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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Martin Ryerson

Martin Ryerson

GRHC - February 20th, 2011

The story of Grand Rapids businessman and philanthropist Martin Ryerson. 



Martin Ryerson, born in 1818, left New Jersey at the age of 16 and headed for the far west, to Michigan. He began as a fur trader in Detroit, then traveled the state trading with various tribes, but made his headquarters in Grand Rapids.

He eventually realized that real wealth lay in Michigan’s forests. Settling in Muskegon he learned the lumbering business working for Theodore Newell. Two years later he purchased Newell’s mill and began making a name for himself. In May of 1844 he married Louisa Duverney, daughter an early French settler of Grand Haven.

Louisa died sometime after 1850, and in St. Andrews Church in 1855 Ryerson was married to Mary Ann Campau. Their son, and only child, Martin Antoine Ryerson, was born in 1856 at the homestead of Mary’s father, Antoine Campau, brother of Louis. Shortly after the family moved to Chicago.

Ryerson had established a lumbering business there, but his real wealth came from the investments he made in downtown Chicago real estate starting in the 1870s. An excellent businessman, Ryerson had little formal schooling, which may be why he secured an excellent education for his son in Europe and at Harvard.

Both father and son were outstanding in their generosity to Chicago; Martin A. Ryerson was also generous to Grand Rapids. His offer to build a library, costing no less than $150,000, if the city would provide the property, was accepted. When the magnificent Public Library opened in 1904, it had cost Ryerson twice his original offer.

Note: Architects Coolidge & Hodgdon of Chicago designed the Ryerson Library.



Full Details

TitleMartin Ryerson
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, Martin Ryerson, library, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, radio, Podcast
Pubdate StringFebruary 20th, 2011

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