First Merchants and Pioneer Mechanics

The early settlers who came to farm erected their crude dwellings on land just outside the settlement and cleared their acres. This took some time. They required implements and they were dependent upon the first storekeepers at the rapids for staple food supplies and clothing. Thus there was demand for stores and merchants, blacksmiths, carpenters, painters, furniture makers and other craftsmen. The settlers brought cows and horses and wagons. Supplies of all kinds had to be brought in, and some of it came by wagon, but more up the river from Lake Michigan. The products of the farm had to be carried to market, and every year there was more employment for those who settled in the budding village.

There were two blacksmiths shops here before the white settlement began. They were at the mission on the west side, where an Indian also worked at the trade. Louis Campau had a blacksmith at his trading post, Antoine Carmell. A. D. W. Stout opened a blacksmith shop at the foot of Pearl street in 1834, H. R. Osborn one in Bond avenue in 1836.

In 1837, Winfield Scott built a small furnace and foundry at Michigan street and Mill avenue.

William Haldane, the pioneer furniture maker, coming in 1835, erected a dwelling at what is now the southeast corner of Pearl and Ottawa, and there carried on his trade for many years. In 1837, with the aid of the village blacksmiths, he made a "gooseneck" cutter.

Aaron Dikeman opened the first watch and jewelry store in 1837.

The first chairs made in the village were turned out in 1835, in a shop near the present plant of the Grand Rapids Gas Light company, by David Wooster and Zephaniah Adams. John L. Smith, a cabinet maker and turner, worked in that plant, and it is said he made the first chair here.

While the first clothing was made in the households, Charles M. Taylor, a tailor, came here in 1838 and managed to make a living at his trade.

The first limekiln was built and operated by William McCausland in 1834, on the bank of the river near Huron street. The next year James McCrath and his brother built two limekilns near the head of the rapids for the Kent company, or Lyon & Sargeant.

In 1834 James Davis began making brick at Oakes and Division. He soon abandoned the business. Solomon Withey, who came in 1836, made brick from red clay at Ionia and Coldbrook.

Barney Burton brought in a stock of brogans, shoes and women's boots, which he began selling in March, 1834.

John and Maxine Ringuette, the first shoemakers, came in 1836.

Isaac Watson, who settled on the west side in 1837, made saddles and harness. William Otis Lyon started a similar business near Monroe and Ottawa avenues, adding trunk making to his business.

Samuel F. Perkins, a settler of 1836, opened a tannery on the east side of the river above Michigan street. William Woodward later was associated with him.

The first flour mill was built here in 1837. This brought a demand for barrels, and James A. Rumsey made them. Soon John Kirkland, a cooper, came to open a shop.

William G. Mosely, coming from Massachusetts in 1837, was a mechanic and aided in erecting many early buildings.

William H. Withey came from Vermont and built a saw mill above the rapids in 1837-38.

Harry Eaton, coming in 1836, engaged in merchandising and the lumbering trade.

James M. Nelson, who came in 1836, established a general store, and with H. P. Bridge built the first saw mill on the canal. In 1837 he and his brother, George C. Nelson, built a saw mill on Mill creek. He was the first to raft lumber down the river.

James A. Rumsey, arriving in 1837, assisted in building a house at $15 a month. He also worked for $1 a day on the first saw mill.

David Burnett, coming in 1836 from Massachusetts, was a mechanic. He was later the foreman for James Scribner and Eliphalet H. Turner in the building of the first bridge at Bridge street.

Billius Stocking, coming from New York in 1836, chopped wood and split rails during his first winter.

John W. Peirce, coming from New York in 1836, opened the first bookstore and stationery store at Bond avenue and Crescent street.

Isaac Turner, who came here from New York with his family in 1836, was a millwright. He made a pre-emptive claim on the mission land on the west side and lived for many years in a small house near the end of the present Pearl street bridge.

James and Dwight Lyman, brothers, opened a small store on Market avenue in 1835. The next year they sold the store to George C. Nelson.

Amos Hosford Smith, arriving in 1834, opened a store on Market avenue. He was a good bookkeeper and his services in that capacity were in demand for many years. In 1836 he started the first Sunday school in Grand Rapids, over his store.

Immediately after his arrival in 1834, Richard Godfroy built a commodious dwelling for himself and his family at Monroe and Ottawa avenues. He was interested in boat building and river navigation.

In 1837 Winfield Scott Levake built a small furnace and foundry at Michigan street and Mill avenue. It was operated by horse power.

This list of the earliest craftsmen and merchants will serve to show how the business and industry of the little community was founded and progressed up to the year 1837. Other pioneers found various occupations at which they gained a livelihood.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000