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Ottawa is known as the Town of Two Rivers situated as it is at the convergence of the Illinois and Fox waterways. In addition to the charm of its beautiful river valley location, Ottawa can claim the historical distinction as being the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate in 1858. It was during this debate that Democratic Party leader Stephen A. Douglas accused Abraham Lincoln of harboring anti-slavery sentiment, claiming Lincoln was involved with a secret group of Congressmen aspiring to end slavery. Secret group or no, we all know how that story eventually played out in the subsequent Civil War. Douglas' pro-slavery leanings probably did not play well with the Ottawa residents at the time seeing as the community was active in the abolitionist movement and was itself an important stop on the Underground Railroad, which helped guide fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada.
There is a considerable draw to Ottawa's many pleasant park spaces. The community has over 100 acres of parkland with a variety of activities available to area residents. The scenic landscape is an added incentive to spend the day enjoying the great outdoors, getting a bit of fresh air and exercise. If you're an avid sports enthusiast, you’ll appreciate the suburb’s tennis and basketball courts, baseball and softball fields, and biking and hiking trails, found in public recreation sites around the community.
Ottawa is also home to historic Washington Park. This was where the first Lincoln-Douglas debate took place in 1858 and has been listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places since 1973. A statue of the two debating politicians commemorates the spot. The park also features a Civil War Memorial erected in 1873. Another historic building at the edge of the park is the Third District Appellate Court Building. This structure, completed in 1860, once served as a legislative facility for the Illinois State Supreme Court before it was consolidated with the court building in the state capital of Springfield.
There a two options for great golfing in Ottawa. The 9-hole public course at Pine Hills Golf Club (1665 N 2501st Rd, 815-434-3985) offers plenty of hills and bluffs to challenge golfers used to the flat prairie land typical of this central Illinois location. On the other hand, the short layout of Dayton Ridge Golf Club (3076 E 18th Rd, 815-434-0145) isn't as tough, affording more straightforward shots ... and hopefully lower scores.
Ottawa is one of Chicago's far outlying suburbs, located 80+ miles southwest of the city. It is surrounded by farmland and greenery, with a concentration of development at the meeting point of the Fox and Illinois rivers. Although Ottawa is rich in history, the residential real estate market in this suburban setting offers much in the way of new construction homes and condominiums, plus a large inventory of nineteenth century designs. Higher end prices in Ottawa hit the $500,000s and $600,000s, however there are a lot of properties with more affordable values. Home buyers will discover a good range of two to four bedroom houses in Ottawa listed in the mid-$100,000 price range with smaller, aging frame and brick homes available for five-digit values.
R Grotto Ristorante (710 La Salle St, 815-431-1100) is a great family restaurant that serves up the best in pasta, pizza, Italian-style sandwiches, salads and the usual suspects in appetizers – poppers, cheese sticks, chicken nuggets (a.k.a. R Grotto Nuggets) and fried pickles. OK maybe the fried pickles are a bit unusual, but everything is tasty and sure to please the palate. This place is open until midnight seven days a week so late-night snacking is always an option. R Grotto also has a bar featuring a variety of beer, wine and specialty drinks. Ottawa residents both love and appreciate Thai Cafe (610 Columbus St, 815-431-8090). They love it because of the good Thai cuisine and they appreciate it because it's the only place to get Thai food in town.
Nothing will inflame peoples' passions like a good pizza feud – thin crust or thick, New York-style or Chicago – everyone has their favorite kind of pizza and their favorite pizza joint, where one's "best pizza in town" might only be a glorified frozen pizza to others. Luckily for Ottawa residents, Bianchi's Pizza (607 La Salle St, 815-434-6884) tends to produce more praise than a typical pizzeria, but we’ll it up to you to check out this long-time Ottawa institution for yourself and see how it weighs against other Illinois pizza places in your book. Casa-Mia Lounge & Restaurant (219 18th Ave. 815-434-0758) may be one of the best kept secrets in Ottawa. For good old fashioned, heart-stopping steaks, prime prime rib, and martinis made by a consummate pro, this is the place to really kick it old school.
After you've sampled Ottawa's many fine food establishments, check out some of the local bars, most of which serve food just in case you're still hungry. Shakers Lounge (121 W. Stevenson Rd. 815-433-2110) offers pizza, nachos, burgers, cheap beer, daily drink specials, karaoke, and carryout. What more could you ask for in a friendly neighborhood lounge? Live music, you say? No problem, Shakers has it all. There’s really no need to go anywhere else for evening entertainment and revelry, but Ottawans who want a change of scenery every now and again can head over to the biker-friendly J J's Pub (104 W Main St, 815-431-1816) or stop in for a delicious Berta burger at Bertas Pub (616 Clinton St, 815-434-6797).
For fashions at an affordable price, Ottawa area residents know a good deal when they find one and that's usually at Budget Boutique (525 W Madison St, 815-433-5680). This local resale shop has something for everyone. Not into thrifting for hidden gems? For new fashions fresh off the rack, try Bell's Clothing (603 LaSalle St, 815-434-4854). While out on a spree, shoppers can tap into a more intellectual pursuit with a trip to Book Mouse (820 LaSalle St, 815-433-7323). This locally owned and operated independent store is a great source for all manner of published material from new book releases to magazines and greeting cards. No, there is not an actual book mouse on hand, but the owners do have a pet chinchilla and that's pretty darn close. Gramma's Attic Antique Mall (219 W Main St, 815-434-7332) is a quirky store with down home charm that offers much more than an attic-full grandma's old trinkets and memorabilia. This is a four-floor establishment with everything and anything you can think of, from glassware to pottery to collectibles.
Riverfest is Ottawa's annual summer celebration. The festival is held the last weekend of July and features live music, an outdoor market, a carnival, a parade, and fireworks that all take place on the riverbank of Ottawa’s beautiful downtown.
Ottawa is quite far from the City of Chicago (at least and hour and a half drive) to the Loop. However, its distance from bustling metropolitan life is appreciated by most Ottawa citizens, who enjoy the small town existence. Since Ottawa is situated directly off the I-80 expressway, it is easy to travel to downtown via I-80 to the Stevenson (I-55) to the Dan Ryan (I-90/94).
Locally, La Salle, Columbus and State streets are the main thoroughfares that bisect Ottawa going north/south with Main and Madison streets running east/west through the center of town. Other major roads include Norris Street (on the north side of the community) and the Illinois River Road-Route of the Voyagers, which follows the southern river bank and connects with State Street (also known as IL-23).