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Grand Rapids in 1856

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The Nelson Elms

The Nelson Elms

March 3rd, 2014

Two fine elm trees stood on Bostwick St. At least three feet in diameter, and sixty feet high, their wide tops shaded both sides of the street. The city was ready to cut them down.


“In days gone by there were some wonderful groves of white elm on the west side of the Grand River. The trees extended along the river from Sixth St. to Mill Creek, and another grove stood south of Fulton St. All about the valley were groups or single fine specimens. The groves in their autumn yellow rivaled the sun in the haze of Indian summer.

Two fine elm trees stood in front of the homes of James and Ezra Nelson on Bostwick St. They were at least three feet in diameter near the ground, perhaps sixty feet high, and their wide tops shaded both sides the street. When Bostwick St. hill was being graded the city council directed the “highway man” to remove the trees in order to grade the roadway.

A storm of protest erupted from all sides, but had little effect on the council. The result, a showdown between the highwaymen and the trees. The Nelsons, who were good sized men, loaded rock salt and unground black pepper into their guns and stood guard day and night.

So the ax was exchanged for shovels, the ground about the trees was rounded up, and the roadway graded on either side.”  As Charles Belknap related in his 1922 book, Yesterdays of Grand Rapids. “We still have the Nelson Elms gracing the city highway today.”

Alas, for our “today" graceful elms no longer shade our streets.

Full Details

TitleThe Nelson Elms
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; trees; elms; James and Ezra Nelson
Pubdate StringMarch 3rd, 2014

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