Pioneer of the Midwest
Stacker of corn
Player with Canals and Ottawa’s Bridges
Generous, honest, leading
Man of the Big Shoulders
Carl Sandburg’s poem "Chicago”
written by RMA Board Member
Glassmaker, farmer, statesman, businessman, and philanthropist – all of these terms describe William Reddick, one of early Ottawa’s most prominent citizens. His journey to the respected position he holds in the history of Ottawa is a classic of American tradition.
William Reddick was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1812 to James and Bessie Reddick. In 1816, James Reddick brought his family to America and settled in the East.
With little formal education, William went to work as a teenager in the glass-making trade in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, where he eventually met and married Eliza Jane Collins, who was to be his life partner for over 50 years.
A new adventure took William and Eliza to Illinois in 1835, where they had purchased 400 acres of prime farmland at $1.25 an acre in LaSalle County. By 1838, however, William had taken on a new challenge as the sheriff of the county, a position he held until 1846. His terms as sheriff coincided with the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
This was not to be the end of Reddick’s foray into politics. He was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1846 and again in 1870. A staunch Democrat, he remained very active in the Democratic Party organization in northern Illinois all of his life.
In 1855, perhaps with an eye to the governorship of Illinois, he commissioned Olmsted and Nicholson, two Chicago architects, to build a home across the street from Washington Square. Construction was completed in 1858 in time for people to witness the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate from its front stairway and its balconies. Reddick sat on the speakers’ platform with Stephen Douglas during the debate.
William Reddick was also well-known in the business community being involved in several businesses. He also continued to expand his land holdings in LaSalle County, as well in other states. It was through these activities that he amassed a considerable fortune, reported to have been $300,000 in 1877.
Reddick’s wife, Eliza, passed away in 1883, and he followed two years later on March 8, 1885. As word of his death spread rapidly throughout Ottawa, flags were lowered to half-mast. Dignitaries from around the state marched in his funeral procession. The Reddicks’ adopted daughter, Elizabeth Funk Reddick, died in 1887. Within a span of four years, the William Reddick family ceased to exist.
Always a believer in the importance of a good education, William Reddick willed his home to the public to be used as a “free reading room.” From 1888 to 1975, the Reddick Mansion was known as the Reddick Library. Today, his generosity continues to be honored as the current library still bears his name.
Click here for a genealogy report of the descendants of James Reddick, Sr.
(PDF file size is 1471 KB and is 100 pages)
Click here for an account of Eliza Collins Reddick’s life.
Click here for an account of Elizabeth Funk Reddick’s life.