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.