The first known European visitors were French voyageurs, who referred to the area as 'Grosse Pointe', after the large point of land now marked by the Grosse Point Lighthouse. The French explored the shoreline, but did not attempt colonization. After the War of 1812, the United States acquired the French lands around Lake Michigan, and Grosse Pointe became Grosse Pointe Territory.
After living here for centuries, the Potawatami Indians were forced to cede all their lands to the U.S. in a series of five treaties dating from 1795 to 1833. The government then parceled out plots of land to pioneer settlers who were moving from the East. The first permanent settler of Grosse Pointe was Major Edward H. Mulford, a jewelry dealer from New York. In 1836, Mulford bought 160 acres and improved the land with the Ten-Mile House, a house and tavern which held the territory's first post office and the first court of Cook County.
By the 1840 census, Grosse Pointe had 330 residents. Boundaries of Grosse Pointe changed as more land was annexed into the district. In 1850 Grosse Pointe was renamed Ridgeville, and increased its population to 441 by that year. In 1855, Northwestern University was founded by John Evans, Orrington Lunt, Andrew Brown and 6 others. On February 15, 1857, the town of Evanston was founded, named in honor of John Evans, who went on to a career in politics. Between 1860 and 1870 the population of Evanston quadrupled, and a fire department, telephone system, public library and other amenities were added to accomodate the growing population. In 1873 Frances Willard (1839-1898) founded the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Evanston, and the city remained "dry" until the 1970's. In 1874, Evanston expanded once again by annexing North Evanston, and then South Evanston in 1892. In 1925, Charles Gates Dawes (1865-1951) of Evanston became Vice President with President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933); he received the Nobel Peace Prize for the "Dawes Plan" to restore the German economy following World War I.