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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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The Great Log Jam of 1883

The Great Log Jam, an exceptional piece of writing by Stewart Edward White, was published in Popular Monthly in 1901. Although only ten-years old in 1883, White is eminently qualified to write about the event as his father, Thomas Stewart White, was a Grand Rapids lumberman. For twenty-one years, with his partner Thomas Friant, the White & Friant & Co. was in charge of all the logs in the river at Grand Rapids, running them to Grand Haven, booming, sorting, and delivering them to the mills. While the author does not mention his father and partner by name, they are clearly the owners referred to near the end of the article.* Fourteen excellent photographs are included that probably belonged to White, as well as a diagram of the river that could only have been created by someone with an intimate knowledge of the logging process—possibly Thomas Stewart White himself.

Stewart Edward White was the author of fifty-one books. Many of these are available in the Grand Rapids Public Library including two novels about logging in Michigan; The Blazed Trail, 1902, written after White spent a winter working in a logging camp; and The Riverman, 1908, based on experiences of his father's partner, Thomas Friant. A vertical file on Stewart Edward White can be found in the GR History and Special Collections Dept. of the GRPL as well as one on his father, T. Stewart White, and his father's partner, Thomas Friant.

* "John Walsh, born in Canada on October 17, 1838 , operated a steam-powered pile driver. Although one-armed, John was credited with breaking the logjam in the Grand River in 1883, when 150, 000,000 board feet of timbers were cascading from Grand Rapids toward Lake Michigan. John, a marine engineer, conceived and carried out a plan to drive pilings, which created an obstacle stopping the 37 million tons of logs and saving the timber, as well. His employers gave Captain Walsh a gold watch for his bravery and his ability to work fast and well enough to build the dam in time. By saving the timbers, he saved the company many thousands of dollars. John was a long-term employee of the White & Friant Lumber Company." (This incredible accomplishment by John Walsh is dramatically described in Stewart Edward White's article, The Great Log Jam.) From A Directory of People in Northwest Ottawa County by Wallace K. Ewing, Ph.D., Loutit Library, Grand Haven, MI. (Be patient, a large pdf file)

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