The Village of Grand Rapids

The Village of Grand Rapids was organized by legislative act April 5, 1838. It included the territory on the east side of the river bounded by a line beginning in Fulton street at the river, thence east to the southeast corner of Hatch's addition; north to the line of Hastings street; west to the west line of Canal (Monroe) street; south along the west line of Canal street to the foot of Pearl street; thence following the shore of the river to the point of beginning. By an amendment January 16, 1843, the village limits wee somewhat restricted, the west line of Hatch's Addition (now Kendall's) being substituted for the east line. But another amendment, March 23, 1848, extended its limits northward to Coldbrook street, southward to Wealthy street, and considerably towards the east. A third amendment, March 31, 1849, vacated all that part of the village lying east of Bostwick's addition and south of Fulton street, also all territory lying east of the so-called Dexter fraction.

Being incorporated, the village had civil as well as municipal autonomy, although the regular township machinery and jurisdiction for other than special village requirements continued.

The charter of the Village of Grand Rapids instituted a board of seven trustees, who were empowered to elect a president. These officers were to be "a body corporate and politic under the name of The President and Trustees of the Village of Grand Rapids;" to have a common seal; empowered to purchase, hold, sell and convey real estate for village purposes, and given generally "all such powers of control and management over streets, fire and police and municipal affairs as are usually exercised by similar corporations." Clauses in the charter gave the trustees power to take over property for street purposes and to levy and collect taxes for village uses.

The first village election was held at the court house May 1, 1838. The following trustees were chosen: Louis Campau, Richard Godfroy, William A. Richmond, Charles I. Walker, George Coggeshall, James Watson, Henry C. Smith. When the board of trustees was organized at the office of Charles I. Walker, May 14, following, Henry C. Smith was chosen president. The village laws were adopted one week later. Some of these prohibited horse racing, the discharging of firearms, ball alleys and gaming houses, and the selling of liquors at retail by any persons save licensed tavern keepers. In June, ditches were authorized, to drain the marsh in the vicinity of Fountain, Ionia, Division and Lyon streets. The sinking of a well at Monroe and Ionia avenues was permitted. Six acres were purchased for $300 on June 10 from James Ballard, the beginning of the present Fulton street cemetery. But Mr. Ballard was asked to wait a while for his $300, for the village had very little cash on hand; in fact, in September it actually was bankrupt. To tide it over the trustees authorized the issuance of $1 and $2 corporation notes to the amount of $300, and these bills were made receivable for all taxes and dues to the village corporation. Some of these notes, or bills, incidentally, remained in circulation eight or ten years.

At the second election in May, 1839, the following trustees were chosen: George Coggeshall, president; Louis Campau, John Almy, Henry P. Bridge, Francis J. Higginson, William G. Henry, Henry C. Smith. The only payments into the treasury during the preceding year were by the village's notes, the sum received amounting to $202. A committee appointed soon after the election found that there were claims against the village of $350.52 and that $126 of corporation notes were outstanding. On June 3, another report showed claims against the village aggregating $890.50. It was then resolved "that all that portion of the law passed by the former board as to the issue of shinplasters be and hereby is rescinded." June 17 a levy of $500 was ordered, to defray current expenses. Aside from a dog tax and license fees, this was the first tax assessed by the village of Grand Rapids.

New names appear among the 1843 trustees. In that year these were chosen: John Almy, president; Lucius Lyon, Daniel Ball, Charles H. Taylor, George Coggeshall, Julius C. Abel, George M. Mills. In June, George M. Mills was appointed the board's agent to sell "so many lots in the cemetery ground belonging to this corporation as shall be sufficient to pay up and liquidate all claims and judgments against said corporation."

In 1845 the trustees elected failed to qualify and the board of the previous year held over. Records show that John Almy was president in both 1844 and 1845. On the license question the vote was 94 for to 40 against, but at the 1846 election the village reversed itself by voting only 44 for license and 97 for no license.

At the election of 1848 the villagers evidenced another quick change on the license question, the vote being 80 for and only 11 against. Tavern licenses were fixed at $10, those for victuallers and grocers at $20, and those for merchant liquor dealers sellin in quantities not less than a pint at $10. The trustees that year were: George Coggeshall, president; Joshua Boyer, Thompson Sinclair, William Peaselee, William H. Godfroy, George Kendall, Abram W. Pike. In September F. L. Walden was hired for $50 a year to ring the bell of the Congregational church three times a day.

Up to this year the trustees had served without compensation, but in December, 1848, they voted themselves 50 cents for attending each monthly and special meeting.

The last village trustees were chosen in 1849, as follows: George Coggeshall, president; Harry Eaton, Luther N. Harmon, Heman Leonard, Thompson Sinclair, Solomon O. Kingsbury, Julius C. Abel. In that year the marshal was instructed to procure a hook and ladder carriage to cost no more than $25.

As the village continued to grow during the late 40's the agitation in favor of securing a city charter increased. The trustees were influenced by this agitation and on January 10, 1850, appointed Charles H. Taylor, Julius C. Abel, Alfred D. Rathbone, George Martin and Edward F. Sargeant a committee to draft a city charter to include Sections 19 and 30 in Town 7 north, of Range 11 west, and Sections 24 and 25 in Town 7 north, Range 11 west. A great public meeting was called for February 18, 1850, the board of trustees being present. As the mass meeting was overwhelmingly in favor of securing a city charter the board recommended such action, the draft of the proposed charter made in the meantime by the committee was adopted, and Harvey P. Yale was delegated to lay it before the state legislature at Lansing. The legislature readily granted the request of the people and incorporated the city April 2, 1850. Monday, May 1, 1850, at the Bridge street house, the voters adopted the charter by 252 to 91.

This account should include the names of the other village officers, who with the periods during which they served, are:

Clerks--John W. Peirce, 1838-1846; Samuel R. Sanford, 1847 and 1848; Solomon O. Kingsbury, 1849.

Treasurers--Charles I. Walker, 1838; William G. Henry, 1839; Antoine Campau, 1840 and 1841; Samuel F. Butler, 1842; William G. Henry, 1843; Henry Seymour, 1846; Amos Rathbone, 1847; George Kendall, 1848; Harry Eaton, 1849.

Marshals--Gideon Surprenant, 1838 and 1839; William O. Lyon, 1840; William I. Blakely, 1841 and 1842; Henry Dean, 1843; George C. Evans, 1844; Jacob W. Winsor, 1846; Ira S. Hatch, 1847 and 1848; Michael Connolly, 1849.

For a number of years the township and village officers had no permanent home. Executive meetings of the town board were held in the clerk's office, but often at any convenient place.

After the village was incorporated the clerk's office was at the bookstore of the clerk, John W. Peirce, until 1846, during the next two years in the Irving Hall block and in 1849 in the Rathbone building. The office of the treasurer was moved nine times during the village days. The board of trustees held meetings most frequently in the clerk's office, but at times the National hotel, Dr. Shepard's office or the drug store was used, and once, as the story goes, there was a session on the steps in front of the Mansion house.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
 Created: 14 December 1999