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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Thousands Congregate in Campau Square

by April Chernoby

As the Fourth of July approached people from the surrounding communities began pouring into Grand Rapids arriving by wagon and rail. Undoubtedly many people took advantage of the railroad’s three day ticket sale in which they offered tickets at half the regular price. Early in the morning the day before the big celebration the streets were crowded with enthusiastic patriots. Thousands congregated around Campau Square to marvel at the grand memorial arch and stroll along the sidewalk gazing at the flags and evergreen decorations.

Oddly enough the Centennial Celebration almost did not happen in Grand Rapids. As the spring of 1876 approached city officials had only begun discussing how to celebrate the Fourth of July. Just two months prior to the celebration the Centennial Planning Committee was still debating whether or not the city had the money to spend on a lavish celebration with entertainment and fireworks displays. The outlook for the Fourth of July celebration was in limbo well into the month of May.

Patriotism was in no short supply; however the same could not be said for municipal funds. Grand Rapids, like the rest of the United States, had been affected by the 1873 Depression. The effects of the depression were felt well into the Centennial year. During the first quarter of 1876 there were 165 business failures across the State of Michigan.  While the lumbering business slowed, fortunately manufacturing in other areas, particularly the furniture industry, “kept going without cessation, furnishing employment to thousands.” Nonetheless, the depression taught city officials lessons in sensible administration and fiscal responsibility.

“Business Failures and Business Prospects,” Daily Morning Times. 16 April 1876: Pg 1, col. 5.

“Mayor’s Message,” Daily Morning Times. 2 May 1876: Page 3, col., 1.

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