Follow in the footsteps of Lincoln, immerse yourself in the life of a French fur trader and unearth famous fossils.
Start your tour in downtown Ottawa
FOX RIVER AQUEDUCT, I&M CANAL TOLL HOUSE, WASHINGTON SQUARE, REDDICK MANSION & THIRD DISTRICT APPELLATE COURT BUILDING
Situated on the Fox and Illinois rivers, Ottawa was platted by the Canal Commissioners at the same time as Chicago. Ottawa prospered because the canal made it possible to transport the sand, gravel and clay that were mined here. Ottawa has two of the canal’s most important landmarks–the huge Fox River Aqueduct and the last remaining I&M Canal Toll House, a tiny wood frame structure on Columbus Street.
Walk the paths in Washington Square and see where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas began their historic debates over slavery during the 1858 U.S. Senate Race. The site features a commemorative bronze monument to the two men who, on Aug. 21, 1858, argued for three hours before a throng estimated at 10,000 on the subject of the introduction of slavery into new western states.
Head across the street to the ornate Reddick Mansion, 100 W. Lafayette St, which also houses the Ottawa Visitors Center. This Italianate fantasy of red brick and cream limestone was built in the 1850s by William Reddick, a county sheriff, state senator and founder of the local glass industry. Exhibits in the former city library turned museum tell of Reddick’s life and political career, the Lincoln-Douglas debate and the history of the I&M Canal.
Other points of interest in Ottawa include the nearby Illinois Third District Appellate Court Building, 1004 Columbus St, a splendid example of Greek Revival architecture and the historic downtown surrounding the impressive LaSalle County Courthouse, 119 W. Madison St, constructed of Joliet limestone.
Near Washington Square, 101 W. Lafayette St. Go to the nearby Ottawa Visitors Center, 100 W. Lafayette St., or check their website for tourist information
WHERE TO EAT
Continue your tour in downtown Morris
CANAL PORT PLAZA, CANAL PORT PARK, & GRUNDY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUM
Only 70 miles from Chicago but a world away, Morris is a quintessential rural Midwestern town filled with unique, festive shops–many housed in historic buildings along the I&M Canal and just a stone’s throw from the Illinois River. Among these shops are several boutiques selling paper goods, clothing, home goods and vintage furniture.
Eight life-size steel silhouettes as well as interpretive panels in Canal Port Plaza tell the story of the Armstrong family, many of whom had a profound influence on the early history of Morris and Grundy County. Family matriarch Elsie Armstrong traveled to Illinois in 1831 with seven sons, ranging in age from 3 to 19. Plans were underway at that time to construct the I&M Canal and her sons helped build it.
Continue one block west along Illinois Avenue to Canal Port Park. This outdoor site features a wooden play structure representing a to-scale canal freight boat as well as introductory panels about Morris. Nearby, two more steel silhouettes tell the story of Old Nell, the most famous mule on the canal towpath, and of mule driver John Sullivan.
Four blocks from downtown, the Grundy County Historical Society Museum, 510 W. Illinois Ave, sits along the I&M in a canal-era manufacturing building, circa 1870. Here you’ll encounter nationally known fossil exhibits, Civil War weapons and unique displays and art about the canal. Check the Museum’s website for hours and other visitor information.
Near Canal Port Plaza, located at West Illinois Avenue and Wauponsee Street.
WHERE TO EAT
Head over to Romeoville
ISLE A LA CACHE MUSEUM
Explore the relationship between Native Americans and the nation’s early French “voyageurs” at this 18th century fur trade museum located on an island in the Des Plaines River. Highlights include interactive exhibits of the Great Lakes fur trade of the 1700s and a replica Native American longhouse. Feel the softness of a beaver pelt, see canoes built out of birch bark and walk inside a wigwam. The museum also features a gift shop where visitors can purchase replica arrowheads, Professor Noggin’s card games and books about French and Native American history. The Island Rendezvous, a premier historical re-enactment, is held here every year in June. Nearby walking trails offer beautiful views of the Des Plaines River and the chance to see wildlife such as bald eagles, turtles and deer.
Isle a la Cache Museum, 501 E. Romeo Rd. Check the museum website for hours, programs and other visitor information.
WHERE TO EAT
Finish your tour in Lyons
CHICAGO PORTAGE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Stand upon the same ground traversed by Native Americans, famed explorers and early settlers. See the vital crossroads where French fur traders would “portage” their goods across a narrow marshy area separating the waters of the Great Lakes from those of the Mississippi River. Highlights include a must-see monument to Jacques Marquette, Louis Jolliet and their Native American guides as well as several interpretive panels.
Available monthly tours last about 90 minutes and involve walking half a mile along the gravel path through the woods. Due to the rustic natural setting of the portage and Mud Lake area, long pants and sturdy walking shoes are recommended attire.
Chicago Portage National Historic Site, 4800 S. Harlem Ave. Check the website for hours and other visitor information.