Monday, October 27, 2014

I&M NHC at 30: Ottawa

From Marseilles we move to Ottawa on the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The seat of LaSalle County is best known as the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate. You probably know the story: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln of Springfield of the new Republican party was the opponent of incumbent US Senator and Chicago Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, one of the most prominent politicians in America.

Prior to this month's visit, I had visited Ottawa a half-dozen times or so--mostly to run the now-defunct Ottawa Ten Miler. But I hadn't been there since the 1990s--and this bronze statue of Lincoln and Douglas wasn't at the debate site of Washington Square as it was dedicated in 2002.

This historical marker at the site claims that 10,000 people viewed the debate--an impossibly large number--if the park was packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder I'd be shocked if more than 2,000 could squeeze in.

The plaque also notes Lincoln's other visits to Ottawa, including one in 1856 to campaign for the first Republican presidential candidate, explorer John C. Frémont. Spell check is your friend, but not on bronze tablets, Frémont's name is spelled "Freemont" here. Oops.

Across the street from Washington Square is this mural. Douglas defeated Lincoln in the Senate race, but the Railsplitter was the ultimate victor. The debates elevated the Lincoln's national stature and despite having scant elected office experience, Lincoln instantly became a contender for the Republican nomination for the next presidential election. The Democratic Party split into northern and southern factions in 1860, Douglas won the nomination of the northern wing--Lincoln easily won the election. As with the debates, slavery was the dominant issue in the '60 race; Douglas favored allowing territories to choose whether they wanted to allow slavery, Lincoln campaigned on limiting it to the states where it already existed. His opinion would change during the Civil War.

But what does this have to do with the I&M Canal?

While a member of the Illinois General Assembly, Lincoln voted for the legislation that authorized the building of the canal and he remained a supporter of the I&M through his presidency. Twice in his annual message to Congress, Lincoln called for improvements to the canal. Congress failed to take heed, but at the turn of the century the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal essentially replaced the I&M.

In Ottawa the canal is now as dry as dirt and grass, as it was in the early 1970s when I first visited Ottawa.

Like Morris, Ottawa has a replica barge, the Rail Splitter.

There were four toll houses on the canal, only the one in Ottawa survives. As recently as 1995 it was a barber shop. It has since been restored to look as it did in the 19th century.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail is looking fine in Ottawa.

This mural honors General William Hervey Lamme Wallace, better known as W.H.L Wallace, an Ottawa lawyer who died at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

This photograph, taken on a different trip of mine, shows the Wallace memorial at the Shiloh battlefield.

The Fox River, which flows from southern Wisconsin, empties into the Illinois River at Ottawa.

On the southern bank of the Illinois River, you'll find this statue of an American Indian carved by Peter Wolf Toth--there are at least 75 of them in the United States and Canada. Standing Proud, which is part of his Trail of the Whispering Giants series, is also known as Ho-Mah-Shjah-Na-Zhee-Ga. It was carved from oak.

Trains superseded canals as a means of transport about twenty years after the completion of the I&M Canal in 1848. Coincidentally, the Ottawa Rail Bridge, a steel truss bridge with a lift gate, originates from 1868. On the left you'll see a man fishing. It was here where I saw my first Asian carp--one that was as big as my thigh jumped out of the water. The invasive species now comprises 70 percent of the fish biomass of the Illinois River.

Next: Buffalo Rock State Park

Earlier I&M Canal NHC at 30: posts:

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