Appellate Court Building (1893)
LaSalle St. South from Jefferson St. (1893)
LaSalle St. North from Madison St. (1893)
Aerial Photo of the
I&M Canal and Aqueduct
Lincoln & Douglas
Historically, the attraction of Ottawa
was and still is its location. The confluence of the Fox and Illinois
Rivers ensured that travelers and traders would pass by this land. The
beautiful prairies and valleys encouraged people to stop and consider
this area. What they found was rich soil for agriculture and mining, and
the convenience of the rivers for transporting goods east to Chicago and
west to the Mississippi.
The dominant Indian tribe in this area was the Ottawa. They and other
Native American tribes lived and hunted and died on the land now called
Ottawa. Starved Rock especially was used as a lookout for bison, deer
and enemy tribes.
The City of Ottawa was platted by the Illinois and Michigan Canal Commission
and recorded in the county seat of Peoria County on December 5, 1830,
and established in 1839. The City was first surveyed by James Thompson,
a surveyor and engineer for the Canal Commission. James Thompson also
surveyed and platted the Canal which originally was to end in Ottawa but
was extended to LaSalle sixteen miles west of Ottawa. It was determined
that the extension was necessary to bypass portions of the Illinois River
west of Ottawa that were too shallow to navigate.
First Plat of Ottawa by Thompson (Canal Town)
Lateral Canal (Canal Town)
The construction of the ninety-six mile I&M Canal began
in 1836 and was completed in 1848 at a cost of $6.1 million. It was the
last major canal constructed in the United States. After the first year
of operation, the Canal helped Chicago become the nationís largest inland
port. With the construction of the canal came the influx of Irish workers.
That group provided the majority of manual labor needed to construct the
canal. A vast majority of those laborers and their families stayed in
the community following the completion of the canal.
In 1914, several years after the Rock Island and LaSalle Railroad was
constructed, the I&M Canal was closed to traffic. Over the years,
the abandoned Canal was thought to be undesirable. In the 1930s, the Cityís
administration conducted projects to fill it. The Canal is now becoming
a main feature in the redevelopment of Ottawa and other communities due
to its historic and recreational value. Many areas are rediscovering the
importance that the Canal had in the development of their community and
are trying to preserve the heritage associated with it.
On August 21, 1858 over 10,000 people attended the first senatorial debate
in Ottawa between candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. The
series of debates on the issue of slavery brought Lincoln the national
spotlight that would later carry him to the presidency. The Ottawa debate
was held in Washington Park with a platform located on the east side of
the square. There is a boulder and plaque to mark the site of this historic
debate. The city commissioned sculptures of Lincoln and Douglas which
were dedicated in Washington Park on September 14, 2002.