Grand Rapids or Kent?

In a letter written to his brother and sister December 23, 1833, describing his arrival here the previous summer, Joel Guild said: "After looking about for a home, I thought it best to move about fifty miles down Grand river" (from its junction with Maple river) "to a place called Grand River Falls." However, there appears to be no official record that the city was at any time known as Grand River Falls.

During the first ten years after the pioneer colony of easterners arrived, the name which the community should bear was the cause of considerable strife. At first the name was "Grand Rapids," then for eight years it was "Kent." Finally the postal department changed it back to "Grand Rapids."

The battle of names began away back at the time Louis Campau won out against Lucius Lyon in the race to the government land office at White Pigeon and secured a grant for the 72 acres, now the heart of the city. This tract, as the reader will recall, was bounded by the river and Division avenue, and by Fulton and Michigan streets. Uncle Louis sold the north half of it to Lucius Lyon and had his brother plat what was left as "The Village of Grand Rapids." Mr. Lyon called his half, "Kent," and later, joining with Dexter, Ransom, Sheldon, Daniels, Bostwick and other holders of land north, east and south of the Campau plat, had a "Village of Kent" plat recorded at  Kalamazoo February 8, 1836.

Mr. Lyon and his associates were influential enough to have the postoffice name changed from "Grand Rapids" to "Kent," on September 1, 1836, when Darius Winsor was appointed postmaster to succeed Leonard Slater, who had lived on the west side. And "Kent" it remained until February 6, 1844.

A study of the map on page 52 will help to better understanding of the strong resentment on the part of the "Kent" advocates against Louis Campau, which, no doubt, was returned with kind.

Louis Campau laid out the principal street of his plat---Monroe---along the Indian trail that led to his trading post. Glancing at the map anyone can see that his plat was a sort of crazy quilt. Justice street (now Ottawa avenue) and Greenwich (now Ionia) ran only as far north as Pearl street. But Uncle Louis owned the strip of land north of Pearl street, half way to Lyon. This strip he platted in a continuous row of lots from the river to Division avenue. The lots are numbered 1 to 16 on the map. He did this so that Lucius Lyon could not put any streets through from the north between the river and Division. Then he said to Mr. Lyon: "If you want to come in my plat you will have to go around by Division street."

He laid out lot No. 1, at the river end of his row of 16, directly in the path of Canal street, the principal north and south thoroughfare in "Kent." Then he sold lots 1 and 2 to Abram S. Wadsworth on the promise that the latter would build a sawmill on them. However, in order to make the best use of the current for power purposes, Mr. Wadsworth built his mill partly over the river. Then, not requiring both lots for his mill site, he sold a strip to Mr. Lyon, who promptly cut Canal street through to Pearl--but not in line with Monroe. This, of course, increased the ire of Uncle Louis.

But Mr. Lyon still was prevented from cutting streets through the row of Campau lots between Canal and Division. His ire, in return, having been aroused, he platted a continuous row of lots on the north side of the Campau row, as shown on the map by the numbers from 38 and 39 to 56. His plat provided for three streets, now Bond, Ottawa and Ionia avenues, between Canal and Division, against two in the Campau.

The intensity if the feeling between Louis Campau and Lucius Lyon was increased because Uncle Louis' wife seemingly had failed to sign the deed for the lands he sold to Mr. Lyon. This is brought out in a letter Mr. Lyon wrote about November, 1835, to Arthur Bronson of New York, in which he said in a postscript: "I ought also to inform you that the wife of Louis Campau, Jr., of whom I purchased the fraction which we own together, has never relinquished her right of dower in said land and refuses to do so. I am about to commence suit to compel her husband to perform the covenant in his deed to me."

The results of this war between "Grand Rapids" and "Kent," between Campau and Lyon, are evident to this day. Bond avenue never has been cut through from Lyon to Pearl, although several attempts have been made to condemn property for that purpose; and when Ottawa avenue eventually was connected with Justice street in 1863, and Ionia avenue with Greenwich street, there was a jog in each of the through avenues.

Another, and happier, result which neither of the warring factions foresaw, was the creation of a larger free space at the junction of Monroe, Canal and Pearl streets--once known as "Grab Corners," but now Campau square.

On the map, at the foot of Monroe avenue, and next the river, is a large lot marked No. 1. On this stood in the early 1870's a hardware store, the Commercial block, the Crawford store and the Tanner Taylor block. To go from Monroe to Canal streets pedestrians and teams had to make two sharp turns around this space. After years of agitation in favor of connecting the two main thoroughfares at their junction, the city finally took action in the spring of 1873. At a cost of $50,000 the old buildings were bought and torn down and Grand Rapids created a square that adds distinction to the downtown center of business.

The determined old warriors of the days when "Grand Rapids" fought "Kent" long since have passed away, but the city still bears some of the scars of that long and bitter contest--and probably always will.

Early Engineer's Map from Etten History, published 1926.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
 Created: 10 December 1999