The First Newspaper in Grand Rapids --
Some Difficulties in Procuring a Press --
A Review of Grand Rapids in 1837
In 1837, we have to notice several important events. The first newspaper ever printed in Grand Rapids was established in this year. It was called the Grand Rapids Times, as was started by George N. Patterson, the first number being issued on the 18th of April.
Several copies of the first number are still extant, having been printed on cloth with a view to their preservation.
Mr. Pattison was assisted in the editorial work by Mr. Noble H. Finney.
The press on which this paper was printed was drawn up the river from Grand Haven, on the ice by a team of dogs. It was purchased the winter previous at Buffalo, by Judge Almy. At Detroit it was shipped for Grand Haven on the steamer Don Quixote which was wrecked off Thunder Bay, and the press taken around the lakes on another boat.
The first number of the Times contained the following article on Grand Rapids: Though young in its improvements, the site of this village has long been known, and esteemed for its natural advantages. It was here that the Indian traders long since made their grand depot. It was at this point that the missionary herald established his institution of learning – taught the forest child the beauties of civilization and inestimable benefits of the christian religion. This has been the choicest, dearest spot to the unfortunate Indians and won the pride of the white man. Like other villages of the west, its transition from the savage to a civilized state has been as sudden as its prospects are now flattering.
Who would have believed to have visited this place two years since, (1835) when it was inhabited only by a few families, most of whom were of French origin, a people so eminent for exploring the wilds and meandering rivers of the west that this place would now contain its twelve hundred inhabitants. Who would have imagined that thus rapid would have been the improvement of this romantic place. The rapidity of its settlement is beyond the most visionary anticipation; but its location, its advantage and its clime, were sufficient to satisfy the observing mind that nothing but the frown of Providence could blast its prospects.
The river upon which this town is situated is one of the most important and delightful to be found in the county-not important and beautiful alone for its clear, silver-like water, winding its way through a romantic valley of some hundred miles, but for its width and depth, its susceptibility for steam navigation, and the immense hydraulic power afforded at this point.
We feel deeply indebted to our Milwaukee friends for their lucid description of the advantages to be derived from a connection of the waters of this river with those of Detroit, by canal or railroad. A canal is nearly completed around the rapids at this place, sufficiently large to admit boats to pass up and down, with but little detention, Several steamboats are now preparing to commence regular trips from Lyons, at the mouth of the Maple River to this place, a distance of sixty miles; and from this to Grand Haven, a distance of thirty-five miles, thence to Milwaukee and Chicago.
Thus the village of Grand Rapids, with a navigable stream, a water-power of twenty-five feet fall, an abundance of crude building material, stone of excellent quality, pine, oak and other timber in immense quantities within its vicinity, can but flourish – can but be the Rochester of Michigan! The basement story of an extensive mill, one hundred and sixty by forty feet, is now completed; a part of the extensive machinery is soon to be put in operation. There are new several dry goods and grocery stores, some three or four public houses, one large church, erected, and soon to be finished in good style, upon the expense of a single individual, who commenced business a few years ago by a small traffic with the Indians. Such is the encouragement to western pioneers! The village plat is upon the bold bank of a river, extending back upon an irregular plain some eighty to a hundred rods to rising bluffs, from the base and sides of which some of the most pure, crystal-like fountains of water burst out in boiling springs, pouring forth streams that murmur over their pebbly bottoms, at once a delight to the eye and an invaluable luxury to the thirsty palate.
New England may surpass this place with her lofty mountains, but not with her greatest boast, purity and clearness of water. Our soil is sandy and mostly dry. The town is delightful, whether you view it from the plains upon the banks of the river, or from the bluffs that overlook the whole surrounding country. To ascend these bluffs you take a gradual rise to the height of a hundred feet, when the horizon only limits the extent of vision. The scenery, to an admirer of beautiful landscape, it truly picturesque and romantic. Back, east of the town, is seen a widespread plain of burr oak, at once easy to cultivate and inviting to the agriculturist. Turning westward, especially at the setting of the sun, you behold the most enchanting prospect; the din of the ville below, the broad sheet of water murmuring over the rapids, the sunbeams dancing upon its swift gliding ripples, the glassy river at last losing itself in its distant meandering, presents a scenery that awakens the most lively emotions. But the opposite shore, upon which you behold a rich, fertile plain, still claims no small amount of admiration. Near the bank of the river is seen the little rude village of the more civilized Indians – their uncouth frame dwellings, the little churches and mound like burying places. The number and size of the mounds, which mark the place where lies the remains of the proud warrior and the more humble of his untamed tribe, too plainly tell the endearments of that lovely plain to the native aborigines. And how quick the mind would follow the train of association to by-gone days and contrast these reflections with present appearances. Thus we see the scenes of savage life quickly spread upon canvass of imagination. The proud chieftain seated and his tribe surrounding the council fires, the merry war dance, the wild amusements of the red man in the forest, and as soon think of their present unhappy condition. The bright flame of their lighted piles has been extinguished, and with it has faded the keen, expensive brilliancy of the wild man’s eye. Their lovely Owashtenong, upon which their light canoes have so long glided, is now almost deserted.
It is from this point, too, that you can see in the distance the ever green tops of the lofty pines waving in majesty above the sturdy oak, the beech and maple, presenting to the eye the wild, undulating plain, with its thousand charms. Such is the location, the beauty and the advantages of this youthful town. The citizens are of the most intelligent, enterprising and industrious character. Their buildings are large, tasty and handsomely furnished. The clatter of mallet and chisel, the clink of the hammer, the many newly raised and recently covered frames, and the few skeleton boats upon the wharves of the river, speak loudly for the enterprise of the place. Mechanics of all kinds find abundance of employment, and reap a rich reward for their labor. Village property increases in value, and the prospect of wealth is alike flattering to all. What the sequel of such advantages and prospects will be, time alone must determine.
But a view of this place and its vicinity, where we find a rich and fertile soil, watered with the best of springs, and enjoying, as we do, a salubrious climate, a healthy atmosphere and the choicest gifts of a benign Benefactor, would satisfy almost anyone that his will soon be a bright star in the constellation of western villages.
We are now able to realize to what extent the predictions or anticipations of this article were well founded. Grand Rapids has not only become as bright star in the constellation of western villages, but in the constellation of western cities, and is the second city in population and importance in the prosperous State of Michigan.Document Source: Tuttle, Charles R., History of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids: Tuttle & Cooney, 1874.