1889 BUSINESS BEGINNINGS.
HOW THE BUSINESS OF GRAND
RAPIDS BEGAN AND GREW
Pioneer Pluck and Enterprize-A History Of Remarkable Achievements in the
Face of Difficulties-A Story That the Old Settlers are Justly
(Grand River Daily Eagle - 25 December 1889)
From its earliest settlement Grand Rapids has been notably a manufacturing place. At the same time it has always been an important commercial center. In the rapids of the River nature plainly indicated the destiny of this locality to be that of a manufacturing
and distributing center. Hither all the early roads had to tend in order to cross the river. Round about was spread a magnificent farming and lumbering country, naturally contributory to the city’s growth and prosperity. It was easy of access by land and water, not only in the early times of traffic and travel by canoe, flatboat, steamboat and lumber wagon, but also in the later period when railway enterprises sought for lines of approach and departure. By a moderate expenditure the river channel can be deepened to twelve or more feet from Lake Michigan to this city, thus making Grand Rapids a seaport for lake vessels of ordinary draught. Or the same object may be accomplished by a ship canal to Holland. Some time in the future one of these schemes may be accomplished.
The business enterprise of Grand Rapids has been phenomenal from its beginning.
Manufacturing began with its birth, and this at a time when manufacturing was in its infancy in the United States. The vigorous push of the early settlers inaugurated many manufacturing enterprises before the country was old enough to sustain them; and it is a marked feature of the early history of the city that its business pioneers, with little or no capital, and no place nearer than Detroit and Chicago where they could use credit if they had it, managed to start so many industries in advance of their time, with an abounding faith in the future that anticipated years of growth and defied almost certain immediate disappointment.
Among such enterprises were the early salt wells, the first being began by Lucius Lyon’s in 1841, the first salt being manufactured in 1843. Two other wells were sunk, one several miles below the city, toward Grandville, by the state, in 1838, and one near the mouth of Cold Brook, about 1858. Mr. Lyon’s experiment was long before there were railroads or other means of distributing salt cheaply over a wide extent of country, after it was manufactured. A third well was sunk on the West Side, near the present D., G. H. & M. junction. The first plaster mills, flouring mills, foundries and engine factories, and many others also suffered from lack of facilities to reach a market, being confined to local custom with in a radius of fifty miles. Some of these enterprises, however, served as pioneers to those that have succeeded them in later years; and they especially had a great influence in making Grand Rapids looked to by all the region within tributary limits as the natural business center of manufacturing and commerce, besides attracting immigration and capital.
A BRIEF RETROSPECT
Of the growth and development of the city shows how remarkably strong was the disposition of the business pioneers of the place to launch out in large and far-seeing enterprises. In 1833 the first families of settlers-Joel Guild, David Tucker, Luther Lincoln, Elipalet Turner and Darius Winsor-reached the place in boats from Ionia, being part of a party of seventy immigrants who left Detroit to establish homes in the wilderness. The same year (1833) a sawmill was erected on Indian Mill creek to the Indians, by Samuel White and son. The river then ran in two channels, dividing nearly opposite where Sweet’s hotel now stands, leaving three islands. A second sawmill was constructed upon or a little below the present site of Sweet’s hotel, in 1834-5. Its power was derived from a coffer dam from the east bank to the head of island number one.
The first marriage, that of Mr. Barney Burton and Miss Harriet Guild, occurred in 1834. The first town meeting was held that year in the house of Joel Guild, the whole number of voters attending being nine. The first large frame building, the Rathbun house, was begun that year by Mr. Louis Campau, the first white man who lived here as an Indian trader. That year Hon. Lucius Lyon, Jefferson Morrison (who established the first store for white people), Antoine Campau, James Lyman, A. Hosford Smith, Demetrius Turner, William C. Godfroy, Dr. Wilson (the pioneer doctor), Dr. Charles Shepard and Julius C. Abel (the pioneer lawyer), arrived as settlers, and Edward Guild and Darius Winsor moved down from Ionia to permanently remain in Grand Rapids. James Lyman set up the second store. N. O. Sargeant and Judge Almy also came that year, with Leonard G. Baxter and a number of work men to build a wing dam and mill race from the head of the rapids, beginning the line of the present East Side canal.
In 1836 many settlers arrived, among them Hon. John Ball, Wm. A. Richmond, John W. Peirce (a pioneer merchant), Philander Tracy (afterward side judge) Jacob Barns, Isaac Turner (pioneer millwright), A. B. Turner (founder of the Eagle), George C. Nelson (pioneer furniture manufacture), James M. Nelson, Warren P. Mills, George Young, Robert Hilton, (pioneer bridge and mill builder), Billius Stocking, Abram Randall, William Haldane (pioneer undertaker and furniture maker), Loren M. Page, Charles H. Taylor (a pioneer merchant tailor, newspaper publisher and plaster manufacturer), Wm. Morman, David Burnett, K. S. Pettibone (surveyor), Asa Pratt, Samuel Howland, J. Mortimer Smith, Hezekiah Green, George Coggeshall, John J. Watson, George Martin (a pioneer lawyer, first circuit court judge, and first chief justice of the supreme court of Michigan), Myron Hinsdill, Stephen Hinsdill, Hiram Hinsdill, and Harry Eaton (sheriff in 1840).
Immediately the new settlers began important business enterprises. Myron Hinsdill at once began the erection of the National hotel (now the Morton house), then a quite pretentious frame building. He soon after sold it to Canton Smith.
John W. Peirce established the first book store on the corner of Kent and Bronson streets. He afterward built the first brick store, in 1844, changing to dry goods, on the west side of Canal street, opposite the present junction of Cresent avenue (then
The first furniture factory was opened in 1836 by Robert Hilton and Sylvester Granger, on the corner of Kent and Hastings streets, with Mr. Vosberg as foreman. They also erected the first turning lathe, the shop being on the banks of a little creek some distance east of the river, not far from the present junction of Island and Waterloo streets.
In 1837, Benjamin Smith built a machine shop and grist mill on the West Side. The Bridge Street House was built that year and opened by John Thompson. He was followed as landlord by Solomon Withey, who was succeeded by William A. Tryon and by Truman H. Lyon. Robert Hilton and Archibald Solomon opened the first chair factory in 1837, on the corner of Fountain and Ionia (then Greenwich ) streets. The first newspaper, the Grand River Times, was also started that year by George W. Pattison. Aaron Dikeman opened the pioneer watchmarker’s and jeweler’s establishment in 1837, on Monroe street. The first furnace and machine was built in 1837 by Ketchum & McCray at Grandville, and the first casting was made by Horace Wilder. This shop was afterward removed to Grand Rapids.
HARD TIMES AND AFTER
The three years following 1837 were terribly dull and hard times. Immigration from the East slackened; the early settlers were terribly poor; the village waited for the country about it to become settled: and enterprise was cruelly compelled to stand still.
In 1840 the pioneer drug store of F. J. Higginson was moved into the general store of W. G. Henry, on Monroe street, opposite the Rathbun house. A. Roberts had a general store at the foot of Monroe street; John Wendell and Sl & Evans & Co. had stores on Monroe street and Smith, Harris & Co. had a store at the corner of Louis and Waterloo streets, the building in which the Eagle was first printed.
In 1837 the Grand River bank was started, with John Almy president and Lucius Lyon
Cashier, followed by William A. Richmond. "The People’s" or George Coggeshall’s bank, with Louis Campau as president and S. M. Johnson cashier, also appeared. Both were wild cat concerns, and soon smashed, and hard times followed.
In 1839 the state legislature appropriated $25,000 for the improvement of the canal and rapids. In 1840 Daniel F. Tower contracted for cleaning out the canal and basin. This he did in two years. This canal had been originally constructed with a small wing dam at the head of the rapids, by the Kent company, from 1834 to 1838. In 1836-7 a sawmill was constructed on the canal.
The exports of Grand Rapids for 1841 were 5,426 barrels of flour, 4,000,000 feet of pine lumber, 2,550,000 shingles, 4,000 pounds of potash (a potash factory having been started that year ), 50 barrels of beans, and $5,000 worth of maple sugar, pinster (a plaster mill having been built on Plaster creek for Daniel Ball in 1840, and $25,000 worth of fars.
In 1841 the first Kent flouring mill were erected at the head of the canal basin, on the east side of the canal.
In 1842 James M. Nelson built a sawmill on the west side of the canal, opposite of the Kent flouring mills.
EARLY RIVER NAVIGATION
In 1836 Louis Campau launched the first pole, or flatboat, built by Lyman Gray, and named Young Napoleon. In 1837, the Cinderella, another pole boat, was launched at Grandville.
In 1836 the first steamboat, the Governor Mason, was built for Richard Godfroy, and she made her first trip between Grandville and Grand Haven on July 4, 1837.
In 1837 the John Almy was built to run from Grand Rapidsn to Ionia, but she was wrecked on her first trip near the mouth of Flat river, where is now the city of Lowell
In 1839 the Owashtanongk was put on the river by Rix Robinson, Ferry and White a stern wheeler.
In 1843 the Paragon was built. Her engine was made by James McCray, at Grandville.
In 1848-9 Daniel Ball built the steamboat Empire. The Algoma was running upon the river sometime the fifties.
The Humming-Bird, a small double hulled steamboat, with her wheel in the center between the two hulls was built to run between Grand Rapids and Ionia, and was partly wrecked in 1854.
The Olive Branch, a large stern wheeler, appeared in 1858.
The Daniel Ball was built by Capt. Ganoe, who also built the L.G. Mason, the W..H. Barrett in 1875, and the Jenison in 1877. The river navigation preceded the railroads, and helped to create the commerce that brought railroad her and sustains them.
GRAND RAPIDS IN 1846
In 1846 Grand Rapids contained three sawmills, two grist mills, and some smaller works using the water power. Stumps were in all the streets. Sinclair’s store, where Luce’s hall block now is, was the highest up Monroe street, and too far out of town to do much business. Canal street was a mud hole from one end to end, except in the driest weeks of midsummer. People came to town and church with ox teams.Wood was $1 per cord; wheat fifty cents per bushel; con twenty-five cents; pork and beef three cents; venison one and a half cents.
In 1846 Wilder D. Foster started the first hardware store and tinsmith shop at the foot of Monroe street. He rapidly throve, and in a few years became the leading hardware merchant not only, but the leading merchant of any description. He had successively various partners, and for many years the house, now Foster, Stevens & Co., has been known far and wide.
From 1846 to 1860 Grand Rapids grew steadly and rapidly. In 1842 Stone, Deane & Co. established a manufactory of agricultural implements. In those years many manufacturing enterprises were begun. Deacon Haldane was the undertaker and a furniture maker from a very early day. George C. Fitch early began manufacturing wagons. Daniel Ball, R.E. Butterworth and the McCray brothers were the pioneer engine makers and general machinists. Lyon & Hathaway established an axe and edge toel factory just above Bridge street, bridge on the canal, and did a large business for a number of years. The plaster beds and mill on the west side of the river, below the city in Walker, were opened by R. E. Butterworth in 1852. In 1849 James Davis constructed the present canal and basin, under an appropriation of wild lands made by the state. Below the basin about at the north line of Lyon street, he partly excavated a lock and put in the lower gates, with intent to run, the canal from the river up to the basin, so that boats could pass the rapids through the canal; but, just as the gates were put in place, he failed, and the work was never completed. He also built the first coffer dam and let the river into the canal.
The machinery for a woolen factory, was set up in 1848 by Stephen Hinsdill, but there were few sheep and little wool, and the factory never succeeded in business.
Like the woolen factory, which died for lack of sheep, the pioneer tannery, established by Tanner Taylor (as he was familiarly known) upon Cold Brook, was started before there were any cattle. Nevertheless, Mr. Taylor pluckily tanned everything there was for many years, including sheep’s pelts, deer hides, horse hides, and some say woodchuck skins; and so much leather as he was able to produce was of first class quality. But the business finally died for want of material, having been a great help in its time to the early settlers, and a typical pioneer industry in the persistent pluck with which it was carried on in the face of hopeless circumstances. Later, in 1863, John E. Earle & Co. erected a large brick woolen factory on the bank of the East Side canal, above Bridge street, and for a number of years did a considerable business, which however, declined after the war.
THE EARLY BRIDGES
In 1843 a narrow foot bridge was built by James Scribner and Lovell Moore on the present line of Bridge street . In 1845 Eliphalet H. Turner and James Scribner changed this to a wagon bridge. In 1852 this was succeeded by a toll bridge, built by a company. In April, 1858, the bridge was burned, and a new one was constructed as rapidly as possible. During the interval the steamboat Nebraska ran as a ferry boat. Pearl street bridge was completed in 1858, and Leonard street bridge in 1859.
THE OLD PLANK ROAD
In 1854 a plank road was constructed from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo. Until the advent of the D., G. H. & M. railroad, in 1858, it was the great thoroughfare over which Grand Rapids exported her plaster and other products to the East, and received her merchandise. At times about 200 wagon teams per day carried plaster over this road. In 1869 the toll gates were abolished. It was also the stage route, W. H. Withey’s stages running regularly for years, generally crowded with passengers. This immense traffic caused the read to be lined with wayside inns that did a thriving business until the railroad came in and killed their trade.
There were in Grand Rapids among its pioneer factories, away back in the forties and fifties, a pail and tub factory, a barrel factory, two planing mills, sash, door, and blind factories, a pottery on the West Side where stone jugs were made, a cracker factory, a candy factory, several successive saleratus factories, a plow factory, a wooden bowl factory, a pump factory, fanning-mill factory, box factory, a hat factory, several brick yards, two rifle factories, a harness factory, several pork and beef packing houses, a potato masher factory, several book binderies, and about a dozen newspaper enterprises.
SINCE THE WAR
In 1850 Grand Rapids contained a population of 2,669, in 1860 8,055; in 1870, 16,507; in 1880, 32,016; in 1884, 42,733. Since 1884 the growth has been phenomenally rapids. This shows a wonderful rapidity of growth. But what was as well, or better, the surrounding country and the western and northern parts of the state developed with like rapidity, thus giving the city a large contributing territory and population. Notwithstanding her services and sacrifices during the war, the city continued to grow, even in those years of battle and loss, and at the close of the year, in 1865, a sudden and very rapid increase of business and population set in. From this period may be dated the beginnings of most of the prominent present business features of the city, and the colossal enterprises that make her what she now it.
Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 23 February 2010