Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mulford History

In September of 1836, one of Evanston's first permanent settlers arrived, traveling along the Green Bay Trail. The Green Bay Trail started from what is now Rush Street and ran along the ridge (now known as Ridge Avenue in Evanston).  His name was Mr. Edward Mulford. Mulford had come west at the age of 42 to engage in the jewelry business with his sons.  He had planned to continue further westward but as he stood on the ridge and looked down onto the land surrounding Lake Michigan he decided to settle on top of the “ridge”. 

Copy of the land grant to Mulford signed by President John Tyler

Edward Mulford bought his two sections of government land (160 acres) at the usual price of $1.25 an acre and named this area Ridgeville. Mulford built a log house on the west side of the ridge opposite of where Calvary Cemetery now stands. At that time, there was nothing located between these two areas; although, they were some distance away, and most of the land between was a swamp.  After a few years, the Mulfords built a larger house across the street on the east side where St. Francis Hospital now stands. This was called the Ten-Mile House and Tavern because it was located ten miles from the Chicago courthouse on the Green Bay Trail. The Ten-Mile House was a stage stop and it was there that Mulford started Ridgeville’s first Post Office, which carried mail by foot until 1836 when the Green Bay Trail Stagecoach Line was established. Later the Post Office was moved to approximately where the main Post Office now stands. Pioneers from all over stopped at Mulford’s Ten-Mile House. Mulford had the foresight to see that people would be attracted to the area he called Ridgeville and that it would become an important settlement and stopping place. Mulford would stand by his front door and point out to his neighbors the probable route of a train that he felt would soon come to Ridgeville. People often laughed at his prediction because he had pointed to the swamp; yet this is almost precisely where the first railway was placed. Although the town grew up alongside the railroad, during the wet season, the swamp expanded and after the first school was built on the corner of Ridge and Greenleaf in 1842, children often had to use rafts and boats to get to school during the wet parts of the year. 

Ridgeville was the first name given to the station by the railway company. Mulford was Ridgeville’s first white settler, first post master, first justice of the peace, first Deacon of the Baptist Church, and the first to call the ridge “Ridgeville”, and make the name stick. Mulford lived in his second house for ten years during which time he began construction of his third and final house. His third house was located on the west side of Ridge Avenue just slightly south of where he built his first house and it housed three generations of Mulfords. It was Evanston’s first two-story frame house, and he called his estate Oakton.  Mulford sold his Ten-Mile House to James Kirk and it later became the James Kirk Mansion, which became Saint Francis Hospital. Mulford’s house at 250 Ridge Avenue stood until 1963. In 1963, this historic Evanston landmark was torn down by the Dunbar Builders Company to enable them to build Evanston’s first condominium. Parts of this house were saved and given to the Evanston Historical Society, but the house itself, Evanston’s first frame house and the home of Ridgeville’s, and subsequently Evanston’s, founder, was destroyed. 

In 1857, the General Assembly of Illinois, by special act, incorporated Ridgeville into Evanston and the name of the Post Office was changed from Ridgeville to Evanston. In 1939, the Ridgeville Park District was formed to serve the needs of the people of South Evanston, taking the name of Ridgeville in commemoration to Evanston’s first and oldest community. 

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