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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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The Big Ditch

The Big Ditch

GRHC - November 11th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present "Glance at the Past". Today, it's a not-so-pretty side of GR's past.



The West Side Ditch, as it was formally known, was created in 1874, at a cost of $10,000, to drain about 400 acres of lowlands adjacent to the western boundary of the city.  Stagnant water that accumulated there was responsible outbreaks of malaria.

The ditch was three miles long, six feet deep, and from two to five feet in width at the bottom. Originally intended to drain surface water, the big ditch later became an outlet for a large quantity of sewage.

The ditch began quietly in the marsh lands at the northern boundary of the city near North St. (now Richmond St.). By the time it reached Twelfth St. the current became sluggish and was covered with a noxious scum. At First St. a sanitary sewer entered the ditch and another large trunk sewer emptied into it at Sibley St. From there it continued south in a direct line until it reached the Grand River. Most of its route roughly followed West St. (today’s Garfield Ave.)

By the mid 1890s west-siders were up in arms over this open sewer contaminating their community, backing up into their cellars during heavy rains, and causing outbreaks of typhoid. The Common Council eventually agreed that a closed sewer was needed, but almost fifteen years passed before it was completed.

Residents should be aware that the east side also had its open sewers, the difference being that they used the natural waterways of Coldbrook and Plaster Creeks to carry their sewage to the Grand River.

Full Details

TitleThe Big Ditch
KeywordsGlance at the Past, big ditch, sanitation, west side, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringNovember 11th, 2009

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