OTTAWA, Ill. — Historic Ottawa is a two-hour drive southwest of the Loop and is Chicago’s sister city.
It’s home to the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, great restaurants and so much more.
On Aug. 21, 1858, More than 10,000 people attended the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
“There are over 10,000 people on the day of that debate,” Tom Aussem, with Awesome Ottawa Tours, said. “It would’ve been a loud and raucous event.”
The debate was held in Washington Square. A boulder now marks the spot where the grandstand was.
Aussem, a lifelong resident and tour guide, has a lot to share about Ottawa’s remarkable history and its vital connection to the Illinois and Michigan canal.
“Chicago and Ottawa were plotted at the same time by the same guy, James Thompson from southern Illinois, for the purpose of the canal,” Aussem said.
The I&M Canal opened in 1848 and helped facilitate trade from the East Coast to Chicago and the Gulf of Mexico.
Gentry Nordstrom welcomes people onboard the St. Genevieve River Boat.
“It’s just the perfect spot for something like this,” Nordstrom said.
Nordstrom and woodworker Nathan Weiss are restoring the more than half-century-old paddle wheeler.
There are various excursions, like the Saturday night dinner cruises, which start around $60 per person.
You can see the confluence of the Fox and Illinois on the Starved Rock Cruise.
Or you can rent a kayak for $35 for two hours, or visit one of the three state parks within a 10-15 minute drive of Ottawa.
You can also rent a larger watercraft or an e-bike from Ottawa’s Quest Watersports.
If you pick up a bike, you can visit one of the many specialty shops and restaurants in downtown Ottawa, like the Tangled Roots Brewing Company.
“We have 20 beers on tap,” Michael Billy said. “I want to have a variety of stuff available for people.”
Billy said the brewing company uses locally harvested grains.
“We have a hop farm that’s just a couple of miles south of Ottawa,” he said.
At the brewery’s adjoining restaurant, The Lone Buffalo, you can order the house specialty parmesan chicken or slow-simmered bison chili.