Originally known as the Potowatomi Trace, the 85-mile route was formally established in 1831. At the time, stagecoach connections were key for travelers since Ottawa and Peru were as far as riverboats could come up the Illinois River.
Later, there were other options. By 1848 the Illinois & Michigan Canal opened and in a few more years the railroad arrived.
Actually, the trail heading west from Chicago to Ottawa split in DuPage County and then rejoined just north of Ottawa on today’s Illinois Route 71.
“The most obvious and easiest one to travel today is Route 71, which follows what was the western branch of the Chicago to Ottawa Trail,” said Roger Matile, author of “By Trace and Trail: The Stagecoach Era in Northern Illinois.”
Going north on Route 71 from Ottawa will take a traveler through Newark to Oswego. There, Route 71 becomes Route 34, and, heading east, terminates in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, near the Ottawa Trail Woods Forest Preserve.
“It's a little more difficult to follow the old main route, the High Prairie Trail, because some portions of it have been vacated over the years as townships and counties moved roads to follow section lines instead of cutting across country,” Matile said. “But there are still sections from Plainfield through Plattville to Lisbon and Ottawa you can follow on a good map.”
From Lisbon to Ottawa the old High Prairie Trail is composed of blacktop and gravel roads.