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The original charter of the city of Grand Rapids was constituted by act of the Legislature, approved April 2, 1850. It began by fixing the location of the city, to comprise four sections of land in the townships of Grand Rapids and Walker, namely, Sections 19 and 30 in Town 7 North, Range 11 West and Sections 24 and 25 in Town 7 North, Range 12 West, including so much of Grand River and its islands as were comprised within those sections. It divided the city into five wards, as follows: First Wards--south of Lyon street and west of the continuous line of Division street, and east of Grand River. Second--north of Lyon street, west of that part of Division street north to its intersection with Bridge street, and all north of Bridge street and east of Grand River. Third--south of Bridge street and east of Division street, and the continuous line thereof. Fourth--west of Grand River and north of the continuous line of Bridge street. Fifth--west of Grand River and south of the continuous line of Bridge street. The act constituted the following city officers: Mayor, Recorder, five Aldermen, Clerk, Treasurer, Marshal, five Assessors, City Surveyor, four Justices of the Peace, not less than three nor more than five Constables, Solicitor, two School Inspectors, and two Directors of the Poor. Then followed general directions as to elections and the manner of conducting them. It prescribed that the Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen should constitute the "Common Council of the city of Grand Rapids." Next followed a setting forth of the powers and duties of the Common Council, giving to that body control of affairs relating to public order, public safety, and the general health, with power to establish a Board of Health. Also to establish and organize fire companies, and provide apparatus for their use. Also to regulate the sales of malt and spirituous liquors. Also general authority for the construction, repair, and preservation of sewers and drains, streets and alleys, highways, water courses and bridges, and to pass ordinances deemed necessary for the above mentioned purposes. It established a "Mayor's Court of the city of Grand Rapids," composed of the Mayor, Recorder and Aldermen, or any three of them, the Mayor or Recorder always being one. This court was given jurisdiction and cognizance of all actions arising within the city under the charter or ordinances. The right of appeal from this court to the Circuit Court was provided for. The Common Court was empowered to levy a capitation or poll tax upon inhabitants, also taxes on the real and personal property within the city, necessary to defray expenses, but not to exceed two mills on the dollar of the valuation of the property, unless authorized by a vote of two-thirds of the actual freeholders. Full powers were given as to regulation of the collection of these taxes, and also of street and sewer taxes. State and county taxes ere to be collected in the same manner as in the townships. The Mayor was allowed a salary of $1 a year, the Aldermen $1 each, and the Treasurer not to exceed $10, the Solicitor not to exceed $100, and the Recorder such fees as might be taxed in his favor by the Mayor's Court, against parties other than the city. The Ward Assessors, School Inspectors, and Justices of the Peace, were to perform similar duties to those of such offices in the townships, with corresponding compensation. The Mayor was to exercise the powers and duties of Supervisor. The Mayor's Court was given the use of the Kent County jail.

The above were some of the principal and more prominent features of the original City Charter; to descend to minor details is scarcely necessary. March 24, 1851, an amendment was enacted, repealing th provision which made the Mayor a Supervisor, and providing for the election of two Supervisors annually, one for each side of the river. February 6, 1855, another amendment was enacted increasing the number of Supervisors to three. Otherwise, the charter remained unchanged until 1857; municipal affairs meanwhile moving smoothly and in the main satisfactorily; but with the growth of population and of improvement, there grew up a demand for a general overhauling and remodeling of this fundamental law of the city, with a grant of more extended powers.

A new or revised charter was procured, by act approved February 14, 1857. This made an important change in the boundaries of the city, describing them as follows: "Commencing at the southeast corner of the northwest quarter of Section 17, in Town 7 North, Range 11 West; running thence south to the southeast corner of the southwest quarter of Section 32 of said Township; thence west, on the south line of said Township, to the southwest corner of the same; thence extended on the south line of Town 7 North, of Range 12 West, to the middle of Grand River, to the point which intersects the north and south quarter line of Section 35 in said Township 7 North, of Range 12 West; thence north to the northwest corner of the southeast quarter of Section 14, in said last named Township; thence east to the place of beginning." This boundary enlarged the city from its original two miles square, to three and a half miles north and south, by three miles east and west, and the addition of the triangular piece between the south line of the township and Grand River at the southwest corner of the city. This included a strip a half-mile wide on the east side which is not now in the city. The number of wards was not changed, but the new descriptions were as follows: First--that part of the city south of Lyon street, west of Division street, and east of the middle of Grand River. Second--north of Lyon street and east of the middle of Grand River. Third--south of Lyon street and east of Division street. Fourth--west of the middle of Grand River and north of Bridge street. Fifth--west of the middle of Grand River and south of Bridge street. The elective officers provided for were: Mayor, Recorder, Treasurer, Controller, Clerk, Marshal; one Justice, one Constable and two Aldermen in each ward (one of the Aldermen to be Supervisor of the ward); two School Inspectors, and two Directors of the Poor. It also provided for a Chief of Police, Police Constables (not to exceed one for each ward), City Surveyor, Watchmen, Fire Wardens, Common Criers, Keepers of Alms Houses, Work House and Penitentiary; Pound Masters, Inspectors of Fire Wood, Weigh Masters and Auctioneers, to be appointed by the Council, also two Cemetery Commissioners. The Mayor was given a veto power over any ordinance for public improvement, or for payment of money from the treasury, which might be overruled by a two-thirds vote of the Council. The usual power to enact ordinances for the general welfare and good order of the city, including street lighting and the regulation of markets, sale and storage of powder and dangerous substances, routes and grades of railroads, and various other matters pertaining to a well ordered community, was conferred upon the Council. The city was empowered to own land for cemetery purposes within or without the limits, and to establish a Cemetery Board. The Council was given the power of township boards over saloons, taverns, and similar places of entertainment. The City Marshal was to be Superintendent of the City and his duties were prescribed. A Recorder's Court was established as a continuance of the Mayor's Court, and Justices of the Peace were given the same jurisdiction as township Justices. The Council was empowered to determine the salaries of officers, namely: to the Clerk, in addition to fees and perquisites, not exceeding $200 per annum; to the Treasurer, not exceeding $100 per year; each Alderman not exceeding $1; Controller not exceeding $100; City Marshal not exceeding $1.50 per day; City Attorney not exceeding $500 per annum; and the fees of other officers to be such as the Council might determine. Taxes could be imposed annually, not exceeding one-half of one per cent of the valuation of real and personal property, and the Council was to determine the amount to be raised by tax for city purposes in each year. No liability exceeding the amount of such tax could be incurred, except for special loans such as were authorized by the charter. Full provisions were made for the power over streets, and the making and management of public improvements. By this revision the term of Recorder was extended to two years.

By act of February 10, 1859, the term of Alderman was extended to two years, and in that year in each ward, one Alderman was elected for one years, and one for two years. the office of Assessor was abolished, and its duties were relegated to the Alderman whose term soonest expired, and who was to act as Supervisor, with duties similar to those of Supervisors in the townships. At first assessments for public improvements decided necessary (such as for streets, sewers, etc.), were made by committees appointed to determine the districts and apportion the assessments, and their rolls were returnable to the Recorder's Court for confirmation. this was subsequently changed, and the confirmation of the rolls was placed within the province of the Council, and still later of the Board of Review.

By an amendment approved March 4, 1861, the boundary of the city was again changed, throwing out into the township of Grand Rapids, a strip half a mile wide, and the entire length of the city, leaving the east boundary as it is at present, on the section line at East street. This belt of land has of late been rapidly settled, many of its people are growing wealthy, and that it will soon be again attached to the city is not improbable. In 1863, by amendment, provision was made for requiring owners or occupants of lots in the city to lay or repair the walks in front of their premises, or in default it should be done at the expense of the city, and the cost added to the general tax against the lots or houses adjacent, and collected therewith; and in 1865, further provision was made in relation to the return of uncollected taxes, and the sale of property to satisfy them.

(The fire which destroyed the county records in 1860, was the occasion of some confusion and no little trouble in relation to real estate titles. In the following year an act was passed to "quiet titles in the county of Kent"--prescribing a method of procedure in chancery for that purpose. Again in 1865, the abstracts of deeds prepared by Leonidas S. Scranton while he was Register, were made prima facie evidence of title. Through the operation of these laws it is presumed that few if any of the titles to city real estate are now materially defective in consequence of that fire.)

Amendment to the charter, approved March 13, 1867, made provision for the removal by the Council of appointed officers, for malfeasance or malfeasance in office, but allowing the accused an opportunity to be heard in defense. It provided that a quorum of the Council was sufficient for ordinary business, but a concurring vote of a majority of all the members elect should be necessary for an appointment, or for levying any tax or assessment. Some changes were made as to salaries, giving the Clerk in addition to fees and perquisites not exceeding $400 per annum; to the Treasurer not exceeding $100 per annum; to the Marshal not exceeding $1.50 per day; to the Aldermen not more than $100; City Attorney not more than $500; and Controller not more than $100 per annum. It further provided that the Council might raise not exceeding two per cent on the property valuation for bonds not to exceed $5,000, for the purchase or improvement of cemeteries; also that assessments made upon property for purposes authorized by the charter should be a final and conclusive lien thereon. Another amendment in 1869 contained further provisions in relation to the proceedings on sale of property for assessments and taxes.

By a revision of the charter in March, 1871, the number of wards in the city was increased from five to eight. It enlarged the jurisdiction of the Recorder's Court, and made some other changes in reference thereto. The law relative to free schools in the city of Grand Rapids was revised in the same year. This provided that the city should constitute one school district, and the public schools should be under the direction and control of the Board of Education. This act was further amended by acts approved 1875, 1877, 1879 and 1881. By an amendment approved March 17, 1872, a change was made in the boundary between the fourth and fifth wards, making Fairbanks street the line. The same act gave the Common Council enlarged and definite powers with relation to the establishment and maintenance of water-works; also in regard to the making and repairing of streets, and the levying and collecting of taxes for those purposes. The act to authorize a Board of Public Works was passed March 22, 1873, and has been several times amended. the act constituting the Superior Court was passed March 24, 1875. An act to organize and establish a Police Court was passed in April, 1873, and this was superseded by another passed in May, 1879. The Board of Police and Fire Commissioners was established by act of May 24, 1881. An act approved May 18, 1883, provided for the management of cemeteries owned or to be owned by the city. Some important amendments to the charter were made in the spring of 1887. The duties of the Treasurer were changed, requiring him to keep an office, and to devote his entire time to the service. His duties were increased by making him collector of all assessments for local purposes, except sidewalk tax rolls. The Common Council was authorized to advertise for bids for the highest rates of interest which safe banking houses of the city would pay on the Treasurer's deposits, and the lowest rates they would charge for temporary loans. The Marshal was relieved of ordinary tax collections, and made superintendent of sewers, sidewalks, streets and public grounds generally. The provisions with relation to the Board of Health were changed. This Board consists of the Mayor and President of the Council, and three other members nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council, one of whom must be a regularly graduated physician, with proficient knowledge of hygiene and analytic chemistry. The Board has authority to appoint a Health Officer and a Secretary. Other recent changes make the Mayor a member of both the Board of Public Works and Board of Police and Fire Commissioners. The City Government (1888) under charter provisions, consists of a Mayor, a Board of sixteen Aldermen from eight wards, a Board of Police and Fire Commissioners of five members, a Board of Review and Equalization of three members, a Board of Health of five members, a Controller, City Clerk, City Treasurer, City Surveyor, Marshal, Director of the Poor, Physician and Health Officer, Highway Commissioner, and some minor officers, beside those of the Police and Fire Departments.


Under charter provision the salary of the Mayor is fixed by the Common Council, not to exceed $1,200 per year. At present it is fixed at $750.

The City Clerk gets $1,000 per year and fees, and is allowed such assistant clerk hire as the Council may deem necessary. The salary of the deputy clerk is $750.

The Controller is allowed $1,200 per year, with a small amount of assistance when absolutely necessary.

The Treasurer's salary is $2,500, and his deputy receives $1,200. No fees or other emoluments.

The Marshal draws $1,200 per year and his deputy is paid by the day, his wages averaging about $740 per year. The Marshal is also allowed $12 per week for clerk hire.

The salary of the City Attorney is $2,500, with an assistant at $750.

The salary of the Judge of the Superior Court ($2,500) is paid by the State, the city paying the Clerk $1,000 per year and the messanger $312 per year.

The Director of the Poor receives $1,500 per annum, and the keeper of the city supply store $750.

The Health Officer receives $1,500; the City Physician the same amount and the Secretary of the Board of Health $750.

Members of the Board of Review and Equalization, three of them, are paid $3 per day for time actually spent in the discharge of their duties.

The Judge of Police Court draws a salary of $1,500, and the Clerk of the same court $1,000. All other officials connected with the Police Department are paid from the department fund.

The members of the Board of Public Works receive $3 per day while in the active discharge of their duties. Their clerk is paid $1,200 per year.

The City Surveyor and his assistants cost the city about $4,000 per year.

Members of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners and of the Board of Education receive no compensation.

The Aldermen, two from each ward, draw a salary of $200 per year, paid from the general fund, and receive extra compensation for acting as Inspectors of Election and as members of the Boards of Registration.

The Supervisors, one for each ward, are paid $2 per day for the time actually spent in the discharge of their duties.

The Ward Collectors draw $2 per day from the first Monday in December until January 1, and get a percentage on collections made after the latter date.


Original Charter, Session Laws 1850, p. 261: amended, S. L. 1851, p. 56; 1855, p. 31; revised, S. L. 1857, p. 272; amended, S. L. 1850, p. 207; 1861, pp. 40 and 125; 1863, p. 131; 1865, pp. 170 and 281; 1867, vol. 2, pp. 304 and 855; 1869, vol. 2, p. 615; revised, S. L. 1871, vol. 2, pp. 330 and 670; amended S. L. 1872, p. 14; 1873, vol. 2, p. 1185; Local Acts 1875, pp. 756 and 777; revised L. A. 1877, p. 121; amended, L. A. 1879; pp. 173 and 189; 1881, p. 236; 1883, pp. 416 and 516; 1885, pp. 80 and 237; L. A. 1887, p. 483.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/13charter.html
Created: 1 September 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]