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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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A Public Library

A Public Library

GRHC - March 2nd, 2011

1904, the Ryerson Library opened to give Grand Rapidians a place for books. A renovation in 2003 made the Ryerson Library what it is today: the Grand Rapids Public Library.    



Arduous journeys by wagon, canal, and lake brought those early, adventurous souls to Grand Rapids from New England. In the small village the supply of reading material was rather scarce. While some of the newcomers certainly brought a few treasured volumes, most would have given room to more life-sustaining necessities than to loads of heavy books. Those few books, shared around the village, and the weekly newspapers, were the extent of available literature.

One of the earliest lending libraries originated with the local mechanics, who were well educated, skilled in the use of tools, and could build houses or bridges. They formed the Mechanics’ Mutual Protection Lodge in 1858, gathered their books together, and created a library where members were able to acquire reading material.

In 1858 the Mercantile Library Association was formed. They raised seven hundred and sixty-nine dollars for the treasury, and a room in the east end of the Luce block was selected as a repository for the collection of 771 volumes.

Over the following years other accommodations were made for a public library, but always in small or crowded rented quarters even after being moved to the new City Hall in 1888.

When the Ryerson Library opened in 1904 imagine the gaping mouths and bulging eyes as the old timers walked through the marble halls and gazed heavenward at the enormous skylight. Today we can marvel in the same way because of the 2003 restoration of this city landmark, now the Grand Rapids Public Library, a gift from Martin Antoine Ryerson.  

Full Details

TitleA Public Library
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, radio, Ryerson Public Library, Martin Ryerson, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringMarch 2nd, 2011

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