Pioneering the Right Place at the Right Time

Perhaps the most curious aspect of any historian is to imagine what life was like in the past—to place oneself into the setting and to imagine situations and choices made. That kind of quest might begin “at home,” meaning this spot.

Chicago’s history fascinates me, not only because some ancestors settled here, but because it seems the most sane place to build a city in the U.S. (other than Pittsburgh). Actually, I include all the Great Lakes’ cities. What better place to grow population than on the greatest fresh water system in the world? So far inland, the coastal storms are irrelevant? With all that water, there are great resources like building materials and farm land.

The midwest that the pioneers found fit the American Dream perfectly. The richness of the area was inspiring and certainly made many fortunes. My favorite of these towns is Evanston, which is why I choose to live here. The character of this town balances country with city perfectly—the early inhabitants wanted all the culture, sophistication, and excitement of the big city, but the open lush countryside, panoramic vistas of the inland sea, provided fertile soil for gardens, and complimented with beaches for leisure. The only feature that Evanston does not provide is a mountain range. The beauty here is of woods, prairie, rivers, and lakes.

Illustration by Liane Sebastian

The pioneers who formed Evanston have to be admired for their vision. Being curious who the first ones were and how the area developed, I was surprised to learn that “downtown” was not the oldest area. In fact, the earliest settlements were along Green Bay Trail, that goes along the top of the Ridge, which as it happens, had a stage coach stop right by my house.

So, I researched Grosse Pointe, which is what the area was called before declared “Ridgeville” in 1850 and then “Evanston” in 1857. I am fond of the year 1840 because an uncle built a log cabin on the Ridge about three miles south of me.

But the earliest permanent home in Evanston is credited to Major Edward Henry Mulford and his family, erecting their log cabin on the Ridge in 1835. Ten years later, when the Frink, Walker & Company opened stage coach service along Green Bay Trail, Mulford saw opportunity and built the Ten-Mile House (being ten miles from the center of Chicago), and received a stop on the route.

So far, I have found no photographs of either structure. But I have descriptions of the cabin from many sources, and found a drawing of the tavern from the Evanston Historical Society. This my first attempt to capture the feeling of the beautiful wooded trail that captivated these entrepreneurs.

Mulford was a visionary and certainly was in the right place at the right time. For the city’s 150th Anniversary a few years ago, the Evanston Historical Society created a tribute book and described the early days.Besides hosting Thanksgivings, the Ten Mile House served many purposes: not only was it a tavern, but also a courthouse, a post office, and even a medical center. Mulford hired a staff to run the tavern as he focused on other projects. Mulford’s projects made him a man of many names. His most notable, the ‘gentleman pioneer,’ came from his collection of books, which was remarkable for a man living in a ‘rude cabin ‘mongst the primeval forest trees.’”

Mulford’s “other projects” included transforming a profitable forest into more profitable farm.  These buildings have not survived and were not meant to. Rather, the very valuable property that sported the tavern is today the St. Francis Hospital. The cabin was demolished to build a grand house for the Mulford family, which was demolished in 1963 for Evanston’s first condominium building. Such is progress!

• • • • • • •

Please see these other pages about charting design:

Creating a Genealogical Chain

Unraveling a Genealogical Knot

Visual Interfamily Intermingles

Closer than Close: charting sibling to sibling relationship and ancestor loss

Visualizing Genealogical Relationships: Double Cousins


Liane Sebastian wears an editor’s hat, designer’s coat, and artist’s shoes.








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s