Named after the Grand River that runs through it, Grand Rapids, located thirty miles west of Lake Michigan, has boomed from what was once a tiny logging community into the teeming, industrial, and artistic metropolis it is today.  With a history not particularly grand nor rapid, the city’s past still draws many interesting parallels to that of the country as a whole.

Millennia ago the land of modern day Grand Rapids was tended by Hopewell Indians, their large burial mounds still preserved towards the southwest of the city.  In the early eighteenth century, the Ottawa tribe resided along the river, and continued to do so until the British and French invasions that would afflict natives from coast to coast.  In 1830, a French trader named Louis Campau purchased what is now the Grand Rapids’ downtown business district for ninety bucks from locals and the city was incorporated in 1850.

Timber sustained and expanded the area after the Civil War, as loggers and lumberjacks came to dominate the local economy.  It was an international exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, however, that put Grand Rapids on the map as a world leader in office furniture production, an economic specialty it retains to this day.   Following the lead of the rest of the country, Grand Rapids went industrial, and in 1881 created the America’s first hydro-electric plant.  By the turn of the century its population neared 100,000.

Now that figure is double.  Grand Rapids is the hometown of former President Gerald Ford.  Today the city imports its lumber for furniture production since the state has been largely deforested.  Recent revitalization has occurred in its downtown region, a boom that included the construction of the Van Andel Arena, for sports and entertainment, and the Van Andel Institute, which works in medical research.  Such urban renewal suggest the city will have a future as rich and invigorated as its past.