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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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The Wandering Court House

by Don McDonald

published: October 16th, 2009

In his 1891 History of the City of Grand Rapids Albert Baxter used the description ‘wandering court house’ because the county courts had been held in so many locations around Grand Rapids prior to the construction of the Kent County Court House in 1891. This is the remarkable story of the wandering architectural plans of that court house designed by Grand Rapids architect Sidney J. Osgood. (Find more information to your right in Related Items)

In January of 1968 Don McDonald was retained by Kent County to help with the interior design of the present building. As all of the departments of the county were "cleaning house" getting ready to move, a lot of stuff was being tossed out.

Among the items tossed in the dumpster were three rolls of drawings wrapped in a black oilcloth covering and tied with a shoestring. McDonald salvaged them, took them to a conference room, inspected all and gave them to Mr. Andrus, County Manager, who returned them to the proper department.

A week or so later McDonald saw the same rolls in the dumpster. Salvage time again. The manager and he decided that they best find a safe place for the drawings. They ended up in Mc Donald's office where he encased them in a long metal tube, labeled them, and put them in his storage cabinet. Sometime in 1969, he returned them to Kent County at the new building for saving and safety. All three rolls were still inside the metal tube where he had placed them.

In 1995, almost thirty years later, McDonald received a phone call from his daughter telling him about the GREAT find for her living room; four very large drawings of an old building in Grand Rapids. She had purchased them from a "dealer" in paper products at a flea market. Once he learned the identity of the building--the Kent County Court House--he asked if there was a metal tube and more drawings.

She returned to the dealer the following week, and sure enough, he had the tube plus more sheets. A deal was made and she acquired the tube and more drawings. Unfortunately, there were only two rolls of drawings not three; one was missing.

Since that time the drawings, now matted and properly framed, have traveled to Okinawa, Japan; Memphis TN; and Maryland. In 2009 they have returned home at last, to the Grand Rapids Archives. Truly a wandering Court House.


Books Available from the History and Special Collections Dept. of the Grand Rapids Public Library

  • Baxter, Albert. History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan (With an appendix--History of Lowell, Michigan). New York, Grand Rapids: Munsell & company, 1891.
  • Fisher, Ernest B. Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: Historical Account of Their Progress from First Settlement to the Present Time. Chicago: Robert O. Law Company, 1918.
  • Goss, Dwight. History of Grand Rapids and Its Industries. Chicago: C. F. Cooper, 1906.


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