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Coming of the Railroads

Steam locomotives first began to run on rails in almost the same year that brought Uncle Louis Campau to Grand Rapids, but it was thirty years before the iron horse reached the city. The enterprising citizens of the growing community here were eager for rail connection with the outside world, and as early as June 25, 1845, they met in mass session and resolved to petition the legislature for a charter for a railroad from Port Huron, or some point on the St. Clair river, to Grand Haven. In 1846 the legislature granted charters for railroads from Battle Creek, Jackson and Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids.

Meanwhile the Michigan Central railroad was building and had reached Kalamazoo from the east. The village was eager to have a line connecting with this important outlet to the east and therefore, about 1847, a meeting was held in Irving hall, at which Dr. Joseph Penney urged the 2,000 people of the village to organize immediately and secure the capital to build a railroad into Grand Rapids. Dr. Penney then predicted that the community would grow to a city of 30,000 population by 1900.

Agitation continued, until in the spring of 1853 actual work began on what was then called the Oakland & Ottawa railroad. William P. Innes had charge of the survey between Ada and Grand Haven, and Joel Gray took charge of the work between Ada and Lyons. In 1855 this line was consolidated with the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad, which was to extend from Detroit to Grand Haven, connecting at the latter place with lake steamers plying between Grand Haven and Milwaukee.

To the great joy of the citizens the whistle of a steam locomotive was heard by them June 27, 1858. It was only the tooting of a construction engine, but it was none the less exhilarating. The railroad was nearing the northeastern part of Grand Rapids.

The construction crews worked with more zeal and soon had tracks laid through the city. July 2, the locomotive Empire steamed past the station at Plainfield avenue and through Canal street to the dock at Pearl street. Thence it was transported across the river on a scow, to be placed on the Grand Haven division of the railroad.

The newspapers of July 12, 1858, announced that on the following day regular passenger train service would begin between Grand Rapids and Detroit, and the city was on the railroad map. To make the people's cup of happiness full to overflowing, the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad bridge across Grand river was completed August 26 of that year, and September 1 rail connection was had with Grand Haven. September 14, 1858, the first telegraphic messages were sent between Grand Rapids and Detroit, over the line of the D. & M. railroad. In November following the first through train between Detroit and Grand Haven arrived in Grand Rapids. This railroad is now part of the Grand Trunk Western system.

But a railroad to Kalamazoo, to connect there with the Michigan Central, was as yet only a dream. There was continuous agitation in favor of the building of that line, especially after the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad had been organized at Hartford City, Indiana, in 1854. Meetings were held from time to time, at one of which, in Public hall, March 15, 1855, the citizens resolved: "That we arein favor of the construction of the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad, in preference to any other project, and that we will organized and build the road alone, if necessary, from this city to Kalamazoo." Despite the desire of the citizens to have this road built, they had to wait fourteen years before the first railroad southward was completed.

The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad reached Grand Rapids March 1, 1869, over the Kalamazoo, Allegan & Grand Rapids line, which it had leased. So eager were the citizens to have trains run in over this line that they raised a bonus of $10,000 on condition that the tracks should be completed by March 1. They gladly paid the bonus when the first train steamed in on the specified date, although the train consisted only of an engine and a flat car. The big event was celebrated in the evening of the following day by a supper given to the workmen at the Bronson house. April 21 five hundred residents of Kalamazoo came to Grand Rapids over the new railroad and there was a grand celebration here.

The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad, so far as its operations in Michigan are concerned, is a consolidation of the Erie & Kalamazoo and the Michigan Southern railroads. The Erie & Kalamazoo was chartered by the territorial legislature in 1833, and was opened for business in the fall of 1836. That was before there were any steam locomotives in this section of the country and at first its cars were drawn by horses. The Michigan Southern was opened and operated by the state, but subsequently was sold to capitalists who also purchased the Erie & Kalamazoo and merged the two lines in the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, which, as stated, was the lessee of the Kalamazoo, Allegan & Grand Rapids railroad.

Less than a year after rail connection was had with Kalamazoo the first train entered the city from Jackson, over the Grand River Valley railroad. This train arrived January 1, 1870, and consisted of the locomotive Muskegon and six cars. Regular trains began running January 17. The city had promised the Grand River Valley road a subsidy of $100,000 for building the line to Grand Rapids, but paid only $25,000, according to an amicable agreement. From its inception this line had been an adjunct of and controlled by the Michigan Central, and April 18, 1870, it passed entirely under the management and became a branch of that trunk line.

The last rail on the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad, south of the city, was laid September 13, 1870, and at last the project for which the citizens had labored so hard, so persistently and for so many years was a reality. This line afforded connection with Fort Wayne, Indiana, and October 10 regular trains began running south over it. The company's tracks had been laid northward previously, the first twenty miles, to Cedar Springs, being opened for business December 25, 1867. The road all the way to Mackinaw City was opened July 3, 1882, and one to Muskegon December 1, 1886.

The present Pere Marquette railroad is a consolidation of a number of small lines, whose history, so far as this city is concerned, may be summarized as follows:

The Grand Rapids, Holland & Chicago Railroad company was organized March 30, 1871. Its line to Holland was completed January 6, 1872. At Holland it made connections for Chicago.

The Grand Rapids, Newaygo & Lake Shore railroad was organized September 11, 1869. It was completed to Sparta May 9, 1872, to Newaygo September 11, 1872, and to White Cloud September 14, 1875.

The Grand Rapids, Lansing & Detroit Railroad company was incorporated May 20, 1887. It was projected as a branch of the Detroit, Lansing & Northern, with which it was to connect at Lansing. It was opened to traffic in July, 1888.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
 URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/etten1926/railroads.html