Scenes from Grand Rapids, 1960 and earlier.

Area cemeteries
Area houses
Area roads
Area streetcars
Auto dealerships
City Founders
Davenport College
Downtown area
Downtown buildings
Farmers Market
Foundation Blocks
Grand Rapids Chicks
Grand Rapids history
Grand River
Horse drawn delivery wagons
Hunting & Fishing
Miscellaneous photos - 1953 to 1978
Public Museum
Recalling Heartside
River Boats
Ryerson Library
Some early Cushman motor scooters
Urban Renewal and US 131

Left click on the images below for larger versions.



Above are 1836 and 1840 street maps of Grand Rapids. It's well to remember that Grand Rapids, like most towns and cities in the US, started out as centers from which to exploit resources. In Michigan in general, the obvious resource was the vast amounts of timber. Originally there were perhaps 50,000 square miles of forest in Michigan. In year 2014 there are perhaps 60 acres of original forest left, some due to accidents of the economy, and some to the foresight of early residents.

Grand Rapids was no exception, and the early settlers were not so much frontiersmen as representatives of eastern money interests. For example, John Ball was a university educated, having graduated from Dartmouth College in 1820, and pass the bar in 1824. He served eastern money interests as well as local businesses, most having to do with exploiting Michigan's resources. He also held various government appoints, which was common in his time. Louis Campau bought the entire GR area for $90 in 1831, and proceed to plat the land.

The street names chosen are shown in the map above, and provide a cautionary tale when attempting to find the history of an area. Street names changed often. Some of the streets in the map will be familiar, and date to the original platting of GR. Many others changed, and of course more streets were added. So when looking through historical archives, one can easily be mislead by looking for a location that had a different name in the past. To complicate things further, street numbers were sometimes changed.

Below are some views of and information about Grand Rapids that anyone attending Godwin up to about 1960 would likely have known, as well as the history of the city. In one way or another most are but memories in year 2005. In some cases the material is purely of historical interest, showing some of the layers of Grand Rapids' past. They might be of interest just because they show things like what buildings were located in various places before the buildings Godwin students were likely familiar with.

In about 1960 a monstrous federal program known as Urban Renewal was rampaging across the US, and in the name of renovation the historic areas of many US cities were introduced to the wrecking ball. When it was all over, many cities were but shadows of what they were before. Most lost some or all of their charm and character, and in many cases the cities never really recovered in terms of being centers of commerce and entertainment.

Almost everything north of Monroe Avenue and Pearl Street was demolished. Then a set of interstates took out the Union and Grand Trunk railroad depots, and much of the Michigan Street hill. Large numbers of historic homes were lost in the area north of Michigan Street, between Division Avenue and Fuller Avenue, including an octagon house built by Eliahue Smith in 1853. It was located at 7 Hastings Street. The portion of Hastings Street where the house was located no longer exists either - it is now occupied by parts of I-196.

In year 2005, there are a lot of interstates intersecting in Grand Rapids, but less and less reason for people to get off of them. Tasteless government buildings, shoddily constructed and in constant need of repair, now occupy some of the land occupied by the more colorful structures built in the 1880s. Most of the lavish RKO theaters were demolished, and along with them that feeling of grandeur audiences felt as they settled in for a movie. It's probably fair to say that the Grand Rapids that Godwin students up to year 1960 knew, and would seek for entertainment and shopping, is largely gone in year 2005.

City Founders

City Founders

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Daniel Ball - 1807-1865
Apparently no relation to John.

John Ball - 1794-1884
Photo c1854

Louis & Sophie Campau - undated.

Joel Guild - 1787-1856

Daniel Ball had a bank on the location where Sweets' Hotel, and later the Pantlind Hotel, would be built. He also had a house on Prospect Hill, shown under "area houses," before the hill was removed to fill in the river. His bank later became Old Kent Bank.

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Early painting of Joel Guild house.

Joel Guild house c1865.

Joel Guild house c1870.

Joel Guild's house was built in 1834, and survived into the 20th century. It would eventually be located on Monroe, a short distance SE of what is now the McKay Tower. Filling in the Grand River with Prospect Hill moved the river about a block from the house.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

c1854, Ball about 60.

c1880, Ball about 86.

Item in the center, above, supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

Above are photographs of John Ball, 1794 to 1884, an early Grand Rapids settler. Despite his woodsy look in later years, he was in fact a businessman and lawyer. On first arriving in GR, he represented eastern interests in exploiting resources in MI. Ball centered his activities on Grand Rapids, and was a big promoter of the city. John Ball Park is located on land donated by John Ball. Perhaps strange, people who lived in the area say that the park was derelict in around 1945, and was totally unmaintained. Apparently it was somewhat revived by the early 1950s, although conditions for the animals were pretty pathetic, to the extent the Humane Society should have closed it down.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

House photo supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

Above, left, is an 1860 photograph of Daniel Ball's house, built in 1850. Above, right, is an undated sketch of Daniel Ball, 1807 to 1865.

Daniel Ball, not related to John, was engaged in various Grand Rapids business ventures, including banking. As shown below, apparently a bank could still legally issue currency of various kinds. Just what the legalities were are unclear. Perhaps the items were called script, tokens, etc., to distinguish them from federal currency. Bus and trolley tokens were familiar generations ago, and the term "don't take any wooden nickels" does reflect a kind of currency somewhere that was actually made of wood.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The items above date from around 1850. Looking at the items in the middle row, above, two dollars was about a half week's wages. The item to the right is numbered, so these items might have served like travelers checks, and afforded the holder an amount of safety over holding cash.

The coin in the bottle row was found by a metal detector in year 2020, somewhere near Grand Rapids..

Foundation blocks

Foundation Blocks

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As the piece above makes clear, many of the large structures in Grand Rapids needed especially strong foundations. People like Jim Page supplied this need, often hauling very large blocks significant distances in the process. Apparently sources of large stones do not exist in the Grand Rapids. Places like New Hampshire, a.k.a. "the granite state," supplied granite in large quantities to Boston and other places. Crushed rock was supplied to the railroads for ballast on their right of ways. But in the Grand Rapids area, and perhaps all of Michigan, there are not sources of granite.

As the piece points out, third generation members of the Page family were still in the Grand Rapids area in year 1976, and it's like that fourth generation members are still in the area as of year 2007. In a sense they are the foundation of Grand Rapids too.



The Cody hotel was located on the southwest corner of Fulton Street and Division Avenue. The photograph below, from 1880, shows the corner before there was a hotel.

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c1865. Home of Dr. Sheppard

Material provided by Lillian
Annis, class of 1941

In 1886 the Warwick Hotel was built, and some time later this was renamed the Cody. Some images of the Cody Hotel are shown below.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


Cody Hotel lobby - 1911


The image at the left, above, suggests the Cody Hotel was not completed yet. Compare the middle image, and one sees a section of the Cody Hotel, to the left, that is not present in the left hand, undated image. The Kortlander building is visible in the middle and right hand images, but the bottom image does not extend far enough to the right to see it all. Both buildings were part of what was long called the Heartside area, consisting of the area between Division Avenue and Commerce Avenue, and Fulton Street and Weston Street. Long an entertainment area, it was also well located relative to Union Depot for travelers coming to Grand Rapids.

Like most of the bigger hotels, the Cody provided a number of food choices.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The photograph above, dated April, 1944, shows the Cody hamburger shop.

How the Warwick Hotel came to be called the Cody Hotel is not known just now, as is whether he ever owned it. William "Buffalo Bill" Cody used the appreciable fortune he made with his Wild West shows, which played in Grand Rapids, as shown in the items below from 1902,

Left click on the images below for a larger version.

Material provided by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

to build a large number of hotels. Alas, many fine hotels were built in small cities and towns without much demand for them, and mostly lost money. The Cody Hotel was both a short term and long term hotel over the years. The Cody Hotel was renovated in 1946, but didn't seem to have much business in the 1950s. In 1960 part of the Cody Hotel, the Kortlander Building, apparently an apartment building on the southeast corner of Fulton Street and Commerce Avenue, and another building containing Moore's Hobby shop and Smalley Daniels' Cushman scooter store, were all demolished to make a city parking building. Shoddily built, it too was eventually demolished.


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Eagle Hotel, 1870, on Market Street, looking toward Monroe. The Rathbun Hotel is on the northwest corner of Monroe Avenue and Market Street.


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May 22, 1953 - Earle

August, 2013 - Earle location.

August, 2013 - Rowe

The Earle hotel was on the northeast corner of Michigan and Monroe. The Rowe hotel was across Division Avenue, in the northwest corner of Michigan and Monroe.

Grand Rapids has long been a convention city. Many hotels have come and gone. As today, few were really kept up, and the usual cycle was that once the newness had worn off they would become cheaper, and eventually maybe an indigent hotel, followed by condemnation. It's hard to say what the state the Earle is in the May 22, 1953, photo above.

The Earle too is but a memory in year 2013. The location of the Earle is shown in the image in the center, above, on the northeast corner of Monroe and Michigan. It is now occupied by a GR Press building.

Mertens Hotel

The Mertens Hotel was located near Union Depot, and likely served railroad passengers.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.



Morton House

The Morton House was a very desirable place to reside, but like all hotels that do not keep up, had fallen on hard times by the 1970's. In the 1950's yet the hotel dinning facilities was a favorite of those working downtown. It's quite likely that Urban Renewal in the 1960's took away a lot of the Morton's business. In year 2014 it appears to be on a slide into becoming an indigent hotel, much like the Rowe not so long ago, and countless other dated hotels in Grand Rapids in the past.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

c1918 - the first Morton House.

1922 - Morton House construction.


Wm. Holabird & Martin Roche
Morton House architects.


Martin L. Sweet was mayor of Grand Rapids in 1860. Originally built in 1868 on the location of the Daniel Ball bank. Some sources say the hotel was an expansion of the bank building. Sweet's Hotel was somehow raised four feet in 1874, probably in response to periodic Grand River flooding. In 1916 J. Boyd Pantlind replaced the hotel with what was to become the Pantlind Hotel. According to "Grand Rapids in 1874," Grand Rapids was already then something of a convention center. Now with 4 or 5 different railroads coming and going from the city, and thriving furniture and gypsum industries, it was well situated in terms of transportation and industry to support a large hotel industry, which did develop.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Martin L. Sweet

Martin L. Sweet - undated

Martin Sweet - undated.

An 1870 view of Sweet's Hotel.
Pearl Street covered bridge.
Former site of Daniel Ball bank.

An 1870 view of Sweet's Hotel.

An 1888 view of Sweet's Hotel.

Construction of Pantlind
Hotel, February, 1914.

Pantlind Family

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

J. Boyd Pantlind

J. Boyd Pantlind

Fred Z. Pantlind - 1929 - Manager

J. Boyd Pantlind - Obituary

J. Boyd Pantlind - headstone
Oakhill Cemetery - Block 2,
lot 129, space 12

Boyd Pantlind house. c1893. 100
College - today 134 College.
Site of Wood TV.

1955 - the house was empty.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The photograph above shows the Pantlind Colonial Room in November, 1937. Most of the larger hotels served wonderful food, with an elegant atmosphere.

Some details of the Pantlind Hotel: Architect - Warren & Wetmore, NY. Contractor: Fuller Construction Co. - Chicago. Construction dates: 1913 - 1915. Original owner: J. Boyd Pantlind.

Rathbun House

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Rathbun House.

1870 - looking SE on Monroe.
Rathbun house on the right side
of the street.

Widdicomb building

c1888 - Widdicomb building

1922. Widdicomb building - arrow.

The photos above were made available by the Grand Rapids Museum Archive.

The photo above left probably dates to the 1870s. The Rathbun House was located on the northwest corner of Monroe and Waterloo - Waterloo was later named Market Street. It faced Monroe and Market. The part that faced Monroe was once a house occupied by Louis Campau, from about 1834 to 1838. The location would later be occupied by the Widdicomb building - arrow - built by William Widdicomb, in 1886.. Around 1936 this was the location of Kresge's dime store. In year 2014 all of "dime store row" is gone, part of a political move to create Rosa Parks Circle, the legacy of a black mayor. A lot of GR history was lost in the process.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

William Widdicomb c1906

John Widdicomb c1888


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Building the Rowe Hotel.

Dining room - 1930

Dutch room - July 14, 1938

August 10, 1942


1947 - postcard version

Coffee shop - January 17, 1950

March 8, 2013

March 8, 2013



Constructing the Rowe Hotel, in an undated photograph, top row, left. In year 2012 the Rowe is an indigent hotel. The Grand Trunk railroad depot, built in 1906, and a liquor store for a while, is gone. One can identify some of the businesses on the west side of Division Avenue.

It is likely that the Grand Rapids Library has additional photos like this one of other areas of Grand Rapids. Hopefully they can be obtained some day for use here.

The two photographs in the bottom row, center and right, show the state of the Rowe hotel as of March 8, 2013. Different things have been tried to find a use for it, including turning it into an indigent hotel, but running an operation that big without the structure turning into a flea trap has to be difficult, if possible, with no real revenue coming in. Its future seems very unclear today.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The item above is undated.

Hunting & Fishing

Almost all newly discovered and settled regions of the earth were once rich in wildlife. Even 110 years yet there were vast amounts of wildlife in Africa, including species that are now extinct. North America had the vast herds of bison, and flocks of passenger pigeon so vast that it's said it could take hours for a flock to fly over. Once these areas were settled, human populations exploded. Initially the wildlife was killed for food, until it was often as not totally wiped out. The vague notion of endless supplies of everything prevented any notion of seasons, which would have allow wildlife to recover, to a point. In the Grand Rapids area, by the 1870's many of the swamps - wetlands in 2014 terms - were being drained, the forests cut down as fast as possible, and hunting had often taken on the character of entertainment, much like dog fighting in year 2014, rather than a necessary activity for obtaining food. With this came the killing of wildlife in ways that had nothing to do with food. The goal was often simply to see how much one could kill during an outing. A hunting foray of of week might mean a person shot everything that moved, threw it on a pile, and just left it there when. There were still no seasons, and wildlife could not possibly keep up with the rate of slaughter. It didn't. Like timber, much wildlife was simply wiped, creating a local extinction. The photos below suggest why.

Also popular was trapping - one of the most painway way to kill an animal imaginable - and the hanging of body parts on walls. Heads. horns. Sometimes feet. In some ways a barbaric habit, one still sees this kind of thing in year 2014. For those with the means to travel to places where wildlife still exists in numbers, or to pay for liscense to shoot a rare animal, it's common to have a room akin to a museum, or something out of horror movie. Specimens that died to make a rug, or provide a body part to hang on a wall. Sooner or later the dusty animal remnants are simply thrown away, perhaps by relatives with less of a blood lust.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Perhaps 50 to 60 ducks
shot in one outing.

Hunting dogs - strange

Maybe 10 large snapping
turtles, for soup.

Save a soul one day,
shoot a moose the next.

A lot of damage for one day.
And some body parts to hang
on a wall. Antlers, heads, etc.

A dead beaver, and the steel
trap used to kill it, no doubt
to be moved to a new location.
to kill again.

There are perhaps 50 grouse
or partridge on the line, for
one outing. Annie Oakley and
the boys see nothing wrong
with this. The endless frontier

c1920. Again, there were no
catch limits, and people
fished until they tired of it

Fishing paralleled hunting in it's approach. No seasons. Catch as many fish of all sizes on each outing. By 1914 a city hatchery was already in operation. It was simply impossible for fish to recover given the rate of depletion. Today, year 2014, taxpayers and fishing license fees pay to operate hatcheries. Fish are released into streams, and almost immediate taken back out by untold thousands of lines in the water. The notion of one's own "fishing hole" is largely a pipe dream today, because there is so little true wilderness in the lower peninsula. The activity is mostly a way of generating revenue for the state. Fishing and hunting trips, more recreational today than economic in terms of the protein obtained, nevertheless generate a lot of spending for supplies, food, lodging, etc. The well to do will travel out of state today to find less depleted sources of wildlife.

Hatchery GPS coordinates: 43.036678 -85.670684

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Note the last sentence.
867 fish in one visit.

Hatchery - c1919

Hatchery - c1919

Hatchery - c1919

Hatchery - c1919

Hatchery - satellite - 2014
The building in the upper left.

Hatchery - c1914

Hatchery - c1914

Hatchery - c1914

Hatchery - c1914

Hatchery - c1914

Hatchery - c1914

Hatchery - c1914

Grand Rapids had a number sport shops by 1900 already. Gunsmiths were clearly needed. One early proprietor was Charles Lindberg. With his sons Oscar and William, they operated a gun and shoe shop located at 49 Pearl. The guns were of top quality, and ordered from all over the US. William and Oscar, both gunsmiths, went on to manage businesses at 163 E. Fulton, and 8 N commerce. It's hard to say for sure in year 2014 just what was at those locations. Even most of the houses these people lived in are gone today. In 1895 all three lived at 243 5th NW.

The except for the 1900 photo, below, the photos below are of a recreation of the Lindberg shop at the new museum by the river. Note the poster near the roof line in the 1900 photo and the recreation showing an advertisement for the William Cody wild West show.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Charles - beard, Oscar, holding
gun, William, c1900.

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation. Notice
the lathe, center, bottom.

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation
Notice the stock in the vise.

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation
Ammunition display - left,
bottom - 8 gauge shell.

GR Museum re-creation

GR Museum re-creation

Perhaps a relative, there was another gunsmith named Charles Lindberg, whose shop was in the Kortlander Building on the SE corner of Fulton and Commerce. He died in 1959, and the Kortlander building was torn down in 1960, to make room for a parking lot. In year 2014 the poorly built city ramp is too a long gone memory. The property on the south side of Fulton, between Division and Commerce, was vacant around year 2003.


Probably like most cities its size, Grand Rapids had a revolving door of politician-businessmen, much like the Federal Government has in year 2014. People who stayed on the job long enough to steer their own business ventures through the approval process, possibly get taxpayer funding for a new road or other property improvements, and spreading some of the wealth among their business and political cronies. It was a tight knit group of people who pass the top city jobs, including the office of mayor, around members of the group, and somehow always managed to get candidates elected. Often people were mayor for only one year, so there is a long list of Grand Rapids mayors, and a comprehensive list will not be included here. Each one expected to be called "your honor," like a judge, and most left the office better off financially than when they entered, securing long term service contracts and other lucrative arrangements, on the taxpayer's dime.

Below is a list of Grand Rapids mayors from 1850 to 2014. It's completeness is not known. It does show the trend from mayors in the 1800's who often served only one or two years to the recent trend of mayors serving a decade or more.

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Left click on the images below for larger versions.

George Ellis - undated.

Public Museum

As an organization, the museum started as the Kent Scientific Museum. It was an effort by a number of young people to try to preserve the history of the GR area. It was housed in many locations and buildings over the years. In about 1903 the Nelson Howlett house, shown below, was purched by the city. It was on the corner of Jefferson and State Street, where the 1936 museum would later go. It, and another house across the street on Jefferson, housed the museum for a time.

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1917 - Nelson Howlett house.

1920 - Nelson Howlett obit.


Recalling Heartside

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The Heartside area apparently included an area roughly bounded by Fulton and Weston, north and south, and Division Avenue and Ionia. Along Fulton, the buildings on the south side of the street included the Cody Hotel, Moore's Hobby Shop, the Charles Lindberg Sports Shop, which made keys, and sold guns and fish tackle, the Kortlander building, which contained a bar on the corner of Fulton and Commerce, Smalley Daniels', which sold Cushman scooters, and a print shop. The piece above describes a time when the area was a lively commercial district. In year 2006 the area is tacky, although recent commercial development promises to ensure that the area recovers some.

The Cody Hotel was indeed built with William "Wild Bill" Cody's money. He invested money from his wild west show in many hotels around the US, but many of them were in poorly chosen locations, and lost money. In the late 1940s yet the Cody Hotel was considered one of many Grand Rapids convention hotels. Bob Hope stayed there in about 1946, after playing a gig at Bigelow Field.

Wesley Ramey, a title quality boxer in the 1920s and 1930s, went on to run a couple of successful sports bars just south of the Cody Hotel.

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December 16, 2012

The bars, which he ran for some 27 years, were called "Wes Ramey's Bar" and "Wes Ramey's Lounge." After that he worked at the Godwin Heights School System, probably as a boxing instructor, and then retired. For years he also owned Wes Ramey's Gym, where he and his son, also an accomplished boxer, trained amateur and professional boxers.

The Kortlander building is described in another section, and was a general purpose commercial building, constructed around 1890 in part to house the William Kortlander wine and liquor business.

Moore's Hobby Shop, started in 1940, was an institution for many Godwin students. In the winter, a Division Avenue Bus ride downtown left only a short walk to Moore's Hobby Shop, which might well be crowded. In the lower level was a large assortment of model trains. Upstairs were things like paperback books - Floyd Clymer's books about motorcycles and cars - and airplane kits. While the merchandise was poor by 2006 standards, one could enjoy building balsa wood planes, or plastic replicas of military and civilian planes. The store was located at about 16 Fulton, in the (Maris?) building, between the Cody Hotel and the Kortlander building. The same building housed Smalley Daniels'.

One of the items produced by Moore's were reproductions of famous vehicle brochures. Below is one from 1960 about the Tucker automobile.

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The Tucker is the poster child for what a large corporation can do if anyone or anything gets in its way. In this case, the "Big Three," which meant something in the 1940s, but is mostly comical in year 2012, used size and near monopoly status to deprive Tucker of the materials and transportation it needed to build cars. Much as in year 2012, if you have competition, either buy it, sue it, or run it out of business, through means fair and foul.

Smalley Daniels' shop sold Cushman scooters, a name now long forgotten for the most part.

From the January 15, 1946, Luddington News.

Cushman was originally the name of the Cushman Motor Works, in Lincoln, Nebraska, which made gas engines, known for their quality. Eventually this was bought out by the Ammon family, which also bought the California-based Motorglide Two-Wheel Scooter Company. The name was changed to Cushman, and in October, 1936, the first scooter, the Model R-1, was ready for sale.

Very basic machines, the scooters were most suitable for local travel. Three wheel models were used for things like deliveries, and often used to sell Popsicles during the summer, with the box in the back insulated, partially filled with "dry ice," and a supply of frozen fare. By the late 1950s mopeds, and low cost Japanese and other foreign motorbikes and motorcycles were beginning to flood the US market. Cushman scooters lost appeal, and in year 2006 are mostly collector's items.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The photograph of the Club 21, located at 21 South Division Avenue, and taken on December 14, 1939, is perhaps representative of the kinds of entertainment available in the Heartside Area in the 1930s and 1940s. Downtown Grand Rapids was a safe and busy place at night in those years, and in pre television days there was a big demand for outside entertainment, which included things like dining, drinking, and bowling. Club 21, Wes Ramey's Lounge, and Wes Ramey's Bar, were places where one could get out.

Some early Cushman motor scooters.

Left click on any image below for a larger version.

Some representative early Cushman Motor Scooters. Like most two wheel vehicles of the time, the scooters were quite basic, and never really outgrew a kind of transportation mostly suitable for local transportation on lightly traveled roads. Somewhat suited for the US suburbs of the 1930s and 1940s, they were quite dangerous on more heavily traveled roads. For many years a person could get a special license at age 14 for a two wheel vehicle with less than five horsepower. This added greatly to their popularity for many years, because they provided a measure of transportation until a person would get a driver's license for a car at age 16.

Downtown area

Romantic notions aside, the development of Michigan in particular, and Grand Rapids in particular, was a business venture of the moneyed in the East, who wanted access to the vast stands of hardwoods and other lumber which extended across the state, in both the upper and lower peninsulas. The time between which Louis Campau formed his first trading post with the indians, his purchase of the land which would become Grand Rapids, and the rapid development of the city spanned maybe 30 years. During that time he turned his trading post into a franchise, and had operations in six or seven other cities. To his credit he apparently did treat the indians reasonably fairly, but even so they lost their land, just as they eventually did across the country. Calling them heathens enabled people to shoot them if they did not get on board with development programs. "Endless" lumber provided the wealth and raw materials to support a large furniture industry, and with the coming of the railroads, vast areas of forest could be decimated and carted away in very short amounts of time. Many mansions up and around what is now Heritage Hill were funded by the lumber and furniture industries, and, later, the railroads too. In year 2102 the forests are long gone, the furniture industry lost its sources of wood, and the railroads that pervaded the city are essentially gone, as is most of the charm of the city, which began to suffer the wrath of "urban renewal" in the early 1960s, a silly government program which razed most of lower Monroe. What urban renewal didn't destroy a set of interstate highways crisscrossing the city did, including a big swath of the West Side, and resulted in the dangerous "S" curve, created to protect the business interests of cronies of city planners, who didn't want to see their facilities disturbed. The city never really recovered, and today is mostly a business district with little of the family atmosphere and shopping that characterized the early 1960s and before. And of course downtown parking is the same expensive, well controlled mess it was in the early 1950s already.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The graphic above shows part of an 1833 survey of Grand Rapids, and then the "present water line." It's not known here when the overlay was made, but a guess would be somewhat after 1875. The GR & I RR came to GR in 1875. Photos show the islands in the Grand River at about this time. Waterloo Street became Market, and Canal Street became part of Monroe. Ferry, Justice, and Campau Street also took on new names. For orientation, one sees some business names off Monroe that were familiar in the 1875 time frame.

So it's clear just how dynamic the town still was in and around 1875, when the very geography of the land was still being significantly changed. Changing land contours, and filling in water bodies, occurred all across the country, where San Francisco Bay was on the way towards being totally filled in by the time someone noticed. It's well to keep in mind that MI, and Grand Rapids in particular, were never much more than real estate dealers for financial interests in the East. Even a folksy presence like John Ball was actually a lawyer and businessman, educated at Dartmouth College, and represented Eastern business interests in the area. Like most other familiar GR names, he had his hand in various land and resource deals, and became quite prosperous by the standards of the time. He had broad interests, in education, lyceums, and geology. As settlers go, he was probably a positive force in the development of Grand Rapids.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The painting above was done in 1856, by Sarah Nelson. Her name, and the date, are shown on the rock at the bottom, right. Grand Rapids was already officially a city since 1850. The part of Grand Rapids pictured here covered form what would later be Pearl Street, starting at St. Mark's Church on the right, to Michigan Street, which would later be to the right of Eliahu Smith's octagon house, shown at the left, on what would later be called Belknap Hill. The large building at the right, top, was a school, built in 1848. Whether the image represents the entire painting is not known at this point.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1868 bird's eye map - very large file.

1874 bird's eye map - very large file.

1893 bird's eye map - very large file.

The maps above are birds eye views of Grand Rapids in 1868 and 1893. In 1868 there are canals on both sides of the river. Each had two functions. To get barges around the rapids, and to provide a water drop large enough to run the water wheels that powered the mills and other industries along the river. In time, steam engines would take over most of this function, as would the coming railroads replace the barges. The canal on the west side still existed in the 1950s, but had filled up with the endless trash people tossed into it.

In the 1868 map one can see a horse drawn trolley on the east side of the river, running parallel to Canal Street. An early attempt at public transportation, the trolleys were too heavy for the horses for the most part, and many died as a result. A later cable car system was impractical. In about the late 1880s electric trolleys began to appear, using technology invented by Frank J. Sprague, who invested ways to attach electric motors to trolley trucks in a practical, low maintenance way. Trolleys then served Grand Rapids well until 1935. In that year General Motors, by then a force in Michigan, got the city to replace its trolleys with buses, the first city to do so. Whether, and to what extent, incentives were provided to city officials to make this happen is not known, but it certainly happened across the country as GM went after one trolley system after another, in some cases buying them up simply so they could rip them out, making sure they didn't reenter service.

The covered bridge shown in the 1868 map is one of almost endless pedestrian, wagon, and railroad bridges to cross the river. Each might have been replaced two or three times.

At the top, right, of the 1868 image one sees a rutted hill. The hill, and the area above it, would later become the site of a water reservoir, a residential area, and a park. If the portrayal of the hill in the 1868 bird's eye map is essentially correct, a lot of grading must have been required, with the result being a high, and very steep hill. Shown at the right, to the right of Hastings Street, is the octagon house of Elihu Smith, built in 1853.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Elihu Smith octagon house, built in 1853, razed in 1961.

The area to the left of it, and east, would develop into a residential area, one of the oldest in the city. In 1961 construction of I-96 took down part of the south end of the hill, and with it the octagon house as well as other houses near it which were in the way of an on ramp.

By 1893, 25 years later, GR had grown a great deal. The vast grading programs were mostly complete, and the islands in the river were now a memory. Flood walls along the river, placed in an attempt to control the flooding now resulting from deforesting the state, rendered the river mostly an industrial trench.

The 1893 map is incredibly detailed, and was perhaps commissioned by the city.

As the top of the hill developed into a residential area, called Belknap Hill, a way was needed to get to the base of the hill, where a lot of industry was located. Two concrete stairs were constructed in about 1923. These replaced a wooden one.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.



March 8, 2013

South stair location.

South stair location.

The photographs above were taken on March 8, 2013. A couple can seen climbing the stairs in the left photograph, top row. A center railing has either been added, or perhaps replaced. It appears to be newer than the side railings, and, unlike the side railings, extends to the bottom of the stairs. Seen in the right hand photo, top row, the side railings no longer extend to the top any more, perhaps the victims of vandals. Going down the stairs is only for the sure footed.

Some point out that the hill is now overgrown. In the past it was free of trees and bushes, and kids apparently managed to slide down it in places.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Another set of stairs further north has not been maintained. The location at the top of these stairs is not particularly residential, and it's likely anyone going to the ball fields drives to the top. In year 2013 it's probably surprising that either was saved, since the number of people that walk is much smaller, and the stairs do not particularly lead to anything useful. But for the hardy, it still can be done, as one of the photos of the southern set of stairs shows.

The person who was in charge of their construction is Michael Krzeminski, who worked for the city, and was also involved with laying bricks in the streets. Granddaughter Julie Rathsack relates that when Michael Krzemninski retired in 1957 his children had the trowel engraved, and it hung in his den, and after that, it was passed to his son Eugene, who was a firefighter in GR for 38 years. Apparently he was unaware that the steps he passed by so many times over the years were built by his father.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Provided by granddaughter Jule Rathsack, the photos above show Mike Krzeminski, at home and at work. Clearly he knew a thing or two or more about working with cement, and was one of the silent thousands that built Grand Rapids, and was also a pillar of the community, raising a productive and responsible family, who went out and did the same. It's mostly not possible to say any longer just who built the Grand Rapids we all knew growing up, but every brick had to be put into place, every piece of wood shaped, and ever road, sidewalk, and driveway poured. People like Mike Krzeminski were masters at what they did, and their ghostly presence is in all the structures we knew and liked in Grand Rapids. In addition to the steps going from Division Aveneue to Belknap Hill, Mike Krzminski worked on the construction of the Civic Auditorium, and no doubt many other fine WPA projects from the time of the Depression. The world we grew up in was built by people like this.

There were stairs on Belknap Hill for a long time. Perhaps in the same place, perhaps different places. Perhaps three at one time. The item below, of very poor quality, shows a set of stairs that appear to be wood. Concrete was apparently not heavily used before about 1900. Mortar was used to secure granite blocks, for example, and concrete blocks and cider blocks were often used for house foundations from about 1900 to 1950, but poured concrete foundations didn't seem to come in strongly in the Grand Rapids area until about 1950.

In the Grand Rapids of the 1800's, and many other areas, wood was usually used for sidewalks, and even the commercial plank roads. In keeping with this, the undated photo below shows a set of wood stairs on Belknap Hill. The location is not known. Perhaps it was where one of the concrete stairs is today, dating from about 1928. At the top of the hill one sees a faint structure that one walked under to access or exit the stairs. This kind of thing was common in the 1800's.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Charles Belknap was born in Massena, NY, on October 17, 1846, and moved to Grand Rapids in 1855, just five years after the city incorporated. He served with distinction in the Civil War, being wounded sever times. After war the farmed for six years in the Sparta area. Following that he opened a wagon and sleigh company in GR, and got involved with the fire department. He then got into education, and then became a House member in the 51st Congress. Like many at the time, he was politically well connected, and went from business to business, and government job to government job. He was mayor of GR in 1884. Governor Russell A. Alger appointed him a trustee of the Institution for the deaf and dumb in 1885. Belknap died on January 16, 1929.

His daughter, Jane, married Frederic A. Wurzburg. The family house, built in 1878, was located at 455 Madison. Across the street from a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the Mayer May house, it is still in very good condition in year 2014. Belknap Hill, a.k.a. lookout hill, was named after him.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


Belknap home, 455 Madison.
Built in 1878.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Portion of 1868 bird's eye map.

Part of an 1868 birds eye map showing the area around Leonard and Ottawa. The train in the background was part of the road going from Detroit to Muskegon, reaching Grand Rapids in 1858. It's impossible to over state the importance of the coming of the railroads at that time. The city was was instantly connected to the wider world in a very practical way. A trip to Detroit took no more time that it does in year 2012, and the flow of resources and goods were a major boost to productivity, replacing slower boats, which could have great troubles navigating Lake Michigan in the winter.

Looking NW along Monroe, towards Campau Square.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1860 - looking NW

1910 - looking NW

Circa 1910 - looking SE

Circa 1912

The glass plate photograph above, right, dates from about 1912 - the new Pantlind Hotel, built in about 1915, and behind the trolley in the photograph, does not appear yet. A couple of cars appear to be 1910 to 1915 vintage.

The middle photo shows Monroe looking southeast from just below Ionia. The old Morton Hotel is on the left. At the southeast end of Monroe one can see the GR Press building, erected in 1906. To its left one can see the Amasa B. Watson house, perhaps the last standing house on Monroe, razed in 1927.

The Porter Block area

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Porter block - c1920.
Looking north on Division Ave.

Porter block - c1930.

Porter block - 1947.

Porter block - May 27, 1947.
Also shows Fulton & Division.

Monroe - August 1, 1951

Leroy Rockwell. Photo dated June 4, 1959

The photographs above show the Porter block and upper Monroe, in about 1930, and in 1941. The building at center left is the Porter block, and in 1949 would be the site of Herpolsheimer's. Note that Monroe appears to be called M16. Also note that there was a street between the building north of the Porter Block and the Porter block. One can see a light awning just where the Porter block building ends. The street, and all the windows facing the street, were lost when the Herpolsheimer's building was constructed.

The Porter block has the look of the rows of buildings built in the 1870s that lined Monroe Avenue, and would later be replaced, one after the other, by taller buildings. Few survive in year 2005, and even the few that do are largely facades. The insides have usually be stripped, and modern features put in their place. One can see the Michigan National Bank building on the left side of Monroe Avenue - the tall building. The streets and sidewalks have the look of just having been paved and poured. And of course one could always find many people walking.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Another view of the Porter block, showing many shops at street level, and offices on the second and third floors. The Cody Hotel can be seen to the left, on the south side of Fulton Street.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The images above were provided by Lee Smith, class of 1953, and LeRoy Rockwell, class of 1959. All are the same view, but scanned in different ways to bring out detail. Sadly, the original photo has not been made available as yet.

Both images above are different versions of the same scene, and show Grand Rapids in perhaps 1945 or before - the newest car in the image would help narrow it down. The scene shown would have been familiar to any Godwin student in 1960 yet. But not long thereafter.

Leon Smith, class of 1953, relates that Kresge's was located on the corner of Market ( in 2006 this seems to be Monroe ) and Monroe ( in 2006 Monroe Center ). Across Market Street from Kresge's was the Mutual Home Bank. The Woolworth's store was located on Monroe and Pearl.

Dimestore row

The west side of Monroe was known as Dimstore row in the 1950s. It ran from Market and Monroe - Kresge's - to Pearl and Monroe - Woolworth's, and included H. L. Green and W. T. Grant. Each had a counter, with many seats, and it was a treat to get seated a lunchtime for a grilled cheese sandwich and some fries. As of year 2015 it's all just a memory.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Postcard - c1905

July 16_1952

August 7, 1952 - H. L. Green


Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The postcard image, above, right, was provided by LeRoy Rockwell, class of 1959.

The photographs at the left, above, shows Kresge's being built, in 1936, replacing an older building. The image above, right, made from a postcard, shows Kresge's, and some of the surrounding area, in about 1940. The image is from some time in the interval from late spring to early fall; since the postcard was never sent, there is no postmark on it, and there is rarely a date when a postcard was printed, or the image on it was taken.

The image below, from 1920, shows Kresge's on the same corner before it was replaced by a new building, in 1936. It was in the Widdcomb building.

Left click on the image below for a much larger version.

The image was provided for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941.

The photos below show dimestore row in the process of coming down, in keeping with getting rid of as much of historic Grand Rapids as possible.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Across Pearl was the Pantlind Hotel. In 2006 this is the Amway Grand, and the site of Woolworth's is a commercial building.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Across Division Avenue from F. W. Woolworth's was the scene above. The store called "Stamps and Coins" was previously called "The Bookery," and was located in the basement of the McKay building. In the early and mid 1950s one could go through a box of canceled stamps, and buy those selected.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Photograph provided for scanning by LeRoy Rockwell, class of 1959.

The photograph above is dated May 24, 1958. It is lower Monroe, looking north from the Michigan Street Corner.

Two things that impress someone in year 2007, many of whom probably never saw the kind of Grand Rapids that existed before the wrecking ball arrived in about 1960, compliments of a federal government program called "Urban Renewal" ( urban destruction really ) destroyed Grand Rapids, are the fact that almost everyone is dressed up, and the kind of crowds that drawn to Grand Rapids. Many people loved to take the bus in to Grand Rapids for a day of walking around, shopping, and having a meal. It is unlikely that Grand Rapids will ever have this kind of atmosphere again, for it was also a time when it was completely safe to be in town. Kids 7 and 8, including most Godwin students, took the bus to town, and their parents never had cause to worry.

Lee (Tanner) Collins, class of 1941, worked in downtown Grand Rapids for several years, as did many people in the 1940s and 1950s, and related the following:

"My! What memories this one brings back! I worked for Lear Inc.from 1943 'til 1958, and started out on Buchanan Ave, then when they moved downtown, I went along there too. I spent many happy lunch hours shopping that Kresge's Dime store that you see on the left of the picture. Just inside of the door, to your right they had a small 'hot dog stand' type place, that served the best hot dogs I ever had.(The kind with cabbage, or sauerkraut) And in the back of the store they had a 'horse - shoe' shaped lunch room that served great dinners for 'cheap' too..!"

And, down in the middle of the picture was one of the other Dime Stores, Woolworth's, that we all spent many hours in too. If memory serves me correctly, in between them on the left, there was also another "Dime Store', but my memory doesn't remember the name of that one right now....

A view of Monroe Avenue, looking northwest, in about 1953. Notice that Herpolsheimer's now sits at the intersection of Division Avenue and Monroe Avenue, and is bounded on the south side by Fulton Street.

The intersection of Monroe Avenue and Market Street in about 1960. The "5 and 10" store, and a Kresge's and a Woolworth's, were all popular destinations. Each had a lunch counter, and decent food. And were mostly crowded, especially around noon.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The photograph above shows a section of downtown Grand Rapids in December, 1965.

Lower Monroe - formerly Canal Street

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c1875 - 1880
Known as Canal Street then.








The circa 1954 photograph above was provided by Scott Atchison, a local Grand Rapids historian.

The huge photograph above is of lower Monroe c1954 - presumably summer. Most of what is seen disappeared after the Urban Renewal wrecking ball started to swing in the early 1960s. The Rowe hotel building still exists, although it is derelict. The 2013 view of upper and lower Monroe show that little of what existed in 1950 exists today. "Dime store row" is now gone. Campau Square is gone, replaced by a park named after someone who had no obvious connection with Grand Rapids. The downtown is today mostly a commercial center, and the only reasons people who don't work in town would go there is for the sports events and shows of various kinds, and the bars and restaurants. The family atmosphere of the 1950s is gone.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


Circa 1940





The photograph above, left, is a partial view of Grand Rapids in about 1957, based on the many buildings that disappeared about this time. One can still see many old city buildings, part of the canal on the west side of the river, and the GR&I track cutting through to the bridge that in year 2013 is a foot bridge just south of the new museum. The photograph on the right, above, is partial aerial view of of Grand Rapids, dated 1966. Looking at both, one can see how much of Grand Rapids was lost to the wrecking ball between 1960 and 1966. Most of lower Monroe, and the streets to the east of it. And to make room for endless freeways, including the infamous "S" curve, which serves as a monument to self serving politicians, who made sure the road went around their own businesses or those of their cronies, leaving ordinary folks to traverse a stretch of highway that is a death trap when covered with water or ice.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The Grand Rapids Visitor - June 29, 1946

The Grand Rapids Visitor was a bi-weekly publication pointing out things of interest in the city for those visiting on business or pleasure. It apparently started publication in about 1938. How long it continued is unknown.

Pages 11-14 are missing in the example above.

Downtown businesses

A look at a random assortment of the many hundreds of businesses in Grand Rapids over the years. In many cases the businesses shown are the ones familiar to many Godwin students. In some cases they are simply thought to be interesting.


Herpolsheimer's history

A history of Herpolsheimer's department store, made available by Barbara Vander Mark, a local Grand Rapids historian. Contact information is available at the bottom of the history.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

William G. Herpolsheimer
February 24, 1920

Henry C. Herpolsheimer - brother.
Of Lincoln, NE.

Henry B. Herpolsheimer
Nov 8, 1868 - June 5, 1920

Henry B. Herpolsheimer house.
99 Lafayette Avenue - c 1910

The location of Herpolsheimer's before 1949, when a new building was built on the northwest corner of Division Avenue and Fulton Street. Wurzburg's then occupied the building.


Wurzburg's Department Store was founded by Frederick W. Wurzburg in October, 1872. He had three sons, William, Edmund, and Frederick. William and Edmund went on to run the store, while Frederick moved on to other endeavors. Wurzburg's took over the previous location of Herpolsheimer's in 1951. Herpolsheimer's built a new building on what was previously the Porter Block, on the NW corner of Division Avenue and Fulton Street.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1929 - Frederic A. Wurzburg
Born Nov 27, 1865 - NY City
Son of founder of Wurzburg's

Mrs F. A. Wurzburg
Former Jane Belknap
September 16, 1917

Wurzburg location 1880 - 1890

1928 - Edmund Wurzburg

May 18, 1956

Donald Belknap Wurzburg

Theresa Wurzburg - 1888
Central High graduation photo?


Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Paul G. Steketee - Founder

New store - 1916

Steketee's was one of perhaps ten or so buildings in downtown Grand Rapids that that every Godwin student from about 1960 and before knew of, shopped in, and in some cases, worked in. Others include Wurzburg's, Herpolsheimer's, the Grand Rapids Library, Woolworth's, Kresge's, the Grand Rapids Pubic Museum, and the Civic auditorium. Few of these exist any longer in the downtown area, and even fewer are still in anything like their original form. The old public museum, built in about 1936, is apparently a warehouse in year 2006. Businesses like Steketee's, Wurzburg's, and Herpolsheimer's, represented families that came to Grand Rapids in the mid 1800s. Sadly, few survived very long following "Urban Renewal," a tragic federal program that led to the wrecking ball demolishing most of the city's historic areas. What the wrecking ball didn't get the interstate highway system did, again taking out wide swaths of the older city, and even changing the topography.

Steketee's was in business in Grand Rapids for about 136 years, but could not survive a change in ownership, and the demise of the traditional downtown area. Like Wurzburg's, the move to a suburban setting was not successful. Businesses like Steketee's date from a time when going in to Grand Rapids, often on the Division Avenue Bus Line for Godwin students, was a treat for most people. The format of the stores did not fit in to the more skittish atmosphere of a mall, something that Sears and Montgomery Wards also found out.

Peck's Drug Store

Peck's Drugstore, at the NW intersection of Division Avenue and Monroe ( New Monroe in year 2014 ) was founded by John Edward Peck and his brother Thomas. Like many in the Grand Rapids of the mid 1800's, Peck moved to Michigan from New York. The Peck company was sold in 1914, with John Peck becoming a millionaire - a whole lot of money in 1914. About 500 times the annual wage of a typical worker of the time. Living somewhere near the top of the Fulton Street hill, the family pretty much had the best of everything the times have to offer. There were other Peck's locations, but the one at Division and Monroe was probably remembered by the most Godwin students.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

John Edward Peck

John Edward Peck - Bio 1

John Edward Peck - Bio 2


Hannah Peck

Percy Peck

John E. Peck obit

Percy Peck obit

Peck drugstore building 2014

Manhattan building where
the Peck's were murdered.

Arthur Waite - murderer.

Alas, being a millionaire, John E. Peck caught the attention of someone who thought he could make better use of the money. A dentist and son in law, who lured John and Hanna to Manhattan, worked on their teeth, and took the occasion to start administering arsenic. He did manage to kill them both, but an attempt at quick cremations aroused suspicion. An autopsy revealed his plot, and he ended up being fried at Sing Sing, in NY.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The items above show the formal buyout of Citizens Phone Company by AT&T, on August 31, 1923. In 1920 the US had granted AT&T a regulated monopoly status in return for providing universal service. By the time it bought out Citizens Phone Company in GR, it was clear that two phone companies, using the technology of the time, made no more sense than having two sewer systems, or two water companies. It became an unwieldy approach which could only be remedied by merging the two systems and eliminating overlap, for the sake of efficiency and lower cost.

On the right side above one see the usual list of city notables at the ceremony, include the current mayor, Charles Shigh, and future mayor George Welch. Probably like most cities and towns in the US at the time, local business owners displayed a large degree of cronyism, including passing the GR mayor ship between themselves. Often a mayor was in office only a year, just long enough to arrange favorable conditions for his own business, or that of a crony. It's likely this still goes on in year 2014, but not as obviously as in 1923 and thereabouts.

AT&T went on to become a major employer in GR. Michigan Bell was the division of AT&T, of a total of 22, that did business in GR, and the state. While the name AT&T exists today, it is in no way the same company that existed before the divestiture in 1983. The name is universally known, and valuable, but what it does in year 2014 is dramatically different than what it did in 1923, reflecting the immense changes in technology. In year 2014 phone service is a competitive business, having only in common that services are based on standards, and inter operable.

Below are other influences and features of the phone systems in GR over the last 100 years.

Shown below is Oliver Bleak's general store, 132 Fulton Street, built in 1856. Oliver Bleak and his business partner are shown standing outside the building in the left hand photograph, taken after 1885 based on the building to the east of the Bleak building, and the trolley tracks shown in the photo. These would have been horse drawn. The location is the southeast corner of Fulton Street and LaGrave Avenue.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The photograph on the right, above, shows the same corner in about 1940, based on the vintage of the cars. "The Doll House," selling antiques and gifts, was owned by Helen Nichols, maternal grandmother of Dale Zalaoras, class of 1969. The Cottage Bar, which is still operating in year 2013, is seen on LaGrave, just south of "The Doll House."

The photograph below is of the interior of the Cottage Bar in July, 1937.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Three doors east of "The Doll House" is "Chris's Hamburg Shop." The special is spare ribs and sauerkraut, for 40 cents.

The building to the east of the Bleak building was built in 1885, and housed the Upholstery and Tack Shop owned by H. A. Wilson and T. W. Dwight. As of year 2013, the the Bleak building and the building to the east can be seen to be "fused," into one establishment, which now functions as the "One Trick Pony, a bar and restaurant. The current owners say the building is "certified as the oldest continually occupied building in Grand Rapids." Chris's Hamburg shop moved in about 1976 to a location about a block north of Burton Street, in Burton Heights, nowhere to be seen in year 2013.

Thanks to Dale Zalaoras, class of 1969, for the photos and the information.

The RKO Regent theater in 1935. Part of the studio system in the 1930s yet, and much of the 1940s, the RKO theater chain was later bought by Howard Hughes after the federal government declared the joint ownership of both theaters and movie production facilities to be anti-competitive. In their day, the very size of the theaters provided a grandeur all their own. Together with ornate furnishings, the large downtown theaters provided a sense of a movie event that is hard to capture in year 2005 with a DVD player and a TV set in ones home.

Alas, television put a lot of strain on the movie industry starting in the late 1940s. While the theaters did well in the 1950s yet in Grand Rapids, urban renewal pretty much destroyed them after 1960. In other cases the theaters found themselves in declining areas, and generally speaking, fewer people went in to Grand Rapids to seek entertainment any longer. In year 2005 one has suburban theaters with six or more screens, but the surroundings are often relatively spartan, and it simply is not the same as watching a movie in the grand old theaters. In the 1940s something like 85 million people a week saw a movie. The population of the US was about 140 million then.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Material provided for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941.

Apparently the downtown area of Grand Rapids was well documented in the 1915 time frame. Just who owns most of the photographs is unclear, but at the time it was common for a city to hire photographers to document buildings and other city features.

The photographs here are just a random sample what's probably out there somewhere, and mostly intended to show what an older Grand Rapids looked like, and what predated some of the buildings that Godwin students were familiar with.

Grand Rapids Chicks

The Grand Rapids Chicks baseball team was one of many women's teams in the 1940s and early 1950s. Perhaps started to fill the void left by male players during WWII, women's teams like the Chicks played the game energetically and well. Here again, perhaps the growth of television gave more people access to televised major league games, and there was less interest in going to see local live games. At about the same time the Grand Rapids hockey team folded, and the hockey stadium was converted to Atlantic Mills, an early discount store on the north edge of town.

Grand River

Once a pristine river, with large sturgeon, the Grand River rapidly became an industrial trench in the Grand Rapids area. Dams were built to raise the water level for power for industry along both sides. Canals were built on the east and west sides of the river. The three large islands in the Grand Rapids area were filled in along their edges to extend the east shoreline. And as shown below, raw sewage was dumped into the river. This all was pretty much in keeping with natural resources in and around the 1850s. If too much damage was done, a city might stop growing, and if not too big already, just die. State wide deforestation lead to river floods in the GR area and elsewhere, a large flood occurring in 1904, which did a lot of damage to the West Side of the city.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

City jail, center, on one
of the three large islands.
Large sewer pipe shown, to
dump raw sewage into the river.

1873. To the right of Park
Street Congregational's steeple
one can see the islands in the
Grand River.

1883 - log jam.

Grand River bridges

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Bridge Street bridge
March 15, 1950

Fulton Street Bridge - 1929
Under construction. Pere Marquette
Bridge to the south.

Pere Marquette Bridge - 1928
Built in 1902

Pere Marquette Bridge - 2013

Farmers Market

The farmer's market was popular institution in most cities in and around 1900, at time when many farms still ringed a city. The notion of suburbs had not started in earnest yet, so one had a city which ended abruptly, and then one had farmland. So as shown in the images above, with effort a farmer could bring a horse drawn wagon to a designated area and sell farm fresh produce. Cutting out a middle man or two no doubt helped the farmer make some extra money now and then.

Following the decline of the markets, farm stands catered to a population that more and more owned its own car, and lasted while the farmland around Grand Rapids gradually fell to the developer's blade starting in the 1930s. As of year 2005 there is very little farmland in the immediate vicinity of Grand Rapids. Few have any real idea where their food comes from any more.

Additional Grand Rapids postcards

River Boats

There was some river boat traffic on the Grand River south of the rapids, where the dams were. Like canals in the East, this was probably a short lived phenomena, which ended pretty much coincidentally with the arrival of the railroads, as early as 1858. Boats had to depend on river levels, and probably could not be very big, so it was an unreliable way to transport things for the most part. There was probably a brief pleasure boat business for a while, much like the boat on Reed's Lake. Passengers riding a boat to see the scenery pass, and perhaps listen to a small orchestra or band. One of the photos below shows what appears to be a barge. These could clearly float downstream, and maybe be towed back upstream by a steam powered boat. Whether this was actually done is unknown at this time.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1875 - Grand River

Daniel Ball, in canal - c1870

Valley City of Grand Rapids.
Sept 1, 1892

Ryerson Library

Martin A. Ryerson, 1858 to 1933, was an industrialist living in Chicago. His family, starting with his father, Martin Ryerson, and an uncle,

Martin and Mary A. Ryerson, Martin A. Ryerson's parents.

started lumbering operations in Muskegon in the 1830s, and made a fortune cutting down the hardwood trees in Michigan. At the peak of the destruction of Michigan's forests there were 47 shipping piers in Muskegon Lake, each devoted to milling and shipping lumber, most to Chicago. Many mansions, paneled in finely carved hardwoods, were built in Grand Rapids and Muskegon. In year 2012 the wood has mostly rotted away, the houses are in slum areas, and the forests are but memories. Eventually Martin Ryerson took his fortune and his lumbering operation and moved to Chicago. In a gesture of gratitude Martin A. Ryerson donated the funds to build the Grand Rapids library building, completed in 1901.

A very solid and elegant building, many Godwin students remember riding the Division Avenue bus into Grand Rapids to spend part of a day locating and using resources at the library. In year 2005 the building partly serves as just an entrance for a modern library building. Actually the second modern one, as the first one had to be torn down because of shoddy construction. Unfortunately, the tax payer funded building was in no way built to the standards of the Ryerson building, which, at 104 years old in year 2005, still probably looks largely the way it did when in opened in 1901.

Other images of Martin A. Ryerson

Left click on either image below for a larger version.

The image on the left, above, is a 1913 oil painting of Martin A. Ryerson. The image on the right, above, is shows Martin A. Ryerson, at the left, in 1924, participating in a cornerstone laying for a medical facility in Chicago.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Porter house - 1865

Darwin Cody residence - c1870
Shown above, at left, in an 1865 photograph is the Porter house, later site of the Ryerson Library. To the right of the Porter house was the Darwin Cody residence, in a c1870 photograph. Darwin Cody owned the Cody Hotel, and was a cousin of "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

Area roads

Eastern Avenue.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

West State Bank - c1930.
SW corner, Eastern & Wealthy.

In year 2013 the bank building is a bookstore.

Godwin graduates in the 1930s and 1940s remember a time when most of the area roads were dirt, and at best graded dirt. Before the days of even spraying them with oil, the roads were generally dusty affairs, a situation mitigated only by the fact there wasn't much traffic on them. Every stretch of rain likely meant serious potholes, which could do real damage to a wagon or car of the time. They needed constant maintenance.

Division Avenue was paved with cement south of Burton Heights only in 1924. Allen Road, now 36th Street, was a dirt road around Godwin even in the late 1940s. The photograph above shows Eastern Avenue ( Formerly East Avenue ) at the intersection of Maybell, on November 21, 1931. Or so the photograph says. Today there is no Maybell road, so it is not clear just where the photograph was taken - many road names were changed in 1943 to provide a more consistent naming scheme. It could have even been just south of 28th Street, where Eastern was a dirt road in the 1930s yet.

In any case, Eastern was a dirt road, and a crude one, past 84th Street even as late as 1960. Only in the 1960s, when more asphalt presumably became available, were more roads paved.

The photograph above was taken during the start of the Great Depression, which perhaps explains why so many people are involved. Road construction was one of many government programs meant to help keep people employed, however minimally. The cut being made in the hill is similar to the technique railroads used many thousands of times in many other places.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


c1945 - see Mollema

2011 - Mollema building.

2013 - satellite view.

The photograph above, top row, left, is of a business at 1541 Eastern Ave, perhaps in about 1940. The person standing by the car is Mr. Mollema, the owner of the business. The photo to the right is the area in about 1945. The white house just above the business exists in year 2013. The photograph on the left, bottom row, is the same location in year 2011. Notice the railroad tracks to the left of the building in the right hand photograph. In the left hand photograph one actually sees a railroad hopper car on the tracks. It might well have been carrying coal. On the right, bottom row, is a satellite view of the building in 2013. The building now houses a bail bonds business.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The photographs at the left, above, show Oakdale Street, SE, being resurfaced on July 14, 1942. The map at the right, above, shows the area in year 2012.

Area cemeteries

The Fulton Street cemetery was opened about April, 1838, on 6 acres on the north side of Fulton Avenue. On the west side of the property was Cemetery Street, which is now Eastern Avenue. It was later expanded, in 1862, 1863, and 1864, to the 12 acres it has today. Perhaps all of the expansion during the Civil War years - 1861 to 1864 - had much to do with returning remains of soldiers.

The original burial site was on the southeast corner of Cherry and Madison. When the Fulton Street cemetery opened, remains were transferred from the old cemetery. Why the move at all is unclear at the moment.

Area buildings

Grand Rapids Buildings - Circa 1914

The source for the photos above is undated, so 1914 is a guess. Some of the buildings can be dated. The Grand Rapids Library for example, so the source has to have been created after 1904. But then there are no cars in any of the photos, so the actual date could be closer to 1908.

Charles P. Calkins building

At least three uses have been made of the triangular piece of land bounded by Washington and State Streets, both off Jefferson Avenue. In year 2008 already, the land has been designated Lincoln Park, and houses The Charles P. Calkins building, thought to be the oldest extant building in Grand Rapids, built in about 1836.

1114 Ionia NW. Weddell
Manuf in the background.

Perhaps 1888 - Thomas White
was president of White & Friant
Lumber Company.

Perhaps 1909 - postcard.

From a 1918 directory.

June 18, 2008

October 11, 2013

June 18, 2008

October 11, 2013

June 18, 2008

October 11, 2013

Left click on any image above for a larger version.

The Charles P. Calkins building is the oldest surviving structure in Grand Rapids. Built in 1836, it's said to have once been located in the the northeast corner of Monroe and Ottawa. It not clear that was the original location - the building has been moved at least twice. In year 2008 there is no such intersection. In year 2008, the building is located in Lincoln Park at the intersection of State Street southeast and Washington Street southeast. The photographs above were taken on June 18, 2008. Photos taken on October 11, 2013, show that a lot of work on the outside of the structure has been done since 2008. Much of the reconstruction has to be done using old photos and documents. The structure was significantly modified over the years, as the old photo shows. The middle photograph, top row, about shows the Thomas White house on this location in an undated photograph. Just one more stately old home to be razed in Grand Rapids.

Charles P. Calkins was a lawyer, and the building was a law office. How long the building was used is not known at this time. The photo in the top row, left, suggests the building was being used as a house at the time. Given its apparent condition, it's amazing that it survived at all. Calkins appears below in an undated photograph.

Charles P. Calkins

Charles Philo Calkins died in 1890, and is buried in the Fulton Street Cemetery. Lot 33, block 5, grave 7.

A son, Charles W Calkins, served in the Civil War as a captain in an engineering group. After the war he became a lawyer. During his life, he had the distinction of knowing every Grand Rapids mayor.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Joeseph Herner, left,
Charles W Calkins, right.


223 Lafayette, where Charles
W. Calkins lived and died.
March 28, 1918.


Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Henry J. Heystek - undated.



Built c1905 by Heystek

March 7, 1949

August, 2015


The Coliseum, built in 1910 by Henry J. Heystek, born December 6, 1861, in the Netherlands, died January 23, 1912. Buried in Oakhill Cemetery. It started out as a roller rink, and has been used for many other things over the years.

Davenport College

Davenport business college has a long history in Grand Rapids. Preceded by the Grand Rapids Business College and Telegraph Institute, founded in 1866 by Conrad Swensberg, in response to the stated needs of the local business community. Meanwhile, A. E. Davenport and his wife started Davenport Business Institute. M. E. Davenport, who died in 1959, took over the leadership of the school at some point, and it was renamed the Grand Rapids Business Institute. Later a son in law took the reins, and started buying land on the Fulton Street hill.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Conrad G. Svensberg

Davenport, about 1919.

Mr. & Mrs. A. E. Davenport.

Livingston Hotel - c1888
Same corner - before Davenport

Livingston Hotel - 1924
Same corner - before Davenport
After a fire, losing two top floors.

Before construction began, and the
goal of six stories.


Construction of new building - 1948.

New building - 1948.


March 8, 2013

Below is the 1967 Davenport annual, the Retrospectus. It's yet another look in year 2013 at the Grand Rapids of 46 years ago. Many Godwin students attended Davenport, in preparation for jobs in the business community of the time. The skills taught in year 2013 are no doubt quite different, but graduates still have no problem finding a place in business.

Left click on one of the yearbook sections below.

Section 1 Section 2
Section 3 Section 4

1967 Yearbook

The two story building on the southeast corner of Fulton and Division was in intended to be as six story building, but the necessary materials apparently could not be found in 1948. For whatever reason, the building was never expanded, and in year 2012 is pretty much a wreck. But the school itself is still doing well, and has pretty much expanded outside Grand Rapids, with locations in Caledonia and Kalamazoo.

The building at 2 East Fulton will be turned into a business location in 2015 or 2016. As shown in the images below, it is a very solidly constructed building. The inside has already been gutted. The outside appearance will be preserved. Built in 1948, the building is today a familiar structure to many, and one of the few buildings on that corner to survive.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Kortlander Building

The Kortlander building stood on the southeast corner of Commerce and Fulton. It was built in 1891, or before, and designed by Grand Rapids architect Sidney J. Osgood.

From White's history of GR:

Pages 187-188 - Sidney J. and S. Eugene Osgood are the constituent members of a Grand Rapids firm that has gained high reputation in the domain of architectural art and science, and both father and son are numbered among the representative American architects, with many of the finest types of public, business and private buildings to stand as evidence of their technical skill and their exceptional facility in the expression of the highest forms of architectural artistry. Sidney J. Osgood was born in the state of Maine, and his advanced training for his chosen profession was received in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, as supplemental to a liberal education along more specific academic lines. In 1876 he established his residence in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his first project was rebuilding the Kent County jail after it had been destroyed by fire. He has continued in the active and successful practice of his profession during the long intervening period of half a century. Though he is now venerable in years he still finds satisfaction in giving active attention to the work of the profession that he has dignified and advanced by his large and successful achievement, as well as by his sterling attributes of character. Mr. Osgood is a life member and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a distinction which few architects obtain.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Sidney J. Osgood - undated.

His son and valued professional coadjutor, S. Eugene Osgood, is able to advert to Grand Rapids as the place of his nativity, his birth having been here occurred on the 11th of April, 1880, and his studies in the public schools of the city having been continued until his graduation in the high school. Thereafter he was employed a year in his father’s office, and he then entered Cornell University, in which he continued his studies, graduating in June, 1902, his study and his practical experience having gained to him a broad and effective knowledge of the technique and also the art and construction details of architecture. Since 1904 he has been a partner in his father's business, which is conducted under the firm name of Osgood & Osgood. The family name has long stood exponent of the best in architectural achievement, and it may be noted in this connection that the father, Sidney J. Osgood, was the architect of the beautiful and famous Congregational church at Pawtucket, Rhoade Island. The firm of Osgood & Osgood has maintained its offices in various Grand Rapids buildings, including the Porter Block, the Widdicomb building, the new building of the Grand Rapids Herald, of which the last two named the firm were the architects, and finally the Monument Square building, on Monroe avenue, which was designed by the firm and erected under its direct supervision, the large and well-equipped offices in this building having been occupied by Osgood & Osgood since 1919.

The firm has specialized in the designing of Masonic Temples of the highest grade, and its principals are at the time of this writing in the summer of 1925, serving as consulting architects of the great George Washington Masonic National Memorial Temple which is in course of erection in the city of Alexandria, Virginia. The members of the firm are also consulting architects for the magnificent new Masonic Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the designing and supervision architects of important Masonic Temple projects in the following cities: Canton, Ohio; South Bend, Indiana; Bay City, Michigan; Brockton, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island. Many fine buildings in Grand Rapids and other Michigan cities stand as monuments to the professional skill of Sidney J. Osgood and S. Eugene Osgood, among them the following: Kent County Court House, Keeler Building, Houseman & Jones Building, Kortlander Building, Grand Rapids Savings Bank Building, Commercial Bank Building, Corl & Knott Building and the Grand Rapids Masonic Temple. They have also built twenty-four churches, several schools and residences, and the firm has gained a reputation that transcends mere local limitations and has become national in its scope.

Sidney J. Osgood's office was at one time in Room 35, Widdicomb Building, on the SW corner of Monroe and Waterloo ( later, Market ).

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1891 - Kortlander & Murphy

Circa 1894, when it appears in a GR
board of trade publication.

1895 Sanborn map.

Circa 1954.


The first section of the Kortlander Building, shown at the left, first row, above, was apparently mostly a business structure, and built some time after 1885, when it does not show up on a Sanborn fire map, and 1895, when it does. See image at right, first row, above. Later - a guess being in 1916, as shown below the photo on the left, bottom row, above - an addition was made. The photo was probably taken in the early 1950s, as suggested by the car visible in the lower right hand corner. The addition seems to have consisted of apartment units, and in fact the entrance at the middle of the building, on the Fulton Street side, says something like "Central Apartments." A sign inside the entrance pointed to a rental office on the second floor. It's possible that one can see curtains on the left side of the 4th floor, in the photo at the right, above. Apparently the addition was meant to address an increase in housing demand, since it was more common to live in the city in the early part of the 20th century.

On the Fulton Street side, left, one sees an entrance behind the buggy being pulled by the horse. To the right of the entrance a bar operated in the late 1950s. To the left of the entrance was long a sports shop owned and run by Charles Lindberg - no relation to the pilot - and his two sons, Oscar and William. Gunsmithing work was done, keys made, and boats and motors worked on in the 1930s. By the 1950s there did not seem to be much business, and the store was like a living museum, possible only because of the slower pace of life at the time. And much of the material did go to the Grand Rapids museum when Charles Lindberg died in about 1958, and the store was shut down by his sons.

But the closing was prophetic in a way. Lindberg's shop, and the bar on the other corner on the side of the building along Fulton Street, were apparently the only parts of the building occupied by that time. By the mid 1950s, after the bar closed the building would be almost completely dark. The author remembers walking northwest on Louis Street at night and looking back towards the Kortlander building to see a bare light bulb lit on the third or fourth floor. Whether anyone lived in that room, or what the light bulb signified, will never be known now. The photograph below, provided by John Kortlander, a relative four or five generations after William Kortlander, who built the building, shows the Kortlander building in about 1959.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The building to the left of the Kortlander building was called the Maris building, and was completed in October, 1916 as a building to house the Dornbos Cigar Manufacturing Company, located at 16-18 Fulton Street. Just when it ceased operation is not clear. By 1940 it housed Moore's Hobby Shop, and probably Smalley Daniel's Cushman sales store. Above Moore's Hobby Shop was a dance studio. One can see part of the sign - probably "Learn to Dance" - on the left side of the photo, above and left of the "Grill" sign. Not so easy to see, there was an alley on the left side of the Kortlander building. In the mid and late 1950s there were many layers of posters on the side of the building advertising the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Baily Circus. The alley was otherwise a service corridor for businesses along Division Avenue. The south end of the Kortlander building had an area for the same purpose.

Around 1960 the Kortlander building was demolished, together with most of the Cody Hotel, and the Maris building, to make room for a municipal parking ramp. The construction of the ramp was so shoddy that it too was later demolished, in and 2008 something was once again being built on the property. Before that construction, the property along Fulton was vacant, as shown below. The image on the left looks east, along Fulton, and the one on the right looks south, along Commerce. Almost nothing from the 1950s exits in that area in year 2010.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

So why was the Kortlander Building even built? It starts when Henry Kortlander immigrated to the US from Germany.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The short biography shows that Henry Kortlander learned to be a cooper after immigrating to America. Less clear is how son William got in to the wholesale wine and liquor business. He had contacts in Tennessee. The business was extremely successful, and the Kortlander building was eventually built to house the business. Four brothers formed a separate wine and liquor business, Kortlander Brothers. Demand in Grand Rapids must have been high.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Henry & Ceceila Kortlander

Joseph Kortlander



Above, top row, left, are Henry and Ceceila Kortlander, who immigrated from Germany with their son William. Above right, top row, is son Joseph. Neither photograph is dated.

The bottom row shows entries in the 1891 and 1895 editions of the GR city directory. The 1895 edition makes explicit reference to the building on the SE corner of Spring and Fulton. Spring was the original name for what would become Commerce Avenue.

In year 2014 the locations for many of the houses and businesses of Kortlander family businesses, mentioned in the city directories, no long exist.

The building was designed by Sidney J. Osgood, a Grand Rapids architect, who also designed many area churches, and the city courthouse. His brother, S. Eugene, was also an architect.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The building at the right, bottom row, was never built, and it's intended purpose is not known. It's simply an example of Sidney J. Osgood's style.

The Kortlander building was in part something to house William Kortlander's wine and liquor business, and was also a general purpose commercial building. One can see the faded sign on the east side of the building, near the top, suggesting that it said "Kortlander Company, Wines & Liquors." As mentioned, at some point in time the building was expanded, likely to provide apartment units. In addition, other businesses occupied the building.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The item above is from the May, 1908, issue of Popular Mechanics. The company sold sliderules, although it never used that name.

Other businesses to occupy the Kortlander building were a shoe repair business and a radio repair shop, both owned by X Moore, who started Moore's Hobby Shop in the Maris (?) building, to the left of the Kortlander building, on Fulton Avenue. In the early 1950s Phyllis Morris, Godwin Class of 1962, remembers attending dance classes in the Kortlander building, on the second floor, which is also where the rental office was for apartments in the left side of the Kortlander building - to the left of the spiral fire escape on Fulton Avenue, shown on the photographs above. A seed company occupied the left end of the building on Fulton Avenue.

Ledyard Building

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


William B. Ledyard


The Ledyard building, on the northwest corner of Pearl and Ottawa, was built in 1874. For exactly what purpose is not known just now. The building is now part of a row of buildings on the north side of Ottawa that range in construction time from about 1865 to 1874, and for now seem to be secure as part of the heritage of Grand Rapids. Something like $10 million was spent within the last decade to renovate the building.

William B. Ledyard was born in Sarasota, NY, on September 11, 1811, and died in Grand Rapids on May 9, 1898.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1875 - Henry house.



2013 - Press & Herald build
location's now a parking lot.

The Henry house, left, about, occupied the southwest corner of Fulton Avenue and Sheldon Street before the Grand Rapids Press building was built. The Grand Rapids Press building shown above was torn down at some point too, and as of year 2013, the land is a parking lot.

The Grand Rapids Press was a merger of the Morning Press (formed in 1890 ) and the Grand Rapids Eagle, in 1892. ( The Grand Rapids Eagle published its first issue on December 25, 1844.) On January 1, 1893, it became an evening paper, which it is to this day. The building above, located on the southwest corner of Sheldon Avenue and Fulton Street, was ready for occupation in 1906.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


George M. Welsh, right, in 1923.
Mayor Shigh on left.

George Welsh, GR mayor, 1938
to 1950.

The first image shows the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium being constructed in 1932. The second images is a postcard image showing the auditorium shortly after completion. The third image shows its demolition, in about 1980. Note in third image that the interurban bridge runs right in to the side of the auditorium. A postcard from 1928 shows the bridge with an interurban car going over it towards Grand Rapids. For whatever reason, the bridge was left standing after the interurban business failed in about 1928. The reason is quite likely that being the Depression, it was simply too expensive to remove it. Then came WWII. Eventually the bridge came to be seen as an asset. About 100 years old in 2013, it has probably reached historic status, and is safe from being razed for now. In year 2006 it is used as a foot bridge.

Almost everyone visited the Civic Auditorium at some time or another. For a circus. For one of endless stage events. For a large scouting event. For a boat or appliance show.

A very substantial building, built on the former location of the interurban depot, perhaps as one of many WPA projects. It is gone in year 2005. Exactly why it was torn down is unclear. Grand Rapids power brokers apparently decided something bigger and/or newer was needed. One wonders whether something better could have been done with the building.

The building was also known as Welsh Auditorium. George M. Welsh was owned a printing business, and was also mayor of GR from 1938 to 1950, relatively long serving in that time. 1923 photo shows him with cronies, including the standing mayor at the time, Charles R. Shigh. The mayoral position was passed around between a close knit set of business cronies, which was good for their businesses. To this day the Ellis family dominates parking in the downtown area, stemming from the actions of a 1930's mayor George Ellis. Exactly how this propagates from generation to generation is unclear, but it is a very lucrative franchise.

Corner of Monroe and Pearl, looking southeast. The corner would later be the site of the Wonderly Building, then a bank, and finally the McKay Tower. In year 2013 the building is condos.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

c1885 - Mercantile Agency

c1885 - Mercantile Agency

Circa 1910 - Wonderly Building

Circa 1910 - Wonderly Building

J.H.Wonderly - summer, 1884
He died August 8, 1895, at age 63.

Wonderly house - 375 Cherry - c1888

Circa 1920 - National Bank

Circa 1925 McKay Tower.

Left hand and middle items, above, supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

Corner of Monroe and Pearl, looking east, shows the progression of buildings on what is today 146 Monroe. The Wonderly building, two middle buildings above, was built perhaps in the 1880s, and likely an apartment and business building. It seemed to be common for area businessmen to build named buildings for purposes other than their main area of business, or possibly members of the local elite got their names on buildings whether they owned them or now. For example, the Kortlander building, on the southeast corner of Commerce and Fulton until 1960, was built by and/or named after William Kortlander whose main business was importing whiskey and other forms of alcohol. The Wonderly building was built by and/or named after J.H.Wonderly, who among other enterprises long ran a large saw-mill operation, and therewith built yet another lumber fortune in the area. It was also common 100 years ago to put the date of construction at the top of a building, a practice that has sadly mostly gone away.

Some time between 1910 and 1920 the area including the Wonderly building was replaced by the Grand Rapids National City Bank. Shown in the bottom row, above, it was an elegant building, implying a substantial structure for people to keep their money in. The photograph in the bottom row, left, above, shows the building in the 1920s, when essentially new.

Just how long it was a bank building is not clear. Perhaps the Great Depression caused it to fail. At some point about ten more stories were added, for a total of 18, to be used as office space, by National Bank. Frank McKay, a person with a murky past, bought the building in 1942, and promptly changed the name.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Frank McKay - undated photo.

George Ellis - undated photo.

Frank McKay was in real estate, and like so many of the Grand Rapids wealthy and wonderful of the time, made $millions. Apparently these fortunes were often a combination of genuine enterprise and underhanded politics. Grand Rapids has had many mayors in the last 150, and in the past it was common for a business person to become mayor for a little as one year, time enough to get a road built, a building condemned, a process of eminent domain completed, etc., so that a lot of money could be made on a project of questionable overall legality. In year 2014 the Ellis family still controls much of the parking in downtown Grand Rapids. George Ellis was a short term GR mayor, and even managed to create a bank that failed.

In year 2013 the upper stories of the McKay Tower consist of condominiums. Surrounding McKay Tower is an Ellis parking lot.

Old city hall.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1887 - city hall construction



Left click on the images below for larger versions.


The old post office, in a 1912 photograph. Built in 1879.

Northeast corner of Monroe and Ottawa. The same building shown in 1862 stands today. At least the shell. A tannery at one time, in year 2013 it is mostly law offices.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.


1876 - Monroe during the
Centennial. Building at
Ottawa & Monroe indicated.

June 28, 1953


One can see in the left image, top row, above, that there is still grading occurring on Ottawa, which goes all the way north to Pearl. This earth removal exposed a number of building foundations. e.g., the Haldane house, on the southeast corner of Pearl and Ottawa.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The Fox Deluxe Beer brewery at 26 Michigan Street in a photo dated October 23, 1945. The building was built in 1892 for the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Vacant for a while during Prohibition, the company operated the company for a while after Prohibition ended, until 1940, when Fox Brewing Company too it over until 1951. In 1964 the building was torn down.

Area streetcars

Grand Rapids had an extensive trolley system up to 1935. GM, which, along with the other big auto companies, owned Michigan at the time, suggested Grand Rapids switch over to buses, which of course GM manufactured. And so it was spoken, and so it shall be done. The trolley system disappeared rapidly. Grand Rapids was the first city in the US to convert to buses, after which GM moved on to other cities for similar treatment. It's said the big oil companies were no fans of mass transportation either. Between them and the auto companies, many trolley systems across the US were purchased and torn up, to prevent them from being used again. There were trolley tracks across the Oakland Bay Bridge until about 1955 for example, and it's likely one could get from Oakland and Berkeley to San Francisco far faster then than they ever could today.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Circa 1890 - Cherry Street

1925 - 1982

Wealthy Street - 1908

Wealthy Street - 1908

Left, above, top row, streetcar barn on East Street, later Eastern, one half mile south of Cherry - c1890. Right, above, top row, streetcar barn on Scribner Street. Built in 1925, razed in 1982.

Left click on the image for a larger version.

Material provided for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Left click on the image for a larger version.

Material provided for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941.

Streetcars did need to be rebuilt, repaired, or upgraded from time to time, although probably not as extensively as that shown above in a 1912 photograph. It's possible this one was involved in an accident of some kind.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Interior of a Grand Rapids streetcar, 1927.

Horse drawn delivery wagons

In the Grand Rapids of the early 1950s, then a town of about 150,000, one could still hear and see horse drawn milk wagons in the wee hours of the morning.

Left click on the images below for a larger version.

The image on top left above is of a horse drawn milk wagon in Findlay, OH, in 1964. The one on the right is a horse drawn bakery wagon in Grand Rapids, MI, 1905. Bottom left is a horse drawn mild wagon in Grand Rapids, probably from the 1940s. Bottom right is a 1905 photograph of a horse drawn milk wagon in Grand Rapids. Those in Grand Rapids were gone by the mid 1950s.

Dating from a day when most people had milk delivered, just as most homes took the Grand Rapids Herald and/or the Grand Rapids Press. In year 2006, none of these things are any longer true. The horses that knew to stop in front of every house are long gone. And anyone wanting milk must be able to drive themselves to a store. This is called progress.

Auto dealerships

Starting around 1910 there were hundreds of auto makes and models in the US, and probably as many manufacturers. None had much volume. But the large number led to many dealerships. Below are a number ads for dealerships in the downtown Grand Rapids area in an around 1910. Note that electric cars, seen as advanced technology in year 2007, were practical enough 95 years ago to be sold as viable automobiles.

Left click on the images below for a larger version.

Material supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

Notice that the Lozier was sold by Fred Pantlind. The old Indian Trails golf course, on the northeast corner of 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue, was owned by a Pantlind family member. Whether it was Fred Pantlind is not known here.

Also notice the two phone numbers, one "Citzen." and the other Bell. It appears that Grand Rapids had two phone companies in and around 1912. As happened around the country, The Bell system eventually either bought out or overpowered its rivals, leading to the nationwide system Americans enjoyed for decades. Until the US Justice system broke it up.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Material supplied for
scanning by Lillian Annis,
class of 1941


Except for electrics, cars meant gas stations, and in the 1910 to, say, 1950 era there were many gas stations in the downtown Grand Rapids, most of which are long gone in year 2007. The example above, in an undated photograph, was located where Anderson Art Supply was later located. In year 2007, it too is long gone.

Area houses

Below are a few random examples of the varied architecture in Grand Rapids in its early days. The oldest ones are mostly gone now, the victims of "development." Many now find themselves in declining neighborhoods, and have been converted into student and other low income apartments. They will likely be demolished in time as a result.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

1865 - Haldane house at
left - Pearl & Ottawa

1882 - Haldane house with
fire tower bell in background.

c1888 - Haldane house

c1888 - Haldane house

2013 - Haldane house was where
the Michigan Trust building now is.

William Haldane

Haldane came to the Grand Rapids area in 1836, and was a skilled cabinet maker. He set up shop, and for this reason is considered the father of the Grand Rapids furniture industry. The house above was built in 1837, and was located at the southeast corner of Pearl and Ottawa. At some point the street level was lowered considerably, exposing the basement level of the house. The city bought the house in 1872, and used it as offices for the departments of water and justice. The tower and fire bell was erected in 1878. The house was demolished in 1890.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Material provided for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941.

The images of the houses above date from around 1971. The Hopson house is gone in year 2013 The Pike house is unclear. The extensive gingerbread on the Pike home, which became popular in part after the band saw was invented, suggests construction dates in the 1880s for both houses. During the heyday of gingerbread one could order designs from catalogs by the foot. Over the years, the cost and labor of maintaining and repairing all of the ornate wood became apparent, and in most cases it simply rotted away over time.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Kendall home - Fountain Street - 1865

Left click on the images below for larger versions.



Above, Daniel Ball residence. Apparently not related to John Ball.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Abram Pike house.

Charles Pike house. Son of Abram.
Abram Pike house, east Fulton. Undated. Later the GR Art Museum. It's hard to know what's original about the house in year 2013. A series of fires, additions, and other modifications mean that like many old houses, it was always being modified in one way or another. His son Charles also had a fine Victorian house at 535 Fountain NE.

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The Clark home, on Sherman Street, c1880. Note the trolley running right by the house. Perhaps horse drawn. In year 2014 Sherman Street is bounded by Union and Lake Drive. It is perhaps two miles long. There is no sign of the Clark house. Given the barn on the right side, it was likely a farm, and suffered the fate of most farms. As the city approached, developers bought the farm, demolished the house, and platted the land.

Frank Lloyd houses

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Locations - 2014

Grand Rapids has two houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, located at 450 Madison, at the NE corner of Madison and Logan, and at 505 College, at the SW corner of College and Logan, shown in the image above.. The Meyer May house, 550 Madison, was designed in 1906, and built by 1908. The construction date of the second house is not know at this time, but the photo below shows the house in 1920. The owner of the second house was the brother-in-law of Meyer May.

Frank Lloyd Wright houses usually puzzle Americans, who can't see how something so modern looking, to western eyes, could have been built in 1908. The houses would look modern if built today. The answer seems to be that Wright spent time in Japan in the early 1900's, and clearly was influenced by the architecture there. The straight lines were (are?) a feature of Japanese architecture, and probably were well before 1900. A typical house in Japan, built in America, seems out of time, and Americans interpret the style as modern, not foreign. Wright clearly evolved beyond this style for other kinds of structures, but the basic house style seemed to stay with him. It seems that Wright did a large number of house designs early in his career as he was trying to get established. The houses in Grand Rapids remain objects of curiosity and wonder.

Steelcase owns the Meyer May house today, and to its lasting credit, renovated the house, as well as the house to the north of it, on Madison. The house is used as a meeting location, and tours are available.

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505 College - 1920

505 College - 2014

450 Madison - 1920

450 Madison - 1920

450 Madison - 1920

Eliphalet Haskius Turner house - 731 Front NW.

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About 1936

E. H. Turner, 1795 - 1870

Boardman Noble house - 671 Front NW.

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Gone as of the construction of 131 - about 1957.


There were many churches in Grand Rapids during the last 170 years or so, many to most of which are long gone. A look at the photographs below begins to hint at just how many there might have been 140 years ago.

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1875 - Division & Monroe. Pecks,
left, Universalist church, above
Pecks. Emmanual Lutheran in distance,
on Division. Large church at the
right unknown. Maybe two others.

One of the most enduring is Saint Marks:

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Francis Cuming - c1865
First rector of St. Marks

Charlotte H. Cuming - c1865
Wife of first rector.

Baptist Church

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Shown in 1931.

Wealthy Street Baptist church, completed in October, 1917.

Catholic Church

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The sketch of a Roman Catholic Church on the left, above, is dated 1852 and is located on Monroe. The photographs in the middle and on the right, above, are dated 1864 and 1865, and show the church as being near the corner of Ottawa and Monroe. By 1864 the high steeple and part of tower under it were replaced with a smaller tower structure and a cap. Just when it was razed it not known at this time. On the southwest side of the street, another can be seen to the left, same side.

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1870 - Monroe & Division

Universalist Church

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Located on Pearl, the city hall tower is seen in the background, so the church was on the north side of Pearl, perhaps a couple of blocks east of Campau Square.

Park Street Congregational church

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1865 _ another church is
seen down the street.

1872 - library later where
house at left stands.

1873 - and island in
the Grand River.

1912 - Park Street, Fountain
Street, and Ryerson Library.

Swedenborgian Church

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Swedenborgian church, located at 201 North Division and Lyon. Built in 1852, in year 2013 it's only a matter of how long it's been gone.


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Central Highschool - c1875

Urban Renewal & US 131

The Urban Renewal program and the construction of US 131 removed large amounts of Grand Rapids history at a time when few really seemed to care. By the time it dawned on people what had happened, much was gone forever. The photos below give a small idea what the process looked like.

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A look at "Urban Renewal" at work. Federal tax dollars used to level the history of many cities. The street to the left is Lyon, and the street straight ahead is Monroe. One can see the Civic Auditorium, a.k.a. Welsh Auditorium, in the background.

What Urban Renewal didn't destroy, the "S" curve part of US 131 going through the city did. Apparently a concession to city business interests, a sharp S-shaped curve took US 131 over the Grand River, and then destroyed a big swath of the West Side as it went north along the river. It's arguable that this used in order to spare some of the businesses of the prominent and well connected in GR. The result was a death trap when it rained or snowed. Even in year 2013 it is a bottleneck for north-south traffic through the city.

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The photo above shows work on US 131 on the west side of the Grand River. Entire neighborhoods were razed, but this spared the business interests of the political and well connected in Grand Rapids.


Apparently a combination of much rain, and the increasing deforestation of the area, there was a significant flood in Grand Rapids in 1904. It apparently mostly affected the part of town on the west side of the Grand River. Causing the usual damage, the water was up to three and more feet deep, as can be seen in the image below.

The interesting thing is that the weather conditions must have been national in scope. The photograph on the right, below, is of an area in Missouri, also in 1904.

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Material supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

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It's not exactly clear how Richard Butterworth chose to come to Grand Rapids in 1843. Perhaps because it was a fast growing area, and a great deal of money could be made exploiting resources, although he did spend 7 years farming before turning his attention to gypsum. A typical gypsum mine, located in the north part of Grand Rapids, is shown above, right. There are vast amounts of gypsum in the area centered on Grand Rapids. National Gypsum operated in the Grandville area in and around 1900.

Richard Butterworth eventually donated land and was a benefactor St. Mark's Home and Hospital, which was eventually renamed Butterworth Hospital. Butterworth Avenue is also named for him.

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Material supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

The Voigt roller mills, show in an 1870 photograph of the west side of the Grand River bank, were a familiar sight until the mid 1960s at least. Just when they were torn down is unclear. The owners home was located at 115 College Avenue SE, and is today the Voigt House Victorian Museum.

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The Voigt-Crescent flour mill is shown above, in an undated photograph. One the lower left one can see water coming from the water wheel that powered the mill.

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The Voigt mill is at the right in the undated photograph above. Here too one can see the canal on the west side of the river, which provided power for some of the businesses.

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Material supplied for scanning by Lillian Annis, class of 1941

Grand Rapids History.

A number of Grand Rapids histories were produced. Albert Baxter's was released in 1891, and included the perspectives of many of the still living early settlers.

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Albert Baxter - 1870

Albert Baxter - 1900

Baxter was the editor for the GR Eagle for over 20 years. Alas, as he points out, few editions of the paper survived, and while he was organizing the history of GR he had almost nothing to draw on from that source.

Albert Baxter's 1891 History of Grand Rapids>


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Miscellaneous Photos - 1953 to 1978

Miscellaneous GR photos - 1953 to 1978