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Gypsum Quarries and Plaster Mills
Fur traders and missionaries, as early as 1827, knew there was gypsum in and around Grand Rapids, but its extent was not known until Dr. Douglas Houghton, state geologist, made a report in 1838. Three years later tests convinced enterprising pioneers that the gypsum could be profitably worked, and accordingly Warren Granger and Daniel Ball established a plaster mill on Plaster creek, two miles south of the village, thus starting an industry that has been profitably conducted ever since and grown to large dimensions.
The Granger & Ball mill turned out forty tons during the first week after it began operations late in December, 1841. The price of the product at the mill was $4 a ton. Mr. Ball afterwards sold his interest in the mill to Henry R. Williams, who did much to create a market for the product. The demand for plaster was so great in the winter of 1848-49 that the mill could not supply it.
About 1860 Freeman and Silas F. Godfrey began operating in gypsum, and in 1864 they, with Amos Rathbone and George H. White, purchased the old plaster mill property and a large tract of land extending down Plaster creek to Grand river. The Godfreys built a mill near the mouth of the creek and made extensive alterations and additions to the original plant. Later the first mill, with 120 acres connected, passed into the hands of the Alabastine company.
The first gypsum quarry on the right bank of the river was that of Richard E. Butterworth. In 1849 he built a small mill two miles southwest of the city and operated there until about 1856, when he sold out to Hovey & Co. Soon after Mr. Butterworth built his mill two other quarries were opened near the lands he owned. One of these quarries was worked by John Ball and Bernard Courtney, the other by Adin J. Hinds, who, however, soon sold out and moved away. Hovey & Co.'s business was merged with that of the Grand Rapids Plaster company when the latter corporation was formed in 1860.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000