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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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GRHC - August 26th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present Glance at the Past a local history radio project. This week's episode focuses on GR's first streetlights and the city's first official lamplighter Henry Baker.



In the earliest days of Grand Rapids people carried lanterns if they needed to be out after dark, and business owners hung them outside their shops to light the entrance. The city’s first street lights were cedar posts, topped by a sperm-oil lamp, set up on street corners in the early 1850s. Young Henry Baker, the first official lamp lighter, carried a small ladder as he went about his job of lighting the lamps at dark. At 11 PM he made another round to blow them out. It’s said that the council had to increase his pay because he wore out so many trouser seats scratching matches on windy nights. Some fiscally conscious citizens questioned the need for the lamps on moonlight nights.

Gaslight was furnished to Grand Rapids for the first time in 1857 from the original gas works built at Ottawa and Ferry St. The common council authorized twelve street lamps to be erected on Monroe and Canal Sts. between Division and Bridge St., but not until 1869 was the west side served with gas by pipes laid across the Pearl Street Bridge. Gas street lights only illuminated a few feet around the lamppost but they lit the city’s streets until the end of the 19th century when electric lamps were introduced.

Full Details

KeywordsGlance at the Past, streetlights, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringAugust 26th, 2009

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