The Grand Rapids Historical Commission was established because one person, retired newspaper reporter Z.Z. Lydens, dedicated himself to the idea that the city needed to bring its published history up to date. The best-known previous history of the city had been written in 1891 when another newspaper man, Albert Baxter, produced a 900 page tome titled History of the City of Grand Rapids, and there were many who agreed with Lydens the time was right for an update.
Lydens lobbied Mayor Stanley Davis and members of the Grand Rapids City Commission for the appointment of a group to produce a new history. On September 11, 1962 Davis appointed Lydens to a newly created Historical Commission, along with Aquinas College professor Lewis Clingman, Gerald Elliott of the Grand Rapids Press, and seven others. Their charge was to research, write and publish a history of the city, and 'establish a reference library and collection of source material.1
The Historical Commission raised nearly $100,000 in public and private funds for the project. With these funds and numerous volunteer workers, Lydens directed research in books and manuscripts, indexed newspapers, sought elusive photographs, and reviewed drafts of chapters for the book. In 1966 the first copies of The Story of Grand Rapids rolled off the presses."2
Since then the Historical Commission has published many books and videos about Grand Rapids, its history and its people. Now we are entering the modern electronic and digital age in order to enlarge not only our audience but the range of topics related to the history of Grand Rapids and its people. We hope to see the Historical Commission website represent everyone who has made Grand Rapids a city that is proud of its history. The website is the work of Commission Members, Friends, and the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. The Commission is grateful for the special leadership, dedication, and inspiration of Commission Member Diana E. Barrett in the development of the website at the beginning and through the years.
Members of the Commission are appointed by the Mayor and City Commission to serve for three years with renewal for another three years.
1 The Lydens Files at the Grand Rapids Public Library have been categorized and indexed for searching various records and newspapers located in History and Special Collections Department of the library.
2 Olson, Gordon. "History in the Public Interest: The Story of the Grand Rapids Historical Commission." 2002