone, the aqueduct was once considered the eighth wonder of the world.
|Heritage Tour - An Illustrated Guide
Pick up a copy of this illustrated guide to "the places, faces and ornamentation of Ottawa" and get ready for a magical history tour! Learn about the people who made Ottawa great and who built Ottawa's breathtaking and imposing skyline.
|Historic Auto Tour
100 W. Lafayette St | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 1-888-OTTAWA-4 |
Discover the historic treasures that Ottawa has at your own leisure and in the comfort of you own automobile. This tour includes Ottawa's original town square, the many stunning homes, interesting architecture and breath-talking nature scenery. Click on the link provided to download your copy of the tour or you can go to our down loads page. ...Visit Website
|I & M Canal Tollhouse
Columbus Street on the I & M Canal | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | |
This small, one-room structure served as a tollhouse for the many barges filled with grain, coal, stone, and lumber, and is the only original tollhouse that still exists on the canal. It was part of a complex that once included a "turning bridge" over the canal, a maintenance shed, privy and well.
|Illinois & Michigan Canal
The Illinois and Michigan Canal is a historic landmark not to be missed. It is a favorite site for hiking, exploring history and taking in the beautiful scenic surroundings. The I&M Canal is a historic treasure.
|Looking for Lincoln Wayside Exhibits
Ottawa is home to FOUR Looking for Lincoln Wayside exhibits. If you would like the experience of Looking for Lincoln and you want to know more about all the places he has been and the people he knew as he visited Ottawa, check out these wayside exhibits. Each exhibit features a rubbing medallion that you can make an imprint of on paper. Stop in to the Ottawa Visitors Center to pick up your copy of the Heritage tour....inside you will find hints as to the location of Ottawa's four exhibits
|Louis Joliet Camped Here
Louis Joliet was one of the first explorers to experience Ottawa's natural and scenic beauty. His panoramic campsite is today called "The Town of Two Rivers" because Ottawa is the site of the confluence of the Fox River and Illinois River, just east of Starved Rock, Matthiessen and Buffalo Rock State Parks.
|Ottawa Boat Club
500 Columbus Street | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | (815) 433-0379 | Ottawaboatclub@yahoo.com
Established in 1885, the Ottawa Boat Club is the second oldest social club in the state of Illinois. Although a privet social club the Ottawa Boat Club is open to the public for celebrations and meetings.
It is set apart from other traditional event destinations due to its long history and its location both the city of Ottawa's central business district and at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers.
|Rail-Splitter Replica Canal Boat
South Bank of I & M Canal, Between Columbus and LaSalle Streets | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | |
Located not far from the original Tollhouse, this replica canal boat christened as the "Rail-Splitter", can be viewed along the south bank of the I & M Canal. Orginally built as a movie prop for the 2002 production of "Prairie Tides", this boat is a full size model of a 19th century canal boat. She is crafted from wood and is 60 feet long by 12 feet wide, and would be considered a smaller version back in her day. The name "Rail-Splitter" was chosen from a list of canal boats formerly registered to Ottawa, Illinois. Her presence is a reminder of the historical and commercial influence that the I & M Canal had in the shaping of this region. (This replica boat is designed for viewing purposes only.)
100 W. Lafayette | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 815-433-6100 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Built before the Civil War, this ornate 22 room 50 foot tall Italianate mansion was constructed by leading philanthropist and state senator William Reddick. Call the Reddick Mansion for times of tours. Don't forget to visit our gift shop, "Elizabeth's Corner"....Visit Website
|The Ottawa Lincoln Knew tour
100 W. Lafayette St | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 1-888-OTTAWA-4 | Tourism@ExperienceOttawa.com
Most people associate Lincoln to Ottawa only with his historic debate with Douglas in 1858, however Lincoln had many friends and supporters in Ottawa that made him a frequent visitor. Travel back in time and see Ottawa as he did with this self guided tour! Follow the link to download your copy of this tour. ...Visit Website
|Washington Square Park
Between Lafayette and Jackson Street and LaSalle | Ottawa, IL, 61350 | 1-888-OTTAWA-4 | Tourism@ExperienceOttawa.com
In the center of the park a memorial commemorates the location of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate on August 21, 1858, with heoric sized bronze statues complete with a reflecting pool. Discover all the treasures hidden in this beautifully maintained park. Click on the link to download your copy of the Washington Square Park tour....Visit Website