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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Origin and History of Some Grand Rapids Street Names

by Fr. Dennis Morrow


Formerly Earldon Avenue, this street was renamed by the City Commission in 1996 to honor Bishop William C. Abney, pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Church, which had recently moved into the former Bethany Reformed Church at 832 Lake Drive, S.E.


Formerly Ball Avenue.  Noted Grand Rapids artist Mathias Alten moved to the Stacey farm at 1593 Fulton E., on the northwest corner of Ball Avenue, in the summer of 1913 and lived there with his family until his death in 1938.  Subsequently, the portion of Ball Avenue from Fulton to Michigan was renamed in his honor.


Antoine Campau, brother of Louis Carnpau, settled in Grand Rapids in 1833.


Simeon L. Baldwin was an early settler who in 1856 killed a wild bear weighing 324 lbs. near Fulton & Union.  Baldwin Street between Dwight & Diamond was once called Orchard Avenue.

Ball Park

John Ball was born at Tenny's Hill near Hebron, New Hampshire, on November 12, 1794.  He opened a law practice in Grand Rapids in 1837 and was elected to the first Michigan legislature.  In 1838 he built a house at 458 Fulton E. and lived there the rest of his long life.  He served on the Grand Rapids Board of Education for 21 years, from 1848 to 1869.  He married Mary T. Webster, a school teacher, on December 31, 1849.  John BalI died on February 3, 1884, leaving 40 acres to Grand Rapids for the park which bears his name.  His statue, designed by Gertrude VanHouten and executed by Pompeo Coppini, was dedicated at the park on September 20, 1925.


Charles Barclay platted the land in this area.


Blumrich Street was once called Valley Street.  It was named after Dr. Wencel Blumrich, city physician, who was responsible for laying out Greenwood Cemetery and was the first to be buried in it, atop the highest hill.  He came from Chrastava (Kratzau), Bohemia, as did the Ansorges, Herkners, Housemans, Neumans, Schindlers, Werners, and others.


Edmund Bostwick platted the land in this area.


Changed to Douglas in 1920.


Henry P. Bridge built the first sawmill on the old Grand River canal.  Not named after the bridge.


Martha Burritt was married to James Edison.  Their daughter, Maria Elisabeth, was baptized by Fr. Andreas Viszoczky from St. Andrew’s Church on September 17, 1851.


Marsh Byers was on the building committee of the old North Park School in 1908.


Louis Campau, the city's founder, came here in 1826 as a fur trader.


This very short avenue and nearby Skory Avenue were both named in honor of Msgr. Casimir Skory (1864-1935), pastor of St. Adalbert’s Church from 1904 to 1935.


Lewis Cass was born October 2, 1782, in Exeter, NH.  His father, Jonathan Cass, was a veteran of the Revolution.  His mother, Mary Gilman, came from a prominent Boston family.  His classmates at Phillips Exeter Academy included Daniel Webster and Edward Everett.  For his service in the Revolution, Jonathan Cass was awarded a 4,000-acre tract near Zanesville in the Ohio Territory in 1800.  In 1803, Lewis became the first lawyer admitted to the bar after Ohio achieved statehood.  The fortunes of the War of 1812 saw him become governor of the Michigan Territory, from 1813 to 1831.  Cass designed the state seal.  He left Michigan to become Secretary of War under President Jackson.  After serving as minister to France, he returned to Michigan and was elected senator.  He lost the November 1848, presidential election.  He became an ardent supporter of the Union cause, and died in 1866.

Central Avenue

From Buckley south to Hall, changed to Sheldon in 1912.


Charles Holbrook was the son of Henry B. Holbrook, who owned a great deal of land in the area.  Henry had two other nearby streets named after his other sons, James and Henry.


Clumps of black cherry trees originally grew in the vicinity.


Originally on land owned by George Kendall. A college was chartered and Kendall donated ground for the facility.  The school, named St. Mark's College, was started, but died almost immediately.  Fountain School is now on College Avenue, and Central High School is around the corner on Fountain Street.


Scribner Avenue south of Bridge was once called Court Street.


Originally McDowell Street, then Eighth Avenue.  Changed to Delaware in 1912.


Samuel Dexter (1787-1856) from Herkimer County, New York, was the first recorded owner in the Belknap-Lookout area.  He obtained ownership of four 80-acre lots east of the present Division Avenue, an area 1/4 of a mile wide and two miles long.  It ran from Coldbrook Street on the north to Fulton Street on the south and included the 160-foot-high bluffs that have become known as Lookout Park.  Mr. Dexter had in 1832-33 helped to establish the settlement of Ionia.


This major thoroughfare, so named when the area was first settled, marks the dividing line between the townships of Grand Rapids and Walker north of Hall Street, and between the townships of Paris and Wyoming south of Hall Street.


Formerly Bowery.  49 neighbors presented petition for change of name to City Commission on November 8, 1920.


Changed to Abney Avenue in 1996.

Eighth Avenue

Changed to Delaware Street in 1912.


Changed to Plymouth.


Likely received its name from its scenic vista.


A natural spring was at the head of the street, at what is now Ransom Avenue.


John Fallon, a member of the city's Common Council, was godfather for Franklin Morrison, great-grandson of Jefferson Morrison, in 1912.  As a baptismal present, Fallon requested that the name of Fifth Avenue be changed to Franklin Street.


George W. Griggs was a wealthy, benevolent man.  With his wife, Harriet, he established a grand farmhouse in the area near the end of the Civil War, but died penniless because of bad investments.


Capt. John Gunnison, an Army engineer, was killed by Indians in 1853 and "his body devoured by wolves."  He was doing survey work for the railroads to the Pacific and died in the Rocky Mountains.


Henry Holbrook was the son of Henry B. Holbrook, who owned a great deal of land in the area.


John H.P. Hughart was a railroad executive who was well-connected in social and business circles in the Grand Rapids of the 1880’s and 1890’s.  He became the president of the Schubert Club in 1893, and initiated the associate membership plan to broaden interest and participation in the club.  The Hughart Yards of the Pennsylvania/ConRail system, located east of Hynes Avenue and US-131, are also named for him.


The first plat map of Grand Rapids shows streets in Lucius Lyon’s plat named for the three contiguous counties in this area of western Michigan.  Kent Street (later Crescent) was the east-west thoroughfare north of Lyon Street.  Between Canal (adjoining the canal at the Grand River) and Division (the dividing line between the townships) ran the north-south thoroughfares of Ottawa (on the west) and Ionia (on the east).


James Holbrook was the son of Henry B. Holbrook, who owned a great deal of land in the area.


Possibly named after Jefferson Morrison (see Morrison), but perhaps after Thomas Jefferson; history books aren't clear on this one.

John Ball Park - See Ball Park.


George H. Kirtland came to Grand Rapids with his family in the fall of 1889 and settled in Burton Heights. He was one of the founders of First United Brethren Church, now Olivet United Methodist.


Scribner Avenue north of Bridge was once called Lincoln Street.


Louis Campau, the city's founder, came here in 1826 as a fur trader.


Lucius Lyon was Louis Campau’s archenemy.  He bought the land north of Campau’s, platted the streets on a straight north-south grid, and named it the village of Kent.


The city market was once located there, where the public service area and the US-131 interchange are now.  Farmers had permanent sales stalls on the street.


When Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass resigned in 1831, the Territorial Secretary was to become acting governor.  John T. Mason, a Virginia aristocrat, had been appointed secretary, but had resigned to go abroad.  His son, Stevens Thompson Mason, had been appointed his father’s successor by President Jackson.  At age 19, he became acting governor, and was ever after known as “The Boy Governor.”  Over the next six years, he skillfully guided Michigan through the statehood process.  Hounded by political enemies. he was forced from office, eventually left Michigan, and died suddenly in New York in 1843 at the young age of 32.


Became Eighth Avenue, then Delaware Street in 1912.


Jefferson Morrison settled in G.R. in 1835, opened the first general store, and soon acquired large land holdings.  Become the first Probate Court judge in the county.  Morrison Street disappeared in 1968-69 with the expansion of St. Mary’s Hospital.


Baldwin Street between Dwight and Diamond was once called Orchard Avenue.


The first plat map of Grand Rapids shows streets in Lucius Lyon’s plat named for the three contiguous counties in this area of western Michigan.  Kent Street (later Crescent) was the east-west thoroughfare north of Lyon Street.  Between Canal (adjoining the canal at the Grand River) and Division (the dividing line between the townships) ran the north-south thoroughfares of Ottawa (on the west) and Ionia (on the east).


Augustus Paddock was a Great Lakes ship captain during the lumbering era.  In 1872, he built a magnificent mansion at 1033 Lake Drive, S.E., which was later occupied successively by the Edmund Wurzburg family, the Franciscan Fathers, and Gibson's Restaurant.  The avenue running along the west side of his property was named for Mr. Paddock.


Grand Rapids dentist Byron R. Pierce went to the Civil War with the Third Michigan Infantry as a captain and rose to the rank of brigadier general.  At the 48th National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1914, the 85-year-old Pierce was the state’s sole surviving Civil War general, having outlived more than 75 others.  (Unconfirmed relation to Pierce Place.  Source:  Michigan History January/February 2000, p. 45.)


In 1866, William Powers introduced and funded the project of building a canal on the west side of the Grand River from about Seventh Street south to Fulton Street.  Upon completion of the canal, industries moved in and jobs were created.  The industries included mills, casket makers, and door and window sash construction.


Henry Fralick owned so much property that he finally ran out of relatives' names for his streets; so he named this one for his horse, Prince.


On a hill where residents would come to get a good view of the city.


Epaphroditus Ransom was born in Massachusetts in 1792, the son of Major Ezekiel Ransom, a veteran of the Revolution.  He practiced law in Vermont, even serving in that state’s legislature, until 1834, when he moved with his family to Kalamazoo, arriving November 14.  He and his wife, Almirah, and their two children, Wyllys and Antoinette, spent their first winter in the recently-vacated cabin of Titus and Sally Bronson.  Appointed a circuit judge, he meted out justice from the Indiana border to the Straits of Mackinac.  He was appointed to the State Supreme Court by Governor Stevens T. Mason (1835-39) and Chief Justice by Governor John S. Barry (1842-45).  He resigned from the Court to run for governor on the Democrat ticket, and handily won the 1847 election.  He was the first governor to be inaugurated in Lansing.  During his 2-year term (1848-49), he got the legislature to appropriate funds for a mental asylum in Kalamazoo, promoted the construction of plank roads, and founded the Michigan State Agricultural Society, to become Michigan State University.  His party refused to nominate him for a second term because of his strong anti-slavery stand.  He was elected to the state legislature in 1853, and thus served in all three branches of Michigan government.  Wiped out financially in the banking collapse of 1855, Ransom moved his family to Kansas.  There, while serving in the U.S. Land Office, his anti-slavery views almost cost him his life.  He died at Fort Scott, Kansas Territory, in 1859.  He is buried in Mountain Home Cemetery in Kalamazoo.


Rix Robinson was a chief agent for Astor’s American Fur Co., and is recognized as the first white man to settle in Western Michigan.  He spent a winter at a trading post near Duck Lake in Muskegon County, and established Ada as a primary trading post in 1821.  In 1825, Robinson helped negotiate a treaty between the Ottawa and Chippewa nations and the federal government that opened land north of the Grand River to white settlers.  Shortly thereafter, he brought all but one of his brothers and their families from Cayuga County, NY, to settle along the Grand River from Grand Haven to Lowell.  Rix Robinson is buried in Ada, where a boulder and memorial plaque now mark the site of his farm home along East Fulton Street.  The Amway Corp. headquarters is on the site of his trading post.  Robinson Road was a key trail connecting East Fulton with Lake Drive, running along the north side of Fisk Lake and Reed Lake. 

San Lu Rae Drive (East Grand Rapids) 

Named for the first three children of Frederick P. and Caroline (Hill) Wilcox, Sanford, Louise, and Raymond.  Mr. Wilcox was a real estate broker and financier who moved to Grand Rapids from Rochester, NY, in 1886.  He built a home at 1940 Lake Drive, S.E.  San Lu Rae Drive was laid out to access two of the subsequent dwellings on the Wilcox property, bisecting it from west to east.


W.G. Saunders was one of the first trustees of Plainfield Methodist Church.


Scribner Avenue south of Bridge was once called Court Street.  North of Bridge, it was called Lincoln Street.


Seventh Street was once called VanBuren, long before the present VanBuren Avenue.  It was changed to Seventh by 1875.


From Buckley south to Hall, it was known as Center and then Central Avenue until 1912.


This very short avenue and nearby Casimer Avenue were both named in honor of Msgr. Casimir Skory (1864-1935), pastor of St. Adalbert’s Church from 1904 to 1935.


Situated where the old state road entered the village.

Valley Street 

Blumrich Street was once called Valley Street.


Named after President Martin VanBuren, this became Seventh Street sometime before 1875.  Much later, the name was given to the avenue running north and south from Walker, east of Valley.


So named because the city fathers couldn't agree on anything else.  Proposed names were repeatedly vetoed by the Common Council, so they agreed to “Veto Street” as a last resort.


Jefferson Morrison's wife's first name was Wealthy.  The judge named the street in her honor.


Sumner Wells was the director of the North Park School District when the old school was built in 1908.

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