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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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City Horses

City Horses

GRHC - January 26th, 2011

This episode of Glance at the Past focuses on the role of horses in the city.    



It’s easy to forget the constant role that horses played in city life before motorized vehicles. In 1897 the Grand Rapids fire department maintained ten engine houses manned by 121 men and 53 horses. Seven horses were housed in the basement barn of Police Headquarters. Three were on day duty, three on nights, and one was kept for emergencies.

Two veterans of the force, Prince and Bill, were the fastest trotters ever owned by the city. When the gong struck they would rush to their place under the harnesses. Their driver said, “They would rather make a run than eat.”

One of the little-known jobs that horses did was harvest ice from Reed’s Lake. When the ice was deep enough to hold a horse, about 9” thick, it was time to begin the harvest. First, snow would be plowed from about 100 acres in the center of the lake. Then the markers, drawn by teams of horses, would be pulled across the ice, each making a grove about two inches deep that marked the ice into 22 inch squares. The ice was lifted from the water to the ice-house by an elevator hooked up to electricity supplied by the Street Railway Company. It was cleaned by electric corrugated planers to remove any contamination. The work took about 250 men and 15 to 20 teams of horses ten days to harvest 40,000 tons of ice.

The handsome carriage horses sometimes seen at night on our downtown streets are reminders of those earlier days.

Full Details

TitleCity Horses
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, radio, horses, Reeds Lake, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringJanuary 26th, 2011

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