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Grand Rapids is a city in the U.S. state of Michiganmarker. The city is located on the Grand River and is approximately 30 miles from Lake Michiganmarker. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 197,800, making it the 114th largest city in the United States. It is the county seat of Kent Countymarker, Michiganmarker , second largest city in the state (after Detroitmarker), and the largest city in West Michigan. Nicknamed the "Furniture City", the major industry in Grand Rapids once was furniture production. However, the city and surrounding communities are more economically diverse today, and contribute heavily to the health care, automotive, and consumer goods manufacturing industries, among others.


Pearl Street, located downtown, c.1885
Over 2,000 years ago, people associated with the Hopewell culture occupied the Grand River Valley. Around A.D. 1700, the Ottawa Indians moved into the area and founded several villages along the Grand River.

The Grand Rapids area was first settled by Europeans near the start of the 19th century by missionaries and fur traders. They generally lived in reasonable peace alongside the Ottawa tribespeople, with whom they traded their European metal and textile goods for fur pelts. Joseph and Madeline La Framboise established the first Indian/European trading post in West Michigan, and in present Grand Rapids, on the banks of the Grand River near what is now Adamarker. After the death of her husband in 1806, Madeline La Framboise carried on, expanding fur trading posts to the west and north. La Framboise, whose ancestry was a mix of French and Indian, later merged her successful operations with the American Fur Company. She retired, at age 41, to Mackinac Islandmarker. The first permanent white settler in the Grand Rapids area was a Baptist minister named Isaac McCoy who arrived in 1825.

In 1826 Detroit-born Louis Campau, the official founder of Grand Rapids, built his cabin, trading post, and blacksmith shop on the east bank of the Grand River near the rapids. Campau returned to Detroitmarker, then came back a year later with his wife and $5,000 of trade goods to trade with the native tribes. In 1831 the federal survey of the Northwest Territory reached the Grand River and set the boundaries for Kent County, named after prominent New York jurist James Kent. Campau became perhaps the most important settler when, in 1831, he bought 72 acres (291,000 m²) of what is now the entire downtown business district of Grand Rapids. He purchased it from the federal government for $90 and named his tract Grand Rapids. Rival Lucius Lyon, who purchased the rest of the prime land, called his the Village of Kent. Yankee immigrants and others began immigrating from New Yorkmarker and New Englandmarker in the 1830s.

In 1836 John Ball, representing a group of New York land speculators, bypassed Detroit for a better deal in Grand Rapids. Ball declared the Grand River valley "the promised land, or at least the most promising one for my operations."

By 1838, the settlement had incorporated itself as a village, and encompassed an area of approximately three-quarters of a mile (1 km) . The first formal census occurred in 1845, which announced a population of 1,510 and recorded an area of four square miles. The city of Grand Rapids was officially created on May 1, 1850, when the village of Grand Rapids voted to accept the proposed city charter. The population at the time was 2,686. By 1857, the city of Grand Rapids' boundary totaled 10.5 square miles (27 km²).

In 1880, the country's first hydro-electric generator was put to use on the city's west side.

Grand Rapids was an early participant in the automobile industry, serving as home to the Austin Automobile Company from 1901 until 1921.

In 1945, Grand Rapids became the first city in the United States to add fluoride to its drinking water.

Downtown Grand Rapids used to host four department stores: Herpolsheimer's (Lazarus in 1987), Jacobson's, Steketee's (founded in 1862), and Wurzburg's. Like most downtown regional department stores, they suffered the same fate of falling sales, caused largely by the flight to the suburbs, and consolidation in the 1980s and 1990s.

Transportation history


The first improved road into the city was completed in 1855. This road was a private, toll plank road from Kalamazoomarker through Waylandmarker, and was a primary route for freight and passengers until about 1868. This road connected to the outside world via the Michigan Central Railroad at Kalamazoo.


The first railroad into the city was the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad, which commenced service in 1858. In 1869 the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad connected to the city. The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad began passenger and freight service to Cedar Springsmarker, Michiganmarker on December 25, 1867 and to Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1870. This railroad expanded service to Muskegon in 1886. The Grand Rapids, Newaygo and Lake Shore Railroad completed a line to White Cloudmarker in 1875. In 1888 the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railroad connected with Grand Rapids.

Air Transportation

Grand Rapids was a home to one of the first regularly scheduled passenger airlines in the United States when Stout Air Services began flights from Grand Rapids to Detroitmarker (actually Ford Airportmarker in Dearbornmarker, Michiganmarker) on July 31, 1926.

Furniture city

During the second half of the 19th century, the city became a major lumbering center and the premier furniture manufacturing city of the United Statesmarker. For this reason it was nicknamed "Furniture City". After an international exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Grand Rapids became recognized worldwide as a leader in the production of fine furniture. National home furnishing markets were held in Grand Rapids for about 75 years, concluding in the 1960s. Today, Grand Rapids is considered a world leader in the production of office furniture.



Grand Rapids sits on the banks of the Grand River, where there was once a set of rapids, at an altitude of above sea level. It is approximately 30 miles (50 km) east of Lake Michiganmarker. The state capital of Lansingmarker lies about 60 miles (100 km) to the east-by-southeast, and Kalamazoomarker is about 50 miles (80 km) to the south.

Grand Rapids is divided into four quadrants which form a part of mailing addresses in the city. The quadrants are NE (northeast), NW (northwest), SE (southeast), and SW (southwest). Fulton Street serves as the north-south dividing line, while Division Avenue serve as the east-west dividing line separating these quadrants.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 45.3 sq mi (117.4 km²). 44.6 sq mi (115.6 km²) of it is land and 0.7 sq mi (1.8 km², 1.50%) of it is water (primarily the Grand River).


Grand Rapids experiences a range of weather conditions: its summers are warm and humid and its winters are cold and snowy. In fact, Grand Rapids is one of the snowiest cities in the United States with an average of 72" per year, much of it lake effect snow from Lake Michigan. The summers can get quite hot and the occurrence of heat waves is not uncommon.

The highest temperature in the area was recorded on July 13, 1936 at 108°F, and the lowest was recorded on February 14, 1899 at −24°F. During an average year, sunshine occurs in 46% of the daylight hours. Afternoon temperatures reach at least 65°F on 43% of days. On close to 40% of nights the temperature dips to below 32°F. On average, 11 days a year have temperatures that meet or exceed the 90 degree mark, and 9 days a year have temperatures that are 0 degrees or colder.

In April 1956, the western and northern portions of the city and its suburbs were hit by a violent tornado which locally produced F5 damage and killed 18.


Metropolitan area

As of a 2007 census estimate, the Grand Rapids-Wyoming Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had a population of 776,833, while the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland Combined Statistical Area (CSA) had a population of 1,323,095.


The Van Andel Museum Center
Beginning with the installation of Alexander Calder's abstract sculpture La Grande Vitesse, the very first financially funded project in the United States by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1969, the city has been host to the annual Festival of the Arts downtown since 1970, known to locals simply as Festival. During the first weekend in June, several blocks of downtown surrounding the Calder stabile in Vandenberg Plaza are closed to traffic. Festival features several stages with free live performances, food booths selling a variety of ethnic cuisine, art demonstrations and sales, and other arts-related activities. Organizers bill it as the largest all-volunteer arts festival in the United States, though this is a bit of a misnomer since sound companies and other professionals are paid for their services. Vandenberg Plaza also hosts various ethnic festivals that take place throughout the summer season.

Summer concludes with Celebration on the Grand the weekend after Labor Day featuring free concerts, West Michigan's largest fireworks display and food booths. Celebration on the Grand is an event that celebrates life in the Grand River valley.

In Grand Rapids in 1973, Main Street America celebrated mainstream art, as the city hosted Sculpture off the Pedestal, an exemplar of public sculpture exhibitions, which assembled 13 world-renowned artists, including Mark di Suvero, John Henry, Kenneth Snelson, Robert Morris, John Mason and Stephen Antonakos, in a single, citywide celebration. Sculpture off the Pedestal was a public/private partnership, which included financial support by the National Endowment for the Arts, educational support from the Michigan Council for the Arts and in-kind contributions from individuals, business and industry. Fund-raising events, volunteers and locals housing artists contributed to the public character of the event.

On November 10, 2004, the grand premier of the film The Polar Express was held in Grand Rapids, the movie's setting and home of the book's author Chris Van Allsburg, and its main character. The Meijer Gardensmarker created a Polar Express display which was part of their larger Christmas Around the World exhibit.

In mid-2004, the Grand Rapids Art Museummarker (GRAM) began construction on a new, larger building for its art museum collection, which opened in October, 2007 at 101 Monroe Center NW. The new building site faces downtown's Ecliptic by Maya Lin at Rosa Parks Circle. The Museum was completed in 2007 and became the first LEED certified Art Museum in the world.

ArtPrize, the world's largest art prize, completely voted on by the public, took place in Grand Rapids from September 23 through October 10, 2009. This event was set up by Richard DeVos and offered $449,000 in cash prizes. 1,262 artists exhibited their work for two weeks.


The Wealthy Street Theatre
Grand Rapids is the home of John Ball Parkmarker, Belknap Hillmarker, and the Gerald R.marker Ford Museummarker, the final resting place of the 38th President of the United States. Significant buildings in the downtown include the DeVos Place Convention Centermarker, Van Andel Arenamarker, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotelmarker, and now the JW Marriott Hotel. The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is located downtown, and houses art exhibits, a movie theater, and the urban clay studio.

Along the Grand River are symbolic burial mounds which were used by the Hopewell tribe, a fish ladder, and a riverwalk.

Grand Rapids is also home to the Van Andel Museum Centermarker. Founded in 1854, it is among the oldest history museums in the United States. The museum's sites currently include the main site constructed in 1994 on the west bank of the Grand River (home to the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, the Voigt House Victorian Museum, and the City Archives and Records Center, which was the site of the museum and planetarium prior to 1994). The museum has, in the past few years, played host to a handful of notable exhibitions, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, and The Quest for Immortality: the Treasures of Ancient Egypt. The museum is set up as a non-profit institution owned and managed by the Public Museum of Grand Rapids Foundation.

Heritage Hillmarker, a neighborhood in the southeastern section of town. It is one of the largest Urban Historic Districts in the country, with over 1000 Victorian homes. Of particular significance is the Meyer May Housemarker, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908 was commissioned by local merchant Meyer May who operated a men's clothing store (May's of Michigan). The house is now a free museum owned and operated by Steelcase who restored the property in the 1980s.

Grand Rapids is home to myriad theatres and stages, including the newly-reconstructed Civic Theatre (also known as the Meijer Majestic), the city's largest theatre DeVos hall, and the convertible Van Andel Arena. Further east of downtown is the historic Wealthy Street Theatre. The first megaplex in the United Statesmarker is also located in Grand Rapids, Studio 28, which reopened in 1988 with a seating capacity of 6,000. The theater ceased operations on November 23, 2008. The Grand Rapids company also owns many theaters around West Michigan.

In Grand Rapids Townshipmarker, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Parkmarker combine of world-class botanical gardens and artwork from such sculptors as Mark di Suvero, Alexander Calder, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Rodin. The Gardens' amphitheatre plays host to numerous concerts each summer, featuring such eccelctic acts as Jonny Lang, The Pointer Sisters, Lyle Lovett, Cowboy Junkies, and B.B. King. As Michigan's second most popular destination (after The Henry Ford Museummarker in Dearbornmarker), the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is rapidly gaining national renown.

Slightly east of the downtown area is the Eastown business district, home to many popular independently owned businesses such as Yesterdog (recreated in the film American Pie), 76 Coffee, Kava House, Magnum Opus Manga & Anime, Billy's Lounge, New Yorker Men's Wear, Bombay Cuisine, and Mulligan's Bar. Eastown, along with Grand Rapids' Heartside District, is regarded as a center of the city's counter-culture and music scene.

Entertainment and performing arts

Grand Rapids has a number of popular concert venues in which a large assortment of bands have performed, including the Orbit Room, the Mixtape Cafe, the DAAC, the Intersection, DeVos Hall, the Van Andel Arena, the Royce Auditorium, the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center, and the Deltaplex.


Several professional sports teams call Grand Rapids home:

Club Sport Year Founded League Venue Championships
West Michigan Whitecaps Baseball 1994 Midwest League Fifth Third Ballparkmarker Championship Series winners: 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2007; Best regular season record: 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006, 2007
Grand Rapids Flight Basketball 2004 American Basketball Association Davenport University Student Center 0
Grand Rapids Griffins Ice hockey 1996 American Hockey League Van Andel Arenamarker IHL Joseph Turner Memorial Cup Runner-up: 2000; IHL Fred A. Huber Trophy (regular season champion): 2001
West Michigan ThunderHawks Indoor football 2006 Indoor Football League DeltaPlex Arenamarker 0


The Grand Rapids Press is the daily newspaper, while Advance Newspapers publishes a group of weekly papers providing more community-based news. Gemini Publications is a niche, regional publishing company that produces the weekly newspaper Grand Rapids Business Journal, the magazines Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Family and Michigan Blue, and several other quarterly and annual business-to-business publications. There are two free monthly entertainment guides: REVUE, which covers music and the arts, and RECOIL, which covers music and offers Onion-style satire.

Grand Rapids, combined with nearby Kalamazoo and Battle Creekmarker, was ranked in 2008 as the 39th largest television market in the U.S. by Nielsen Media Research. The market is served by stations affiliated with major American networks including: WOOD-TVmarker (channel 8, NBC), WZZM-TVmarker (channel 13, ABC), WXMImarker (channel 17, Fox), WXSP-CAmarker (channel 15, MyNetworkTV) and Kalamazoo-based WWMTmarker (channel 3, CBS). WGVU-TVmarker is the area's PBS member station.

The Grand Rapids area is served by 16 AM radio stations and 28 FM stations.


Grand Rapids has long been a center for furniture and automobile manufacturing; however, the presence of both industries has declined in the region along with manufacturing in general. American Seating, Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller, major manufacturers of office furniture, are based in the Grand Rapids area.

In 1880, Sligh Furniture Company started manufacturing furniture. In 1881, the Furniture Manufacturers Association (FMA) was organized in Grand Rapids, it was apparently the first furniture manufacturing advocacy group in the country.Also Since 1912, Kindel Furniture Company, and since 1922, the Hekman/Woodmark Furniture Company, have been designing and manufacturing traditional American furniture in Grand Rapids. All of these companies are still producing furniture today.

More recently the city has had some success in developing and attracting businesses focusing on the health sciences, with facilities such as the Van Andel Research Institute (primarily focused on cancer research), Grand Valley State Universitymarker's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences (undergraduate and graduate health-related programs, doctorate program in Physical Therapy, upcoming Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)), and Michigan State Universitymarker's new Grand Rapids based Medical School. Nearly a billion dollars has been spent on new and expanded facilities (including the Spectrum Health Cancer Pavilion, the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and an addition to the Van Andel Institute, which will more than double its space. Most of these buildings are located in the Michigan Street medical corridor , and is commonly known as "Medical Mile." Employment opportunities thrive and the growth has developed specialized health science employment groups to facilitate the influx, such as the Medical Mile Group.

The Grand Rapids area is also home to a number of well known companies that include; Alticor/Amway (a consumer goods manufacturer and distributor), Spartan Stores (a food distributor and grocery store chain), Foremost Insurance Company (a specialty lines insurance company), Meijer (a regional Supercenter chain), GE Aviation (formerly Smiths Industries, an Aerospace products company), Wolverine World Wide (a designer and manufacturer of shoes, boots and clothing), MC Sports, Inc. (a regional sports retail chain) and Universal Forest Products (a building materials company).

The city is also known as a center of Christian publishing, home to Zondervan, Baker Books, Kregel Publications, and Eerdmans Publishing.

The surrounding area is noted for its fruit production. Due to its close proximity to Lake Michiganmarker the climate is considered prime for apple, peach, and blueberry farming.

In recent years, the convention business has seen an increase following the construction of the DeVos Place Convention Centermarker.


As of the census of 2000, there were 197,800 people, 73,217 households, and 44,369 families residing in the city. The population density was 4,431.2/sq mi (1,710.8/km²). There were 77,960 housing units at an average density of 1,746.5/sq mi (674.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 67.30% White American (62.5% non-Hispanic White), 20.41% African American, 0.74% Native American, 1.62% Asian American, 0.12% Pacific Islander American, 6.63% from other races, and 3.19% from two or more races. 13.05% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. The city had a foreign-born population of 10.5%.

There were 73,217 households out of which 32.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.3% were married couples living together, 15.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.4% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.57 and the average family size was 3.24.

In the city the population was spread out with 27.0% under the age of 18, 13.1% from 18 to 24, 31.5% from 25 to 44, 16.7% from 45 to 64, and 11.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 95.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,224, and the median income for a family was $44,224. Males had a median income of $33,050 versus $26,382 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,661. 15.7% of the population and 11.9% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 19.4% are under the age of 18 and 10.4% are 65 or older.

Government and politics

Like the surrounding counties, the Grand Rapids area has traditionally been a stronghold for the Republican Party, but the city itself leans Democratic.

The city is the center of the 3rd Congressional District, represented by Republican Vern Ehlers. Former President Gerald Ford represented the district from 1949 to 1974. Ford died on December 26, 2006 at his home in Palm Springs, California, and was buried on the grounds of his Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids on January 3, 2007.

Grand Rapids (including the suburbs of Ada, East Grand Rapidsmarker, Wyoming, Grandville, Walker, and Kentwood) also serves as the home business base of one of the largest past political funders of the national Republican Party, Richard and Helen De Vos, and former Ambassador to Italy, Peter Secchia.

However, despite the Grand Rapids area reputation for conservatism, the city (proper) tends to elect Democrats. Both of its representatives in the Michigan State House of Representatives are Democrats, and in the five most recent presidential elections Democratic candidates Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama won the majority of votes in the city of Grand Rapids. (The city itself has not elected a Republican candidate for President since George H W Bush in 1988.)

Commission-Manager plan

Under Michigan law, Grand Rapids is a home rule city and adopted a city charter in 1916 providing for the Commission-Manager form of municipal government. Under this system, the political responsibilities are divided between an elected City Commission and a hired full-time City Manager. Two part-time Commissioners are elected to four-year terms from each of three wards, with half of these seats up for election every two years. The part-time Mayor is elected every four years by the city at large, and serves as chair of the Commission, with a vote equal to that of a Commissioner. The races—held in odd-numbered years—are formally non-partisan, although the party and other political affiliations of candidates do sometimes come up during the campaign period. The Commission sets policy for the city, and is responsible for hiring the City Manager and other appointed officials.


George Heartwell was elected mayor of Grand Rapids after long-serving mayor John H. Logie declined to run for re-election in 2003. Logie felt the position should be made full-time, but to avoid the question becoming a referendum on whether he should hold the job full-time, he announced that he would not run for re-election. The voters decided to keep the position part-time, and Heartwell was elected.

Heartwell assumed office on January 1, 2004. Prior to being mayor, Heartwell was a City Commissioner for the third ward, 1992-1999. Heartwell currently serves as President and CEO of Pilgrim Manor Retirement Community. He was Director of the Community Leadership Institute at Aquinas Collegemarker, where he also was a professor in the Community Leadership undergraduate study program. Mayor Heartwell is an ordained minister for the United Church of Christ, and served for 14 years at Heartside Ministry, a program for the homeless in Grand Rapids. He was previously the president of Heartwell Mortgage Corporation. In August, 2007, Mayor Heartwell was re-elected to a second mayoral term in Grand Rapids. He won the primary election with 51% of the vote.


Grand Rapids is home to several colleges and universities. Aquinas Collegemarker, Calvin Collegemarker, Cornerstone Universitymarker, Grace Bible College, and Kuyper College are private, religious schools, each with a campus within the city. Grand Rapids Community College maintains a campus downtown and facilities in other parts of the city and surrounding region. Grand Valley State Universitymarker continues to develop its presence in the city with an expanding downtown campus, begun in the 1980s on the west bank of the Grand River. ITT Technical Institute has a variety of technical programs and it continues to grow. ITT is moving to a new campus later on this year next to the new Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming. Ferris State Universitymarker has a growing campus downtown, including the Applied Technology Center (operated with GRCC) and the prestigious Kendall College of Art and Design. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a private institution, has a campus in Grand Rapids. Davenport University, a state-wide educational institution, has its main campus in Grand Rapids as well as several satellite locations. Western Michigan Universitymarker has a long-standing graduate program in the city, with facilities downtown and in the southeast. Clinical Pastoral Education is also offered at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in nearby Cutlervillemarker, Michiganmarker.

K-12 public education is provided by the Grand Rapids Public Schools as well as a number of charter schools. Grand Rapids is home of the oldest co-educational Catholic high school in the United States, Catholic Central High School marker.

As of 2006, there is an active movement among community leaders to have Michigan State Universitymarker open a new medical school in Grand Rapids.. Michigan State University College of Human Medicine will expand into downtown Grand Rapids. The College of Human Medicine is one of three fully accredited four-year medical schools at MSU, along with the College of Osteopathic Medicine and College of Veterinary Medicine. On April 21, 2008, the Secchia Center medical education building, a $90 million, seven-story, facility, began construction at Michigan Street hill and Division Avenue.


Major highways


U.S. highways

Michigan state trunklines

Intercounty highways

Mass transit


Public bus transportation is provided by the Interurban Transit Partnership, which brands itself as The Rapid. Transportation is also provided by the DASH buses: the "Downtown Area Shuttle". These provide transportation to and from the parking lots in the city of Grand Rapids to various designated loading and unloading spots around the city. There are plans in the works to add more express routes, secondary stations, a streetcar and dedicated (exclusive) highway lanes.


Commercial air service to Grand Rapids is provided by Gerald R.marker Ford International Airportmarker (GRR). Previously named Kent County International Airport, it holds Grand Rapids' mark in modern history with the United States' first regularly scheduled airline service, beginning July 31, 1926, between Grand Rapids and Detroit.


Amtrak provides direct train service to Chicagomarker from the passenger stationmarker via the Pere Marquette line. Freight service is provided by CN, CSX Transportation, and by a local shortline railroad, the Grand Rapids Eastern Railroad.

Sister cities

Grand Rapids has city partnerships with the following cities:

Grand Rapids is twinned with the following cities:

See also


  1. Grand Rapids Historical Perspective
  2. City Data
  3. July 1, 2006 est. by Census Bureau
  4. Cinema Treasures
  5. Cinema Tour-Studio 28
  6. WZZM
  7. Google Maps
  8. Medical Mile Group
  9. Government Information
  10. Heartwell Bio
  11. MSU Newsroom

External links

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