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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Highways of Yesterday

Highways of Yesterday

GRHC - July 25th, 2012

When the village of Grand Rapids was founded, the Grand River was the only highway. Soon small steamboats traveled the river, the first was the Governor Mason launched in 1837. Steamboats moved passengers and freight up and down the river until the advent of the railroad, which spelled doom for river travel.



Today it’s difficult to visualize the Grand River as the only means of transportation. Pioneer settlers made use of Native American canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs. In 1836, larger craft, scows and pole boats came into use. These were succeeded by small steamboats.

The first steamboat on the Grand was the Governor Mason in 1837. Far from a financial success, the Mason was driven ashore and wrecked in May of 1840 near the entrance to Muskegon Harbor.

Also launched that year was the steamer Owashtanong, built in Grand Haven. Called the “poorhouse” because of her shoddy construction, she ran for only a year or two. She was finally stripped and left to decay at Grand Haven.

Every few years a new steamboat was placed in service on the river to vie for passenger and freight traffic. However, due in part to the perils of navigation, most of the vessels had short lives.

Prior to 1900, close to 70 steamers had plied the waters of the Grand, making trips east to Lyons and west to Lake Michigan. The Spy, Odd Fellow, Humming Bird, Olive Branch, and Forest Queen were among the more colorful names of steamboats that tooted and chugged their way through the placid waters of the Grand River.

The railroads spelled doom for river travel. After 1900 feeble attempts were made to revive this ancient mode of transportation, but none were financially successful.

Full Details

TitleHighways of Yesterday
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; Grand River; travel; steamboats; railroads; highways
Pubdate StringJuly 25th, 2012

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