WMGS-Blog

Western Michigan Genealogical Society

Browsing Posts published by Don

– 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. continue reading…

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.”

continue reading…

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…

Further away from West Michigan, enjoy the trip to other parts the Great Lakes State to see these significant repositories. 

Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Historical Library
University of Michigan, 1150 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109-2113 
Phone: 734-764-3482; E-mail: 
Hours:  M–F: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sat.: 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 
E-mail: contact us

“From the gubernatorial records of Jennifer Granholm to the letters of a Michigan cavalryman serving under Custer, the Bentley has countless materials related to state of Michigan history. Accessing these powerful holdings reveals the historical sources that shaped the state’s past—and its present.”

Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University,
Mount Pleasant, Mich. 48859
Phone: 989-774-3352; E-mail: clarke@cmich.edu 
Hours: M-F: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; 
Certain Saturdays: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (check website) continue reading…

We’ve assembled a list of important repositories & archives located in Michigan. Here are three you’ll find that are an hour’s drive or less of Grand Rapids. 

Archives of Michigan 
702 W Kalamazoo St., Lansing, Mich. 48915
Phone: 517-373-3559. Phone Hours M-F: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 
Research Hours M-F: 1-5 p.m. Sa: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Email: contact us

“The Archives of Michigan is responsible for preserving the records of Michigan government and other public institutions. The collections also include documents, maps, photographs and film from private individuals and organizations.”

Kris Rzepczynski -Abrams Foundation Historical Collection tour

Kris Rzepczynski leading a tour thru the open stacks of the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection – Photo by Roger Moffat

continue reading…

1845 map of Ottawa County

1845 map of Ottawa County from”Grand Haven and Ottawa County.” Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

The Grand Rapids History & Special Collection Department was established in 1904 as the Ryerson Library-was being completed. When planning this “new” library, board members ensured that a “Michigan Room” be set aside in which to preserve collections. Currently, the archives contain over 450 processed collections, accessed with a request slip. My favorite is the photo collection, with over one million images & negatives. Check grpl.org/history for the list. The collection of maps is another favorite of mine and important in any family’s history. There one can find Lewis G. Stuart’s collection of maps of the Old Northwest Territory.

By the early 1950s, this archival collection had grown to include a great amount of local and Michigan collections such as the papers of local surveyor, politician and land developer Lucius Lyon, plus the personal papers of John Ball, who was a local settler, educator, surveyor, lawyer, politician, and early promoter of the city of Grand Rapids.

The library has obituary files and vital record indexes, as well as a wide variety of genealogical periodicals, including some that are from national sources. Volunteers from Western Michigan Genealogical Society have helped in many areas, this one in particular. continue reading…