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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

History Grand Rapids by the Grand Rapids Historical Commission


Photo Essays by Categories

Our People

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Discover the rich mix of people that have shaped Grand Rapids. The original inhabitants, nineteenth-century arrivals, those who came in the twentieth century, and our twenty-first-century newcomers. Learn how work and workplace have changed since the beginning of the 19th and 20th centuries. Look for changes in clothing, recreation, travel, family and gender roles as you observe family and community life.

Neighbors

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The earliest families who became neighbors of the Indians living along the Grand River were of French descent and Yankees from New York and New England. Then the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the granting of statehood in 1837, and the availability of land led to an influx of new residents to Michigan. By 1850 neighbors included Irish, Germans, Dutch, English, and Canadians; but there were fewer Indians.

Neighbors

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Livelihoods

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The Livelihoods section is devoted to Yankee entrepreneurs, German brewers, early cigar rollers, furniture makers who made Grand Rapids famous—all the working people who helped build the city.

Livelihoods

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Arts and Music

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Those with artistic ability were recording the local scene from the first settlement along the Grand River. Professionally trained artists first arrived mid-nineteenth century. Furniture designers, the artists whose arrival began at the end of that century and who helped put Grand Rapids on the map as “The Furniture Capital of America,” increased rapidly during the twentieth. The artists of today continue to contribute to the culture of the City on the Grand.

Arts and Music

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Urban Life

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Urban Life looks at changing and enduring traditions of family celebrations and holidays, play and entertainment, sporting events, the way we dress, and the groups we belong to.

Urban Life

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Service

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Individuals and organizations often dedicate themselves to serving their city and country. This section will be devoted to such service and the many ways and many levels on which it occurs from large military units to individual volunteers.

Service

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Our City

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Investigate neighborhoods, their churches, schools, businesses and how they’ve all changed from the 19th and 20th centuries. Explore the natural landscapes and discover how Grand River and the landscape have changed through the years. Learn about infrastructure and services such as bridges, roads, buildings, and transportation. Look at city government and agencies, education and emergency services.

Neighborhoods

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In the days before easy transportation neighborhoods were the center of activity. From birth to death much of daily living and working took place there. Many neighborhoods in Grand Rapids still bear their original names; others have been changed. Many have altered beyond recognition through growth, changing populations, and urban-renewal, while a few still bear familiar signs from earlier times.

Neighborhoods

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Environment

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The Grand River has always been a major part of the Grand Rapids environment. Indians then the first European settlers lived on its banks. Boats traveled up the river from Lake Michigan; it supplied our first electricity and served as a repository for our waste. It became the highway for logs as another part of our environment, the forests, was changed by the burgeoning lumber industry.

Environment

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Architecture

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Explore the architecture of the city, ranging from earlier times to the present, from modest domestic structures to large monuments of government, social organizations, business, and religious life.

Architecture

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Infrastructure

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Infrastructure runs the gamut from early frame buildings and cherished icons that are long gone to those currently being constructed: bridges, roads, highways, and expressways; schools, hospitals, and goverment buildings; and the organizational structures that keep the city safe and functioning.

Infrastructure

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Government

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Grand Rapids received its charter as a village from the state of Michigan in 1838. Since then city government has undergone many changes and many trials and tribulations, all contributing to a vibrant city history.

Government

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