Early Grand Rapids History
SOME HISTORICAL EVENTS
April 2, 1830 Grand Rapids was made a city. Its boundaries were what are now Wealthy avenue, East street, Leonard street, Alpine avenue and Straight. It was divided into five wards as follows: The first ward was all between the river and Division street south of Lyon street: the Second ward included all east of the river north of Lyon street to Division and all north of Bridge street east of the river. The Third ward was bounded north of Bridge street on the west side, and the Fifth ward was all south of Bridge street on the west side. In 1871 the wards was increased from five to eight. In 1899 the number was increased to ten, in 1891 to twelve.
The village of Grand Rapids was incorporated in 1833. Its boundaries were as follows: Fulton street east from the river to where now is Jefferson avenue, thence north to Hastings street, thence west to Canal street to Pearl street, thence down the river to Fulton street. At that time the river flowed along the west line of Canal street at its junction with Pearl street. The Pantlind and all west of it stands on made ground.
On May 9, 1835, the first school district was established. It included all of what is now city territory on the east side of the river. On June 6, 1835, Louis Campau filed his plat of the Village of Grand Rapids, included in the following boundaries: From the river east on Fulton street to the head of Monroe street, thence north half way across Fulton Street Park, thence east as far as Jefferson avenue, thence north to about 25 feet beyond Fountain street, thence west to Division street, thence north to about 50 feet beyond Pearl street, thence west to the river.
It was in 1837 that Kent County was authorized to borrow money and build a court house. In 1838 a County building was built on Fulton Street Park, which was used until 12 Jul 1844, when it was destroyed by fire. The County soon after erected a temporary structure which was used for a court house until 1852, when it was abandoned and court was held in different places about town until the present court house was built.
Among the early municipal acts of the city occurred in 1862, when a resolution passed the Council, stopping horse racing and immoderate driving in the public streets. In 1863 all saloon keepers were ordered to close their places of business on Sundays. In 1864 the city voted to issue bonds for a $100 bounty to be paid volunteers for filling quotas assigned in the wards and in the records of those days we read than in February following the Mayor reported that the 90 men required for war duty had secured the bounties paid on.
In 1865 a granite boulder was placed and designated as a "city bench", a starting point at the head of Monroe street. This was done to establish the grade lines of the street.
In 1865 the first street car was run, making a new era in passenger locomotion, and the event was celebrated by free rides, speeches and a feast.
It was in 1869 that the ground was purchased where stands the county jail. It was in 1871 that the first ward was designated by enlarging the number of wards.
During 1875 the first fire alarm telegraph system was established. In 1885 two amendments to the Charter were approved and later acted upon by the legislature – one to grant women the right to vote in school elections; the second with reference to the employment of city prisoners in the jail. It was in 1887 that a vote was taken to amend the city charter on a prohibition platform, but it was defeated.
It was in October, 1889, that the Street Railway Co., was granted a franchise to use electricity.
MILITARY – Grandville Avenue Record – May 26, 1911 – Early history of Grand Rapids
The Third Infantry was more especially the pet of the Valley, being nearly all young men. These martyrs will never be forgotten.
The Twenty-first was another loyal regiment.
The Second Cavalry was organized here in 1864 with a muster roll of over one thousand. The Second Cavalry organized in 1861, was sent south without guns at first, but supplied later and did yeoman service
The Third Cavalry soon followed with 1163 men both have a record to be proud of.
The Tenth Michigan Cavalry was under marching order shortly after leaving camp here with 912 on its rolls; that was in 1863.
The Thirteenth battery was organized here in 1864 with 1160 men and was soon sent to Ft. Sumpter.
ROADS AND BRIDGES
In 1845 the first bridge was built across the river at Bridge street.
The first fire company was organized in 1849. The first engine house was built in 1855. The First Ward Engine House at the junction of Grandville Avenue and Ellsworth Avenue was erected in 1877. In it was then placed a hose cart, four wheeled built by Charles E. Belknap. The first Captain was Lieutenant Kerwin and Lieutenant Thomas McMullen.
The police department was organized in 1871. The present school system was established in 1871. Prior to that time the city was divided into three separate school districts, the Union District, the West Side District and the Coldbrook District.
The first railway to reach Grand Rapids was the Detroit and Milwaukee road. Trains commenced running from Grand Rapids to Detroit in 1858. In 1867, trains commenced running from Grand Rapids to Cedar Springs. In 1870 the G. R. & I. South was completed. In March, 1860, the Lake Shore line commenced running rains out of Grand Rapids. January 1, 1870, the Michigan Central commenced running between Grand Rapids and Jackson. Trains commenced running between Grand Rapids and Holland in 1872.
The first street railroad cars in Grand Rapids were started in 1865, and ran from the D. & M. depot along Canal street, Monroe and Fulton streets to Jefferson avenue. In 1873 a line was extended from Monroe street along Division street to the old fair grounds, which were situated south of Hall street and east of Jefferson avenue. 1875 street cars………….
Grand Rapids took a prominent part in the Civil War. The first was meeting was held at Luce’s Hall, April 15, 1861. On May 21 following the Third Michigan Infantry entered the service with the Valley City Guards as a company in that regiment. Kent County send 4,214 men to the war. By act of Congress in 1863 the Western District of Michigan was made a federal district, and Judge Withey was appointed the first U. S. District Judge. He first held court in Grand Rapids on May 14 of that year.
The first term of court held in the present federal building was held in October, 1879.
(Grandville Avenue Record, August 18, 1911 – Pg. 1)
The First Christian Reformed Church on Commerce street, has found that its quarters are not suitable for service any longer owing to the crowded condition of business places. They are now constructing a brick veneer edifice on the corner of Bates and Henry streets at a cost of about $30,000. The plans call for a seating capacity of 950, with a gallery to seat 200, this, however, will not be finished at once. The church is being built by J. DeVroome, of 17 Alexander avenue, and he has the steel construction parts in place and has commenced work on the roof.
The church society are also erecting on the same property a fine parsonage of frame, costing $5,000. This work is being done by Wm Hertel.
The society feel that they are soon to have a fine place for worship and a fine home for its pastor, and expect to largely increase their membership.
Grandville Avenue Record - May 12, 1911 – Church History
In connection with memories and the change of ownership of Smith Memorial church, a history of this edifice and society is here given.
The formal organization of this mission, as a church, took place in September, 1887, with thirty-nine members, who selected the following officers:
Deacons: Daniel Vanderboegh, L. J. Niel and E. W. Miller
Trustees: H. D. Brown, H. E. Locher, H. T. Kuipper, H. Miller, M. Frost, John VanDommelen (also clerk), J. Reelman, F. B. Wallin.
The Sunday School, then superintended by Van A. Wallin, enrolled 180 scholars. A Christian Endeavor Society, J. VanDommelen, President, and a Ladies Helping Hand Society, Miss Anna Locher, President, are recorded then as valuable aids in the work of this young church. The congregation or Parish grew to fifty-six members, and one hundred and fifty more adherents. The annual income of their treasury was about $1,000. A good share of this revenue being derived from the rent of the pews, which are free, however to all who are unable to pay for seats.
Going back into history we find in Baxter’s Manuel this report:
February, 1886, Park Congregational Church rented Stevens Hall, 15 and 17 Grandville Avenue, and organized a Sabbath school there under the superintendence of F. M. Priestly, assisted by Miss Anna Locher and Millard Palmer. Sunday evening services were also held here, by the Rev. Charles B. Shear, who was employed by the ecclesiastical mother of this enterprise, and for a short time cared faithfully for this mission. His labors were followed by those of Mr. Mead, then a theological student at Olivet College. After a few months of acceptable work, he resumed his studies, and the vacancy was filled by James Gallup, to whose zeal, energy and efficiency this church was greatly indebted. After the lapse of several months, the Rev. E. F. Goff, was secured in 1880 as pastor, whose services of one year largely promoted the development and prosperity of the mission. Rev. A. H. McIntire succeeded him in 1887. For some time previous it was the cherished purpose of the mother church to build a church home for this rapidly growing congregation and to name it as above, in loving memory of their late pastor Rev. J. Morgan Smith, who died 1 October 1883. In this they were materially assisted by the relatives, friends and admirers of the late pastor and on the 25th of September, 1887, the corner stone of the church was laid, the dedication following on 27 May 1888. This brick structure, with an auditorium seats 500. Rev. H. McConnell the pastor has been in charge four years. When he came here the enrollment was 136; today the membership is 185, showing a marked increase. At the time there were 125 Sunday school scholars; today there are over 200. Smith Memorial church activities are regularly cared for by a special correspondent.
Grandville Avenue Record – August 18, 1911
Smith Memorial Church – The Smith Memorial Church have sold their edifice on the corner of Wealthy Avenue and Finney to the city for kindergarten purposes and have been looking about for a site on which to erect a new edifice. A deal has been practically closed for a spot on Hall street and on the lot they will soon commence the erection of a new home of worship. The congregation of the church are largely residents of this part of the district and it is for this reason that they deemed it wise to build somewhere more central.
May 19, 1911, Pg. 1 – Grandville Avenue Record
Fifth Avenue Holland Christian Reformed Church – A short history of the Fifth Avenue Holland Christian Reformed church. In the summer of 1886 the Consistory of the Spring Street Holland Christian Reformed church built the house of worship now located on Fifth Avenue (now Franklin), corner of Oakland Street. This property then was valued at $6,000; today is it worth $18,000 and a fine piece of property.
The Projfessors and students of their denominational Theological Seminary located here and assisted the Rev. J. H. Vos in supplying this part of the parish with preaching. The enterprise and chapel services were so successful that it was deemed wise to organize the seventy families as a church which was done 8 March, 1887, under the above name. The Revs. J. H. Vos and L. J Hulst presided. Those as Consistory and Board of Trustees were: Elders-John Ten Haaf and Wm M. Mouw for a term of two years and Harm Plesscher and Sieles Bos for one year. Deacons-Hero Tel and Wm Olthouse, Roelof Gust and Jacob Groendyk.
In a short time 180 families (185 members) and including all who belong to the parish, 770 souls were enrolled. A parsonage adjoining the edifice in 1887 was occupied by their own pastor, the Rev. W. R. Smidt, who accepted their call while in charge of a church in the Netherlands and was installed 23 Dec 1887. The membership grew rapidly until finally in 1889 a gallery was built on three sides of the edifice to furnish the sittings required. In June the church was enlarged by an addition 40 x 36 which was dedicated September 26th following.
Today Rev. L. Veltkamp is the pastor and the membership is ___ and the Sunday School has an enrollment of 200.
The parsonage facing Grandville Avenue is a fine piece of property and with the edifice gives the Society a property valued at $18,000.
Grandville Avenue Record, April 14, 1911 – Pg. 1
Second Avenue School building – The Observer – Observer noticed that the School Board has placed a wooden fire escape on the Second avenue building. It is chronicled that the new budget is to receive a most rigid consideration; and Observer is wondering if the "rigidness" will not freeze out the school building entirely. A wooden fire escape; who else would ever suggested it. But perhaps it is a temporary need.
Grandville Avenue Record, May 19, 1911 – Pg. 1
Grandville Avenue School – In the year 1870 the city bought a lot of George H. White & Co., 130 x 26 feet, situated on the corner of Second avenue and Church street, the place where is the condemned building of learning and which it is expected will be sold for other purposes, as a new school building is promised at some other spot. This school was then Primary 5; they paid $2,000 for the land and erected the same year the two-story brick structure at an expense of $33,000. Miss Emma Field was the first principal, a teacher of much promise and who has been teaching the children ever since in some one of the schools. Miss Abby Field was an assistant and the other assigned teachers were Miss Hattie E. Conrad, Miss Eva Pierce, Miss Mary Morrison, Miss Anna S. Carrol, Miss Bertha Stowell, Miss Lillian Hunt, Mrs. C. D. Rockwell and Miss Emma Kline.
Additions were made to this structure from time to time until it contained ten rooms; an annex was then built. Thus we leave this old history.
(Grandville Avenue Record, August 18, 1911 – Pg. 1)
The history of this old land mark dates back some 35 years ago, when it was built by Dan Lynch and used for many years as a grocery store. Later on Tusch Bros. Purchased the building and overhauled it for the purposes of a brewery. Here they manufactured beer for a number of years when the consolidation of brewing interest took place the property reverted to the Grand Rapids Brewing Company since which time it has stood as an eye sore to the whole district. Last week the property was purchased by G. J. Toumart, who owns the corner block directly across the street to the south. He has plans already under way for the erecting thereon of a modern two story frame structure. The two stores will be for rental besides the upperrooms which will also be modern in their appointments. The Record presents herewith an illustration of the building partially torn down. Directly in front are the men engaged in the work under the supervision of the owner. These are: G. J. Toumart, R. Peterson, Jake VanEyk, peter VanderLaan, H. Boon and his dog, Tige, Curley Scram, Wm VanderPloeg, J. Kensinga, John TenCate and Mr. VanderMoor. They are furniture strikers who were given preference in labor by Mr. Toumart. They will also be retained in the work of erecting the new building. The lot is 66 x 100 feet.
The Grandville road, the Plainfield road, the Butterworth road, the Walker road, the Lake road (now Lake avenue) radiates from the down town district. These were among the first highways into Grand Rapids, following no rectangular lines, but radiating from a common center, traversed the shortest distance each to its respective section of farming country. Starting at what is now the corner of Monroe and north Ionia streets, where stood the old National Hotel, was a thoroughfare called Greenwich street. This street ran south from Monroe as far as Fulton street, thence jogging in the west about 100 hundred feet, to the rear of what is now the Hawkins Hotel, commenced the Grandville road.
With a slight slope it descended into a swampy territory which was traversed by a creek that drained that territory north of Wealthy and now occupied by the railroads.
The roadway was built up slightly above the swamp and the creek which was not more than twenty fee wide was crossed by a plank bridge. Every spring this swamp was overflowed on account of the high water in the river backing up the creek, and after fhe floods had subsided the cat-tails and blue-flags would cover the territory. The creek flats were often so mirey that it was dangerous for cows or horses that at that time were allowed to run at large. Where the Lemon and Wheeler, and Blodgett buildings now stand cat-tails grew six feet high. Just to the east of where Grandville road crossed the creek, stood for years the Backus Stave Mill, with its tanks for steamin the stave ---- before c-tting. After crossing the creek the road ran in a south-westerly direction, across the flat land lying west of where stands the train shed and between this and what is now south Ottawa street; all of this territory was then known as Shanty-town – was made up of small shacks built by people of Irish nationality who were employed in the building of the old Detroit and Millwaukee railway – now the Grand Trunk, and who settled here after the road was completed. These Irishmen loved whiskey and many was the row that the whiskey stirred up in locality just previous to the war of the rebellion. Near what is now the intersection of south Ottawa street and Cherry street, was located the first match factory in Grand Rapids, and a box of 500 matches sold for twenty-five cents at that time. From the match factory the road ascended quite a steep hill, and this was always known as "Whiskey Hill". Mike Kerwin kept a saloon at the top of the hill at what is now the south east corner of Ellsworth avenue and Williams street. And many a fight was produced here by the whiskey that Kerwin sold. In these early days prior to 1860, the Kerwin saloon in which Kerwin’s family lived and a house owned and occupied by a man named Fitzpatrick – (this later house is standing today) – were the only buildings on the Grandville road between what is now Williams street and Wealthy avenue. The Coffinberry house which stood on the ground now occupied by the Dean – Hicks Printing Co., was built some time before the breaking out of the war of the rebellion, by a man named Wells who was the proprietor of a bank and who failed during the panicky times of 1857-8. This place was afterwards occupied by the late J. Fredric Baar’s family; afterwards coming into the possession of Capt. W. L. Coffinberry.
The old Grandville road as above mentioned came into what is now Grandville avenue at Barlette street and Williams streets.
All of the territory lying between William street and Wealthy avenue, lying west of the Grandville road was prior to 1857 covered with a small growth of what was called, "Oak Grubs," except along the bank of the river where grew a line of large and stately elms. At the rear of what now stands Engine house No. 6, was a basin like depression that use to fill with water in the spring of the year and frequently the water would stay there throughout the entire summer. At what is now the intersection of Wealthy and Grandville avenues, there was quite a grade rising from both north and south sides, and here prior to 1860 were three houses, two upon the west side and an old log house upon the east. Those upon the west were owned and occupied by a family named Finney; this homestead upon the site where is now being built the Trompen building, and upon the adjoining lot upon the south was always a bad mud hole in the roadway. Between the two railroad crossings lived the Frawley’s, two or three Jennings families and Oliver Fox.
At the Pere Marquette crossing a creek used to cross the road. This creek headed in a spring not far from where Ninth avenue intersects the railroad tracks, and the stream wound back and forth through the valley where are now the G. R. & I., and the M. C. tracks. This valley prior to 1857 was a dense cedar and black ash swamp. Prior to ’57 there were just four houses on the Grandville road between what is now the Pere Marquette crossing at Prescott street and Clyde Park avenue a distance of one and one-half miles.
Thie first one was the old Rumsey farm house which stood back about 175 feet from the road and in the rear of what is now the Holland school at the corner of Fifth and Caulfield avenues. Next and up on the same side of the road and upon 200 feet back from the road and the same distance north of where Hughart avenue now is, stood the one story frame house of Carlton Neal, once the owner of what is now known as Caulfield’s sub-division. Then upon the VanderStolpe farm near the top of the hill and upon the east side of Grandville avenue was a farm house and upon the same side of the road just around the curve and before reaching Clyde Park avenue was an old one story house used as a residence by the man in charge of the old read mill which was located near by.
All the territory upon both sides of Grandville avenue from what is now Prescott street to Fifth avenue was virgin forest. Then there was a half mile between Fifth ave. and Hall street of cleared farm land with rail fences upon each side of the road. South of Hall street to Lily street was forest upon both sides of Grandville road. The plaster mills were in operation at that period of time, between 1857 and 1860, and large quantities of the ground rock were used as a fertilizer. The—was ground at these mills located near where the Alabastine plant is, then hauled by the teams to the old Detroit and Milwaukee depot, a four mile haul, and the heavily loaded teams kept the then country road in a badly cut up condition. The winters of those early days were accompanied with greater snow falls than those of today, and it was not an unusual occurrency to see the rail fences entirely obliterated by snow drifts and the teams using the fields as a road way. During this early period the Indians came to Grand Rapids to receive their annual dues from the Government, and at these times hundred of them would pitch their tents along the creek which ran between Prescott street and Second avenue and just, east of the Grandville road.
The owners of property lying between Fulton street and Bartlett Street which was crossed by the Grandville road, in platting, did not recognize the right of the road to cross their property and they built fences across the highway. Carlton Neal who was highway commissioner at that time, repeatedly tore down the fences as he had the right to under the law, the roadway having been used without hindrance for more than twenty years previous. There was a bitter fight over this matter but after Summit street, now Ellsworth avenue was opened up for travel the fight was abandoned and that part of the Grandville road was wiped off the map of Grand Rapids, yet from 1836 until 1858 the Grandville road was traveled in a straight line from Fulton street to near what is now Clyde Park ave. a distance of over two miles. From this point it angled to the southwest to Grandville, not following the section lines, but making for the shortest distance.
Created: 22 Mar 2007