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Herma Clark

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Herma Clark
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Hossack House in Ottawa, Illinois.]

John Hossack House, Ottawa, Built 1854.

 p158  Home of an Abolitionist Leader

One of the famous abolitionists in northern Illinois was John Hossack, who used his house in Ottawa as a station of the Underground Railway. Because of this, the Hossack house has become a historic landmark and shares interest among sight-seers with several other historic dwellings in Ottawa, notably the homes of General W. H. L. Wallace, and State Senator William Reddick.

But the Hossack house is of interest for other reasons than its association with the abolitionist cause. Not only was the owner of the residence a leader in the antislavery movement but he was an influential grain dealer of the Illinois River Valley and the maternal grandfather of three men who became well-known Chicago merchants. The house, too, appeals to architectural students, since it is an example of the Southern Colonial style of domestic building, one of the several styles which prevailed in Illinois during the 1840's and '50's.

According to data compiled by the Historic American Buildings Survey, John Hossack built his residence in 1854 and 1855. The architect was Sylvannus Grow, of Chicago, and the builder was Alonzo Edwards. The present address of the house is 210 West Prospect Avenue. Here John Hossack lived as an influential citizen of the Illinois River city and here he reared his family.

"The memory of Hossack," writes C. C. Tisler in his interesting booklet, Lincoln's in Town, which deals with Lincoln's visits to Ottawa, "lives on in the hearts of those who love freedom, who hate tyranny and who have the courage to defy the law if they consider it unjust, rather than submit supinely. His courage led him to defy the Fugitive Slave Law in 1859 by aiding escaped Negro slaves, so that he was jailed and fined in Federal Court in Chicago, in 1860, along with other Ottawans. The confinement was nominal. City officials took them riding and gave a banquet for them. The jailing of men and within for defying the Fugitive Slave Law was not popular in the North in 1859 and 1860."

There is a story current in Ottawa that Abraham Lincoln was a visitor in the Hossack house but Lincoln scholars have not been able to prove this. It is certain, however, that John Hossack was present on that August day in 1858 when Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas staged the first of their historic joint debates in Ottawa. During the Civil War, one of John Hossack's sons, Henry Lens Hossack, headed a company of soldiers he raised himself and, after the war, was active in Grand Army of the Republic affairs. He was also a leading Ottawa merchant.

 p159  After the death of John Hossack, the house on Prospect Avenue was occupied by his son-in‑law and daughter, Mr. & Mrs. John Edwin Scott. During this time, John Edwin Scott conducted a dry goods store in Ottawa. He later moved up to Chicago and became the first partner of Samuel Carson and John T. Pirie in the owner­ship of a dry goods store, well known today as Carson Pirie Scott & Co. Two of John Scott's sons, Robert L. and Frederick H., are members of the department store firm.

The old Hossack house, with its typical two‑story Southern-style gallery and its spacious mid-Victorian rooms, is now the home of Mr. & Mrs. Thomas R. Godfrey. He is a well-known Ottawa real-estate man. White painted, well preserved, and surrounded by attractive shrubbery, it is easily distinguishable as one of the city's landmarks.

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07