Prospect Hill 1889


A River View from "Prospect Hill" -The First Frame Building

Erected in Grand Rapids-"Grab Corners"
(Grand River Daily Eagle - 25 December 1889)

The first picture on this page couples the elms on Bostwick street, which are still standing, with a rather imperfect view from the summit of "Prospect Hill," looking northwest, across the head of "Island No.1." The Indian wigwams in the foreground occupy in position at the present intersection of Canal and Pearl streets. The building just beyond, and near the present site of Nelson, Matter & Co.ís furniture warehouse, were built of logs, one of which was occupied as a dwelling by Deacon Abel Page, on his arrival here in 1836, until he and his family were compelled to abdicate from the roof

of a sudden flood of water caused by an ice gorge in the river. The cluster of buildings

on the west side of the river were those of the Baptist Missionary society, located just south of Bridget street. The other building, across from the point of the island, was the residence of Isaac Turner (father of the editor of this paper) in 1836. The sketch from which this engraving is made, was one of the early efforts of Daniel Powers, who afterward acquired quite a creditable reputation as an amateur artist in this city.

The central picture on this page is from a hurried sketch, made from memory, representing the first frame house erected in Grand Rapids, in 1833, by Joel Guild, who arrived here that year. While building his house his family occupied a part of Louis Campauís fur storage, also shown in the sketch. The location of "Uncle Joelís" house was at the base of the hill-a small excavation having been made in the bank for the west end of the building-the present site of the National City bank. The view is assumed to have taken from a position on the island near the present site of the county jail. The "latch string" was always out for the entertainment of travelers, until other hotel accommodations were provided a year or two thereafter. Mrs. Barney Burton ("Aunt Hattie") now residing on Sheldon street-a daughter of Mr. Guild was married in this house; and she quite enthusiastically endorses the correctness of this sketch, which was produced by one who has a very clear recollection of the "lay of the land" as well as the course of the water, as they appeared in the summer of 1836. A definite description of the building given by Mr. Guild himself, the manuscript of which is yet in the possession of the family, assisted in its production. The engraving was prepared specially for the board of trade, through whose kindness the Eagle is permitted to make the first use of it.

The third illustration couples the present building, called "The Tower," with another view of the foot of Monroe street, in 1860. The first portion of the building on the left, with gable front, was then occupied by W. D. Foster & Co., as a hardware store. The next square fronted block was built of stone taken from the bed of the river, by A. W.

Pike and A. Roberts & Son, and named, in large letters painted a cross the entire front, "Commercial Block." The south half was occupied, at that time by C. Burchard, as a clothing house, and the north half by Jefferson Morrison. The adjoining corner building was owed by Charles W. Taylor (Tanner Taylor) and from the second story of this building-with outside stairs on the Pearl street side-was issued the first number of the Daily Eagle, May 26, 1856. Just above these buildings all of which have been removed, is shown the top of Sweetís hotel. The first low building on the right was the site now occupied by the Wonderly building shown, four stories high, is the Lovett block, on the north east corner of Pearl and Canal streets. In olden times, the location thus shown was called and known as "Grab Corners," for certain more or less valid reasons, which need not here be mentioned.

The Birth of the Eagle

As elsewhere mentioned, the first issue of the Eagle was printed in a large frame building on Waterloo street, opposite the Eagle hotel, then kept by a jolly and rubicund Frenchman named Charles Thrempe. The building had previously been occupied as a general store, the trade embracing wet as well as dry goods, groceries, clothing for body, head and feet, etc. The young proprietor printer had set the type and made up the forms for his initial number entirely without help, having been busily employed something more than a month in getting ready for the (to him) great event. "On the night before Christmas," 1844, the inside forms were ready and placed upon the press. Now came a difficulty. The "boss" printer and editor could himself "pull the devilís tail" (work the press), but he had no "devil." No practiced roller boy was obtainable, and the pressmanís work would be next to impossible without the aid of an imp of darkness on the other side of the bed, platen and frisket. The issue must be ready before the next daylight; and the editor went home to his late supper with mingled feelings of proud anticipations and distress. He found at his table a young friend-Mortimer Jeffords-who was about that time a frequent participator at his modest board; and "Mort," who made himself generally useful whenever there were unusual goings-on, promptly volunteered to act the "devil" in the emergency. With much instruction and more scolding, and with a liberal display of "elbow grease" the long night was nearly used up; but at daylight the Eagle was ready for exchanges and three hundred real and expected subscribers. "Mort" is now living in this city, enjoying the comforts which an industrious and useful life entitle him to. He now says that the bottle of fine wine, which he discovered under the counter, was the thing that kept, his spirits up through that night, to say nothing of the effect it had on the "boss."


Prospect Hill

When Campau first came to this area in the 1820's, the land looked considerably different from what it does today.
Much of the east side of the river was marshy with stands of willow and cattails. Another feature of the east side was a tall hill which the pioneers dubbed Prospect Hill.
Today the spot where the hard clay and gravel hill stood is the site of some of the most important downtown buildings.
When Albert Baxter wrote the history of early Grand Rapids in the late 1800's, a bible for most ----.

In the city's early history, Prospect Hill was a popular location for the homes of several city fathers.
One pioneer to opt for a home on top of the hill was George Martin, an attorney from Vermont who arrived here in 1836. Martin rose to become a county circuit court judge and later chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Charles I. Belknap, in his memoirs of the 1850's, "The Yesterdays of Grand Rapids," described the judge's dwelling as a large frame house with porches on three sides.

From the porch on the west side, Belknap, wrote, "we could look through the trees and in the evening watch the wigwam fires on the islands and the jack lights of the fishermen spearing in the river rapids."
Other dwellings included those of William Deacon Haldane the city's firs furniture maker. Dr. Charles Shepard, then the only surgeon in a hundred-mile radius, and the ill-fated Daniel Ball.

Ball, who built a mansion of river limestone, at one time was the richest man in Grand Rapids. After his bank crashed during the Civil War, however, he died a pauper.

Beginning in the mid-1850's, soon after Ball had built his mansion, pick and shovel workers et about, cutting roads through the hill and, by the time Ottawa Avenue and Pearl Street were graded in around 1865, Ball's mansion was accessible only by a series of ramps and stairways.
The roads weren't the only things to attack the hill. The rest of the hill came down in bits and pieces as workers hacked away at the hardpan to get dirt to build up the riverfront.

The hill dirt was used to fill in low places along the river building up Lower Monroe Avenue then Canal Street; as much as 15 feet. As this grading continued the river channel between the east bank and the islands, was gradually filled in.

The last vestige of the hill was removed in 1898 to build the Waters Building.

Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 23 February 2010 & 2 Jan 2011