Friday, January 20, 2017

Lost Towns of Illinois - Grosse Pointe and Ridgevill, Illinois.

The first known European visitors to what would become Chicago’s far Northside were French voyageurs. They referred to the area, encompassing what would become Rogers Park and Evanston, as 'Grosse Pointe (also spelled Gross Point),' after the large point of land now marked by the 'Grosse Point Lighthouse.' The French explored the shoreline but did not attempt colonization.

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 Winnebago’s. Much of Illinois was occupied by the Algonquin tribe and the Evanston and Chicago area was occupied by the Potawatomi and Illiniwek.

In November of 1664, Marquette and a band of Potawatomi and Illinois Indians traveled from Green Bay to 
Jacques Marquette’s mission in what would become Evanston, but they did not stay. This mission was approximately where the Grosse Point Lighthouse in Evanston is presently located.
In September of 1673, the first white visitors came to this area, then in the Illinois Country, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, along the old Green Bay Trail.

After the War of 1812, the United States acquired the French lands around Lake Michigan, a part of the Illinois Territory, and Grosse Pointe was informally named Grosse Pointe Territory.

Antoine Ouilmette was the first settler of what would become Evanston and Wilmette in 1826.

A series of five treaties began in an effort to purchase the land. The fifth treaty, the 1833 Treaty of Chicago was the final treaty 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 Potawatomi began moving further west. In 1833 the settlers began to move into the land formerly occupied by the Potawatomi, who lived in Grosse Pointe.

In 1832 the Black Hawk War took place and the Black Hawk treaty resulted. Then the Indians began a major exodus westward. After 1836 Grosse Pointe and the lands around Lake Michigan were opened up for new settlers.

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 Frink & Walker’s General Stage Coach established the Green Bay Trail. Mulford was very instrumental in furthering the use of this trail because of his Ten-Mile House and the Post Office he opened up.

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 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 - known as "No Man's Land." 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 full sections of government land at the usual price of $1.25 an acre and named this area Ridgevill [commonly spelled Ridgeville].

After a few years, the Mulford's built a larger house across the street on the east side where Saint Francis Hospital now stands.

The Ten-Mile House and Tavern (aka Mulford Tavern) got its name 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 Evanston 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 was placed. The people of the ridge called everything east of the ridge and to Lake Michigan “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 postmaster, 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.
James Kirk Mansion, Ridgeville, Illinois.
Mulford sold his Ten-Mile House to James Kirk and it later became the James Kirk Mansion, which became Saint Francis Hospital. On December 3, 1900, Monsignor Biermann bought the Old Kirk Homestead and grounds for $35,000. In 1867, John Kirk, founder of the Proctor and Gamble Company built the "Kirk Mansion" which later became Evanston's first hospital. The doors of Saint Francis Hospital opened on January 1, 1901.

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.

The 1850 census shows 443 settlers in this township (the population of Chicago at that time was about 28,000), which was approximately eleven persons per square mile. A post office with the name of Ridgeville was established at one of the taverns. However, no municipality existed yet.

On February 15, 1857, the General Assembly of Illinois, by special act, provided that the township of Evanston consists of all township 41, range 14 (Ridgeville) and one mile out of township 41, range 13 (Niles). Thus Grosse Pointe and Ridgevill became parts of Evanston and Wilmette. 
The Post Office was changed from Ridgeville to Evanston.

Evanston was named for Dr. 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, who was one of the seven Methodists that founded Northwestern University, and served on the Chicago City Council for a number of years. This was because the original person that the other six wanted to name the town for, Orrington Lunt, did not want his name on the town. Furthermore, neither Lunt nor his brother, Stephen Purrington Lunt lived in Evanston.

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 of 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.
Ridgeville Fountain Square, 1889
In July of 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.

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 original purchase of land in Grosse Pointe (the original name of the area), part of which was to become Rogers Park and West Ridge, was bought by 24-year-old Philip McGregor Rogers in 1836. Rogers, an Irishman who was raised on the frontier near Watertown, N.Y., came to the Town of Chicago in 1834; his brother, unimpressed with the area, moved a little further west. Philip stayed and married a widow, Mary Ward Masterson Hickey, who had extensive landholdings in what is now Edgewater. He bought the first 600 acres of what would grow to be 1,600 acres by the time of his death in 1856. He built a log cabin and established an orchard and vegetable farm that he sold to the Chicago market. He cleared the woodland, supplying lumber and fuel (charcoal) to the growing metropolis.

The next predominant group of settlers was families from the West Rhine area of Germany (now Rhineland-Palatinate). Many emigrated in the early 1840s, seeking relief from the repressive anti-revolutionary measures implemented by the newly formed German Confederation, after years of being on the front lines of the Napoleonic Wars.

These farmers from the fertile Rhine Valley shared a proud cultural history, dating from the Roman Empire. They were largely Roman Catholic, literate, with at least a basic education, and extremely loyal and diligent in service to their local community, and especially to their close-knit extended family community.

Taking advantage of a government sale of inexpensive land in the early 1840s that was largely cleared and offered access to a growing market, several families purchased modest tracts of land in Ridgeville. Initially, their farming of fruit and vegetable crops were restricted to the high ground on top of The Ridge (roughly from present-day Ridge Boulevard to Western Avenue), constrained by marshland to the east and seasonal flooding from the tributary of the Chicago River to the west.

In the late 1840s through the 1870s, another group of immigrants arrived from the independent Duchy of Luxembourg, which had been recently dramatically partitioned and faced economic strains from the years of war. Culturally similar, these early families intermarried and shared resources as they built the new community of Ridgeville.

Life was difficult for these early settlers; there were no water or sanitation services, only three unpaved roads, no direct access to Lake Michigan, and no local stores, church, or schools until St. Henry Church was founded in 1851. Many farmers, or often their wives, walked or drove a wagon the 9 miles each way to take their produce to the market in downtown Chicago.
The Northwest corner of Devon and Western Avenues in the West Ridge community of Chicago in 1913.

This is Devon Avenue in 1914 looking east from the east side of Western Avenue in the West Ridge community of Chicago. The people were walking from Angel Guardian's Church (steeple is barely visible in the background on the far right-hand side, just above the tree line) back to a truck farm on the SW corner of Rockwell and Devon.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Incredible reading! The Ridgeville Fountain Square photo: Is that what became Fountain Square in downtown Evanston? Also, the area we commonly call West Rogers Park, including Indian Boundary Park, is it still formally and (legally) called West Ridge? When my family moved to 2639 W. Estes, right down the block from Indian Boundary in 1958, my parents and I were told it was West Rogers Park and there seemed to be some kind of (legal) disputes as to which name the area should have been referred to for many years. My last question, Neil, is there was a growing commodity Black Settlers, in Evanston, that I beiwere isolated from the German White Settlers. When I was a Pharmaceutical Rep, I used to call on a third Hospital on the far Northwestern tip of Evanston that served the growing, yet isolated Black Community. That Hospital was called Evanston Community Hospital and was “merged” into Evanston Hospital around 1990, with the remaining edifice demolished shortly, thereafter. Did you run across this Hospital in your research? Great, wonderful, reading. I knew about Ridgeville, but not the early pioneers of Evanston/Ridgeville. Thanks for the education!!

  2. Fascinating read. My great,great grandparents are Luxembourgers who had celery and cabbage farms in the area. I’ve got family buried in St.Henrys. They lived on Robey street, now called Damen.I guess they were Cabbage Heads.Always like to hear about the history of West Ridge. Thanks Dr. Gale.

  3. Loved reading about Ridgvill which was a town my husband’s ancestors, appearing in the 1855 census for Ridgeville - a John Reese Sr and John Reese Jr. I believe Sr was voted the first road commisioner in the first Ridgevill election. I know Jr married and had two sons, but according to his wife’s obit died during the war. Thank you for the extra info.


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