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Grand Rapids History, Michigan

Grand Rapids, the second-largest city in the US state of Michigan (after Detroit), has a pretty long history and pre-history. We will first take a look at the pre-history of the region. The valley of the Grand River had once-upon-a-time been home of Native Americans who followed Hopewell traditions. By 1700, Ottawa Indians had set up a number of villages by the Grand River. Speaking of Europeans, the first Europeans to arrive were mostly traders and some missionaries. A couple of mixed lineage, Joseph and Madeline La Framboise, set up the first trading-post in the Grand Rapids region (in present-day Ada-site). The Baptist minister, Isaac McCoy, had the unique privilege of becoming the first permanent white settler of the region when he moved into the region in 1825.

Grand Rapids History – 1826 to 1900

1826 marked the beginning of Grand Rapids history for it had officially been recognized as the date of foundation of the city – actually, this is the year that the Detroit-born Frenchman, Louis Campau, built his trading-post on the east bank of the Grand River. Although he went back to Detroit that year, he shifted his base permanently a year later and settled in the Grand Rapids region along with his family.

In 1831, following the federal survey, Campau purchased 72 acres of land in the region (the entire stretch of present-day downtown area) from the federal government for $90 and named it Grand Rapids. This one incident turned the course of Grand Rapids history. Soon the place grew much in demand; as more immigrants started settling down, the community expanded. By the time the settlement was incorporated as a village in 1938, it was a neighborhood measuring about three-quarters of a mile. Exactly seven years later, when the first official census was conducted, the village had spread further to about 4 miles and had a population of just over 1500.

Grand Rapids was incorporated as a city in 1850. Following its incorporation as a city, Grand Rapids underwent all-round development. The city’s planned transportation network soon connected it to most Michigan-cities from Detroit to Kalamazoo and even Lansing. By the 1870s, the city’s furniture manufacturing industry brought it the repute of the ‘Furniture City’. The 1880s saw the nation’s first hydro-electric generation plant come into operation in the western edges of Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids History – 20th Century Onwards

Changes and development were constant in Grand Rapids as it entered the 20th century. The city became a part of the genesis of the automobile industry – the Austin Automobile Company was based here from 1901 to 1921. By 1916, Grand Rapids replaced its old aldermanic systems with a commission-manager form of government and this proved a very positive move. A decade later, Grand Rapids started the first scheduled air service in USA (with Stout Air Services running flights from Grand Rapids to Detroit.) In 1945, Grand Rapids became the first US-city to add fluoride to drinking water.

These are only a few instances of the city’s achievements in the course of its history. Present-day Grand Rapids continues to dominate furniture production (especially office-furniture), but today it has a more diverse economy. The city’s status has improved further and it is now the county seat of the Kent County.

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