Grand Rapids, Michigan

Nestled on the banks of the legendary Grand River in Western Michigan, approximately 30 miles east of Lake Michigan, is the bustling City of Grand Rapids. A home to over 200,000 residents, Grand Rapids is the second largest city in the state in terms of population size. It is the county seat of Kent County, as well as the center of the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Grand Rapids was founded as a trading post in 1827, on a region that was once the home of Hopewell Indians. Its founding father was Louis Campau, a shrewd French businessman who traded with Ottawa Indians. The village, which named after the rapids near the Grand River, was incorporated in 1838. From its humble start as a 72-acre village, Grand Rapids had rapidly evolved into a lumbering center, then it became national leader in fine furniture production, and now it is a world leader in office furniture production. For these reasons, Grand Rapids has earned the nickname "Furniture City".

Grand Rapids' economy is also fueled by health care, aviation, auto, and manufacturing industries. Three Fortune 500 companies and five of the world's largest furniture makers are headquartered in the city. The city's most famous son is Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the US.

Grand Rapids is an attractive city for both local residents as well as tourists. It has something to appeal to everyone's senses. It is also an area of history and culture.

Grand Rapids History

About 2000 years ago, Hopewell Indians occupied areas along the rapids near the Grand River. The burial mounds they left can still be seen southwest of the city. In the late 18th century, Ottawa Indians built villages on the west bank of the Grand River, at the site where present-day Grand Rapids is located. In the early years of the 19th century, French and British missionaries and fur traders arrived. The Ottawa Indians traded fur pelts for textiles and metals of the Europeans. The missionaries, on the other hand, built mission buildings.

In 1826, a French fur trader named Louis Campau arrived. Campau opened a trading post on the east side of the river bank. Although Campau was not the region's first permanent white settler (a Baptist minister named Isaac McCoy arrived a year earlier), he is credited for founding Grand Rapids when he bought 72 acres of land (what is now the downtown business district) from the federal government for $90 in 1833. He named the area the Village of Grand Rapids. In 1831, land surveyor Lucius Lyon acquired the area north of Campau's village and named it the Village of Kent, causing a dispute with Campau. In 1838, the Michigan Legislature settled the dispute by combining the two plats. In 1850, Grand Rapids was incorporated as a city.

Abundance of timber growing on inexpensive fertile land drew more settlers to the region. Logging became the primary activity in the city. When the Civil War ended, many soldiers came to Grand Rapids to work as lumberjacks. The cut logs were floated down the river to the city's mills, guiding them with pike poles and cant hooks. This practice, however, caused many damaging river log jams. The biggest log jam took place in 1883 when as many 80 million board feet of runaway logs jammed against a railroad bridge, eventually breaking it. This event ended the logging on the Grand River.

As early as 1838, craftsmen in Grand Rapids were already making furniture using fine woods. In 1876, Grand Rapids' furniture craftsmanship gained international recognition after the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. By 1890, the city had many of the nation's largest furniture companies.

By the turn of the century, Grand Rapids' population had grown to 90,000. The two world wars of the century and the Great Depression hit Grand Rapids' furniture making industry hard. Post-World War II, the city experienced a boom in logging and furniture making again. In the mid 1990s, Grand Rapids poured hundreds of millions of dollars into revitalization project that include building of new establishments and restoration or refurbishing of old ones. Some of the products of this renaissance project include the Van Andel Institute, the De Vos Place, the Millenium Park, and the Grand Center.

About Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids is a city that is deeply invested in art, and this is reflected everywhere - from its buildings and sculptures right down to its food. As art is a reflection of a people's culture, a walk around the city can give visitors a glimpse into the past and present of the Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids' cityscape is an interesting co-existence of historic and modern buildings. The juxtaposition of old and new architectural styles gives the city its unique appeal. The Heritage Hill located near downtown Grand Rapids is one of the best places to learn the many architectural styles the city offers. Grand Rapids' oldest neighborhood, Heritage Hill is a collection of 1,300 residences representing 60 different architectural styles. Of most important historical value is the Meyer May House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908. All in all, Grand Rapids' city skyline is dominated by large buildings and tall skyscrapers. Some of the most notable ones are the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, the River House Condominiums, and the Plaza Towers.

A highlight of the city is Alexander Calder's large-scale outdoor sculpture, La Grande Vitesse ( "The Grand Rapids), which is installed at the Vanderburg Plaza. Another famous artwork is Joseph Kinnebrew's Fish Ladder, a sculpture on the Sixth Street dam. More works of Alexander Calder as well of other renowned sculptors such as Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin are displayed at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

Following the installation of Calder's of La Grande Vitesse in 1969, art enthusiast and volunteers had organized a Festival of the Arts. This annual three-day celebration, the largest of its kind in the US, initiates the city's summer season. The festival features live performances, food booths, art demonstrations, and many more. It is followed by ethnic festivals - African American, Irish, Polish, Italian, German, Latino, and Native American - that are held every weekend of the summer. Summer season concludes with a 3-day music festival called Celebration on the Grand. Organized as a celebration of the great developments in the city, it starts the Thursday following Labor Day. In October, Polish residents host Pulaski Days, a celebration of their Polish heritage. Every autumn, an average of 250,000 artists and spectators arrive in the city to join ArtPrize, the largest art competition in the world.

Grand Rapids lifestyle can be experienced downtown, where there are plenty of restaurants, theaters, boutiques, malls, coffee shops, and clubs. All these combine to give Grand Rapids a vibrant dining, shopping, and entertainment scene.

The cosmopolitan's impressive cityscape is matched by an equally impressive outdoors. Grand Rapids has plenty of natural splendors for fishing, hiking, swimming, biking, or hunting.

About Kent County, Michigan

Kent County is located on the Grand River Valley in Western Michigan. The county was incorporated by the territorial legislature on March 24, 1836, with Grand Rapids as the elected county seat. It was named after James Kent, a jurist from New York who represented Michigan during the Toledo Strip dispute with the state of Ohio. Today, the county is composed of twenty-one townships, nine cities, and five villages. Kent County is part of the Grand Rapids-Wyoming Metropolitan Statistical Area. It serves as the transportation gateway of Western Michigan, as it holds the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

The Grand River, the longest river in the state of Michigan, runs through the county. The river played a role in shaping the growth and development of the county and the cities within its boundaries. In the 1800s, the valley beside served as center for fur trade. The Grand River was used to transport logs cut from forests to sawmill in the mid 19th century. The construction of sawmills and abundance of timber then stimulated large-scale furniture manufacturing by the end of the century. The Grand River has three tributaries in the county: Flat River, Thornapple River, and Rogue River.

Kent County also has abundance of lakes; total count is 158 large and small ones. These lakes all have a moderating effect on the region's climate, such that Kent County rarely gets seasonal extremes.

Local economy: Kent County is dubbed the economic and manufacturing capital of West Michigan. Many of the US' biggest corporations have their headquarters in Kent County, including Steelcase, Alticor, Amway, Spectrum Health, and Meijer. Major industries in the county include manufacturing of furniture and office equipment, automotive parts, and heating controls; banking; hotel and accommodations; retail and merchandise; health care and insurance.

Arts and Entertainment: Kent County offers a diverse range of indoor and outdoor entertainment. The County has plenty of hiking/biking trails, parks, theaters, entertainment venues, museums, and many more. The Frederik Meijer Gardens, a cultural landmark in the state, and Heritage Hill, one of the oldest urban districts in the country, are here. Other significant buildings in the county are the 12,000 seat Van Andel Arena, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the Voigt House Victorian Museum.