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.

Many people have been kind enough to share their family histories with the library. This department collects and maintains a large number of histories ranging from bound books to single page family tree charts.

Jacobean chair from the Shakesperiana club collection ca. 1915-1925. Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

Grand Rapids is “the furniture city.” The library has a premier collection of books, periodicals and catalogs started in 1904 when the library purchased every furniture title available from the French book Trade Exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair! Hundreds of volumes have been added, making this collection local, national, and international in scope.

The Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department is located on Level  4 of the Main Library. 111 Library St., NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503. Items of historical significance from all of the Grand Rapids Public Library branches are sent to the downtown library. This library offers one hour of free validated parking for patrons available in the gated lot next to the library. Parking is free on weekends. Validate your ticket at check out or at the information desk.

For more information: 616-988-5400 or Email questions to: localhistory@grpl.org

Regular Hours
Monday – Thursday  (9:00 am – 9:00 pm)
Friday – Saturday  (9:00 am – 6:00 pm)
Sunday (1:00 pm – 5:00 pm)


1-hour of free validated parking in the gated lot next to the Main Library. Parking rates are $1.10 per half hour during the week, free on weekends and for library events.

– Mary Rasch Alt (Article appears in Vol 64: Issue 1 of Michigana)