West Michigan as we know it, took shape, literally, in the last ice age when glaciers carved the Great Lakes, dumped the area's rich soils, and left a glacial river valley that later formed the course for the river Owashtanong, as the Grand was known by the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Pattawatomi tribes.
In the centuies to come, small bands of those Indians traveled the river and the shores of the big lake. European explorers, priests, trappers, and traders followed their routes.
Then, at the start of the 19th century, Joseph and Madeline La Framboise established the first trading post in West Michigan, on the banks of the Grand River near what is now Ada.
The rest, as they say, is history - the story of West Michigan.
1806: After the death of her husband, Medaline La Franboise carries on, expanding fur trading posts to the west and north. La Framboise, of French and Indian descent, would later merge her successful operations with the American Fur Company and retire, at age 41, to Mackinac Island.
1826: Detriot-born Louis Campau builds his cabin, trading post, and blackmith shop on the east bank of the Grand River near the rapids. Campau returned to Detroit and came back a year later with his wife and $5,000 of trade goods.
1831: The federal survey of the Northwest Territory reaches the Grand River and sets the boundaries for Kent County, names after prominent New York jurist James Kent. Campau purchases 72 acres for $90 and names his tract Grand Rapids. Rival Lucius Lyon, who purchased the rest of the prime land, called his the Village of Kent.
1836: John Ball, representing a group of New York land speculators, bypasses Detroit for a better deal in Grand Rapids. Ball declares the Grand River valley "the promised land, or at least the most promising one for my operations."
1847: Hezekiah Smith, a free black man, purchases land in Spring Lake from the state and plans to establish a colony of free blacks. Threats from white settlers force Smith to disband the colony three years later.
1850: The village of Grand Rapids, with a population of almost 3,000, becomes the city of Grand Rapids.
1870: Frances Rutherford is appointed Grand Rapids city physician, he first woman in the United States o hold such a title. She specializes in gynecology and pediatrics, and is on the staff of the Unioun Benevolent Association Hospital, which would become Blodgett Memorial Medical Center.
1872: Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church is established, on of the early worship groups foundaed by the local black community. It was renames the First Community African Methodist Episcopal Church.
1889: Upon the death of her husband, Anna Sutherland Bissell becomes cheif executive of the Bissell carpet sweeper corporation. She would alter initiate progressive labor policies, including workman's compensation insurance and pension plans, lond before they were industry standards.
1899: Hattie Beverly becomes the first black teacher in Grand Rapids. After two years of training in the district's cadet program, whe is hired to teach at Congress Elementary School. Beverly would have an impressive but short career, dying at age 30 after contracting tuberculosis.
1902: A conglomeration of Grand Rapids furniture manufacturers adopts a trademark giving the Furniture City a unified national presence.
1905: Winter storms cause nearly a dozen shipwreaks on Lake Michigan, with the most serious the beaching of the Chicago-based steamer Argo. The Argo is pushed into Holland's north pier by 65 mph winds on Nov. 24, forcing a treacherous rescue of 22 passengers.
1905: Roberta Griffith, who had moved to Grand Rapids to be with her mother, compiles the first Braille dictionary. Griffith, who had lost her sight as a child, later would create Braille classes in public schools and train Braille teachers.
1906: Valeria Lipczynski becomes the first women elected to the Polish National Alliance Board of Directors. She co-founded the Wairus Society, the first Polish organization in West Michigan, and helped establish three are Catholic churches: St Mary's, St. Adalbert's, and St. Isidore's. Valeria and her husband, John, sponsered more than 40 Polish immigrant families who settled in the city.
1907: Shocked by "enourmous" Sunday liqour sales at Reed Lake establishments, new prosecutore John S. McDonald vows to enforce the law that bans peddling booze on the Sabbath.
1910: Grand Rapids' most famous athlete, stanley Ketchel, is shot in the back by the husband of a woman who was cooking Ketchel's breakfast. "The Michigan Assassin," middleweight champion of the world, fought - officially - 61 times fro 1903 to 1910 and lost just four, including to heavyweight champion Jack Johnson who outweighed him by 40 pounds.
1912: Peter M. Wege discovers a cost-effective way to fashion office safes from right-angle sheet steel and recruits investors to launch the Metal Office Furniture Company. Wege's company ultimately becomes Steelcase Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of metal office furniture.
1919: George Smith, a printer from Detroit, helps found the Grand Rapids' chapter of the National Assosiation for the Advancement of Colored People.
1922: Walter W. Coe, a local baseball celebrity and war vetern, becomes the Grand Rapids' Police Department's first black patrolman. Assigned to police the cities black neighborhoods, Coe would win several promotions and, in 1956, be named a captain.
The rest of the century to come...
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