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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Corner of Monroe and Division, Then and Now


published: April 6th, 2009

In 1888 Monroe and Division were unpaved; horses, wagons and carriages filled the streets; few buildings were more than three stories tall; and overhead wires supported city phone services and street lighting. Over the years streetcars appeared, several tall buildings lined Monroe Ave., paved streets accommodated motor vehicles, and street lighting was modernized. The air-conditioned, modern Herpolsheimer Department Store, which appeared in the early 1950s, has evolved into a building housing government offices for local, state, and national agencies. (Find more information to your right in Related Items)

This 1888 view shows the Peck Building at the NW corner and one at the far right that still exist with changes that are mostly cosmetic. Awnings, an early form of air-conditioning, were used on most buildings to keep them cool during the heat of the day. Note the new telephone pole being installed just to the right of the intersection, and the early streetlight that hangs in the center of the intersection.

In 1896 bicycles were becoming popular as a means of transportation during warm weather. Streetcars graced the streets of Grand Rapids is various forms until the 1930s when they were replaced by buses. Monroe has evolved from a bustling downtown, retail business area serving the entire city to one with many restaurants and shops that serve a more limited clientele. Monroe Center became a pedestrian mall for a time in the 1980s, but is currently open to vehicles.

By 1928 the downtown streets were paved and automobiles line the streets as they do today, and traffic is busy enough to require a police officer at the intersection prior to the installation of traffic lights. Many multi-storied buildings have appeared along Monroe Ave. and most of them still exist today.

The 1952 view shows a major change at the intersection of Monroe and Division. The modern Herpolsheimer Department Store has replaced the Porter building. Later, Monroe Ave., which originally met Fulton St. just east of this photo, ended at Division Ave. to create a pedestrian mall at the Civil War Monument. The Herpolsheimer building became an indoor mall for a time, but extensive remodeling transformed it into a building housing government agencies.

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