Chapter VI: Early Descriptive Sketches
Of great interest are some of the published sketches of Grand Rapids, its people, and its progress during the first dozen years after settlement. Prominent among these, and worthy of historic preservation, is the leading editorial article of the first number of the first newspaper in Grand Rapids, some copies of which are still in existence. Besides its glowing description of the place, it is interesting for its bright-hued anticipations:
"The Rochester of Michigan."
[From the Grand River Times, April 18, 1837]
Though young in its improvements, the site of this village has long been
known and esteemed for its natural advantages. It was here that the Indian
Traders long since made their grand depot. It was at this point that the
missionary herald established his institution of learning -- taught the forest
child the beauty of civilization, and inestimable benefits of the Christian
religion. This has been the choicest, dearest spot of the unfortunate Indian,
and now is the pride of the white man. Like other villages of the west, its
transition from the savage to a civilized state has been as sudden as its
prospects are now flattering.
Who would have believed, to have visited this place two years since, when it was only inhabited by a few families, most of whom were of French origin, a people so eminent for exploring the wilds and meandering rivers, that this place would now contain its twelve hundred inhabitants? Who would have imagined that thus rapid would have been the improvement of this romantic place? The rapidity of its settlement is beyond the most visionary anticipation; but its location, its advantages, and its clime, were sufficient to satisfy the observing mind that nothing but the frown of Providence could blast its prospects!
The river upon which this town is situated is one of the most important and delightful to be found in the country -- not important and beautiful alone for its clear, silver-like water winding its way through a romantic valley of some hundred miles, but for its width and depth, its susceptibility for steam navigation, and the immense hydraulic power afforded at this point.
We feel deeply indebted to our Milwaukee friends for their lucid description of the advantages to be derived from a connection of the waters of this river with those of Detroit, by canal or railroad. A canal is nearly completed around the Rapids at this place, sufficiently large to admit boats to pass up and down, with but little detention. Several steamboats are now preparing to commence regular trips from Lyons, at the mouth of the Maple River, to this place, a distance of sixty miles, and from this to Grand Haven, a distance of thirty-five or forty miles; thence to Milwaukee and Chicago.
Thus the village of Grand Rapids, with a navigable stream -- water power of twenty-five feel fall -- and abundance of crude building materials -- stone of excellent quality -- pine, oak and other timber in immense quantities within its vicinity, can but flourish -- can but be the Rochester of Michigan! The basement story of an extensive mill, one hundred and sixty by forty feet, is now completed; a part of the extensive machinery is soon to be put in operation. There are now several dry goods and grocery stored -- some three of four public houses -- one large church erected, and soon to be finished in good style, upon the expense of a single individual, who commenced business a few years ago by a small traffic with the Indians. Such is the encouragement to western pioneers! The village plat is upon a bold bank of the river, extending back upon an irregular plain, some eighty to a hundred rods, to rising bluffs, from the base and sides of which some of the most pure, crystal-like fountains of water burst out in boiling springs, pouring forth streams that murmur over their pebbly bottoms, at once a delight to the eye, and an invaluable luxury to the thirsty palate.
New England may surpass this place with her lofty mountains, but not with her greatest boast -- purity and clearness of water. Our soil is sandy, and monthly dry. The town is delightful, whether you view it from the plain, upon the banks of the river, or from the bluffs that overlook the whole surrounding country. To ascend these bluffs, you take a gradual rise to the height of a hundred feet, when the horizon only limits the extent of vision. The scenery to an admirer of beautiful landscape is truly picturesque and romantic. Back, east of the town, is seen a wide-spread plain of burr-oak, at one easy to cultivate, and inviting to the agriculturist. Turning westward, especially at the setting of the sun, you behold the most enchanting prospect -- the din of the ville below -- the broad sheet of water murmuring over the Rapids -- the sunbeams dancing upon its swift-gliding ripples -- the glassy river at last losing itself in its distance meanderings -- present a scenery that awakens the most lively emotions. But the opposite shore, upon which you behold a rich, fertile plain, still claims no small amount of admiration. Near the bank of the river is seen the little rude village of the more civilized Indians -- their uncouth framed dwellings -- their little churches and their mound-like burying places. The number and size of the mounds which mark the spot where lie the remains of the proud warrior, and the more humble of his untamed tribe, too plainly tell the endearments of that lovely plain to the native aborigines, and how quick the mind will follow the train of associations to by-gone days. and contrast these reflections with present appearances. Thus we see the scenes of savage life, quickly spread upon the broad canvas of the imagination -- the proud chieftain seated, and his tribe surrounding the council files -- the merry war-dance -- the wild amusements of the "red man of the forest," and as soon think of their present unhappy condition; the bright flame of their lighted piles has been extinguished, and with it has faded the keen, expressive brilliancy of the wild man's eye! Their lively Washtenong, upon which their light canoes have so long glided, is now almost deserted!
It is from this point, too, that you can see in the distance the evergreen tops of the lofty pine, waving in majesty above the study oak, the beech and maple, presenting to the eye a wild, undulating plain, with its thousand charms. Such are the location, the beauties and advantages of this youthful town. The citizens are of the most intelligent, enterprising and industrious character. Their buildings are large, tasty and handsomely furnished -- the clatter of mallet and chisel -- the clink of hammers -- the many newly raised and recently covered frames the river, speak loudly for the enterprise of the place! Mechanics of all kinds find abundance of employ, and reap a rich reward for their labor. Village property advances in values, and the prospect of wealth is alike flattering to all! What the result of such advantages and prospects will be, time alone must determine.
But a view of this place and its vicinity, where we find a rich and fertile soil, watered with the best of springs, and enjoying, as we do, a salubrious climate, a healthful atmosphere, and the choicest gifts of a benign Benefactor, would satisfy almost any one that this will soon be a bright star in the constellation of western villages. Such, gentle reader, is a faint description of the place from which our paper hails -- from which, we hope, will emanate matter as pleasing and interesting, as the town is beautiful and inviting!
Evidently the editor of the Times in his enthusiasm overdrew the picture somewhat; especially in the statements regarding the water power, the steamboat building and the canal improvement.
JOHN BALL'S NARRATIVE
Many years ago the Hon. John Ball wrote out for the Old Residents'
Association a narrative of his first experience and observations at Grand
Rapids, and up and down the valley, covering a period of some eight or ten years
after his arrival in 1836. The principal design of his communication was to give
a sketch of his person relations to the Grand River Valley in those times; and
as he was a man not fluent in verbal speech, but one who always traveled with
his eyes open, and preserved written notes of what he was, his story is of
surpassing interest, and as time passes must be more and more appreciated. The
essential portions of it are here reproduced:
Having resided some years at Troy and Lansingburgh, N.Y., in that year of speculation, 1836, I entered into a contract with Dr. T. C. Brinsmaid, Dr. F. B. Leonard, Mr. J. E. Whipple, and a Mr. Webster, of those places, to go west, and invest for them, on speculation, so much money as they would supply for I had none. The talk was, some sixty or eighty thousand dollars; but, from the change of times, it ended at about ten thousand. I was to operate in any of the western (not slave) States, buy and sell in my own name, and receive for my services one-fourth of the profits. So, in September of that year I left Troy, and came to Detroit. There I was offered city property, but, prices seeming high, I concluded that Government broad acres would be a surer thing than corner-lots. I made up my mind that the Grand River district was the promised land, or at least the most promising one for my operations. So I purchased a horse, and mounting him, I started out through mud which I found so deep that I was unable to trot him until I got to Ypsilanti. I reached Ann Arbor the first day, where I fell in with some New York State acquaintances, traveling the same way. The next day we arrived at Jacksonburg (as it was then called), and the next at Marshall. From there going to Kalamazoo, I met for the first time Robert S Parks. I then urged my friends to continue their journey with me north, but they declined, saying they were unwilling to risk their lives and health by going any further into the woods. The next day I mounted my pony and started, without any special fear and trembling, alone.
When I left Troy, at the urgent request of my friends I purchased a pair of pistols, and put them in my trunk. I left them in my trunk at Detroit, not wishing the trouble of carrying them, though I had considerable gold in my saddlebags. Everybody then carried money, and traveled on highways and by-ways; stopped by dozens in the same log cabins, and slept in the same common garret; thrusting their saddlebag and packages loosely under their beds, and perhaps leaving them there for days, though heavy with specie -- for then only specie bought Government lands. Still there were no robberies heard of. Nevertheless, it must be confessed, in bargaining, people did not always show themselves saints without guile.
I came through Gull Prairie, where were a few settlers; and found no more until I arrived at Yankee Springs. There I stopped and enjoyed Lewis' rousing fire, and partook of his wife's good cheer. The next day I came to Mr. Leonard's on the Thornapple, and observing some books drying in the sun, I was informed that the day before the stage wagon had spilled its baggage while crossing the river, and that the trunk containing these books was not at the time recovered; that it belonged to a Mr. Johnson, a lawyer, who was bound to Grand Rapids. This was Simeon Johnson, whom every old settler will remembers. I forded the river without wetting my boots. But then I did not got through that deep hole into which some sinners, for sport, one time led their fellow travelers.
Being bound for Ionia, on arriving at the McNaughton place, on the Little Thornapple, I took what was called the Flat River trail, which led to the Grand River at what is now Lowell. Arriving there, I stopped with Mr. Marsac, and Indian Trader, brother of Mrs. Louis Campau. This was my arrival in the Grand River Valley, the 14th day of October, 1836. Marsac and the Robinsons, at the mouth of the Thornapple, were the only white people between Grand Rapids and Ionia. But soon after, Lewis Robinson settled at the mouth of Flat River, and Mr. Daniels and others in Vergennes.
The next day I went up the trail on the north side of the river to Ionia, and put up with Mr. Yeomans, since known as "Judge," who was then living in his original cabin. There I again met Mr. Parks, and, as was no unusual thing then, occupied the same chamber with him and his wife. There were may visiting the land office there, so every house and place was full, and there were so many purchasers, that Mr. Hutchinson, the receiver, soon took in silver to the amount of his bail, and had to shut up the office, and cart the silver through the woods to Detroit.
Having nothing else to do, a fellow boarder, Mr. Anderson, and myself, mounted our horses, and put out to look for pine lands down in Ottawa, and came the first day to Grand Rapids. This was my first visit. We put up at the Eagle Tavern, then the only one in the place, and kept by Wm H Godfroy. It was then November, the nights cold, the house not plastered, the house full -- two in a bed. When the lights were out, I heard from all quarters bitter complaints about bed fellows, that they pulled the clothes off; not just understanding that, the coverings being narrow Indian blankets, if a man covered himself he uncovered his neighbor. I rather enjoyed the complaining.
The next morning we rode to Grandville before breakfast. There being no tavern, we were directed to Mr. Charles Oakes for accommodations. They answered that they could feed our horses, but not us; but after urging our necessities, Mrs. Oakes gave us a cup of good coffee. We wanted something to carry into the woods, and were told that there was nothing to be had in the village; but that on our way a Mr Ketchum was building a mill, and there we could get plenty. But on arriving there, where Jenison's planing mill now is, they informed us that all they had was some flour and beef. So we waited until they baked a loaf of bread, which we took, and some of the uncooked beef; put into the woods, and took our course to a point where we had some vague information there was pine timber. This brought us, at dark, into the south part of what is now the town of Blendon, and we camped on a branch of the Black River. During the night we heard the deer tramping about us in the leaves, attracted, probably, by the fire; and the wolves, as usual, howling in the distance. The next morning we explored for a time but not finding what we were looking for, we turned to come out, for we had taken but one day's provisions. But after a time we found ourselves in the midst of a fine tract of pine timber, and immediately turned away to see its extent, and under the excitement kept on until dark. Then we lay down without supper, in order to have something for breakfast. On waking in the morning, we found our blankets covered with snow, and being still in the pines, we were unwilling to give it up until we had explored further. We finally struck toward the river, expecting to find some road leading out, but there was none. We met some Indians on the river, and offered them three dollars to bring us up to Grandville in their canoes. But they declined, and we tramped on, over bluffs and through swamps, till dark; kindled a fire with our last match, and lay down, hungry and weary. The next morning we got out to Grandville about 9 o'clock, and succeeded in getting something to eat, not withstanding the scarcity. As yet nothing had been raised in Cent county or Ottawa, and nothing like a supply in Ionia; and all had to be brought by way of the Lakes from Buffalo or Cleveland. But we had not explored the lands minutely enough for purchasing. So, a short time after, my man, his son and myself, with a tent and better outfit, went in again, and spent two or three days. Giving them quite a bonus for their interest in the lands, I entered the whole tract, forty-one eighty-acre lots, in my own name -- the same lands from which the Blendon Company, long afterward, lumbered. This company were the Messrs. Brinsmaid, Leonard and Whipple, mentioned before as furnishing the capital with which I operated. Finding the prospects of profit so small, I had before given them a deed of the lands, charging nothing for my services. Speculation No. 1.
I was little at Grand Rapids the first fall and winter I was in the State. But at one time, when there, I went up through the mud and among the stumps, to Bridge street, where Mr. Coggeshall lived, and met a man at an office west of his house, and asked him the price of lots. He -- it was Judge Almy -- answered, that on Canal and Kent streets, they were $50 a front foot, or $2,500 a lot. I did not invest, and made no further inquiry about lots in Grand Rapids.
In the winter, at Grandville, wishing to look for lands farther down the river, a Mr. White and some other Grand Haven men, invited me to go down the river on the ice with them. They had a cutter, and ice being smooth, we all rode. Arriving at Grand Haven, I stopped at Luke White's, where I got acquainted with T. D. Gilbert, Rev. Mr. Ferry, Mr. Throop, Capt. White, and most of the then few inhabitants of the place. I then employed a half-breed man, a brother of Mrs. Oakes, to go with me into the woods, though it was mid-winter and the snow knee-deep. We went south, to and up the creek that falls into Port Sheldon lake, and so about the woods for four or five days, and came out at the mouth of the Bass River. When night came on, we encamped in the lee of some fallen tree, scraped away the snow, collected hemlock boughs for a bed, built up a rousing fire, and made ourselves very comfortable. But it was by the skill of my companion, an old hunter, who knew well how to make a camp. But I found no land that I thought it an object to purchase, so came up to Grandville, went out into what is now Byron, where Nathan Boynton, with his brothers, Perry and William, as boarders, were the only inhabitants. There I found some 1,000 acres of good farming land, which I bought.
I passed part of the winter in Detroit, going and returning by different routes. One time I went directly south from Ionia, on a trail to Marshall, passing through Vermontville and Bellevue; stopped at the former place over night, finding there only three families. Gov. Mason, Mr. Schoolcraft, with his half-breed wife, and many members of the Legislature, boarded at the American, where I had taken up my quarters. Judge Almy was the member from the Grand River district.
They legislated boldly that winter; passed the law for making the $5,000,000 loan; for the survey of three railroads and two canals across the State; and the general wild-cat banking law.
I returned by what was called the "Northern Route;" found Pontiac a little village. They were building a mill at Fenton. Elisha Williams was the only man in Shiawassee county, and Scott in Clinton. So it was a day's journey from house to house. From Scott's there was a trail direct to Lyons, through the dense timber, 25 miles, and another road by Portland, where there were a few families. I well recollect finding very comfortable quarters in the tavern at Lyons, kept by Judge Lyon. One day, coming from Ion, I was intending to stop at Edward Robin son's but, from the snow drifted on the open Indian fields, lost my track, and turned back to a shanty where some men were building a block house, which was afterward the tavern at Ada. They kindly invited me to stop with them, saying they could put my horse in the shed and give me lodgings; and thus I should be the first traveler stopping at a public house in that place. One of these persons was Mr. Brunet. I traveled all winter on horseback. Although the sleighing was good, I did not trust its continuance.
My business had led me to travel much up and down the Grand River country, and I had become more acquainted with the people elsewhere than at Grand Rapids. But in the spring of 1837, I sat down at Grand Rapids to make it my permanent home. I boarded at the Eagle, then kept by our late Mr. Moran. The three brothers Nelson were boarders, and had a store opposite. Being a little suspicious of Indian sugar, they used to bring sugar from the store for their tea and coffee. Charles H Taylor had his shop over their store, and A. Hosford Smith had a store further down the street. Waterloo was then rather the business street. There were two warehouses on the river below, and two at the foot of Monroe street. Uncle Louis Campau's mansion became a part of the Rathbun House. Richard Godfroy had a like house where the Catholic church was afterward built, and Myron Hinsdill lived where is not the Morton House. There was also a building on the north side of Monroe street, in which Drs. Wilson and Shepard had their office, and Esquire Beebe (I think) his justice office. Dea. Page, with his three beautiful daughters, Mrs. Richmond one of them and Judge Almy, lived where Butterworth & Lowe's machine shop now is; and A.D. Rathbone had a shanty office near Bronson street.
Though there were but few houses, there were a good many people. There were the brothers Lyman and Edward Emerson, and then, or soon after, one Fuller. I cannot say precisely who were in Grand Rapids, as they were coming in fast, and all full of hope for a continuance of good money-making times that would make all rich. The citizens were friendly and social; a stranger was kindly welcomed, and all soon became acquainted.
Mr. Thompson was the first keeper of the Bridge Street House, and the Gen. Withey. Wm A Richmond was clerk of the Kent Company. Mr. Calder had a store near Mr. Coggeshall's; Ed. Emerson one on Canal street; and many French people had followed Uncle Louis -- the Godfroys, Mr. Marion, and many mechanics, who, after the change of times, went to St. Louis and other parts.
The settlers out of the village were Judge Davis, and the Reeds out by the lake; Alvin Wansey, the Messrs Guild and Burton, by the Fair Grounds, Esquires Chubb and Howlett, toward Grandville, and then over the river, E. H. Turner, Capt. Sibley, and Messrs Davis, and afterward, James Scribner. Others had gone upon the lately purchased Indian lands, and soon many more came in, and went upon the unsurveyed lands north of the Grand River.
There was no grist mill this side of one near Gull Prairie, nor was there need of any; for the little grain raised, whether wheat or oats, was brought up for horse feed, at $2 per bushel. There was a saw mill about where Sweet's Hotel now stands, one where the plaster mill stands, at Plaster Creek, and the Indian Mill on Indian Mill Creek. They did put into the last named mill run of granite stones to crack corn, and the like. At a later day, coming in possession of that property after the mill had disappeared, I removed these stones to the front of my house, where they are an historical horse-block.
The Indians still lived on the west side of the river, and planted large fields of corn. They had a little church and a priest -- the simple-hearted and good Viszoczky. Horace Gray and his brother Lyman were also here; and that spring Horace and I went down the river to Grand Haven in a kind of keel-boat, sailed by Capt. Sibley, and propelled by the current. We walked down the lake shore to Muskegon, where were then living only Mr. Lasley and Mr. Trottier ( called Trucky), Indian traders. Martin Ryerson was then clerk of Trottier, at $8 per month. On our return up the river, we came as far as Yeomans' (Lamont) in a little "dug-out" canoe, as big as a clam-shell. Stopping over night, we concluded it would be easier to foot it up through the woods than to paddle the canoe around by the river.
That spring there was great activity in business here and all over the country, and an expectation of a continuance of the good times. But, as unexpected as a thunder-storrn, a change came over the country. The New York Legislature passed a law authorizing the banks to suspend specie payment; and Gov Mason convened ours for the same purpose. At that extra session they not only authorized the banks then in operation to suspend, but also such banks as should go into operation under the general banking law lately passed; which resulted in the killing of forty wild-cat banks.
When I left Detroit in April, all was hope and expectation of as good a season for speculation as the preceding one; but when there again in June, all the plats of choice lands and villages were removed from the walls of the hotels and public places, and all faces had so changed that one could hardly recognize his acquaintances; and it was taken as an insult for one to speak of land operations. But we were so deep in the woods that we did not seem to realize, for some time, the great change that had come over the rest of the word.
Among the Grand Rapids enterprises, a steamboat had been bought to Toledo to run on the Grand River. On the way it was wrecked on Thunder Bay Island, of Lake Huron. But the engine was saved and brought around, and Richard Godfroy built a boat, which made its first trip to Grandville on the 4th of July. We had quite a celebration; an oration on the boat, and great rejoicing generally on that account.
Though I met no one in the Grand River Valley who had ever seen me before I came into the State, still, strangely, they nominated and elected me to the Legislature, to represent the Grand River district, consisting of Ottawa, Kent, Ionia and Clinton counties. Capt. Stoddard (captain of the steamboat), a brother-in-law of Mr. Bostwick, was the Whig candidate; a worthy man, who lived afterward at Charlotte.
There were then two taverns -- the Bridge Street and the Eagle. The convention was held at the Bridge Street House, and I was boarding at the Eagle. In the evening who should arrive but the Hon C.C. Trowbridge, the Whig candidate for Governor -- out canvassing? He was acquainted with the landlady, Mrs. Moran, and she introduced me to him. He inquired of me for his friends -- Henry, Bostwick and Stoddard. I showed him where they lived. The gentlemen being out, I introduced him to the ladies. The next morning, on meeting Mr. Trowbridge, he expressed, as well he might, his surprise at seeing in the backwoods such a circle of accomplished ladies; and also that a political opponent should have been so civil to him.
There were but five places of holding the polls -- there being but five organized townships in the four counties -- in Kent count, Byron and Kent; in Ionia county, Ionia and Maple, and in Clinton county, DeWitt. The election was held at the Bridge Street Hotel. All the voters of Ottawa county came up on the steamboat, and, in a line, marched to the polls. I was elected by a large majority, and in January, 1838, went to Detroit on horseback. The going was very bad, for there had been heavy rains and snow.
The great questions before the Legislature that winter, were the location of the railroads, and the amount to be expended on each road. For the improvement of the Grand and Maple Rivers, $30,000 was appropriated, which was applied to improving the harbor at Grand Rapids, clearing out the river channel at the foot of Monroe street, and removing the sunken logs all the way up the river to Lyons. Several towns were organized: In Ottawa county, Ottawa, Georgetown and Tallmadge; in Kent county, Grand Rapids, Paris Walker, Plainfield, Ada and Vergennes. Some titles were given in the military line: Gen. Withey and Col. Finney. Rix Robinson was made one of the five Internal Improvement Commissioners. There was a law passed authorizing Kent county to borrow money to build a court house; Esq. Able and Judge Davis were the Supervisors of the county, and Esq. Abel came into borrow money from the school fund to build the said court house. In his hurry, we got the money, much of it , in bills of the failing wild-cat banks; and I fear the county has some of it still on hand.
I must say a word about banking at Grand Rapids. There was the Grand River Bank, of which Almy was President and Richmond Cashier. It was in the office of the Kent Company, on Bridge street. Mr. Coggeshall and some others became dissatisfied, and undertook to establish another bank, to be located in the Campau plat part of the village. They got a room over Smith & Evans' store, about where the west part of Luce's Block now is; and after much urging, Louis Campau consented to be President and Simeon Johnson to be Cashier. They named it the "People's Bank;" got plates engraved, and some bills struck off, and even put in circulation. The capital stock was $100,000. So, under the law, it required $30,000 in specie to start on. Being all ready, as they claimed, they sent for the Bank Commissioner, Digby V. Bell, to come, make examination, and put the bank in legal operation. But instead of finding the required amount of specie, he found but $6,000; and they proposed to make up the rest by a draft of Mr. Coggeshall, of $20,000, on a broker in New York, and one of Mr. Ketchum, on Chicago, for the balance. Mr. Bell did not see the propriety of the arrangement, and said it would not do; so what next was to be done? They not only had bills out, but they had received deposits; and the specie shown, I suppose, was deposited to be drawn out as soon as the bank was in operation. They were very anxious to go on in some way, and so far satisfied the Commissioner that they could, that he agreed to give them a month for the purpose. But then it was to be on the condition that the means on hand should go into the hands of a receiver, for the security of the bill-holders and depositors. When it was talked over who that man should be, they could agree on no one by myself. I did not at all like any connection with the matter, but, after much urging, consented to it. It was to be kept as it was for the month, except to pay out to such cash depositors as should claim their money, and to redeem their bills then in circulation. Without any formality Mr. Bell handed be the keys of the safes, and said there was about such an amount of specie in this safe; and bills, and what he had passed upon as specie equivalent, in the other.
The next morning, on opening the safe containing the paper deposits, I found missing some $2,000. I felt it rather an awkward predicament. But soon Mr. Campau came in, and said there were two keys to that safe, and he thought Mr. Cook had the other one. More of the money was soon drawn out by depositors and bill-holders; and when the month came round they were no better prepared to go into operation than before, and I had to keep charge still longer. But, wishing to go East, Mr. Bostwick took charge of what there was left, and I went back to Troy, having been absent two years, instead of a few months, as I expected when I left there.
After visiting for a time, I picked up my law library, rather scattered through the offices of the city, and returned to Grand Rapids, to the surprise of some; for it had been reported that I was not going to come back, otherwise they said I should have been again nominated for the Legislature. As I was afterward, in 1840, put in nomination for the Senate, to be beaten by H. P. Bridge, the opposing candidate.
When I first came to Grand Rapids, Louis Campau was said to be worth $100,000; but when the change of times came, he made an assignment of all his property for the benefit of his creditors, except the Old Congregational Church, which he deeded to his mother. He had built that church for the Catholics, and they held meetings in it for some time. After a time she sold it to the Congregational Society, reserving, however, the iron cross. I drew the deed from Mrs. Campau. Mr. Ballard was present, and urged not to have the cross excepted in the deed, saying that he could worship under the cross. But she would not consent. When they wanted to take it down, men were sent up to remove it. They built a staging, and tried to lift it out of the timber in which it stood. When they found they could not, they sawed it off. Owing to a defect in their arrangements, it fell to the ground, and in falling, carried with it one of the men, a Mr. Post, who, of course, was instantly killed [This was June 24, 1846]. At the time I was standing on the steps of the National Hotel, with D. V. Bell, who remarked of the man being killed; "It has only knocked the shell off." This was by no means said in a thoughtless manner, but to express his religious views, that the body was not the real man.
Mr. Campau had erected a number of other building, among them the Eagle Tavern, the yellow store, and a dwelling for his brother Toussaint, on the corner where Luce's Block now stands. He had started Toussaint in business, and becoming surety for his goods, probably occasioned the necessity of his making an assignment. Still he had considerable left after all his debts were paid. His brother Antoine, C.I. Walker and Judge Martin were his assignees.
Times became very dull in our valley, and there was very little increase in the population. In Grand Rapids there was a decrease. Emigration all went past us to Illinois and Wisconsin. There was no money, and our merchants, who tried to do business, had to trust the farmers on the strength of their growing crops. But the wheat, when raised, brought but three shillings a bushel, so there was a general failure of all business. We had enough to eat, but little to wear; and if we could get money enough to pay postage, it was all we expected. All that was done, was by exchange. Judge Morrison says that in building a pretty good house he paid out but one dollar. All that was done, was by exchange or "dicker."
Times were decidedly dull; and to fill up the time, we used, in the evenings, to attend the Debating Society, of which C.I. Walker, Mr. Ballard, and Charles H Taylor were the greatest talkers. And then we used to get up hops at the "Bridge Street" and "National": had John Ellis or musician. Ellis afterward "hung up his fiddle and his bow," and long flourished as a successful mill-owner in Alpine.
Some settlers had gone on the Government lands north of the river, before they were surveyed. In some cases the lines cut their improvements badly, and then there was some clashing among the claimants. But it was agreed that a committee of each township should settle these claims.
When the public sale of these lands came on, in August, 1839, the great question was, how to raise money to pay for their lands, for they had expected to have made it by their farming. Though told there was no danger, they were so fearful that speculators would bid off their lands, that they went to Ionia with clubs to fight them off. But the speculators did not come, as they had had enough of land speculation in 1836. Still, some of these squatters borrowed money at 100 per cent, of Mr. Richmond -- acting for Gov Hunt, of New York -- and paid for the lots, giving a mortgage on the same. It was a long time before some of these mortgages were paid; and those who let it pass, and did not buy, did much better, as you will see further on. But were not those hard times with us?
Congress, in the session of 1841, granted to each of the new States in which there were Government lands, 500,000 acres for internal improvements. The next winter our Legislature passed an act, accepting that grant, and authorizing the Governor, Mr. Barry, to make the selection, as Congress had authorized. Knowing that I was a woodsman, he wrote to me asking me if I would select those lands. Not having much business on hand, I answered that I would, but wished his instructions, or at least, opinion, as to what class of lands it would be best to take -- whether pine or farming. Much to my dissatisfaction, he said he should leave it entirely to my judgment. Still, I accepted the appointment, and prepared for the business. I went to the Land Office at Ionia to procure the necessary plats. Judge Lovell, who was then the Register, politely gave me every facility. Frederick Hall wishing to go out as an assistant, I employed him at twelve shillings a day; and I also took James D Lyon, then a youth, as cook and camp-keeper. I was then boarding with Judge Lyon, who kept the Bridge Street House, and I had been acting as agent for Junius H Hatch, after Mr. Walker left. But Mr. Yale had come on with full power of attorney from Mr. Hatch, so I passed that business to him, purchased an Indian pony, tents, blankets, etc., and on the 20th of March put into the woods -- the ground being as fully settled as in mid-summer.
Our first trip was up by the Wright settlement, and the west part of Alpine, where we found Coffee and Gooding, they being the last settlers, three miles beyond any others. We encamped the first night on a creek near the north line of Wright. The net day, leaving Lyon to cook supper and see that the pony did not stray, Hall and myself ranged the woods far around to see the character of the land, keeping our reckoning by the surveyed lines and surveyor's marks, returning weary at night, ready for supper, and to wrap ourselves in our blankets. This was repeated from day to day, moving our camp as occasion required. In that trip we explored all that splendid timbered country, in the east part of Ottawa county, down to the Grand River, along which were the only settlers. After some ten or twelve days we came in to get a fresh supply of provisions, and then went out again.
I had heard of prairie lands up on the Muskegon, so to see them I went out by the east part of Alpine, and there found Mr. Hills, three miles in the woods, making shingles; and his accomplished wife got us a dinner. Hills soon after died. His sons were then young, and probably did not expect all the good fortune that they have since realized. We encamped by Camp Lake, and the next day reached Croton. There we found a saw mill, owned by Hermann Joachim, who had purchased of Mr. Brooks, then at Newaygo. To my disappointment, the prairies proved to be but thin-soiled pine plains. So we quit exploring in that direction, and struck through for the Flat River, coming out about at Greenville. There I found the country much more satisfactory -- rich burr-oak plains and good pine timber. I there found Luther Lincoln, who, with his son, a boy of thirteen, were living a hermit life -- the only inhabitants of Montcalm country. Still he seemed glad of company, and explored with us while in those parts.
There were in Otisco, Ionia county, Mr. Cook, Mr. Morse, and a few others; in Oakfield, Mr. Tower and sons, Mr. Davis and Mr. Crinnion; in Courtland, Mr. Beers and four or five other families; four families in Cannon; one in Gratton; but few at Plainfield, and none on the road from there to Grand Rapids.
There was a good deal of feeling and some alarm among our people about the selection of so large a quantity of land in one county, under the belief that they would be kept out of the market by the State, or held at a high price. So, out of regard to those feelings, I made a trip down the lake shore. We went out on the trail to Muskegon, where there was then one saw mill; crossed over the head of the lake by boat, swimming my pony; then by a trail to White River. At the head of White Lake we found Charles Mears, the only settler north of Muskegon. He had a little mill on a small creek, and a small sloop to ship his lumber to Chicago. His men, with their boat, set us across the lake. It made the pony blow to keep his head above the water; but he weathered it, and we struck for the Clay Banks, and so kept along, finding a stray boat to cross the Pentwater, and went as far as Pere Marquette. We then returned, exploring some, back through the country; came to the outlet of the White Lake; forded it on the bar, and came to the mouth of the Muskegon, expecting means of crossing, so as to come to Grand Rapids. But there was no one there, and we had to go back round the north side, and encamp. The next day some Indians carried us over to Muskegon, and we returned on the trail in a rain, making rather uncomfortable camping. We made up our minds that our trip down the lake shore was one that invited no repetition for the pleasure of the thing.
I was instructed to make report of such lands as I had selected to the Land Office, and also to the Government. But thus far I had been looking generally, and had not reported any. On much reflection, I made up my mind that, as the State was deeply in debt for building railroads, and the State warrants, as the State obligations were called, were in the hands of many people all over the State, and the State had no means of meeting this indebtedness but these lands, the Legislature would be pressed on the subject, and would pass a law putting the lands into the market at such a price that they would sell, and be purchased by the settlers. I therefore determined to make the selections from the nearest unsold lands up and down the Grand River. I afterward made my explorations with that view, and soon made report of selections. I continued my explorations until the 4th of July, and then again went out in the fall. I was in the woods in Bowne, when that fall of snow of more than two feet came on the 18th day of November. The old settlers will well recollect that winter, 1842-3, which lasted until some time in April -- five months. As I was about the country that fall, I noticed a great number of hogs, and on asking the owners what they were going to do with them, they, "let them run." They had lived through the previous winter on acorns, and if killed now the pork would not pay for the salt. Quite three-fourths of them were salted in the snow, and also some of the cattle.
Hall and Lyon had quit me some time in the spring, and I then employed a Dutchman by the name of Michael Thome as camp-keeper, and carried on the business without further help. He has a find farm in Alpine, bought with his wages.
I selected some lands, also, on the south side of the river, in Gaines and Byron, and some in Ottawa, In Jamestown, and Statesland, thus named from this fact. The quantity selected and reported was nearly 400,000 acres; the balance being selected by other parties in other parts of the State. Mine were mostly farming lands, but some pine.
As I anticipated, the State Legislature did, at the next session, pass a law for the sale of those lands, at the nominal Government price of $1.25 per acre, payable in State dues; warrants could then be purchased at 40 cents on the dollar, bring the lands at 50 cents per acre. After the passage of this law, the settlers who had not paid for their lands -- and there were many of them who had not -- wished me to report their lands as selected, and I did so. The State Land Office was then at Marshall, and when the sale came on in July, 1843, they sent out by me to bid in their lands -- having, most of them, by some means, got the small sum required -- and all got their places without opposition, for, though sold so cheap, none were purchased on speculation. After the lands had all been offered at auction, I made entry of a few lots, and paid for them with the warrants I had received for my services in selecting. I charged $3 per day, and got what was worth 40 cents on the dollar; but in paying for the land it was worth dollar for dollar.
Though but few purchases were made at the first sale, some from the east part of the State, having knowledge of the opportunity, soon made purchases. After a time, emigrants bound for the West, came to look, saying to me (for they all came to me for information), "We don't expect to like Michigan lands, but as they are selected lands, and can be got so cheaply, we thought we would come and see you." But, to their surprise, they were se;; suited, and all purchased. On their report, a dozen would follow, so that in a few years the great majority of those lands were settled. I not only furnished them with plats, and directed them to the lands, bur purchased warrants, sent them to the office, and made the purchases. If the funds wee a little short, I gave them time to make up the deficiency, and if much was lacking, I would take the land in my own name, as security, giving them a receipt for what they paid. I managed to keep every many who came, in some way; and never had occasion to complain that they did not, on their part, fulfill their engagements.
I have been thus particular about those Internal Improvement Lands, to remind you to how great an extent it advanced the settlement of our valley. When, a few years afterward, the Hollanders came in, and took the balance of those lands down near their settlement, and they and the other settlers came to Grand Rapids for their supplies, business revived, and we moved on again.
None of these first purchasers had much means -- just enough to pay for their lands, and subsist until they could raise something. For a time they got on slowly. What they raised would bring but little. But they made improvements; their calves grew; so that when prices improved, they found themselves better off than they were aware; built barns and good framed houses, in place of their little first log cabins.
It does me good to go over those then forest lands along well-made roads, lined with fine white houses, rich orchards, and fruitful fields.
Nine out of ten of those have succeeded -- showing that cheap lands and industry are the surest road to competence, especially for young men and those of limited means.
I do not at one recognize them all, but they do me, and refer, with seeming gratitude, to their first coming to the country, and my aiding them in getting their farms. This to me is better pay than the little fees they gave me for those services.
GRAND RIVER VALLEY IN 1837
There was rush of settlers into the Grand River Valley in 1836, and thereabouts; and a furor for locating lands as a speculative investment; a mania for platting cities and selling lots. This was followed, of course, by a reaction. From 1833 to 1837 may be called the years of occupation. The furor passed, and the sober realities of backwoods life had bought people somewhat to their senses. In order to give a more general and graphic view of this Valley in 1837, Professor Franklin Everett procured from the Hon. John Ball another paper relating to that period, for his "Memoirs of the Grand River Valley." Like that which has just been given, the article is one that will be perused with ever increasing interest as time goes on. It is of historic value on account of its graphic simplicity, and from the further fact that is from the pen of one who knew whereof he wrote, from personal observations; a man of proverbial honesty, and whose tenacious memory was fortified by his methodical habit of preserving a record in copious notes of what he saw and learned. It is here copied, only slightly abridged, from Everett's book. Though containing some repetitions of matters that appear elsewhere, it could not be much condensed without marring:
In 1837 the Grand River settlement was far detached from the rest of the
world. To reach it from any direction had its difficulties, and required much
time. If approached by what was called the northern route, through Shiawassee
and Clinton counties, it was a day's journey from house to house to Ionia. The
only other approach with a team and wagon was by the "Territorial
Road," as it was called, through Calhoun and Kalamazoo, then by a day's
journey from Battle Creek to Kalamazoo, to Yankee Springs, and another to Grand
Rapids, or other parts. This was the usual route to Kent and Ottawa counties;
keeping over the "openings" east of the Thornapple River to Ada. There
was a bridle path or trail through the timbered lands direct out through Gaines
to Green Lake and Yankee Springs; and another through Byron to Allegan; and
there was communication by keel-boats and "dug-outs" up and down the
river. By these routes all supplies of goods, and even most of the breadstuffs
for Kent and Ottawa counties were brought. In Ionia county, being longer
settled, they raised their own bread.
The traveler on horseback, by the usual route in those days, would stop at night at Williams'; and later in the year at DeLang's; the next night at Scott's; and by the next night, riding through a dense forest twenty-five miles, he would reach Lyons, perhaps Ionia. Or, by another route, through a more open country, he could go to Portland, and down along the Grand River to Lyons. There were then at Portland, Mr. Boyer and three or four others. At Lyons was a tavern, kept by the late Judge Lyon. His brother Edward, since in Detroit, was living in a fine little cottage on a bluff of the river. There were perhaps some dozen other villagers, and a few farmers. Mr. Eaton and Mr. Irish, whose wives were of the Lyon family, had farms upon the Portland road.
Three miles above Ionia was a saw mill on Prairie Creek; and on a little stream from the hill, a grist mill. At Ionia were a tavern, a store, mechanic shops, and a few dwellings, all unpretending and limited in build and business. But hereabouts, in the country and in the woods, were a number of farmers -- Esquire Yeomans, a little below the village, in his log house, and all the rest in theirs. If night overtook the weary traveler too far away to reach the usual place of stopping, he was always kindly welcomed to lodgings and fare, the best the cabin afforded; and would find as marked proof of good order, skill in cooking and neatness, as he would find in the sumptuous mansion. And also in the cabin the traveler would usually find a shelf filled with instructive books; and from conversation with the inmates he would discover they had been read. The people of the Valley were so few that the person who traveled much soon became acquainted with most of the dwellers therein, and the sparseness of settlers led to greater cordiality when they met. Their common wants, sometimes for almost the needs of life, led to kindly thought of each other, and kindly, neighborly acts. And then they had the example of the Indians, then residing all along the Valley, who are always hospitable, and who not infrequently aided the first settlers, by furnishing the means of subsistence from their cornfields and the chase.
The Indian is too good a farmer to till a poor soil. Their cornfields were on the rich bottom land of the rivers. They had one at Lyons, in the forks of the Maple and Grand rivers. Ionia was located on an old Indian improvement. An extensive field was at the mouth of the Flat River, on the right bank, and then again at the mouth of the Thornapple.
As the Indian mode of tillage was the laborious one of breaking up the ground with the hoe, the settlers, in preference to taking the unsubdued land, plowed the Indian fields for the privilege of cultivating a part; and side by side, the Indian corn generally looked the best, for the squaws were very good with the hoe.
Rix Robinson, the first Indian Trader on the Grand River, resided at Ada, and his brother Edward one mile below, in his log house, from necessity larger than usual, to accommodate his large family of 15 -- his "baker's dozen," as he used to say. Still, they often had to entertain the traveler bound to Grand Rapids. The bedroom of the weary traveler was the roof or garret part of the house, with good beds, eight or ten, arranged under the eaves, access to which was under the ridge-pole; it being high enough there for a man to stand upright. There were always two in a bed, and the beds were taken as the parties retired; say a man and his wife first, they two boys or girls, and so on. This is mentioned as the usual manner at stopping places. At first it would seem a little embarrassing to women and modest men. But use soon overcomes that feeling; and always in those times all seemed disposed to behave civilly, and to act the part of true gentlemen; occasion their kind entertainers the least possible trouble, and still reward them liberally for their fare, as was right they should, as their food had come all the way from Buffalo or Cleveland.
Uncle Louis Campau, as he was usually called, was the next trader on the river, unless Mr. Generaus, at the Maple, was before him. Campau sat down at Grand Rapids, and built his log dwelling and warehouse about half way between Pearl and Bridge streets, on the bank of the river, the trail to which was where now is Monroe street.
In the year 1837, the Grand River settlements were far detached from the rest of the world. The approach from any direction required much time, was called the northern route, through Shiawassee and Clinton counties, there was but one stopping place in each -- Lang's and Scott's. then there were some twenty-five miles of dense woods to reach Lyons, and about the same to Portland. These were the usual routines in, for the Ionia people.
For Kent county and the region below, the approach was made usually by the so-called Thornapple road. This came from Battle Creek to Yankee Springs, in Barry county; then east of the Thornapple River, through the openings to Ada, where it joined the road from Ionia to Grand Rapids and Grandville. The travel below Grand Rapids was, in summer, by keep-boats or canoes, and in winter, on the ice. There was a trail, or bridle-path, to Grand Haven, and down the lake beach to Muskegon, and also to Allegan. Sometimes there was a winter road more direct, out, going through the heavy timbered land in Gaines to Green Lake, Middleville and Yankee Springs. There were other Indian trails in many directions.
Move traveling was on horseback, requiring five days from Detroit to reach Grand Rapids. From Ionia, the traveler crossed the Grand River at Ada in a canoe, into which he put his saddle, towing his horse behind the boat. Coming from the south, when the water was high, the crossing of the Thornapple was in the same fashion. Soon scows were put on the river, on which teams and loads could cross.
No roads as yet were made, nor bridges built, so the raveling by wagon was rough and slow.
As to settlements, beginning at Portland, there were Mr. Moore, Mr. Boyer, and some half dozen other families. At Lyons, ten miles down the river, a few more than at Portland. At Ionia, the village was small, but there were quite a number of farmers around. They made their first planting ground of the old Indian improvement, where the city of Ionia now is. Esquire Yeomans had his farm below the village, and some had settle on the other side of the river.
At Lowell, on the left bank of the river, was Mr. Marsac, and on the right bank, on an extended plain, and old Indian plating ground, was Lewis Robinson. At Ada, were Rix and Edward Robinson.
There was already quite a population at Grand Rapids. Many settlers followed Mr. Campau from Detroit, and others came from all parts East. The Messrs. Hinsdill, Henry and others from Vermont; James Lyman and his brother, from Connecticut, and many more than from all other States, from New York. Perhaps at this time there were 500 in all -- more at times than could be well accommodated from room. It seemed to be an attractive spot, where every comer seemed to think it was the place for him to make a fortune. This was the case in the first part of the year, but before the year was through, that feeling had much abated, for it was in this year that the speculation bubble burst.
At this time, though Canal and Kent streets were nearly impassable by reason to stumps, and mud from the water oozing from the hills above lot were selling for $50 per foot. There was a passable road from Fulton street to Coldbrook under the bluff on the east. Canal street was, in wet weather, little better than a quagmire.
There were as yet but few farmers in Kent county. Out on South Division street, beyond the Fair Grounds, was Alvin Wansey. Over beyond, were Joel Guild and Barney Burton. Southwest of Reeds Lake were Judge Davis and two Reeds. Going down the Grandville road, all was woods. At Plaster Creek was a small saw mill. Plaster could be seen in the bed of the stream near it. As one went on, to the right, and off from the road, near a marsh were the salt springs, with paths deep worn by the deer coming to lick the salt water; and just below, near the river, near the river, were observed the Indian mounds, near where the railroad now crosses the river. On the left of the road, farther on, was Esquire Chugg's log cabin, and over the creek beyond were Mr. Howlett and Mr. Thompson.
The first house in Grandville was that of Julius C Abel; the next that of Major Britton. Osgood & Blake kept a tavern -- Osgood was a lawyer. Charles Oakes was there, and a number of others; and they claimed that, as the navigation of the river was so much better up to that point than it was above Grandville would compete with Grand Rapids. Then some half dozen settlers had begun in the woods south of Grandville. On Buck Creek, Haynes Gordon and Wright had saw mills. Near the mouth of Rush Creek, the Michigan Lumbering Company had a saw mill, and a Mr. Ketchum, of Marshall, one a little above. A little beyond, in Ottawa county, were Hiram Jenison and brothers. Beyond these few settlers all was deep forest to the lake, and to the then new little village of Allegan.
The lands north of the Grand River, in Kent and Ottawa counties, had only been purchased from the Indians the preceding year; were not in the market, and were not even yet surveyed. Still, settlers began this year to go on them, and to make preemptions, as they called it. They erected log cabins in which to live, as all the farmers in the valley did; and many of the houses in the villages were of the same construction. Still, then, as ever, these pioneers were hopeful, and seemed quite happy.
All the impression the white man had made on the country was but a cipher. The largest clearings had but a few acres. The old Indian clearings were of greater extent than the white man's. The Indians had quite a tract cleared at the junction of the Maple and Grand Rivers, at Ionia, Flat River, and Thornapple. At Grand Rapids their clearings extended along the river from Mill Creek down to a short distance above the Plaster Mills, buy not extending far back from the river. At Grandville was the Little Prairie.
The Government built for the Indians a mill on the creek, near where it is crossed by the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad. The Indians had a village of twenty or thirty houses built of the lumber sawed by this mill. In 1837 all the ground spoken of above as then a cultivated field was planted with corn, which the women well hoed. The men fished and hunted. They lived all up and down the river, and through the country, as ever before; and every fall assembled at Grand Rapids to receive pay for their lands.
All beyond these Indian and white men's clearings was an interminable forest, the same as before the civilized man had entered upon the lands. In this valley they lived in peace, and mostly there were in those times confidence and kindness between the different races. But there were some wrongs, more often committed by the whites than the Indians.
All was a grand and noble forest, with its tall pine, its sugar tree and beech, and the sturdy oak scattered over what are called the "openings." These openings lands extended along generally on both sides of the river to a greater or less distance back, through Kent and Ionia counties, up the Flat River to Greenville, and along the east side of the Thornapple. From Grand Rapids to Plainfield, and about that village, there was comparatively little timber, so that the traveler on the old trail could see quite a distance about him. This scarcity of timber was also observable in parts of Grattan, Oakfield and Montcalm. But all of Ottawa, the south part of Kent, to the Thornapple, and the north part, commencing even in Walker, and the south part of Ionia county, were heavily timbered with beech, maple, elm, oak, and hard wood trees, with patches of pine. Toward and along the lake in Ottawa county, the timber was pine and hemlock. In these forests the traveler could often see the fleet deer crossing his track, sometimes pursued by the wolf.
On the west side of the river, near where the Bridge street bridge is, were two block houses, where a Baptist Missionary preacher or teacher, by the name of Slater, taught some of the Indians. But Father Viszoczky (the Catholic) had more converts, and a little meeting house at their village below, which was the only meeting house on either side. In this, that worthy priest would hold forth, to the Indians, the French and English-speaking people, to each in their own language.
Of course, there were no bridges over the river, but there was a fording place between Islands No 2 and 3, or below the G. R. and I. railroad bridge; and when the water was too high for fording, a ferry boat was used.
And now the effect of the break-down of the wild speculation of 1836, and the high hope of the first half of this year, began to be seen. Faces began to indicate thought and care. Business flagged, and Mr. Campau's laborers and mechanics, lacking occupation, began to seek labor elsewhere. No sale for corner-lots, and money, to pay for bread to eat, grew scarce. In Kent county, not half enough grain, of all kinds, was raised to feed the horses, and all else had to come from Ohio or New York -- for to the west of us, they had raised as little as we. As another trouble, our wild-cat money would not buy things beyond our own limits.
Monroe street follows the trail to Campau's Indian trading post, on the bank of the river. It kept along close to the impassable swamp, extending north from the corner of Monroe and Division streets, then wound along at the foot of an abrupt hill from Ottawa to Pearl street. This same hill connected with the (now disappearing) hill between Pearl and Lyon streets. Beyond these hills the trail descended to Bronson street. South of Monroe street, the descent was steep, and the ground was so low as to be deeply covered at high water. The boat channel of the river was between the island and the main land, and the landing was where the blocks of stores now are on the south side of Monroe street, at the foot of Canal street. West of the foot of Canal street, north of Pearl street, was Mr. Wadsworth's saw mill.
TEN YEARS AFTERWARD
Another view -- of the village and valley in 1846 -- well supplements the two
papers just given. Franklin Everett came here in 1846 as the Principal of the
Grand Rapids Academy. Observing what he saw, and making note thereof, about
twenty years later he wrote out for publication a descriptive picture of the
place as he saw it when he came, and after another ten years reproduced it
"revised and amended by the author," in his "Memorials."
Condensed, or, as printers sometimes say, "boiled down." the more
essential parts of the sketch are here given:
We will now look at Grand Rapids as it appeared in 1846; then, as now, the chief town in the Grand River Valley.
It was emphatically "a story and a-half village," with a population of 1,500 mostly on about fifty acres of land. Taking the region enclosed by Fulton street on the south, Division street on the east, Bridge street on the north, and the river on the west, we have all that had the appearance of a village. A few scattering houses were outside, on Bostwick's Addition, and on the west side of the river. Several very good residences were on Fulton street, east of the limits given; and far out of town Mr. Bostwick had his cosy home, fitted up with admirable surroundings, at what always should be called the "Bostwick Place." The extreme house at the northeast was at the corner south of the Central School House. The buildings, with very few exceptions, were of wood; the residences and a good part of the business places, a story and a-half high. The buildings, whether for residences or business, were simple structures, for use and not display. The exceptional buildings were five stone stores and two brick ones on Monroe street, two stone blocks or double stores up Canal street, near Bronson; two stone stores at the foot of Monroe street, where now is "Campau Place." To these we may add the wing of the Rathbun House, the residence of Mr. Turner on the west side of the river; and the Almy House, on Bronson street. There were, besides, seven small brick or stone houses.
The churches were the Congregational, the Methodist, the Episcopal, and the Dutch Reformed. The Congregational was the only one that had the air of a church. It stood at the head of Monroe street, between that and Fulton street. It was a pretty, modest structure, in good architectural proportions. The Episcopal church stood at the corner of Division and Bronson streets. It was a mere temporary concern, until the society could afford to build. It afterward did service for the Baptists in the same way. The Methodist church was a better building, but still of modest size. It stood where their present building stands. The Dutch Reformed church was an unfinished stone building, afterward sold for business purposes.
The Catholics had no church edifice. They had a house which was fitted up for a chapel at the corner of Monroe and Ottawa streets. In 1849 they build a stone church on the adjoining lot.
The Baptists had an organization, but no place of worship. They held their meetings in the temporary court house on the common.
The streets were none of them graded, and there were sidewalks only on Division, Monroe and Canal streets; those, with the exception of a part of Monroe street, simply a track the width of two planks. On Monroe street each had placed something for a sidewalk before his premises.
The business places were mostly on Monroe street and the south end of Canal street. Monroe street was generally occupied from Ottawa street down. Business centered at what is now Campau Place. The store furthest up Monroe street was where Luce's block now stands. Turning into Canal street, on the east side were one story wooden buildings, about half way to Bronson street. Up Canal street, at the foot of Bronson street, was on each side a double store.
A wing-dam, running half way across the river, served to divert some of the water into a canal of small capacity. The dam was built across the river soon after, and the canal enlarged. On this Canal were three saw-mills, two large grist-mills, two small machine shops, a tannery, cloth works and carding machines. On Coldbrook was a larger tannery, and further up a turning shop. Lyon's salt works were in operation, doing a small business.
As it regards the appearance of the village and its surroundings, there was a primitive air to the whole. Enterprise had been checked, and had not recovered from the shock. Capital was wofully lacking. The streets of the village were simply horrible. West of Division street and north of Fountain street, was a fine musical frog-pond, and between that and Canal street was the beautiful "Prospect Hill."
A good open bridge was across the river at Bridge street. A good one-story school house was on Fulton street (burned two years afterward). There were two other school houses -- temporary concerns. There was nothing on the east hill except along Fulton street.
Trace was a round-about concern. The mercantile interest was represented by about a dozen general merchants, one drug store, two hardware stores, and eight or ten groceries. The stocks of goods were small -- from $3,000 to $5,000 -- generally bought and sold on credit. Two or three combined lumbering with their mercantile business. Others did business as they could; getting some cash; trusting extensively, especially those who were carrying on such business as required the employment of help. As most of the business men had little capital, they were obligated to make arrangements with the merchants to give orders on their stores, themselves to pay when they got their returns. Of course, to do business in this way, goods must be sold at a high figure. "One per cent." was the ruling profit; that is one cent profit for one cent investment. Let us not censure the merchant for his high profits. It was the only way business could be done. It seems hard that the farmer must give that high price for his supplies, and pay in wheat at fifty cents a bushel. But it must be borne in mind that the merchant could not get his pay for a long time, with a fair chance of never receiving it at all. Many farmers who were trusted in this way were afterward thankful for the accommodation.
Grand Rapids had been a theater of speculation. By reference to the statement of Mr Ball, it will be seen what were the ideas about ten years before, when lots were held at about $50 per front foot. There was no such talk in 1846-47. During those years some transfers were made on Monroe and Canal streets. The two lots forming the corner north of Lyon street, at its junction with Canal street, were sold for $400; a lot below Waterloo street, on Monroe street, with a building on it, for $400; and a lot on the north side of Monroe street, nearly opposite, the $400. Lots on Division street, between Fulton and Bronson, were held at $200. Lots on the west side, from $10 to $25. On the hill, on Dexter Fraction, they were offered, but not sold, for $10. On Bostwick's addition they were sold for $25.
Outside of the village there was no fanciful value to the land. Kendall's addition was bought for $47 per acre, and the lot east of it offered for $20. Three miles out of town the best land was considered worth from $3 to $4; held loosely at that.
The fact was, a great share of the property had non-resident owners. They had become sick of their investment, and were anxious to get rid of it, letting it be sold for taxes. If you had any "property" you could always sell it, if you would take land or lots for pay; these being hardly considered valuables. O, what offers we all refused in those days! It makes us look blue when we recollect them; when we wee, if we had only been able to look ahead, we might now be rolling in our wealth. How sad is the thought, "It might have been."
This is an interesting exhibit of what Grand Rapids was, and how the place
grew during the period while laying the foundations for that city that was to
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