City Charter of 1857
The legislature February 14, 1857, gave Grand Rapids a charter which remodeled the municipality's fundamental law.

The new charter enlarged the city from its original four square miles to 10.9 square miles. The boundaries were then Hall street on the south, Garfield avenue on the west, North street (west side), and Sweet street (east side) on the north, and Fuller avenue on the east.

The city was divided into five wards, bounded as follows:
First--south of Lyon street, west of Division and east of middle of river.
Second---north of Lyon street and east of the middle of the river.
Third---south of Lyon street and east of Division.
Fourth---west of the middle of the river and north of Bridge street.
Fifth---west of the middle of the river and south of Bridge street.

The following elective city officers were provided for: Mayor, recorder, treasurer, controller, clerk, marshal, two school inspectors, two directors of the poor, and one justice of the peace, one constable and two aldermen in each ward, one of the aldermen to be supervisor of the ward. The charter also provided for a chief of police, police wardens, common criers, keepers of alms houses, workhouse and penitentiary; pound masters, inspectors of firewood, weigh-masters and auctioneers, all to be appointed by the council.

The usual power to enact ordinances for the general welfare and good order of the city was conferred upon the council. The mayor was given veto power over any ordinances for public improvement or for payment of money from the treasury, which veto might be over-ruled by two-thirds vote of the council. The city was empowered to own land for cemetery purposes within or without the city limits, and to establish a cemetery board. A recorder's court was created as a continuance of the mayor's court. The city marshal was to be superintendent of the city.

The council was empowered to determine the salaries of officers, namely: Clerk, in addition to fees and perquisites, not to exceed $100 a year; treasurer, not to exceed $100 a year; each aldermen, not to exceed $1; controller, not to exceed $100; marshal, not to exceed $1.50 a day; attorney, not to exceed $500 a year; and fees of other officers at its discretion. The council could impose taxes not exceeding one-half of one per cent of the valuation of real and personal property, and determined the amount to be raised by tax for city purposes in each year.

At the April, 1857, election, 1,258 votes were polled. Later in that year a room for council meetings was rented for $75 per annum, but the thrifty city fathers sub-rented it for joint occupation by a justice of the peace, who agreed to pay half the rent and light and heat the room. This was the year when many public improvements were ordered, especially the opening and grading of streets.

Grand Rapids began to look more modern in 1858, early in which year gas was used to light the street and stores. In January $500 was appropriated for the poor fund. That year the council leased the Public square to a circus and used the money received therefrom to repair and beautify the park.

June 24, 1858, an ordinance was passed requiring the occupants of lots to clean the streets in front of their premises to the center thereof, every Friday morning before 10 o'clock, and to pile the rubbish in a place convenient for its removal.

By act of the state legislature, February 10, 1858, the terms of the aldermen were extended to two years, their terms to expire on alternate years.

In 1859 an ordinance was passed: "Resolved, that no supplies be furnished by the city to any person that keeps a dog."

In 1860 the quarters occupied by the council were burned, and with them the county records. The council rented new quarters in the Withey block. In June it voted down a motion to prosecute persons permitting their cattle or swine to run in Fulton street park. But the next month it authorized the payment of 25 cents for the killing of each dog found roaming in the city.

By a charter amendment, approved March 4, 1861, the boundary of the city was again changed, but this time the area was restricted to 9.2 square miles by giving back to Grand Rapids township a strip one-half mile wide, the entire length of the city, leaving the east boundary at Eastern avenue.

At the outbreak of the Civil War the city government was in excellent working order, and this brief account of the origin and developement of government from county to city ends.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
 Created: 14 December 1999