WMGS-Blog

Western Michigan Genealogical Society

– By Mary Alt

After the Civil War, Ottawa County officials found they had veterans who needed a home. In May, a documentary film on The Ottawa County Poor Farm will have its premiere in Holland and Grand Haven.

When the Ottawa County Poor Farm received its first resident in 1866, no one could have imagined the benefits it would provide to residents of Ottawa County over the decades. The Poor Farm was a haven for indigent people who, due to the happenstance of birth, misfortune, or poverty, were in dire straits and needed a place to call home.

Ottawa County Poor Farm

Residents and staff pose outside the farm’s infirmary house, which was demolished in the 1990s. Courtesy of Coopersville Area Historical Society

Inspired by the success of the Poor Farm Sesquicentennial Celebration in October of 2016, Marjie Viveen, a local historian, worked on a documentary film featuring the facility and will premiere May 2019 in Holland and Grand Haven. continue reading…

Pieces of my family history are “news” in the Grand Rapids Press. This snippet published in 1950 is an interview with my grandfather, Kenneth Bennett. Both he and my grandmother were rural delivery mail route carriers. My earliest memories of him involve the many cars he owned and I was fascinated how he could drive from the middle of the front seat. After finding this article, I have a brand new respect for what he did for a living.

Kenneth Bennett

PREPARES FOR THE OPEN ROAD – Grand Rapids Press Photographer

PREPARES FOR THE OPEN ROAD – the still common notion that the job of carrying mail to farm folk is hardly more than a pleasant ride through the countryside is all wrong, according to Kenneth Bennett, who runs an RFD route out of postal station A on Bridge-st. For him it’s a 50-mile string of starts and stops, a potential 450 of them, six days a week, with a load of mail that may run to 800 pounds. Even from the middle of the seat, which is the way rural carriers drive, the long reaching to the mail boxes is hard on spines and shoulders.

Rural Mail Carriers Vexed by Sore Backs

If you see a car coming down a highway with the driver right of center on the front seat, you probably are looking at a rural letter carrier going about his business of getting the mail through.

For the peculiar way of doing of the rural letter carrier there is an obvious explanation for those who are curious. Automobiles have left hand drives by American convention. Rural mail boxes are on the right side of the road by governmental regulations. Sitting conventionally behind the wheel at the left side, a carrier would have to have arms at least five feet long in reach through the window on the right side to get at all those boxes.

Dislikes Right Hand Drive.

Actually, according to Kenneth Bennett of 947 Pine-av., NW, who operates a rural route out of postal station A on Bridge-st., NW, and is vice president of the Michigan Rural Letter Carriers, automobiles with right hand drives are made especially for rural carriers, but have found little acceptance. The steering wheel interferes with the handling of mail and furthermore the carriers would have to take heavy loss on resale of the cars. So the cars remain conventional, even if the use of them is “off center.” A rocking seat has been invented to ease the leaning out of the right windows, but Bennett said he wasn’t sold on that either.

The result of the contortion required to get at the mall boxes is a fairly serious occupational hazard, Bennett observes. Spines develop trouble and so do shoulders and have to be “favored.” One rural mail carrier can spot another rural mail carrier as easily as one bowlegged cowboy spots another bowlegged cowboy, says he.

Blesses Self-Shifting.

The automatic transmission of today’s automobile proved a blessing to the rural mailman. Bennett demonstrates how working the accelerator and the brake with the left foot keeps him in fairly up-right position as compared with the manual transmission in which both feet had to function to contort the whole body into a “pretzel.”

Bennett said he drives 50 miles daily on his route six days a week except for the three vacation weeks a year and has 450 stops on his route. That, in Bennett’s opinion, should put an end to the notion that the job of delivering the mail in the country is a pleasant snap. Add getting up for work at 6 a. m. and add also the rugged days in winter when roads become blocked, says Bennett, and nothing is left of the “snap” notion.

Bennett had his car in a garage Friday afternoon for a small ticking sound that came and went. It proved not serious at all, but was typical of the tradition that the mail must go through.

“When I step into the car in the morning it has to start and it has to keep going all day.” said Bennett. “The department asks that and wants no excuses.”

Bennett said the common practice is for rural mail carriers to turn in their cars in for a new one every year. That way, he explained, it never is necessary to buy a new set of tires or to have repair bills pile up. At 8 cents a mile, which Uncle Sam allows, the chances of profit on the deal are not good, not at the present price of gasoline and odd repairs, Bennett makes clear.

“Have to Like People.”

Bennett likes his work. It is almost a mission with him.

“You have to like people and you have to like giving service” says he. “If you don’t like people and to do things for people, don’t try to become a rural letter carrier.”

A rural letter carrier under the rules cannot leave his car which actually is a traveling post office that sells stamps, issues money orders and insures mail and does almost all the things a regular postal station does.

There is one hazard against which the rural mail carrier constantly is on guard. If he weren’t the mail wouldn’t go through. That hazard is the retired or leisure-type fellow with time to talk. Once he gets his elbow on the sill of the car window the carrier is in trouble.

“They lean pretty hard and if you start the car you have them rolling in the ditch and-that wouldn’t be good,” said Bennett.

Page 26                       The Grand Rapids Press                     Saturday, July 22, 1950

At the Western Michigan Genealogical Society monthly meeting on Saturday 10 November, 2018, longtime WMGS member and volunteer Shirley DeBoerCG  was presented with the Michigan Genealogical Council’s Lucy Mary Kellogg Award.

MGC President Katherine Willson and Awards Chair Chelsea Johnson with Lucy Mary Kellogg Award winner Shirley DeBoer.

See below for picture gallery. Photos by Lisa Christensen and Roger Moffat.

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by:  Jeanne Rollberg

When convention goers gathered in Grand Rapids for the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference earlier in May, many of us also explored Kent County resources and nearby places in pursuit of our own families’ histories. In Grand Rapids, a priest helped me find the luck of the Irish. continue reading…

DeVos Place has a underground parking ramp. It is on Michigan St across from the downtown US Post Office. You can park in that lot if you are Volunteering and ask the attendant the best price to pay,depending on estimated hours to park. If only for a couple of hours you might take a ticket and pay 1.50 per 1/2 hour, if longer it might be better to pay upfront for the day or event price which can range from $10-$12.

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The welcome mats are rolled out at DeVos Place

Decor reflects Secchia family history and Italian immigrant experience

One local spot about fifteen-minutes from DeVos Place is Pietro’s Italian Restaurant. A sentimental favorite in Grand Rapids originally opened in 1980 by Peter Secchia (former Ambassador to Italy from 1989-1993), the restaurant is named after his Italian immigrant grandfather who came to the United States in 1906 armed with family recipes. 

Pietro’s has an old-world charm combined with a great menu. You can order traditional Italian favorites like homemade spaghetti and meatballs, Fettucine Alfredo, lasagna, eggplant Parmesan or different offerings such as hand-breaded tilapia or crab stuffed mushroom caps. The food served here is made from scratch and purchased from local farmers whenever possible. continue reading…

The Mitten Brewing Company, formerly Engine House #9 at 527 Leonard St., NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Courtesy Mary Rasch Alt

The Mitten Brewing Co., at 527 Leonard St. NW in Grand Rapids embraces history, especially the history of its own building. Owners Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus, seen in the photo with their wives and Oprah, chose the historic Engine House No. 9 as the home for their brewery in 2012 and have spent a good amount of time restoring the building to honor its past.

The street level taproom is where the wagons and steam engines were housed, while the brew house and kitchen were the stables for the horses. The upstairs taproom was the living quarters. It was a fire house from 1890 to 1966.

Courtesy Mary Rasch Alt

The Mitten is a vintage baseball-themed microbrewery/pizzeria/restaurant with a focus on community involvement and charitable giving. Andrus and Trierweiler were dedicated homebrewers who saw an opportunity to broaden the city’s craft beer scene and also have an impact on the community at large. continue reading…

Grand Rapids History & Special Collections

Grand Rapids Public Library – Main, 111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids, Mich. 49503
Phone: 616-988-5400; E-mail: Contact us
Hours: Sun 1-5p.m.; M-Th 9a.m.-9p.m. F-Sat 9a.m.-6p.m.

“The Grand Rapids History & Special Collections area of the library, including the archival collections, is one of the largest collections of historical [& genealogical] material in the state. Included are more than 30,000 books and periodicals, plus holdings on microfilm. Collecting emphasis is on the Grand Rapids and Kent County area, with additional sources on Western Michigan, Michigan and the Old Northwest. County and state histories, atlases & maps, family histories & biographical information, census data, city directories, local newspapers on microfilm, and vertical files are just some of the items to be found.”

City Archives & Research Center (Grand Rapids)

City Archives and Research Center
223 Washington Street SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Phone 616-456-4127 or 616-456-3114
Email mellis@grcity.us or awright@grcity.us

We are open to the public by appointment only. Our hours are Monday – Friday from 8am until 5pm.

City Archives & Records Center n Grand Rapids

City Archives & Records Center in Grand Rapids

“The City Archives and Research Center stores all the City’s government records. We make sure they’re preserved and accessible to citizens and employees to research.”

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It is springtime on “The Ridge” and the orchards are in bloom. 

The Ridge is an agricultural area northwest of Grand Rapids. This time of the year is the most beautiful as the orchards are in bloom with apple, peach, pear and plum trees setting their crop for the year. The agricultural area northwest of Grand Rapids is called “The Ridge”. For many generations on the farms, May is the month of bloom in all the orchards.

Apple Bloom from The Ridge

Apple Bloom from The Ridge. Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

There are three township historical commissions on The Ridge that met for Christmas two years ago to share their work and ideas on their historical collections.

Larry Carter, Sparta Twp. Historical Commission, was so impressed with how interesting, productive and fun it was to share within this group, that he suggested they meet quarterly. It was unanimous, everyone agreed, getting together on a regular basis has been good for everyone involved. continue reading…