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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Grand River Islands

Grand River Islands

GRHC - December 16th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present "Glance at the Past".  Did you know that in Grand Rapids' early days the Grand River was home to several islands?



Charles Belknap, who arrived in Grand Rapids as a boy in 1854, often wrote about those early days. In one piece he described the islands that graced the Grand River. The number one island began near the foot of Lyon St. and the number three ended about where the Wealthy St. Bridge now crosses the river. The three main islands were divided by narrow channels and rapid currents.

Except for a little cleared land where the Indians had planted corn, the west shore of Island number one was all a meadow, and cows would wade in the river to feed on the deep, rich grass. Wild plum and crabapple trees dotted the island and grape vines wound themselves in the water elms. The prevailing west winds wafted the odors of trees and flowers over the village.           

On the east channel, nearly opposite the foot of Pearl St. stood the great-grandfather of all sycamore trees just above the low water mark. When the Indians set up their wigwams there in the spring they suspended swings for the children on the long branches, and hung baskets of goods far out on the limbs away from the reach of dogs.

The islands were almost without blemish, and the high water that flooded the islands each year washed them free of all refuse from the Indians’ camps. The heavy covering of grass and plants prevented the washing away of the soil.

Belknap mourned the loss of the river islands and their primitive grandeur. He remarked that no work of man could ever surpass their beauty.

Full Details

TitleGrand River Islands
KeywordsGlance at the Past, Grand River, islands, history, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringDecember 16th, 2009

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