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Ottawa is a city located on the Illinois River, in LaSalle Countymarker, Illinoismarker, USAmarker. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 18,307. It is the county seat of LaSalle Countymarker and it is part of the Ottawa-Streator Micropolitan Statistical Area, which was the 259th-most populous area in the United Statesmarker in 2007.


La Salle Street c.
Ottawa was the site of the first of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. During the Ottawa debate Stephen A. Douglas, leader of the Democratic Party, openly accused Abraham Lincoln of forming a secret bipartisan group of Congressmen to bring about the abolition of slavery.

The John Hossack Housemarker was a "station" on the Underground Railroad; Ottawa being a major stop, because of its rail, road and river transportation. Citizens in the city were active within the abolitionist movement. Ottawa was the site of a famous 1859 abduction, of a runaway slave named Jim Gray, from its courthouse by prominent civic leaders of the time. Three of the civic leaders, John Hossack, Dr. Joseph Stout and James Stout, later stood trial in Chicago for violating the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Ottawa was also important in the development of the Illinois and Michigan Canalmarker, which terminates in LaSalle, Illinoismarker, 12 miles to the west. The canal linked the Mississippi River to Chicagomarker and Lake Michiganmarker, in the 19th century.

On February 8, 1910, William Dickson Boyce, then a resident of Ottawa, incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. Five years later, also in Ottawa, Boyce incorporated the Lone Scouts of America. Boyce is buried in Ottawa Avenue Cemeterymarker. The Ottawa Scouting Museum, on Canal Street, opened to the public on December 6, 1997. The museum features the history of Boy Scouting, Girl Scouting and Camp Fire.

In 1922 The Radium Dial Company (RDC) moved from Peru, Illinoismarker to a former high school building in Ottawa. The company employed hundreds of young women who painted watch dials using a paint called "Luna" for watch maker Westclox. RDC went out of business in 1936 two years after the companies president, Joseph Kelly Sr., left to startup a competing company, Luminous Processes Inc. a few blocks away.


Because of numerous silica sand deposits (Ottawa sand was on board the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle for experimental purposes) Ottawa has been a major sand and glass center for more than 100 years. One of its largest employers is Pilkington Glass works, a successor to LOF (Libbey Owens Ford). Formerly concentrated in automotive glass, the plant now manufactures specialty glass and is undergoing a $50 million renovation in 2006. Ottawa sand continues to be extracted from several quarries in the area, and is recognized in glass-making and abrasives for its uniform granularity and characteristics.

Sabic recently purchased GE Plastics, a successor to Borg Warner automotive glass manufacture, operates a large plastics facility in Ottawa, and is a major employer.


As of the 2000 census, there were 18,307 people, 7,510 households and 4,889 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,497.9 people per square mile (964.3/km²). There were 8,030 housing units, at an average density of 1,095.6/sq mi (423.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.26% White, 1.37% African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.83% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.93% from other races and 1.39% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.21% of the population.

There were 7,510 households out of which 31.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.4% were married couples living together, 11.7% had a female householder with no husband present and 34.9% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.2% had someone living alone, who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the city, the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 28.2% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64 and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $36,513 and the median income for a family was $44,435. Males had a median income of $41,943 versus $22,041 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,426. About 9.8% of families and 11.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.8% of those under age 18 and 7.0% of those age 65 or over.


The county seat of LaSalle Countymarker, one of Illinois' largest counties by area, Ottawa is at the heart of corn and soybean farming in North Central Illinois. It is also the site of the Third Appellate District Court for Northern Illinois, and has many historic homes and registered historic landmarks. Recent additions to Ottawa have included renovations to its historic mansion, the Reddick Mansion, and artistic murals throughout the central business district. Several Ottawa businesses have conducted historic renovations of central business properties. Ottawa is known as the scenic gateway to Starved Rock State Parkmarker, the most popular state park in Illinois, with some 2 million visitors per year. The Fox River, which flows through communities like Elginmarker and Auroramarker empties into the Illinois in downtown Ottawa. Ottawa is also home to one of the largest skydiving operations in the country, Skydive Chicago.

Sites of interest

Radium City Documentary

In 1986 documentary film maker Carole Langer that covered the plight of the so called “Radium Girls” who worked in the watch dial industry. The women, who had been told the paint was harmless, ingested deadly amounts of radium after being instructed to lick their paintbrushes to sharpen them; some even painted their fingernails with the glowing paint.Many of the women began to suffer from anemia, bone fractures and necrosis of the jaw, a condition now known as radium jaw. Many of these women died young.

The documentary interviews survivors from the industrial tragedy who relate their experiences of the poisoning and the bureaucratic nightmare they were forced to contend with in seeking compensation and justice.Radium City outlines the aftermath of these events with a focus on the social and political consequences as well as the medical ones.

According to the film, after the Radium Dial workers began to get sick, a lawsuit was brought against Radium Dial Company. With the looming lawsuit, it closed and then re-opened under the name Luminous Processes in another part of town. The workers, though more concerned, kept on working.

The film shows the dismantling of the High School were the Radium Dial Company was housed. The building materials were eventually turned into landfill. However, the town's efforts to dispose of radioactive waste were largely ineffectual. Careless hosing down of the factory sites contaminated the town’s water supply[17032], which is still contaminated in 2009.

After the plant closed and before it was dismantled many residents took items from the factory for their homes. This spread the contamination even further.

Areas still impacted by Radiation

Several areas of Ottawa are still radioactive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study[17033] outlining areas where contamination by radium-226 (Ra-226) as well as emissions of radon-222 (Rn-222) are at above normal levels. These areas include homes, public areas, schools, and even a car sales lot that is housed directly over the old Radium Dial Company site.

Notable residents

Statues of Lincoln and Douglas

See also

Fisher-Nash-Griggs House


External links

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