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A Story of Ridgeville


Ridgeville, originally called Gross Point, was forestland, swampland and marsh. This area was first inhabited by the Indians. It was a perfect site for settling because it was on Lake Michigan and had the Chicago River for transportation. It had a high ridge (now known as Ridge Avenue) for settling and was a rich hunting ground. The locality was known as Gross Point by the Indians, years before any settlers arrived. East of what we now know as Ridge Avenue was all swampland, so the Indians and settlers inhabited an area commonly called “The Ridge” which was high ground and the beginning of drier lands to the west.

The six nations of the Iroquois Indians occupied the territory around Lake Michigan and up to Green Bay, Wisconsin which was occupied almost entirely by the Winnebagoes. Much of Illinois was occupied by the Algonquin tribe and the Evanston and Chicago area was occupied by the Pottowatomie and Illinois Indians. In September of 1673, the first white visitors came to this area from Green Bay, Wisconsin, along the old Green Bay trail. In November of 1664, Marquette and a band of Pottowatomie and Illinois Indians traveled from Green Bay to Marquette’s mission in Evanston, but they did not stay. This mission was approximately where the Evanston lighthouse is presently located.

A series of five treaties began in an effort to purchase the land. The fifth treaty was the final treaty of Chicago and was drawn up on September 26, 1833. The treaty provided for the resettlement of the Indians on lands west of the Mississippi River. Due to this treaty, the Potowatomies began moving further west. In 1833 the settlers began to move into the land formerly occupied by the Pottowatomies, who lived in Gross Point. In 1836 the Black Hawk war took place and the Black Hawk treaty resulted. Then the Indians began a major exodus westward. After 1836 Gross Point and the lands around Lake Michigan were opened up for new settlers.

In September of 1836, one of these first settlers arrived, traveling along the Green Bay Trail. His name was Mr. Edward Mulford who was to become one of Evanston’s permanent settlers. Mulford planned to continue further westward but as he stood on the ridge and looked down onto the beautiful land surrounding Lake Michigan he decided to settle on top of the “ridge”. Mulford foresaw that this area along the Green Bay Trail would soon be a bustling community and a gateway to land further west.

The Green Bay Trail opened as a military road between Chicago and Green Bay in 1832 before coming into widespread use. Before 1832, it was an important trail to the Indians and after 1832, it became even more important to the settlers. Mail was carried on foot along the Green Bay Trail until 1836 when the Green Bay Trail Stagecoach Line was established. Mulford was very instrumental in furthering the use of this trail because of his Ten-Mile House and the Post Office he opened up. The Green Bay Trail started from what is now Rush Street and ran along the ridge (now known as Ridge Avenue in Evanston). There has been some dispute as to its exact path, but the closest estimate is that at high water the Green Bay Trail ran along Ridge Avenue, and at low water, it ran along what we now know as Clark Street in Chicago or Chicago Avenue in Evanston. In 1854, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was opened and ran along much the same lines as the Green Bay Trail to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

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. Because of the frogtown swamp, the cemetery was only visible from Mulford’s house when the water was at its lowest. Mr. Edward Mulford had come west at the age of 42 to engage in the jewelry business with his sons. Mulford bought his two sections of government land at the usual price of $1.25 an acre and named this area Ridgeville. 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 Stagecoach route. The Ten-Mile House was a stage stop and it was there that Mulford started Ridgeville’s first Post Office. 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 an iron horse that he felt would soon come to Ridgeville. People often laughed at his prediction because he had the iron horse located east of the ridge in “Frogtown”; yet this is almost precisely where the first railway like was placed. The people of the ridge called everything east of the ridge and to the lake “Frogtown” because it was mainly marsh and swamp and at night when people would sit on their front porches they could barely hear each other talk for the croaking of the frogs. In the wet season, Frogtown 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 Calvary 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. 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. The name Ridgeville first officially appeared in 1850. Ridgeville’s first election was held on April 2, 1850 with 93 votes being cast. Ridgeville’s first town assessment took place in 1853, estimating the value of the property at $6,000.00 Among the names of Ridgeville’s first residents were: General Huntoon, Eli Gaffield, William Foster, Paul Pratt and his wife and O.A. Crain.

In 1851 the population of Chicago was 28,000 and that of Ridgeville was 443, which was approximately eleven persons per square mile.

In 1857, the General Assembly of Illinois, by special act, provided that the township of Evanston consist of all township 41, range 14 (Ridgeville) and one mile out of township 41, range 13 (Niles). Thus Ridgeville became Evanston and the name of the Post Office was changed from Ridgeville to Evanston.

Evanston was named for John Evans, born in Waynesville, Ohio of Quaker ancestry on March 10, 1814. There are three towns named after John Evans, the other two being in Indiana and Ohio. John Evans was one of the founders of Northwestern University and served on the Chicago City Council for a number of years. The land that became the City of Evanston was purchased by the University. On December 29, 1863, the territory south of Foster, east of Wesley and north of Crain and Hamilton Streets became an incorporated town under general law. This was the first municipality within the limits of the town of Evanston.

In March, 1869, an act was passed by the legislature which would have made Evanston a city; however, it was voted down by the people. On October 19, 1872, the voters adopted the village ordinances and it wasn’t until later that Evanston would adopt the ordinance for the city. When Ridgeville was first started it was started as a settlement and a name for an area. Even Ridgeville was incorporated it was incorporated as a township and it was called township 41. A township means an area of land that has been named; a town is a named conglomeration of people organized in a certain way. Although in 1857 the law called for Ridgeville to become part of the town of Evanston there has long been confusion as to when and how Ridgeville became Evanston. This is probably due to two main factors:

First, there is evidence that as late as 1902, residents of the area known as Ridgeville still considered themselves Ridgeville residents and considered Evanston to be the land purchased by the Northwestern University.

The second major factor is that for a few years prior to 1914, the City of Evanston had compressed a portion of Evanston and Ridgeville and considered them a separate town under the name of Ridgeville. It caused a great deal of confusion when combined with the fact that there are very few clear records which explain the events that took place over this period of years. In July, 1916, a resolution was passed making three separate townships, or named areas of land, and that these townships, one of them being Ridgeville, become part of the township of the City of 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.