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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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GRHC - September 16th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present Glance at the Past, a local history radio project. This week's episode tells of a nearly catastrophic logging incident!



The Grand River, centerpiece of our community, has been both friend and foe to residents over the years. The powerful waterway energized flouring mills, saw mills and the machinery of early factories. In 1883, however, it was also the sight of one of the most startling events.

In the early summer of that year, heavy rains caused the Grand River to rise nearly twenty inches. Lumbermen took advantage of the high water to bring their logs down river where they were held by booms located above the rapids. But the logs broke loose and 150 million board feet of timber went tumbling down the river toward Lake Michigan. This event created one of the biggest jams in US logging history.

Logs piled up and created a jam thirty-feet deep and seven-miles long. For four days and nights, brave loggers worked tirelessly under treacherous conditions. One wrong step and the worst could be anticipated. The unstable mass of logs constantly creaked and heaved under the immense pressure, at times causing single logs to suddenly break loose and shoot straight up into the air.

Eventually, it was the feverish dredging of a new thirty-five foot channel that relieved the pressure.  This allowed workers to untangle and guide the timber to its downriver destination, but not before two railroad bridges above Fulton Street and Wealthy Street were completely destroyed by the pressure of the jam.

Full Details

KeywordsGlance at the Past, logjam, Grand River, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringSeptember 16th, 2009

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