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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Sarah Nelson Painting: Landmark Identification

The painting covers the area from Michigan to Pearl Street and from the crest of Prospect Hill bordered by Ransom Ave. down to Canal Street and Grand River with houses and buildings in approximately the correct positions. 

Starting from the left side of the picture, the first building on the hill is the Cuming “Mansion,” built in 1852 between Michigan and Crescent on Bostwick Ave. by Dr. Francis Cuming, one of the earliest pastors of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Over the years as the streets were lowered the mansion was left stranded on a sand hill, the gardens, orchards, and walks were destroyed.  Butterworth Hospital (now Spectrum) occupies the site now.

Moving to the right, the next house is on the corner of Crescent and Bostwick, built in 1851 by Henry R. Williams. Williams was the first mayor of Grand Rapids and the man who, with Daniel Ball, is credited with fostering transportation on the Grand River.

The third house, the columned cottage, was on Ransom between Lyon and Crescent. Believed to have been built in the 1850s, presumably by Miss Nelson’s painting instructor, Marinus Harting, a Dutch landscape artist who opened a studio here in 1854. Later, the house was owned by Henry Post, a musician.

The fourth house, below the Harting house, was built in 1855 by Chief Justice George Martin on Lyon Street near Canal. It was on land that was eventually cut away from the house leaving it high and dry. It is currently the location of the Fifth/Third Bank, formerly Old Kent Bank.

At the top of the hill, at Ransom and Lyon, stood the Stone School House. Built in 1849 of river stone it was crowned with a glistening tin roof and cupola and housed over 700 pupils.  It was torn down in 1867 to make way for the new High School.

St. Mark’s Cathedral, built in 1848 is recognizable at the far right by its two towers. According to old City Directories the Tower Boarding House on Pearl Street stands to the left of it.

The Backus Block, close to the river at the foot of Crescent and Canal, (directly below the Cuming “Mansion”) was one of the oldest river stone buildings. It is thought that the first Wurzburg store was in this building.

The Grand Rapids Press 11/13/1966 description is similar to the above except it notes the third building is unidentified and the fourth building belonged to Henry Post.

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