Ottawa and South Ottawa are so connected in their early settlement, that it is impossible to intelligently separate their history; in fact, the town and business were first established on the south bank of the river, and remained there till 1837-8. The stages which ran from Chicago to Peoria, through Ottawa, crossed the river by the ferry which ran from the point above the Fox to the south side, and very few of those who passed through or visited Ottawa before the summer of 1836, ever set foot on the present site of Ottawa, below the Fox. The commanding geographical position of Ottawa ; the surpassing beauty of its location, in one of the most picturesque and romantic valleys of the West, bounded on the north and south by the lofty wooded bluffs, which extend in gentle sloping undulations on either side of the broad open valley, both east and west, till they mingle with the horizon ; while the clear and sparkling waters of the Fox, from the cooler northern region of Wisconsin, breaking abruptly through the north bluff, join the broad and placid Illinois in the centre of what is now the city, together forming a picture which, viewed from either bluff, makes an impression on the beholder not easily effaced-rendered it natural that the emigrant should be attracted to this locality first, and that many, as was the case, should stop here temporarily, who eventually settled in other parts of the county and other parts of the West.
Ottawa was early, and almost from its first inception, designated as a county seat, and its growth and importance were somewhat dependent on the size of the county of which it was to be the centre. The territory embraced in the first organization of the county, which was equal in extent to some of the Eastern States, had to be divided and set off into counties, as the population extended and their wants required. To watch this process, and see that it was judiciously done, and to preserve intact a large and influential county, of which Ottawa was to be, in size, business, and wealth, the fit representative, was for years the self-imposed duty and labor of the principal citizens of the place. Many were the caucuses held and pilgrimages made to confer with other localities within the county limits, to arrange for the common interest, and to cut off just enough to leave a large county, but not enough to be again divided. These efforts were successful, and the result has been the largest, most populous, and wealthy county in the State, except Cook, and that gains precedence only by having the city of Chicago within it. Ottawa has never had a mushroom growth, like some towns ; its progress has been slow but steady, and the business has not been overdone. Before the building of the railroads, as a grain market it probably was not surpassed in the State. It handled as high as four million bushels of grain in a year, while it now handles scarcely more than one-fourth of that. The building of the railroads, which commenced about 1850, has divided the grain business among the many little prairie stations which have sprung up along the lines of road. But while the handling of grain as a business has radically decreased, the growth of the city has not been stayed. Its future evidently does not depend on the number of bushels of corn and oats that will pass through it, or on the retail trade, although both will be important items. Its facilities for cheap shipment by canal, both for export of grain, and import of lumber, salt, and other heavy articles, will give a decided advantage over railroad transportation. Its future lies in a higher sphere-manufacturing, the wholesale trade, and the finer and higher priced retail business. Those numerous towns that have crippled the trade of Ottawa will be but customers for the business that Ottawa will finally pursue.
[Source: History of LaSalle County, Illinois by Elmer Baldwin, Chicago, Rand, McNally & Co., Printers, 1877, SKETCH OF THE PIONEER SETTLERS OF EACH TOWN IN THE COUNTY, Page 223-224 - Transcribed by Nancy Piper]