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There was no bridge for teams across the river here until 1845. The bridge most in use when the first settlers came in, was somewhere from fifteen to thirty feet long and very narrow. It was called a canoe. A ferry was soon established, a sort of scow or pole-boat, just below the upper islands, and used as needed, whenever the stage of the water in the river made it practicable. The landing on the east side was at the foot of Ferry street, midway between Pearl and Fulton, and the west landing was nearly opposite that. Several of the pioneers of the west side prior to 1845 kept canoes or small skiffs for their own use, in communication with those of the east side. Usually in the winter season there was good crossing on the ice both above and below the rapids. In 1834 heavily loaded teams crossed on the ice at the foot of the rapids till near the end of March. In the spring of 1843, as late as April 9, Daniel North crossed on the ice above the rapids with a loaded team. There was a good fording place near the line of Fulton street in times of low water. In the summer season of some years a temporary foot bridge was made use of during the low waters stage, constructed by setting up wooden horses, and stringing thereon a narrow walk of plank. These seldom lasted long. Shallow places in the rapids, near Bridge street or below, were usually selected for them. In February, 1842, a meeting was held which resulted in the formation of an association to build a free bridge of timber or plank at or within half a mile of the Bridge line. James Scribner, Lucius Lyon, and Daniel Ball were prominent in this movement. Proposals were advertised for, but if any were received it does not appear that the newspaper of that day found it out; but in June of that year a foot bridge was constructed a little below Bridge street, by Lovell Moore and James Scribner. It appears to have been strong enough to withstand moderately high water, and was kept in use two or three years, until the building of a larger and permanent bridge adequate to meet all demands of teaming as well as foot travel. A bridge company was organized, but did not build a bridge.

The first river bridge in this county was built at Ada in 1844. Its cost was $1,347.44, an expense that was defrayed by State appropriations, out of the fund for internal improvement.


The first bridge across Grand River in Grand Rapids was that at Bridge street, built in 1845, under authority given to the Supervisors of Kent County by act of the Legislature, March 9, 1844. The grant was for "a free bridge," with an appropriation therefor as follows: "That six thousand acres of land be, and the same is, hereby appropriated for the purpose of building said bridge. The said Supervisors may select the land and report it to the State Land Commissioner, who shall reserve it for the purpose above stated, and who shall issue certificates therefor * * after the said bridge shall have been completed, provided it is finished within two years, * * and provided the amount of the certificates shall not exceed the cost of the bridge."  This was a timber and plank bridge, and was built by Eliphalet H. Turner and James Scribner. David Burnett was the master carpenter. It was set upon eight stone piers, each 36 by 8 feet at the bottom, and five feet thick at the top, with ice-breakers up stream. John Harris was the master mason. The piers were 84 feet apart, with a stretch of over 100 feet to the east abutment. The superstructure was of the timber-truss pattern most used in those days. There was an enthusiastic celebration upon the laying of the capstone at the west end, when the stone work was completed, August 9, 1845. Lovell Moore delivered an address in which he congratulated the workmen and citizens upon the success achieved, and the fact that the materials required in building the bridge "were all taken from where Nature placed them, within sight."  The water in the river at that time was at a lower stage than it had been for seven years. The bridge was finished November 27. Dr. Francis H. Cuming was the first to drive across it. At the same time the bridge across the canal was finished. It was built by Robert Hilton. Total cost of the two, about $1,000 paid by the county in addition to the 6,000 acres of land appropriated by the State. This bridge lasted only about seven years. The Grand Rapids Bridge Company was organized in January, 1852, its charter members being William A. Richmond, Henry R. Williams, William H. Withey, Harvey P. Yale and George Coggeshall, who were authorized to build a new bridge at Bridge street, and to take toll thereon. It was built---a shingle roofed, lattice bridge--- by David Burnett, and completed in the fall of 1852. Cost---about $9,500. This second bridge was burned April 5,1858. At that time the Bridge Company consisted of William A. Richmond, President; John W. Peirce, Secretary and Treasurer; George Lovett, James M. Nelson and Abram W. Pike. They proceeded immediately to build another lattice bridge. The contract for this also was let to David Brunett, making it the third bridge erected by him on those piers. It was completed September 4. Until that year the Bridge street bridge was the only one across the river here. Its use was continued, in the ownership of the company as a toll bridge, until 1874, when the city purchased it for $1,000 and abolished the toll. This lattice bride lasted until 1884, when it was replaced by the wrought iron bridge now standing, for the building of which the city had contracted in 1883. The formal opening of the iron bridge was celebrated July 26, 1884, by a public demonstration thereon in the evening, with speeches, music, and a national salute of thirty-eight guns fired from the middle of the bridge. The structure is 650 feet long and 38 feet wide, resting upon substantial stone piers. The only woodwork is that of the plank roadway and the footwalks on either side. One span of this bridge was built in 1881 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, at a cost to the city of $1,642.24. The main structure, built by the Morse Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio, coast $21,800. Piers and approaches, $11,944.83. East side canal bridge (wrought ireon girder pattern), built in 1888 by the Massillon (Ohio) Bridge Company, $7,000. Abutments, $2,100. Total cost, $44,487.07.

WILLIAM ALMY RICHMOND was for more than thirty years prominent in the developement and building up of Grand Rapids, and identified not only with local but State history. New York was his native State, the first eighteen years of his life being passed in the village of Aurora, on the banks of Cayuga Lake, where he was born in 1808. The Academy furnished the foundation of a good education, supplemented by mercantile experience in Geneseo, Moravia and New York City, and by association with leading men of affairs and prominent politicians. Mr. Richmond was among the hundreds of young men who emigrated to the Territory of Michigan in 1836. Two previous prospecting trips had acquainted him somewhat with the country; the fame of the Grand River Valley was attractive, and he easily decided to locate at the thriving little trading post of Grand Rapids. Bostonians, Vermonters, New Yorkers and Philadelphians had preceded him, making, with the French traders, a little community of about two hundred people. Later he was urged by friends to go further west, to a town on Lake Michigan known as Chicago; but a visit to that point failed to convince him that its advantages over Grand Rapids. In 1837 he married a daughter of Deacon Abel Page, a settler from Rutland, Vermont, and from that time during his life Mr. Richmond contributed steadily and influentially to the growth and progress of home. In connection with Judge Carroll, Judge Almy, and the Hon. Lucius Lyon, he purchased an interest in the "Kent Plat." He was one of the first Board of Village Trustees, and Cashier of the first bank at this place. The construction of the first lattice bridge across Grand River was accomplished largely by his efforts, and he was President of the company which owned it; he was one of the projectors of the plank road to Kalamazoo---one advance from the corduroy---and afterward of a railroad to the same place.  He was also among those enterprising men who rendered hand lanterns unnecessary on the city streets, by the erection of gas works. He was active in advancing the interests of education and religion; contributed largely toward the erection of several churches, and in the effort to establish St. Mark's College, and was for many years a vestryman in St. Mark's (Episcopal) Church. Mr. Richmond was frequently chosen by his townsmen to represent them in governmental affairs. In 1836 he acted as a Delegate from the District comprising the counties of Kent, Ionia and Clinton to the first "Convention of Assent," as it was called, which rejected the conditions proposed by Congress for the admission of Michigan to the Union; and at the sessions of 1844 and 1845 he served in the State Legislature. His father having been a prominent Democratic Congressman (from New York), Mr. Richmond came naturally into acquaintance and friendship with General Lewis Cass, Territorial Governor of Michigan, and with Stevens T. Mason, the first State Governor, through whom he received several State appointments. He was one of the Commissioners who located the State Prison at Jackson; was Receiver of the United States Land Office at Ionia; was for several years a most successful Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Michigan and a part of Wisconsin; and was twice commissioned Brigadier General of the State Militia. In the discharge of official duties he made a record for efficiency and faithfulness; and in the relation of citizen his enterprise, public spirit and sound judgment gave him high rank among the pioneers who shaped the character and destiny of the Valley City. Mr. Richmond died in 1870, at the age of sixty-two years.


The second bridge for common road use was that at Leonard street, for the building of which a company was organized June 23, 1858---President, J. F. Chubb; Treasurer, George Kendall; Secretary, Wm. A. Tryon. The contract for the piers was let to Peter Roberts, that for the superstructure to Luther Colby. It was completed October 21, and under a charter given by the Supervisors, was a toll bridge. It was 870 feet long, supported by seven stone piers, and landing upon stone abutments. It was of the Burr truss pattern, with a shingled roof. It was purchased by the city in 1873, and made a free bridge. In 1880, at a cost of $10,561.70, a new bridge (lattice) was built, which is still standing.


The Pearl Street Bridge Company was organized October 15, 1857--President, Solomon L. Withey; Secretary and Treasurer, William Hovey; Directors, S. L. Withey, J. W. Converse, W. D. Foster, Lucius Patterson. In the following year, Charles H. Taylor and Henry Martin were chosen Directors in place of Foster and Patterson. The main part of the bridge was built by J. W. Walton. It was of "double Burr truss" work, 620 feet long, resting upon massive stone abutments, and five stone piers.  The mason work was done by John Farr. It was completed for the passage of footmen and teams November 25, 1858. The eastern portion of the bridge, from the island across the steamboat channel to the foot of Pearl street (west line of Canal street.), was built by Daniel Ball, and this was connected with the main structure by a high embankment across the island. The cost of the entire work was about $16,000. It was maintained as a toll bridge by the company until June 1873, when the city purchased it for $1,000 and declared it a free bridge. By dint of much repairing, it was made to do service until 1886, and then superseded by the present structure, which was placed upon stone piers built by Sekell & Davidson in 1885. The superstructure was erected by the Massillon, Ohio, Bridge Company, at a cost of $20,480. Cost of piers, abutments, west-side canal bridge and approaches, $20,830.84. Total cost of bridge, $41,310.84.


The contract for the Fulton street bridge was let in December, 1884. John Olson was the contractor for the piers. It is of wrought iron, and high truss in style. It has four spans, each 135 feet in length, set three feet apart, making the total length 549 feet. It is of an estimated average strength sufficient to sustain a load of 27,500 pounds to the lineal foot. The roadway is 24 feet wide, and the lateral braces are at an elevation sufficient to allow the passage under them of a load 16 feet high. It has a footwalk six feet wide on each side, with an iron fence or railing. The cost of the bridge, including piers, abutments, approaches, right of way and grading, was $61,251.25. It was constructed by the Massillon (Ohio) Bridge Company.

In 1886, the Board of Public Works established wharf lines along the river banks, from Sixth to Fulton streets. They were to run from bridge to bridge, touching at the outer ends or angles of the abutments.


The bridge at Sixth and Newberry streets was begun in 1885, when the piers and abutments were constructed. These, with approaches, cost $11,084.95. The superstructure is of the wrought iron, high truss pattern, and was erected in 1886 by the Massillon Bridge Company, costing $20,281.; making the total cost of the bridge $31,365.95.


The Canal Street Gravel Road Company bridge is a wood structure, built in 1884, at a cost, including approaches and all needed appurtenances, of $35,000. It crosses Grand River a short distance above the Soldiers' Home, north of the city, near the northwest corner of the township of Grand Rapids.

The common bridges in the city across the river, that were then built, all withstood the force of the great freshet of the last week in July, 1883. The railroad bridges did not, having less elevation above the water.


The first bridge of the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee Railway across Grand River was built of wood in 1857 and 1858. It was renewed in wood, in 1865 and 1866, with seven spans, each 100 feet in length. In October, 1877, the present bridge, built by the Detroit Bridge Company, of iron plate girders, was constructed at a cost of $40,000. It is near the north line of the city. It has five spans of 100 feet each, and two of 60 feet each. The work of putting it in place was done in forty-six hours. A portion of it was thrown from the piers in the flood of July, 1883, but soon was returned to its foundations. This is a very strong bridge.

The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad has a wood bridge across the river about a mile below the extreme southwestern point of the city. It has a draw for the passage of river boats. It was first built in the early part of 1869.

The first bridge of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad was a Howe truss, of wood, and was completed in March, 1868. In the fall of 1874 it was replaced by another of similar character which cost $14,441.90. This latter was destroyed by the flood of July, 1883, when a temporary trestle was put across, costing $5,693.68. In January, 1884, the present structure, similar to the old one, but heavier, was erected. Its cost was $14,729. This bridge crosses the river about forty rods above Fulton street.

The Chicago and West Michigan Railway bridge was erected in 1882 at a cost of something over $40,000. A large portion of it was carried away by the freshet in the summer of 1883, but it was soon rebuilt. It is a combination wood and iron Howe truss, and has a draw at the east end for the passage of vessels. It crosses the river diagonally a short distance above Wealthy avenue, close by the lower end of Island No. 3. It has a sidewalk for foot passengers.

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/baxter1891/49bridges.html

Created: 2 August 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]