Physical education building
Picric acid plant
The Pipe
Principals over the years.
Pomp and Circumstance

- Physical education building -

The physical education building was constructed in 1957, at a cost of close to one million dollars, in the dollars of 1957. The items below show a few construction details.

Left click on any item for a much larger version.

Physical education building dedication - May 23, 1959.

The newspaper piece was contributed by Bob Traetz Jr., class of 1962.

- Picric acid plant -

The picric acid plant on Clyde Park was begun during WWI. During the six months of construction, involving 2,500 workers, a substantial amount of construction was completed by the time the war ended, however few of the 25 or so buildings under construction were completed. It was as if the entire complex was being built at once. Much of the completed work involved foundations, and bunkers to store the picric acid. The work was directed by the well known engineering firm Stone and Webster, started by MIT 1888 graduates Charles A. Stone and Edwin S. Webster, which was building the plant for the prime government contractor for picric acid, the Semet-Solvay Company, Fisher Station, Michigan. The plant was to cost in the neighborhood of twelve million dollars, and to produce 14,500,000 pounds of picric acid per month.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The items above are from the financial trade press of 1918. Like any big project today, many subcontractors were involved with the construction of the plant. Everything from railroad tracks from the site to the GR & I tracks to roads to other supplies had to be built by someone, and quickly. Stone and Webster was the general contractor for the construction of the plant, to be owned by the Semet-Solvay Comapny, which was a major supplier of military explosives at the time. Apparently ownership would have eventually transferred to the federal government, because such a munitions plant would have little use after the war ended, and better to stick the US taxpayers with the cost after some company got all the profits during the war.

One use for picric acid was as an explosive, and in particular as a ammunition explosive, for which it had been used from the 1880's through the end of WWI (1918). Its was used extensively in Germany, and in the US it was an alternative to TNT. Presumably the area around the picric acid plant (did it have another name?) was remote at the time since substantial amounts of picric acid would have been produced if the plant had ever gone online. Part of the reason for locating plants like this in places like Michigan and Arkansas was fear of sabotage along the Atlantic coast.

But this was just one of three such plants under construction. The other two were in Brunswick, GA, and Little Rock, AR.

The remains of the Brunswick, GA, project consists of part of one chimney. Apparently made of red brick - popular in the South - and encased in cement. The chimney is located at GPS coordinates 31.220581, -81.525142

Left click on the images below for larger versions.




The plant was apparently within a month or two of completion when WWI ended. In year 2013, all that remains of the plant is one chimney, eerily reminiscent of the two chimnies on Clyde Park, south of 44th. The history of the chimney at the Brunswick location is now mostly lost on local inhabitants, but so far it has been left in place as a kind of monument, and perhaps to encourage the curious to find out more about its origins.

Below are some construction photos of the Brunswick, GA, picric acid plant.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The Michigan plant was on the southwest corner of Clyde Park and 44th Sreet. According to the late Earl Robson, John Winkle, a local farmer, was one of the people that sold his land to the government to make up what would become a 900 acre parcel of land for the project. The land extended on both sides of 44th Street. In total, the acreage was eventually brought to 1,340 acres, or more than two square miles.

Stone and Webster, a well known engineering company, supervised construction of the plants. Skilled workers were paid 55-cents an hour, and unskilled workers 37-cents an hour, probably a good wage at the time. Henry Ford made headlines just before WWI by offering workers $5 a day, and a day was probably 9 or 10 hours.

The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad brought about 2,500 construction workers a day to the Fisher Station stop (44th Street), and from there they walked to the plant site. A spur track, moved materials to and from the site. It was common to lay temporary tracks during a large construction project. The amazing thing is that this track was not as temporary as some might have imagined. Shown below are some aspects of the fate of the spur track.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

From a 1945 street map
of Grand Rapids.
Spur track history.
Summer, 2012

Summer, 2012


The bottom two satellite images of the same area at different resolutions show that as of year 2012 there was actually still track on the spur line, which might have served the building it was leading too. In 1945 yet the track went to the Picric Acid plant location, shown above. One can still see its orginal location. More incredible, the track crossed US 131 in the early 1960s yet, complete with signals. While no one thought much of it at the time, it was very unusual to cross an interstate with a railroad track in this manner, and probably was only possible because it was a state road at the time rather than federal. There was another crossing further south - probably another spur track. The hope at the time was apparently still that the Picric Acid plant location would become an industrial park. Grand Rapids of course fought any such use, somehow, in the belief that Wyoming's gain was Grand Rapids' loss. In year 2013 the land is a mix of resdiential and Palmer Park. All remnents of the plant have been hidden from view now. Sadly, the part of the land holding the power station, and the once locally famous chinmies, was sold to a private party, and the chimnies were razed. Many hoped they could remain as local landmark, but progress prevailed, and the owner made a few dollars.

The area north of 44th Street, by the railroad tracks, was known as Fisher Station. Both it and Home Acres boomed while the picric acid plant construction project existed. The project apparently elicited a large amount of patriotic fervor, and it was chic at the time for people big and small in the community to roll up their sleeves and pitch in.

On Armistice Day, 1918, construction abruptly halted. Railroad service to Fisher Station immediately ceased. Of 25 buildings planned, only a warehouse was substantially completed. In time honored fashion, construction materials were stolen by individuals for housing materials, and by various businesses, a few of which were caught and prosecuted. Efforts to find a commercial use for the site all failed because of politics between Grand Rapids, which feared loss of business control if the surrounding counties became prosperous, and Wyoming. The best opportunity appears to have been an attempt by Henry Ford to obtain the site for a Ford plant of some sort. For whatever detailed reasons, Ford's efforts were thwarted, and the site languished. For a while the warehouse was used to manufacture prefab houses, but around 1950 the building was gutted by fire. No further commercial use was made of the site.

Around 1976 the two large towers, which dominated the skyline for almost 60 years, were brought down. The system of caves and bunkers that were to be used to store picric acid, now thought to be safety hazards, were filled in about the same time. Today part of the site is occupied by Palmer Park. Apparently a large system of cypress lined water channels still exists under the ground in parts of the old site. Water from Buck Creek was to be used in the manufacturing process.

Apparently the site was a regional playground for children of all ages. There was a great deal of glass and other materials to be smashed, broken, and otherwise used for entertainment. Many sources have said that one "game" entailed building smoky fires in the caves and bunkers, and then seeing who was the last to leave. The health consequences of being a consistent "winner" might have been severe, as just about anything was burned that would make smoke.

While the hope was that construction photos were taken of the project, and hopefully exist, it now seems to be the case that no official photos were taken. One cannot be sure of this. Interest in the project ended abrubtly with the end of the war, and even the gov't was too busy with post WWI problems to deal with partially constructed projects. Private ownership of cameras in and around 1918 was still a rarity, so the extent to which photos were taken by private citizens, and where they might be today, is similarly a question with no answers at present. One of three similar projects, it's totally unclear here how far construction of the plants in GA and AR got when the war ended. In fact, it's not known here where they even were. Photos of any of the plants could have been taken in the 1920s, 1930s, and even 1940s yet, since most of the buildings were barely begun, but were they?

( Material from various sources, including Dick Speas, class of 1948, Lewis Lull, class of 1940, and "The City of Wyoming - A History." )

Lee Neugent, class of 1948, provides the items below, which were given to him by Jim Jelsema. The newspaper piece following was incomplete as provided, and hopefully the rest of the text will be included at some point.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Circa 1949, before a fire
gutted the structure.

Post fire.

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An undated photo of the chimnies.

The above photos are circa 1949, and show the power building of the Picric acid plant when used as a manufacturing facility, on the left, and after a fire gutted the facility.

At this time, the item below summerizes what is on hand about the Little Rock, Arkansas picric acid plant. It did come on line and produce picric acid, but never reached full capacity during the war. It was located near Adams Field, an airport today. Just before WWII the facility was razed to make room for expansion of the airport. Photographs of the facility probably exist, if only in newspapers, and maybe someday will be located.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

- Police -

A number of Godwin graduates became policemen. Leon Smith, class of 1953 for example. Watching some of the more dull Godwin students drag race down Division Avenue in the 1950s reminded anyone that someone had to deal with the more severe lapses of judgment in order to keep a community functioning properly. And of course it often fell on the police to do this if parents were not around.

So Godwin here too supplied well prepared candidates over the decades who trained to become police men and women. Leon Smith, class of 1953, provided the photograph below of the Wyoming police department in the 1940s.

The officer at the left is John Vander Band. On the right is Richard Van Til. To his left is Jerry Lanninga.
Van Til was Wyoming's first police chief, and served from 1940 to 1947.

As shown in an April 30, 1970, obituary piece , Jerry Laninga was one of three charter members of the Wyoming Police Department. Wyoming was an area of mainly family farms in the early 1930s, and the Great Depression was taking a real hold on the US at the time. It's likely this created special problems for police. By the time Laninga retired, the farms were disappearing rapidly, and Wyoming was a city.

Lee Smith, class of 1953, provides the following collection of historic photographs about the Grand Rapids and the Wyoming police forces. The oldest ones are of the Grand Rapids force, and likely date from the turn of the century.

Wyoming and Grand Rapids police forces.

Wyoming Police History.

Left click on any item for a much larger version.

Shoulder patches.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Lee Smith, class of 1953, relates that the patch on the left, above, was used by the Wyoming Police force from about 1959, and maybe before, to about 1970. The patch on the right has been used from 1970 to the present day. Bill Charon, Godwin class of 1962, designed the new patch.

Left click on any image below for a larger version.

The accident scenes above were likely part of standard police documentation. They date from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The locations are not always known, nor is the identity of the mystery man puffing the cigar at the corner of 36th and Burlingame. Today the photos often have a historical interest for the things shown in the background. Photos of neighborhoods and businesses that often look far different in year 2006. The photo showing Mark's Photo, and the Cinderella Doll Shop, owned by the mother of Ron Torngren, class of 1953, is a case in point.

The top two, left, show a 1951 Ford patrol car that is damaged on the front and rear. perhaps as a result of some kind of spin. The VW "Beetle," popular in the 1960s, occurred at 2964 Jefferson SE, and did involve a fatality.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The image above is of the Wyoming City offices in about 1961.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Material provide by Polly Goeman, class of 1959.

Martin H. Goeman would have been in the Godwin class of 1934 had he graduated from Godwin. He had five siblings that were in Godwin for a while. The family apparently moved to Caledonia at some point. For a long time he ran a successful landscaping business. But at some point he decided to train for police work, and became part of the Kent County Sheriff Department.

Martin Goeman is also the father of Patsy and Polly Goeman, Godwin class of 1959.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Material provide by Polly Goeman, class of 1959.

Martin Goeman's squad car was number 714, an interesting number in it's day. The popular cop show, Dragnet, aired around 1956, and featured Jack Webb, and his badge number was 714.

Left click on the image below for an obituary.

Robert Doublestein was one of the police that served the Wyoming area in the 1950s, when the area was still more sparcely settled, and farms still existed.

- Prices -

The items below give a small perspective about what things cost over the years. Translating costs over the years is a popular, yet surprisingly difficult problem. While people and news organizations are mostly fascinated with absolute prices, what is more important is the fraction of a person's weekly, monthly, or annual salary used to purchase a car, home, TV, etc. On top of this, the products themselves change over the years, making comparisons based on quality and value, in addition to price, important. Televisions in year 2005 are vastly better than those made in 1955. They are cheaper, more reliable and durable, and produce picture qualities not available in the past. A small $150 color television purchased in year 2005 will likely last 15 years or more without any servicing. Given a median salary of $40,000 in year 2005, a $150 television is a small percentage of a person's annual income. In 1955 a median income was perhaps $4,000, and yet a television cost about the same amount. In percentage terms it was 1,000% more expensive. Still relatively complex to manufacture, and based on tubes rather than today's transistors or integrated circuits, an owner could also expect to spend money on servicing and repair. Color televisions were introduced in the US in about 1954, and were quite the status symbol for a while, but the colors were unstable, and a person's skin was as likely to appear greenish or reddish as skin tone. Today's color televisions are marvels of reliability and value. So how exactly does one compare even a well known product like a television over the decades?

As the discussion above suggests, with great difficulty. In other cases, today's products barely existed 50 years ago, and in the case of most electronic items, not at all. PCs. Cellular phones. Internet services. Items like cars and houses can more or less be compared, but even there, materials advances and costs have changed things too. Modern cars are in most ways far better than those of 50 years ago. They are more efficient, more reliable, and last longer. Competition in the US has replaced the monopolies of the "Big Three" of 50 and more years ago, and cars today reflect the benefits of competition. Small cars, as a percentage of one's income, cost less than almost any car one could buy 50 years ago. Large ones cost about the same today in terms of percentage of one's income, but have things like air conditioning and lots of electronics, and last much longer. An owner can expect to go 100,000 miles today before any serious maintenance is required. A car with 50,000 miles 50 years ago was probably burning serious amounts of oil, the performance was poor, and was likely badly rusted.

New houses in year 2005 are probably not as good as one got 50 and more years ago for the same percentage of one's income. Materials were more plentiful then yet. What was considered a cheap house 50 years ago would probably be all but unaffordable in year 2005. It is mostly the same story as one goes back even further in time, to the days 125 years and more ago when hardwoods were still plentiful in the US, and labor was relatively cheaper. In year 2005 the stand alone house in the US is becoming ever more unaffordable for many people.

Anyway, with these things in mind, it is amusing to see what things cost 50 and more years ago. World competition has, in year 2005, at least temporarily made many products cheaper than they were 50 years ago. How long this can go on depends on whether education and overall competitiveness in the US can provide citizens with enough money to keep buying foreign goods. The examples below are just a random sample, with an emphasis on what stores in the Godwin area charged over the years.

Left click on any image for a larger version.

Home Acres was under active development
in 1928. It's not clear whether $500 is
the price of an improved lot, or whether.
these are commercial or residential lots.

- The Pipe -

Shown in rough schematic below, a storm drain, known to decades of Godwin students as "the pipe," emptied into a stream that flowed parallel to, and just east of, the Grand Rapids and Indiana ( the Pennsylvania after 1920 ) railroad tracks. It is about a block due west of the intersection of 34th Street and Hillcroft Avenue, SW. It was probably built some time around 1920, as the land west of Division Avenue, north and south of Godwin school, was plated for housing. For many decades, Godwin student would use a well worn path that extended west from the intersection, through part of the west edge of Buchanan Woods, and continue through the field that was once part of the Beal farm that extended from 28th to 36th north and south, and from the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad tracks west to just the west side of the current US 131 expressway. ( In the early 1950s yet there was a house foundation, and a standing garage in the field. The garage contained a lot of wood, and what appeared to be parts of carnival rides. There was also a complete set of car license plates nailed to a door, dating from the 1915 to 1930 period. The garage eventually burned. ) The path then headed northwest, and ended near 32nd Street. Characteristic of the times, even lone Godwin women walked the path to/from the school, without fear of bodily harm.

The stream, like so many streams in the area 80 and more years ago, was still remembered in the 1950s yet as a trout stream by older residents along Hillcroft Avenue. The construction of the General Motors stamping plant on 36th Street in 1936 took care of that, and turned the stream in to a polluted drainage ditch.

But the pipe became an object of exploration for many a Godwin student. Perhaps five feet in diameter, one could straddle the small amount of water that always seemed to be coming out of the pipe, and by bending down, walk wound the neighborhood to the east of the entrance. Dorrit Torngren, class of 1945, relates that she and others eventually found themselves inside one of the Godwin school buildings on occasion. By opening a cover, students found themselves inside the school.

As the area developed, rapid runoff during and after a rain storm could mean a substantial amount of water flowing through the pipe. To what extent this even caused problems for the explorers is not known. In 1957 construction began on the US 131 expressway, and by about 1958 it was no longer possible to use the path. The land between the Grand Rapids and Indiana tracks and US 131 saw development for industrial uses, and the land east of the tracks is now part of a Godwin athletic field between 36th and 34th Streets, and Hillcroft Park between 34th and 32nd Streets. The only part of the old path still remaining in year 2006 is a small segment between the intersection of 34th Street and Hillcroft Avenue and the pipe, although even that is not the simple worn dirt path it was in the 1950s yet.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

Pipe area, 1876.

Pipe area, 1952.

Pipe area, 1966.

Pipe area, 1966.

Above, the 1876 plat map shows that there was a large swamp in the area by 36th Street and the GR&I tracks. Before GM arrived in 1936, the swamp was still large, and the stream flowing from it towards Plaster Creek was large and clear, and known locally as a trout fishing stream, as was Plaster Creek. The arrival of GM turned the stream into a toxic industrial trench. In 1938, overdevelopment saw raw sewage being dumped into Plaster Creek. To this day, both are simply runoff ditches, which flow heavily after a rainstorm, and and seem to be biologically dead. There was still evidence of the swamp by the tracks in the early 1950s, and there were on occasion peat fire, which would smolder for long periods of time.

The photograph above, right, shows the pipe in 1966. The course of the creek had already been altered - it would previously have headed towards the left, where the green 1961 Dodge Lancer is parked, and then through what was once called Buchanan Woods. Much of the exit structure of the pipe had fallen off by this time, perhaps because of erosion.

The path shown in the sketch above, middle, was taken by Godwin students, in the 1950s yet, until M-131 cut off easy acess to 32nd. The photograph below, taken in about 1966, shows a lingering segment the path as it crossed the old Grand Rapids and Indiana RR, then owned by the Pennsylvania RR, and in year 2013 by Norfolk Souther.

Left click on the images below for larger versions.



In the 1938 view of the area, one can see the path crossing the GR&I tracks. Students would arrive at 34th Street and Buchanan, follow 34th towards the pipe, then start a path which cut along the south edge of Buchanan woods, cross the RR track, and then follow the path up and to the left. One can see in the same image that there were endless paths and dirt roads around the area, reflecting a society that walked and rode bikes.

In year 2013 nothing shown above, save the RR tracks, still exists. The area now supports Godwin sports activities.

The path cut across land that once belonged to the Beal farm, which owned land between 28th Street, where the farmhouse once stood, to 36th Street, and west of the GR & IN railroad tracks ( PPR after 1920. ) Even by the early 1950s the old Beal farm might not have been farmed by the Beal's for many decades. It's likely that land was sold off bit by bit, as most other farms in the area did, starting in the early 1900's. A 1922 plat map shows that the land where the house stood was owned by W. Olthuis. Apparently all of the Beal land had been sold by then.

Up to the time US 131 was built, there was a house foundation, and an old, standing garage, in the field in the early 1950s yet, about where M-131 now stands, and about where 34th would have intersected M-131 had it cut through to the west. The garage had been sealed, but of course kids found a way in to it anyway. On the inside of the garage door, about two decades of Michgian license plates had been nailed up. People once did that with their old license plates, to the delight of collectors. The license plate dates spanned about 1915 to 1935. ( They would be worth a lot in year 2010, but are probably long gone. ) There were also a lot of hardwood scraps in the garage, as well as, what appeared to be elements from carnaval equipment. The land around the garage and the foundation had the usual trash around, characteristic of houses in rural areas years ago. A very rusted tricycle. A small dump. At one time there was a road that lead to the house, but there was no evidence for it in the early 1950s.

- Principals over the years -

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Maurice Gillender joined the Godwin staff as an experienced principal in 1956. It was common in the 1950s yet for someone to be a principal for a long period of time - ten years and more. In year 2006 it is often a mechanism for bumping one's salary grade just before retiring, and often as not the tenure of a principal is just a year or two. But Maurice Gillender was a principal for many years at different schools, and came to Godwin in that capacity with a lot of experience.

- PTA -

The Godwin PTA was formed in 1922. In the early years, and perhaps through the 1960s, there was active community participation, reflecting the fact that Godwin was a local school, the area was still growing, and teachers could be your neighbors, and often had children of their own attending Godwin.

One can see in the PTA logs below just how active the organization was, even during the Depression years.

Godwin PTA log for 1928-1929.

Godwin PTA log for 1934-1935.

The event shown below had the format The PTA event shown below had the format of actual class sessions which the parents could visit at will. The only modification to a usual calls period was the time - the sessions consisted of three 40 minute sessions, held from 7PM to 9PM.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

Material supplied by Mildred Annis, class of 1940.

The item below, from January 21, 1945, shows a more hands on world, and what community involvement meant in the mid 1940s. More Victorian in their energy and range of interests, people like Frank Bartels and Henry carpenter never seemed to rest a lot, and were always there for Godwin. Henry Carpenter found time to cook at a Fathers of Godwin PTA event despite having day jobs of school engineer, and running, with his wife, the "Coffee Cup," ( see section "L" ) a popular eating place for Godwin students, located just a half block south of Godwin, on the east side of Division Avenue. Frank Bartels served as "chief cook" at the event, and also ran a truck farm, was on the Godwin school board for 35 years, and was involved in area development. Frank Hiner was also a school board member. In the world of year 2006, where one hears endless complaints about being stressed out, it is amusing to see how people in the world of 1945 found time for community and family involvement, and to wear civilized attire. It doesn't take much imagination to see why community based schools, and community involvement, made schools like Godwin work in ways that seem strangely mysterious today.

Pop Turns Cook - for One Night

Material supplied by Lee Neugent, class of 1948.

The tradition of pop turns cook for a night goes back to at least 1934, as can be seen in the PTA log above.

- Pomp and Circumstance -

Colloquially known as "Pomp and Circumstance," the standard graduation march is Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D. Written in 1901. It contains the tune known as "Land of Hope and Glory," which no doubt had something to do with the sputtering "British Empire." Tunes like this are often intended to inspire patriotism, in this case about jolly old England and its then still extant system of colonies, which kept English royalty fat and lazy.

Just when it became a standard highschool march in the US is not clear at this time, but in 1963, when planning the graduation ceremony, one simply mentioned "pomp and circumstance," and it was "enough said."

Play Pomp and Circumstance

- Parks -

Lamar Park

Left click on the images below for larger versions.

The postcard image above is of Lamar Park in or before 1958. Evidently the name came after Wyoming became a city. The beach is gone as of 2009.