Amenities: Amphitheater, Benches, 2 Boat Launches, 3 Docks, Fishing Area, Parking, Picnic Tables, Playground, Toboggan Run, Riverwalk, Shelters, Washrooms
In the winter bundle up and slide on down – the toboggan run is fun for the whole family! Bring your sled and enjoy a day in the snow at Ottawa’s Toboggan Run – Located on the east side of Allen Park.
Towering forty feet above the Illinois River and weighing an astonishing seventeen tons each, these two massive steel sculptures are now registered with the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog and can be found in Ottawa’s own picturesque Allen Park. Created by native artist, Mary Meinz-Fanning, these historical art structures are fashioned from parts of Ottawa’s old Hilliard Bridge, originally built in 1933. The yellow sculpture is named “Reclining” and the red one is known as “Bending”. It was Fanning’s vision that both sculptures serve as a commeration to the old bridge. Come marvel at their unique construction as you stroll along the river.
Designed and painted by: G. Byron Peck
William Hervy Lamme Wallace could have begun the practice of law with a Springfield lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. Instead, while traveling to Springfield, he met Ottawan T. Lyle Dickey and established a successful law practice here. Dickey and Wallace were to enjoy a long and close relationship, first as law partners, then as soldiers in the Mexican War, then as father- and son-in-law after Wallace married Dickey’s daughter, Ann. On politics they did not always see eye-to-eye, but when the Civil War came, they were fighting on the same side, The Union.
Even as Wallace was lying wounded on the Shiloh battlefield, his wife was struggling to reach her husband in Tennessee. She was to spend the final moments of Wallace’s life by his bedside.
Wallace, Ann and their daughter Isabelle are shown in the mural created by G. Byron Peck. The faces of several of the soldiers who surround the painted general are Ottawa soldiers. Honored by military historians for withstanding a Confederate onslaught at the Battle of Shiloh, Wallace was nearly forgotten in his adopted hometown until the mural brought him and his heroism to life again. Wallace now lies in a family cemetery on Ottawa’s north bluff, not far from the home he built in 1858. The two-story Gothic Revival-style home known as “The Oaks” is also pictured in the mural. The Wallaces furnished their eight-room house in a handsome fashion with furniture brought west from Boston, Mass. In the late 1930s, the house was made into a state museum, but it was eventually sold to a private owner and its contents, which still included many of Wallace’s personal possessions, were liquidated.
Ann’s father, T. Lyle Dickey, is also buried in the family cemetery. His home, “Valley View” is also located on the north bluff.
T. Lyle Dickey was a respected Ottawa attorney and justice of the Illinois State Supreme Court, as well as a commander in the Union cavalry in the Civil War. He was a circuit court judge from 1848-51, and from 1868 to 1870, served as an assistant U.S. Attorney General, carrying arguments to the
U.S. Supreme Court. From 1875 until his death in 1885, he was a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court. Dickey was a beloved friend of Abraham Lincoln, and their friendship endured despite political differences. Dickey campaigned for Stephen Douglas against Lincoln. During most of his stays in Ottawa, Lincoln was a house guest of the Dickeys.
Pick up a copy of this illustrated guide to “the places, faces and ornamentation of Ottawa” and get ready for a magical history tour! Learn about the people who made Ottawa great and who built Ottawa’s breathtaking and imposing skyline.
The History of Communications mural can be read as a historical timeline starting from left to right, beginning with the arrival of French voyagers in the 1700’s marking the visit of Father Pierre Marquette and explorer Louis Joliet. Their success marked the first communication for the local natives to the outside world.
Next the mural progresses through Walker’s Trading Post. Walker’s was the first building on the north side of the Illinois River. The rivers were an important means of communication as mail and news came via river boat. The scene continues as we see a mail wagon using the stagecoach road. Roads were vital in connecting the areas many villages.
The mural then chugs along to show the mail trains as well as the telegraph lines that followed them. Behind the train, in blue, is one of the first Ottawa Silica Sands factories, a nod to Ottawa being the “Sand Capital of the World”
We then go on to see more modern forms of communication such as telephones, television, radio all the way to the internet and cell phones.
If you look closely you will see scenes from all the other murals in Ottawa. Have fun finding them!
Designed and painted by: Vicki Crone
Two familiar faces peer down at you from the Jefferson School wall. Yes, the guy with yellow feathers and beak, that’s Big Bird! But look over his shoulder at the fellow flying high in an airplane as an alphabet trail sputters behind him.
It’s Bob McGrath, a star of the “Sesame Street” children’s program, author, musician and Ottawa area native. In this mural, Bob is again the star, honored in vivid color for his contribution to children’s education.
Objects in the mural swirl as fast and as far as a child’s imagination! Here you can travel to the East Coast of the United States, or to the universe! Cartoon characters lend a touch of whimsy to the art as real Ottawa children take center-stage singing, dancing, painting, playing make-believe or offering comfort.
Artist Vicki Crone cleverly incorporates the Jefferson School windows into the binoculars and telescope aimed by the visionary characters at you, the passersby, and into the future!
Artist: Thomas Melvin
As you look at the painting, notice the limestone façade surrounding the painting. This is very much how the front of the bank looked during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
The Ottawa Boat Club is a historic landmark located at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers. Founded in 1885 as a nautical rowing and social club, it has remained at its current location of 500 Columbus Street since 1903. The building now provides a unique and elegant space for all types of events, including weddings, reunions, meetings, and more. In addition, the Boat Club’s bar is open to the public on the weekends during the summer months.
Designed and painted by: Gregory Ackers
The Erie or the Panama may have been bigger or longer, but the Illinois and Michigan Canal joins those ambitious public works projects in shaping the region in which it was built. Designed as a vital link in the interstate transportation system, the I&M became the first and most ambitious of the state’s internal improvements.
The canal meant goods and grain could be shipped efficiently and that lumber and supplies vital to the settlement of Ottawa could be transported here. It attracted settlers and land speculators who became some of the area’s leading citizens.
Also attracted by the promise of life in the west were thousands of laborers, mostly Irish immigrants, who built the canal and chose to stay in the area. Their life was a hard one. Begun in 1836 and completed 12 years later just as the railroads were expanding as passenger routes, the canal never reached its full potential. During 75 years of operation, however, it shaped Ottawa and other towns along its route. Now a popular hiking and biking trail, it continues to be a vital part of the region.
A Brush with History public art program was developed to help revitalize Ottawa’s downtown and create a cultural attraction for tourists and residents of the community. The program is sponsored by the Ottawa Visitors Center and overseen by a committee of citizens devoted to public arts. Made possible by a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts and vetted by the Chicago Art Institute, the Brush With History committee has been committed to quality and excellence since the programs inception. Organized in 1993 the first mural became a reality in 2002. To date, eight murals have been completed with a new project scheduled for 2015.
Murals to date have focused on figures or events that shaped Ottawa’s history including local industry, prominent citizens or the creation of a major improvements in the area.
If you are an artist interested in participating in this historical program, or just a citizen wanting to volunteer, please visit the ‘contact us’ portion of this website. The Ottawa Visitors Center will update you on the current project, themes and deadlines.
Please note: The Ottawa Visitor’s Center does not provide transportation. Hop-on Guides provided for your bus or van. Walking tours degree of difficulty-EASY. Our $25 fee is on a per-tour basis, regardless of the size of your group. Must be arranged in advance by selecting the “Group Tour” request form at the top of this page. Length of tour 30-45 min.
Designed and painted by: Roger Cooke Fine Arts
Before French explorers entered the Illinois Valley or white settlers sowed crops and built homes here, the valley was populated by Native American Indian tribes. They recognized the confluence of the Illinois and Fox rivers as an ideal trading center, and thousands settled in a grand village along what is now Dee Bennett Road between Ottawa and Utica.
These early residents relied on that great beast of the plains, the buffalo, as a source of food, clothing, medicine and other items necessary for their daily lives. Armed with bows and arrows, the hunters rounded up buffalo herds in canyons to make the animals easy targets. The ritual “buffalo run” has given the state park, Buffalo Rock, its name.
In the mural, a quartet of wooly bison jostle each other in their rush to escape, seeming ready to stampede into LaSalle Street traffic! Two hunters kneel and take aim, their sinewy arms drawing back the bowstrings and their eyes narrowing intensely as they focus on their targets. In the distance, the tawny grass of an Illinois Valley bluff stretches to the blue-gray horizon and the Illinois River.
Designed and painted by: E. Colin Williams and Murals by Jericho
In 1886, a young French glassblower named Victor Peltier opened his own company in Ottawa. Peltier Glass made opalescent glass, sheet glass, stained glass and glass marbles. In this mural, you can spot not only the innovative machinery that occupied the factory, such as the marble-making machine, but see some of the products that the factory made.
St. Patrick’s Church and Chicago’s Cultural Center represent some of Peltier’s clientele, as does the Ford Motor Co., which purchased Peltier glass for headlamps and shift knobs.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose lamps and products were much sought-after home decor, purchased colored glass from Peltier. Populating the mural are some of Peltier’s smallest customers (painters copied the faces of current Ottawa children) as they enjoy a 19th century pastime of shooting marbles. From Ottawa’s oldest factory, Peltier’s glass has traveled to all corners of the globe.
The Radium Girls were factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with glow-in-the-dark paint. The women, who had been told the paint was harmless, ingested deadly amounts of radium by licking their paintbrushes to sharpen them. Five of the women challenged their employer in a case that established the right of individual workers who contract occupational diseases to sue their employers.
The Radium Girls saga holds an important place in the history of both the field of health physics and the labor rights movement. The right of individual workers to sue for damages from corporations due to labor abuse was established as a result of the Radium Girls case. In the wake of the case, industrial safety standards were demonstrably enhanced for many decades.
The case was settled in the fall of 1928, before the trial deliberated by the jury, and the settlement for each of the Radium Girls was $10, 000 ($135,349 in today’s terms) and a $600 per year annuity ($8,121 per term year in today’s terms) while they loved and all medical and legal expenses incurred would also be paid by the company.
The lawsuit and resulting publicity was a factor in the establishment of occupational disease labor law. Radium dial painters were instructed in proper safety precautions and provided with protective gear; in particular, they no longer shaped paint brushes by lip, and avoided ingesting or breathing the paint. Radium paint was still used in dials as late as the 1960’s, but there were no further injuries to dial painters. This served to highlight that the injuries suffered by the Radium Girls were completely preventable.
Take a leisurely stroll or bike ride along the Fox and Illinois Rivers on Ottawa’s beautiful Riverwalk. You’ll enjoy beautiful river and scenic views as the Riverwalk winds along the rivers and through some of Ottawa’s public parks and boat launches. Don’t forget to bring your disc golf or fishing gear, the Riverwalk passes by Ottawa’s Disc Golf course and many different fishing spots.
Designed and painted by: Joshua Winer
Ottawans regularly marched in parades, cheered for them or stood transfixed along the route as the city hosted this most universal of celebrations. Parades brought people together, and brought them to a vibrant and bustling downtown.
Artist Joshua Winer envisioned a parade as a means of populating Ottawa’s unique architectural landscape. He wove prominent citizens and familiar faces in to the painting as marchers or bystanders. Mayor Phil Bailey doffs his top hat, and State’s Attorney Harland Warren raises his hand in a wave. Warren gained prominence during the area’s most
notorious murder case, the Starved Rock Murders.
Along the route are Ottawa residents who, then and now, have enriched our community and given Ottawa its distinctive character. The muralist captured a pivotal decade which was defined by a mixture of complacency and unrest. Ottawa, like America, emerged from the decade stronger, wiser and ready to sprint forward into the 21st century!
Location: La Salle St & W Jackson St
Artist: Don Gray
In artist Don Gray’s rendition, Lincoln and Douglas dramatically address the crowd gathered to hear them. News that the great Senator Douglas would appear in Ottawa caused a great sensation. Politics was more than a spectator sport for men of the day, and political rallies were festive events filled with medicine hawkers, hog roasts, parades and lively debate off the speakers’ platform as well as on it. Audience members heckled and cheered “their man” on the platform, and the orators gave back as good as they got in repartee! The unknown Lincoln would emerge from the seven debates a standard-bearer for the Republican Party, and the momentum would carry him to the White House (against his opponent Douglas) two years later. Also shown on the stand is Owen Lovejoy of Princeton, brother of Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist, legislator and friend of Lincoln.
In the center of the park a memorial commemorates the location of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate on August 21, 1858, with heoric sized bronze statues complete with a reflecting pool. Discover all the treasures hidden in this beautifully maintained park. Click on the link to download your copy of the Washington Square Park tour.