Ten Years of Depression
With the inrush of the white settlers from the east, Grand Rapids and the Grand river valley enjoyed what we today would call a "boom" during several years following 1833. Prices of real estate in the villages and of land everywhere increased too greatly. Many non-residents invested in lots and acres, expecting to reap fortunes. But the villages did not grow fast enough and land could not yield enough per acre to justify the prices asked for it. In the meantime, too, the "wild cat" banks had created havoc with the people's money and the whole credit structure had been impaired. No one knew from day to day what he was worth or whether the currency he had was simply so much paper.
In these conditions the "boom" flattened out. For the first time the settlement had its "poor" persons. In 1838 the Kent town board made an appropriation of $200 in support of the poor, and that was quite a large sum for the board in those days to appropriate for any purpose. The public schools were not given more than that sum in any one season. And in several years after 1838 the town board deemed it necessary to set aside various sums, averaging $200, to aid those who were more or less public charges.
In his interesting volume, "Memorials of the Grand River Valley," Franklin Everett paints quite a gloomy picture of the years between 1837 and 1846. He declares that in 1837 and 1838 times became very dull in Grand river valley and there was little increase in population. Emigration all went past to Illinois and Wisconsin.
Says Professor Everett:
"There was no money, and our merchants who tried to do business had to trust the farmers on the strength of their growing crops. But the wheat, when raised, brought but three shillings a bushel, so there was a general failure of all business. We had enough to eat, but litle to wear; and if we could get money enough to pay postage, it was all we expected. Judge Morrison says that in building a pretty good house he paid out but one dollar. All that was done, was by exchange or dicker. Times were decidedly dull and to fill up the time we used, in the evenings, to attend the Debating society, of which C. I. Walker, Mr. Ballard and Charles H. Taylor were the greatest talkers. And then we used to get up "hops" at the Bridge Street and National; had John Ellis for musician."
Professor Everett cites one incident which goes to show how the boom in early Grand Rapids real estate burst. He writes:
"In 1836 Jefferson Morrison, having been successful in business, having been elected judge of probate, and more than all, being about to get married, built him a house. He ever afterwards, with tears of humble penitence, called it 'Morrison's Folly.' Everything was high but he must have a fine house, so a house he built, finished it in style and seriously embarrassed himself by so doing; run himself in debt $5,000. This house was near the junction of Monroe and Ottawa streets. To show the change in the fancy value of real estate, he sold that house to Mr. Campau for $6,000 and took his pay in lots at $1,500 each, and which, in the crash that followed, he could hardly sell for $150. This same house, as good as new, was afterwards bought by Captain Gunnison for $700. Time did not work a greater change in the valuation of that property than it did in the other real estate."
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 14 December 1999