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John Hossack

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.

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William Reddick
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 Wallace House in Ottawa, Illinois.]

W. H. L. Wallace House, Ottawa, Built 1858.

 p160  On the North Bluff

Although a monument in honor of General W. H. L. Wallace, one of Illinois' great Civil War commanders, stands in Tennessee on the spot where he fell mortally wounded during the Battle of Shiloh, his memory is much more effectively recalled by a landmark in the northern part of the state of his adoption. This is the general's home, a spacious stone residence on a bluff north of Ottawa. It is now a historic shrine, owned and maintained by the state, and annually visited by hundreds of sight-seers and students of the Civil War.

The Wallace home has of late attracted the attention of architectural historians as well as specialists in the field of pioneer American interior design. Its stone exterior contains evidences of Gothic ornamentation, a style which was beginning to appear in America in the late 1850's, and its interior, with its original Wallace furnishings and bric-a‑brac, is representative of the homes of the upper class during the Civil War period.

This dwelling is of interest, too, to Lincoln scholars. General Wallace, who also was a lawyer, was one of Lincoln's friends and strong supporters. Among exhibits in this house are the bed in which Lincoln is said to have slept, the checkerboard on which he played, and his favorite chair. These, possibly, may have come from the near-by mansions of Judge T. Lyle Dickey, father-in‑law of Wallace, who also was a close friend of Lincoln's but was his political antagonist. Lincoln is known to have visited the Dickeys at various times — conceivably he took much interest in the construction of the Wallace home which started in 1858 and continued for two years. Other exhibits in the Wallace house include a beautiful dress General Wallace gave his wife when Lincoln was elected President.

It was shortly before this incident that the stone house on the North Bluff was completed at a cost of $25,000. The house was supplied with fine walnut furniture and other household articles which Mrs. Wallace purchased in Boston. As it stood on an estate of four acres shaded by stately oaks, the Wallaces promptly called their place "The Oaks."

Although General Wallace attained his greatest fame in the Civil War, which opened only a year after his mansion on the Ottawa bluff was completed, it was not his first encounter with the grim ways of warfare. For he had earlier served in the Mexican War, taking part in the Battle of Buena Vista and several other engagements. There he became adjutant with a rank of second lieutenant. When the war ended he returned  p161 to Illinois, once more took up the practice of law, and in 1852 was elected state's attorney.

A native of Urbana, Ohio, where he was born July 8, 1821, William Hervey Lamb Wallace was brought to Illinois by his parents when he was eleven years old. He received a common school education, studied law, and was admitted to practice in 1845. He made his way to Ottawa, then a lively river town, and here he married a daughter of T. Lyle Dickey, an attorney who became a justice of the State Supreme Court and, as a colonel in the Civil War, served as commander of cavalry on the staff of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant.

When the Civil War started and his friend President Lincoln issued a call for troops, William Wallace promptly enlisted and was appointed colonel of the 11th Illinois Regiment of volunteers. Into the conflict he carried with him a flag presented to the regiment by the ladies of Ottawa — and which now is on exhibition in this house. As commander of the 2d Division, Army of the Tennessee, Brigadier General Wallace was  p162 mortally wounded on April 6, 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh. He died at Savannah, Tennessee, on April 10, 1862.

The general is buried in the family cemetery on the grounds of his estate on the North Bluff. His widow and daughter, Isabel, continued to occupy The Oaks for many years after his death. Mrs. Wallace died in 1889. In 1909 the general's daughter completed and published a biographical volume, Life and Letters of Gen. W. H. L. Wallace. After Isabel Wallace's death in 1933, a movement to have the state purchase the house for a historic shrine was started by the late State Representative Edward G. Hayne, of Ottawa. He attained his objective in 1940.

The house is a square, two‑story dwelling of rough-faced limestone. It contains twelve large rooms, eight of which have marble fireplaces. All rooms are outfitted with the original Wallace furnishings — elegant walnut tables, chairs, chests, beds, and a grand piano purchased in 1850. Side lights of colored glass at the front entrance depict scenes of Chicago as it appeared a hundred years ago.

In such surroundings, the visitor may view a large collection of relics, souvenirs, curios and trophies associated with early Illinois history, the Mexican and Civil Wars, and with General Wallace, President Lincoln, General Grant, Colonel Dickey, and other figures of the state's and the country's past.

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Page updated: 27 Nov 10