The name derives from the Ottawa tribe of Indians, on whose reservation the city was laid out. In the spring of 1864, title to the land was obtained from the tribe through treaty connected to the founding of Ottawa University, the Ottawa having donated 20,000 acres of land to establish and fund a school for the education of Indians and non-Indians alike. The word Ottawa itself means “to trade”. In 1867, the Ottawa tribe sold their remaining land in Kansas and moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
On the last day of March, 1864, J.C. Richmond built the first non-Indian settlement in the new town, at the corner of Walnut and First streets.
2021082800009 Old Train Depot 1888
2021082800007 Old Train Depot 1888
2021082100019 Ottawa, KS Franklin County Courthouse 1893
2021082100021 Ottawa, KS Franklin County Courthouse 1893
Ottawa has a history of flooding because of its location straddling the Marais Des Cygnes river. The area's first recorded flood was the Great Flood of 1844. In 1928, a flood crested at 38.65 feet and killed six people. Other flood years include 1904, when water crested at 36 feet and ran to a man's shoulders in the Santa Fe depot; 1909, cresting at 36.3 feet (11.1 m); 1915, cresting at 31 feet (9.4 m), and 1944, cresting at 36.5 feet (11.1 m).
However, it is the Great Flood of 1951 which is the most famous. It was about five inches higher than the 1928 flood. The flood of 1951 affected much of Missouri and Kansas and 41 people died. One-third of Ottawa was covered because of this flood.
It is unlikely Ottawa will suffer major damage due to a flood again thanks to a series of levees and pumping stations built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, which is part of a larger system of flood systems to regulate the Marais Des Cygnes River to the Missouri River. The levees built along the river are inspected on an annual basis to insure their quality.
2021082800030 Ottawa Carnegie Library 1903
2021082800031 Ottawa Carnegie Library 1903
In 1943, German and Italian prisoners of World War II were brought to Kansas and other Midwest states to help solve the labor shortage caused by American men serving in the war. Large internment camps were established in Kansas: Camp Concordia, Camp Funston (at Fort Riley), Camp Phillips (at Salina under Fort Riley). Fort Riley established 12 smaller branch camps, including Ottawa.