Tuesday, February 21, 2012

HE CALLED HIS ESTATE "OAKTON" - Major Edward Harris Mulford

I have lived my entire life on Harvard Terrace in Evanston, Illinois. When I was a little boy I remember a great old mansion at the east end of the street.  We called it "The Old House" but in reality it was the home of Major Edward Mulford and the crowning touch to his 160 acre estate which he called "Oakton."  Here is a photo of Major Mulford's house just before it was torn down in 1963 to make room for Evanston's first condominium, when most people had never heard the word before.

Who was Major Edward Harris Mulford, and how did he  happen to come to Evanston, Illinois?   Here is his obituary from The Evanston Index newspaper March 9, 1878:

(Evanston Index March 09, 1878)  

Died at Five O’clock Tuesday morning March 5, Edward H. Mulford, in his eighty-sixth year.

Major Mulford, as he was familiarly called was the oldest resident of Evanston.  The death of this venerable man who was so actively and prominently identified with the early history of Chicago and Evanston and who was trusted, honored and loved by the entire community, is an event of unusual importance and a sketch of his life cannot fail to be of universal interest.

Edward H. Mulford was born in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, New Jersey June 02, 1794, and spent his early years on the farm under the guidance of religious parents.  At the early age of sixteen he taught school with marked success.  He was also a teacher in the first Sunday School established in that section of the country.  In November 1813 when in his twentieth year Mr. Mulford was married to Miss Rebecca Johnson of Salem County, with whom he lived in delightful harmony for over fifty years.  The next two or three years were spent in mercantile business in his native county with a brother-in-law.

For years, Mr. Mulford had cherished the idea that he might sometime see something of the world beyond his native state, especially the wonderful falls of Niagara.  Accordingly, in 1819 he and his brother-in-law mounted their horses and started for the far off country beyond Philadelphia.  Reaching the Wyoming Valley they concluded to return, and not until four years later did Mr. Mulford attain his heart’s desire and view the great natural wonder, Niagara Falls.  At Little Falls, the entire population of the neighborhood were celebrating the completion to that point of that grand internal improvement, the Erie Canal, laughed at by many in those days as “Clinton’s Ditch”.  At the invitation of Mr. Henry Seymour, Acting Commissioner, Mr. Mulford joined the party which made the first trip on the canal then just opened for twenty-two miles, from Little Falls to Utica.  Gov. DeWitt Clinton, William L. Marcy and Col. Livingston were among the distinguished men who were prominent on that occasion.  At Rochester he was offered land in what is now the central part of the city at $14 an acre, and at Buffalo Creek he had urged upon him thirty acres of land for $1500 which has since been valued at $15,000,000.  At Niagara he was induced to take a horse-back ride across the wilderness of Ohio.  For two days he did not meet a single human being.  Returning, he rode on the same faithful horse through a part of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.  His arrival home safe after such a trip was the talk of the country road and he was greeted almost as one risen from the dead.

His desire for pioneer life was now so thoroughly aroused that nothing in the old beaten track satisfied him.  Almost immediately he began to make preparation for locating in the beautiful country in the neighborhood of Niagara.  Finally, in 1823 he removed to Fredonia, Chataqua County, New York with his brother-in-law where they purchased farms.  In 1825 Mr. M. removed to the village and engaged in merchandising.  Here he became an officer of the 169th NY Infantry and acquired the title of Major, by which he was known through life.  In that year a grand reception was tendered to Gen. Lafayette and it was Mr. Mulford’s pleasant duty to walk arm-in-arm with Lafayette while reviewing the militia.  The reception speech on this occasion was made by Rev. David Brown, whose daughter Miss Brown is known to all Evanstonians.  Mr. Mulford resided in Fredonia for 13 years.  Though primarily engaged as a merchant he interested himself in public affairs and was at different times in Washington conversing with such men as John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Henry Clay, and others.

Animated by the same spirit of enterprise that took him to Western New York, Mr. Mulford in June 1835 came with his wife and younger children to Chicago where his two sons had previously settled.  The Village of Chicago then boasted 2400 inhabitants.  Mr. Mulford and his sons established the first jewelry store started in Chicago.  He was present at the first government payment to the Indians under the Black Hawk Treaty and he was one of the only fifteen FreeMasons the town could produce who assisted in burying Col. Owen with Masonic honors. 

He was one of the three commissioners appointed to appraise the damages to property condemned for the use of the old Galena Railroad, the first ever built into Chicago.  Through his efforts and influence the land on which the Chamber of Commerce now stands was donated to the First Baptist Church by the legislature.  Always an ardent lover of nature when he reached Chicago he felt he must have a home in the country.  Within a few weeks he happened to strike an Indian trail and following it up he found the place that subsequently became his home.  He located a claim and in the spring of ’39 removed to Oakton, as he named it, where he resided for nearly forty years.  For the first ten years the family regularly attended church in Chicago, leaving home at 8 o’clock for the morning service.  Through all those early years, Mr. Mulford was the leading spirit of the country north of Chicago.  He was the first Justice of the Peace in Cook County, an office which in those days meant much.  Everybody came to him for advice.  He solemnized all the marriages, and made out all the business papers in the neighborhood.  In consequence of his great influence, his aid was constantly sought by the Chicago politicians.  Many lawyers who have since become prominent practiced before Justice Mulford.  Among others, Thomas Hoyne, who tried his first case before him.  One reason why the old settlers always honored Mr. M. so highly was because they remembered how he always strove to reconcile litigants and to have all disputes settled amicably. 

In 1863, Mr. and Mrs. Mulford, who had lived lovingly and happily for fifty years, celebrated their golden wedding, when a large company of prominent people gathered at Oakton.  Mr. Mulford lived to see descendants to the fourth generation gather around him, and survived all the members of his family except one daughter Mrs. Gibbs and retained his faculties to the last to a remarkable degree, although his health had been poor for many years.  The published statement is untrue that his health was impaired by the dastardly attack made on him several months ago by burglars, though physically feeble, he had never been more willing and eager to see his friends than during the past year.  At 84 he could declaim as well as when a boy.  One who met him for the first time last summer writes: “He was remarkable in many respects and I am thankful to be able to place him in the circle of dear friends that has made life brighter.  Mr. M. was baptized in Lake Michigan in ’37 and has ever since been an honored and useful member of the Baptist Church, being at the time of his death a deacon, in the First Baptist Church of Evanston, which he, with a few others, organized.  His life was filled with good works, and his memory will be cherished by all who enjoyed his acquaintance.

The funeral services were held at the family residence at Oakton Thursday Noon and were attended by a large company of mourning friends from Evanston and Chicago.  The exercises were conducted by Rev. Dr. Burroughs of Chicago, and Rev. F.L. Chapell.  A long procession followed the remains to Rose Hill.  The exercises at the grave were conducted by Rev. Dr. Bannister.

Major Mulford obtained the 160 acres which comprised Oakton in 1843 from the United States Government.  The government had gotten the land from the Indians as part of the Second Treaty of Chicago in 1833 which took place after the Blackhawk Indian War of 1832.  Here is a copy of the land grant for 160 acres to Major Mulford signed by the president at that time, John Tyler:

Here is a plat that I drew that shows how the 160 acres were laid out:

As stated in his obituary, Major Mulford died on March 5, 1878 of "Enteritis".  He had been ill only nine days.  

Major Mulford's funeral took place on Thursday March 7, 1878.  It started at Noon with a service at the Mulford home, then the procession walked slowly down the High Ridge Road to Rosehill Cemetery where Major Mulford was laid to rest in section F next to his beloved Rebecca, who had died in 1873.

Major Edward Harris Mulford

Edward Harris Mulford - Soldier, Merchant, Lawyer, Justice of the Peace and Evanston Pioneer.  May he rest in peace.


  1. Jim - Amazing post! From what I've heard, Mulford built a tavern first on that land... is that true?

  2. Jim - Just discovered this site and your wonderful essay on Edward Mulford. We at Design Evanston are working on a book about Evanston's 150 notable places. If you agree to let us use some of your words and the image you have of the house, "Oakton" will be the first entry in the book! Many thanks for your help in the past to form the Oakton Historic District!

  3. Hello Jack - I would be honored to be a part of your project, as I was last time! I was recently contacted by Jacque Klicka, the great-great-granddaughter of Major Mulford. She was very pleased to see what we have done to preserve the Mulford legacy. Her grandfather was Pliny Bliss Brown II the son of Anna Mulford Brown and Pliny Bliss Brown I. If you need anything else from me let me know, otherwise just help yourself.

  4. Greetings. I used to live on Harvard Terrace when I was a small child, from about 1960 to 1964, I have strong memories of the huge old Mulford House on the corner. My father retrieved some old tools from the house before it was torn down. I'm so pleased to see this here; thank you!

  5. Hello, your mention of Rev. David Brown of Fredonia brought me to your lovely blog. I believe he may be the father of my 3rd great grandmother and have been specifically looking for information about his daughters. I am wondering though, who is the Miss Brown that is "known to all Evanstonians?"