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A Cosmopolitan City
The earliest permanent settlers were French-speaking, including Uncle Louis Campau and those he brought with him. Later Louis Campau's brothers joined him here. But, beginning with 1833, white settlers began to come from Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Ohio. A few Irish immigrants were attracted to work on the canal in 1835, and when the canal, or mill race, was enlarged in 1841, a few more Irish workers came. In 1842 a society was formed to encourage foreigners to come here, John Ball, agent.
Immigration was partly discouraged by reports broadcast by government officials that the Michigan climate was not propitious, that the territory abounded in swamps, marshes and lakes, and that the soil was not good. Boatmen on the Great Lakes also tried to divert those seeking land to the states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. In 1845 John Almy was appointed immigration agent by the governor, and $700 was appropriated to carry on the work.
A colony from Holland, led by Dr. A. C. Van Raalte and consisting of 17 families, reached the site of the present city of Holland in February, 1847. The next spring about 150 immigrants from The Netherlands came, and later in that year some others. The majority of these settled on a tract in Ottawa county purchased by Dr. Van Raalte, but soon many, in search of employment or desiring to go into business, were attracted to Grand Rapids.
The first immigrant from Holland to reach this city were Hiram H. Van Reede, his wife and daughter, who came in 1847. Francis Van Driele came in 1848. Soon after the families of Albert Kroes, and Louis Ladeweg arrived, then came John Roost, Joshua Elenbaas, B. Luten, P. Hendrikse and others. Thereafter the number of families coming from Holland increased greatly.
These thrifty immigrants brought a considerable number of guilders from their native country, and as early as 1847 their gold money began to find its way to Grand Rapids, where it was most welcome in those days of "shinplasters."
By 1854 the Dutch-speaking settlers had increased to quite a colony. Finding this place where work was plentiful and wages much higher than in the mother country, so that by the exercise of their natural thrift they could acquire homes of their own, they formed an immigration society to aid the poor people of Holland to come here. Many of these Holland immigrants worked in the furniture factories, and today their descendants are among the most skilled craftsmen in the factories and others are among the most prominent citizens in banking, commerce, the professions and in every walk in life. There are at present about 40,000 citizens of Holland birth or descent. Not more than twenty cities in The Netherlands contain as large a number of residents.
Crops in Sweden and Norway having been poor for seven years prior to 1870, many emigrants from those two countries began to look to America as their promised land. The majority went to the western states. In 1871 the Reverend J. P. Tustin, under an arrangement with the G. R. & I. railroad and other interests, went to the Scandinavian countries to induce some of the emigrants to come here. Through his efforts about 1,000 Swedish and Norwegians became residents of Grand Rapids and vicinity. Thereafter many other came.
A few German immigrants, largely from Westphalia, began to settle in and around Grand Rapids in 1840. More and more arrived, and the political troubles in the mother country in 1848 caused a tremendous outflow to America. Many German immigrants were mechanics, skilled workmen, others engaged in mercantile pursuits. Among the earliest German families to come here was that of Anthony Cordes, consisting of himself, wife, seven sons, and one daughter. They came from Westphalia in the hard winter of 1842-43. Prior to 1850 the Kusterer, Thome, Christ, and Tusch families had arrived.
The first Italian families, about five in number, came about 40 years ago. At present there are 316 Italian families.
Immigrants from Poland began coming about 40 years ago. At present there is a total, computed from three groups, of nearly 2,600 Polish families.
Many Canadians have crossed the border to find work or to go into business. The immigrants from England, Scotland and Wales have been coming constantly since fairly early days, but their numbers was never comparatively large.
In more recent years a number of Greeks have come. There is a saying, "When Greek meets Greek they open a restaurant," which appears to be true so far as Grand Rapids is concerned. The city also has a small colony of Syrian immigrants, and another of Armenians.
The Negro population has grown to about 2,000. Recently a number of Mexicans have secured work here.
Some immigrants have come from practically every country in Europe, and the large factories of later years have attracted workers from many states in the Union. Today Grand Rapids is a real cosmopolitan city so far as the quality of its residents is concerned.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 10 December 1999