Grand Rapids, Michigan

The History Of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Image of the river of grand rapids michigan

Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second-largest city and West Michigan’s largest city. It is situated about 30 miles east of Lake Michigan on the Grand River. The population of the city as of the 2010 census was 188,040. The Grand Rapids metropolitan area had a population of 1,005,648 in 2010, and the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland combined statistical area had a population of 1,321,557. The county seat of Kent County is Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids, a historic furniture manufacturing center, is home to five of the leading office furniture companies in the world, and is known as “Furniture City.” Other nicknames include “River City” and, more recently, “Beer City” (the latter adopted by the city as a brand by USA Today). The city and neighboring areas are economically diverse, including the manufacturing sectors of health care, information technology, automotive, aviation, and consumer goods.

Grand Rapids is the birthplace of the U.S. President Gerald Ford, who is buried on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in town with his wife Betty. The main airport in the city and one of its freeways are named after him as well.

Isaac McCoy, a Baptist minister, was the first permanent European-American settler in the Grand Rapids area. General Lewis Cass, who had commissioned Charles Christopher Trowbridge to set up missions in Michigan for Native Americans, ordered McCoy to set up an Ottawa mission in Grand Rapids. In 1823, McCoy traveled to Grand Rapids to organize a mission, as well as Paget, a Frenchman who brought along a Native American student, while talks fell through with the party returning to the Carey mission on the St. Joseph River for the Potawatomi.

In 1824, the Baptist missionary Rev. L. Slater traveled to Grand Rapids with two settlers to conduct work. It was tough for the winter of 1824, with Slater ‘s party needing to resupply and return until spring. At Grand Rapids, Slater then erected the first settler buildings, a log cabin for himself and a log schoolhouse. McCoy returned and set up a missionary station in 1825. He embodied the immigrants who had started to come from the Yankee Northern Tier states of Ohio, New York and New England.

By 1838, the settlement was organized as a town, occupying about three-quarters of a mile. A population of 1,510 and an area of 4 square miles were reported in the first formal census in 1845. On April 2, 1850, the city of Grand Rapids was incorporated. On May 2, 1850, when the village of Grand Rapids voted to approve the proposed city charter, it was officially created. At the time , the population was 2,686. By 1857, the city of Grand Rapids’ area totaled 10.5 square miles. In October 1870, Grand Rapids became a desired location for immigrants, with about 120 Swedes arriving in the United States to travel and create a “colony” in the area in one week.

In 1880, the first hydro-electric generator in the nation was put to use on the west side of the city. Grand Rapids was an early center for the automobile industry, as the Austin Automobile Company operated there from 1901 until 1921.

In 1945, in the United States, Grand Rapids became the first city to introduce fluoride to its drinking water. Downtown Grand Rapids, when the center of business, used to host four department stores: Herpolsheimer’s (Lazarus in 1987), Jacobson’s, Steketee’s (founded in 1862), and Wurzburg’s. Shopping was an occurrence in the town. As with many older cities, these businesses suffered as the population moved to suburbs in the postwar era with federal subsidization of highway construction. In addition, retail changes in buying habits affected business. Consolidation of department stores occurred here and nationally in the 1980s and 1990s.