The Growth of Grand Rapids -- Its Railroad, Churches, Schools, Buildings and Various Institutions

Since the close of the war of the rebellion in 1865, perhaps no city of its size in the United States has had a more rapid and substantial growth than Grand Rapids. The "Illustrated History of Michigan," recently compiled by the author of this work, closes its review of Grand Rapids with these paragraphs:

"There are now three daily newspapers, the Democrat, Eagle and Times, representing the Democratic and Republican parties, and the latter Independent. There are also several weekly papers, one of which is printed exclusively in the Holland language. There are twenty three organized churches, and some of the edifices are of a superior kind in point of architectural design. The First Congregational is a gothic bui9lding, elegant in finish, costing $65,000. St. Marks, Episcopal, one of the oldest church edifices in the city, has lately been enlarged and improved at a cost of $30,000, and is one of the largest gothic edifices west of Detroit in Michigan, worth $60,000. The first Methodist has a fine structure in the Roman style, elaborately finished and furnished, costing $45,000. The Baptist Society have erected a very costly gothic church which is a superb contribution to the many beautiful houses of worship in the city, its estimated cost being $80,000. The first Presbyterians have a very fine house on the west side, which cost $30,000. The Methodists have also, in this locality, a really handsome gothic church, containing in its tower the largest bell in the city and a fine clock; cost, $40,000. The Roman Catholics have a handsome gothic church built and are occupying it, which cost $43,000, and have another building, for a German congregation, at an expense of $60,000. The Episcopalians have in addition to the parent church - St Mark’s – three chapels, while the two Holland churches have large and finely appointed edifices completed, one costing $35,000. The Westminster Presbyterian Society has a very nice church edifice on the east side, while the Dutch Reformed congregation is taking steps to build a $25,000 house. The old Catholic church of St. Andrew has been disposed of, and plans for a $100,000 cathedral are now being perfected. The Universalists have a very pretty and well finished and furnished church.

"The manufacturing interests of Grand Rapids are large and rapidly increasing. Generally, they may be summed up in three flouring, one woolen, fifteen saw, four plaster and other mills, three furnaces, two boiler factories, four tanneries, six large furniture manufactories and a dozen smaller ones, three extensive chair factories ten large cooper shops, six extensive carriage manufactories, ten wagon shops, one chemical works, three pail and bucket factories, one clothes pin factory one gypsum ornament manufactory, several sash, door and blind shops, two saw manufactories, three marble and stone yards, one brush factory, Waters’ patent barrel factory, two hub factories, two manufactories of farming implements, one faucet manufactory; in fact, almost everything that can be made from wood has as manufactory in this city. Fanning mills, milk safes, and such like useful articles are extensively fabricated, and all these varied industries – large numbers of which we have not attempted to enumerate – furnish employment for an army of mechanics, artisans and laborers, who are paid weekly for their skill and efforts in developing the city’s resources.

"Upon either side of Grand River is a canal, which furnishes a vast amount of power for propelling the machinery incident to the manufacturing enterprises of the placer, the descent in the river over the rapids producing a head and fall of sixteen feet; yet it is safe to say that fully one-half of the whole power used in the various departments of mechanical effort in the city is made from steam.

"At the time of writing six railroads are in operation, under control of same of the most extensive corporations in the country, sending out and receiving daily the passengers upon thirty trains of cars, while the immense freighting business incident to the lumber, plaster and manufacturing interests are indeed great. A street railway from the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad has long been in operation, running through Leonard, Canal Monroe and Fulton Streets, and when continued to the Fair Grounds, will be a great source of great convenience.

This year (1873) upwards of three hundred buildings of all kinds, including forty stores, are in process of erection, and it is one of the strong points of the resources of Grand Rapids that all the stone for paving or building, and fine yellow brick, as good as those made in Milwaukee, with lime, Plaster of Paris, stucco and sand, are found within the corporation, while the country immediately north abounds with the best of pine, cedar beech, maple, and other merchantable woods out of which lumber is made. With the exception of paint, nails, and gas piping, the materials for an entire ordinary dwelling are to be found in the city, the product of the county.

"The public schools of the city are as good as the best in the State, and comprise one Union or High School and eight ward schools, all under control of a Board of Education, consisting of two members from each ward, with the Mayor, who are elected by the people. The buildings occupied for school purposes are mostly of brick, and of attractive design, with good play grounds. There is a City Library of 6,000 volumes, supported by fines, the result of violated ordinances; also a "Kent Scientific Institute," which has one of the most valuable collections of specimens, minerals, fossils, etc., to be found in the State, and one which has attracted considerable attention from scientists.

"The Young Men’s Christian Association is in a very flourishing state, and its organization has not only been efficient but exceedingly useful in the line of its Christian duty and quiet charities. "St, Mark’s Home’ is a hospital under the immediate control of some ladies of St. Mark’s Church and has proved itself of great benefit to many, as its doors are open to all without distinction of creed. The charges for board and care are just sufficient to cover actual cost, for such as can pay, and to such as cannot and are worthy, no charge is made.

"’The Union Benevolent Society’ is another charitable hospital, of a more enlarged character, which has been in existence for upwards of fifteen years. It is managed by ladies and gentlemen selected from the various Protestant organizations, and is incorporated. Having an eligible and and admirably located lot, steps are now being taken towards the erection of a suitable building to accommodate their rapidly increasing wants.

"This city is the acknowledged metropolis of western and northwestern Michigan. Its location is one of admitted beauty, having a rare variety of hill and dale for landscape, while it is noted for its elegant residences, suburban villas, fine business blocks, and the air of activity and thrift which characterized so many of our western towns,. The United States have decided to erect a suitable public building here for its District Courts, Pension Office, U.S. Marshal’s Office, Collector, Post office, etc., etc., and has ordered a free postal delivery system, in accordance with a law of Congress passed at its last session. It should be added that during the season of navigation boats ply regularly on the Grand River to Grand Haven, and a large amount of business is transacted along the shores, which are dotted with thriving villages.

"The traveling public are well cared for in several hotels, which are well kept, thought the rapid increase of population and the influx of strangers, attracted by the wide-spread notoriety of the place for business, demand increased facilities in this line, and steps are being taken towards the erection of more hotel room. There are two free bridges and one toll bridge spanning the river – which is 900 feet wide – also two railroad bridges. The wholesale business of Grand Rapids in groceries, boots and shoes, dry goods, hardware and manufactured articles from wood, is large and rapidly increasing. Several of its streets are paved with stone, while wooden pavements are now coming into general use. Owing to the hilly nature of a large part of the city plat and the necessity of much filling near the river, on the east side, the grading and leveling of streets has been a costly undertaking, but it has been accomplished during the ten years past at an outlay of nearly a hundred thousand dollars per annum. The ground forming the plat on the west side is very level, and is calculated for a large city, backed and skirted as it is by very bo9ld and delightful bluffs. Situated as Grand Rapids is, in the vicinity of a splendid farming, fruit, wool raising and well wooded country, it must continue to increase in wealth, population and intelligence, and remain in the future, as it is now, the second city of Michigan, and through its various institutions and enterprise of a business, religious and social nature, must do no small share in moulding the thought and giving tome and direction to the population which is rapidly filling up the great country north as far as Mackinaw, and west to the shore of Lake Michigan."

Document Source: Tuttle, Charles R., History of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids: Tuttle & Cooney, 1874.
Transcriber: Karen Blumenshine
Created: 14 November 2001[an error occurred while processing this directive]