loading background

Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

loading media...


GRHC - July 13th, 2010

Two notorious arsonists exacerbate Grand Rapids' fire problem.    



Serious fires were almost an annual event in the early days of Grand Rapids as most of the buildings were of wooden construction. 1873 was a particularly eventful year; several factories were burned, including a flourmill and a brewery. The major event on July 13th destroyed 15 acres north of E. Bridge St. and left about 130 families homeless.

The city hardly needed the additional contribution of two firebugs. A German tailor, whose shop was located on Bond Avenue near Crescent, was caught in the act of setting fire to a stable in Kent Alley. After his conviction by a jury in circuit court, he confessed to setting fire to a wooden building on the east side of the canal. That fire had consumed several buildings on both side of Monroe Avenue and east to Ottawa Avenue.

When his term at the state prison was completed, he returned to Grand Rapids, but Police Chief James Moran uttered a few threatening remarks that caused him to quickly leave the city and never return.

Esther Coffen had a misunderstanding with neighbors on Front St., north of Leonard, and determined to appease her wrath by setting fire to a chicken house owned by one of the adversaries. She did not anticipate the destruction of five or six dwellings that followed her application of the torch. Mrs. Coffen served a long sentence in the Detroit House of Corrections. We have no evidence that Mrs. Coffen ever attempted a return to Grand Rapids.

Full Details

KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, fire, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringJuly 13th, 2010

Like Us on Facebook
site by GRCMC