Named after the rapids that used to run through it, the urban setting of Grand Rapids, Michigan, now showcases a peaceful river. The river played a rather important role in the early settlement and development of the city. The river provided a reliable way to get around and to move timber before they had rail traffic, lorries or planes.
Grand Rapids was also home to Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, the 38th President of the United States of America. He obtained that office when President Richard Milhous Nixon resigned in 1974 and wrapped up a lot of loose ends left by his predecessor, ending the Vietnam War2 and granting a pardon to President Nixon, thus ending a turbulent time in American politics.
Grand Rapids used to pride itself on having big city conveniences and a certain small town friendliness. Then along came:
- a minor league baseball team, the West Michigan Whitecaps
- a hockey team, the Grand Rapids Griffins
- and an indoor American football team, the West Michigan ThunderHawks
- and it became less friendly and more competitive.
Where Is It?
Firstly, one should make sure this is the right place. This is not:
- Grand Rapids, North Dakota, USA (population 89)
- Grand Rapids, Manitoba, Canada (population 409)
- Grand Rapids, Ohio, USA (population 990)
- Grand Rapids, Minnesota, USA (population 8,233)
It is considerably larger than any of those.
Grand Rapids lies towards the west coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula (latitude 42 °58' N, longitude 85 °40' W), at least a half an hour drive from one of the actual lake-shore cities, like Holland or Grand Haven. What is the significance of that? When you're on a peninsula, you tend to define your location by the nearest big body of water. Since Grand Rapids sits closer to the Lower Peninsula's west coast than to its east coast or north coast, Grand Rapids residents consider themselves to reside in West Michigan.
To get there, you could fly into the Gerald Ford International Airport, on the southeast side of town, which serves eight different airlines. Or, you might drive in on a major highway. Interstate 96 splits off into I-I96, also called the Gerald Ford Freeway, with I-96 bypassing the heart of town. The Gerald Ford Freeway intersects with the major North-South highway US-131, near the Grand River that flows through the heart of town then west into Lake Michigan.
A Bit of History
The first permanent white resident of Grand Rapids was a Baptist minister named Isaac McCoy, who settled there in 1825. A year later, a French trapper named Louis Campau set up a trading post. Of course, the real first residents were the Native Americans, specifically the Hopewell tribe 2,000 years ago, and then the Ottawa, Pottawatomie and Chippewa.
Grand Rapids used to be known as Furniture City because its chief industry was furniture. Makes sense, right? Now with the native forests gone, the furniture industry is in a bit of a decline. Steel Case, an office furniture company, still has Grand Rapids factories, but at the time of writing had begun rather a lot of downsizing.
Grand Rapids was the first US city to add fluoride to its drinking water. This was done back in the 1950s. A small monument downtown even commemorates this event.
Midwinter mornings can make starting a car difficult with temperatures as low as -22°F (-30°C). Residents carry a snow brush in the car and are advised to have a small shovel in the boot. Due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids has lake effect snows in the winter giving it more snow than cities like Lansing, Jackson or Detroit. A normal snowfall in winter may range from 4 to 24 inches (10-60 cm). Spring rains follow in March and April, although snowstorms have arrived as late as May. At the other extreme, records show rare instances of mid-summer temperatures as high as 100°F (38°C).
Temperatures in Grand Rapids, Michigan:
|Date||Avg. High||Avg. Low|
|January||29°F (-1° C)||15°F (-9°C)|
|April||56°F (14°C)||35°F (2°C)|
|July||82°F (28°C)F||46°F (16°C)|
|October||61°F (16°C)||40°F (5°C)|
Places to Go
Grand Rapids major attractions include:
- The Gerald R Ford Museum - a museum of presidential history
- Van Andel Arena - where the Griffins and Rampage play. Named after Amway3 founder Jay Van Andel, who died in 2004
- The Van Andel Museum - a more general history and science museum, with a very large and (to this Reseacher's mind) boring exhibit celebrating Grand Rapid's history as Furniture City
- Fifth-Third Stadium - where the minor league baseball is played
- Devos Hall - the city's big performance hall4
While certainly not an attraction, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, the city's most expensive, stands as further proof that Grand Rapids is Amway country.
One place of interest is the neighbourhood of East Town. East Town must not be confused with East Grand Rapids, a suburb accommodating the rich, East Grand Rapids split off from the main city. East Town is the cool neighbourhood of Grand Rapids. Lake Drive and Wealthy Street SE, the main streets of East Town, define the area.
What is there to see in East Town? The Argos Book shop [sic] provides a worthy stop. The bookstore sits on a side street called Robinson, just off Lake Drive and visible from Lake Drive. Argos is Grand Rapid's one-stop shop for geeks. Primarily a used book store, it also sells comics, with good back issue boxes, and carries a decent selection of RPG5 materials, including a reasonably priced secondhand collection.
Most of Grand Rapids' major retail shopping lies in the various suburbs rather than the centre, including such retail destinations as Woodland Mall and Centerpointe Mall, the area's major shopping malls.
The Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, founded in 1872 by an Episcopal Rector, quickly became the city's major health provider. Today the hospital forms part of the Spectrum Health System that includes many other facilities, including the Helen Devos Children's Hospital that, at the time of writing, will be moving to a brand new building on 1 January, 2011.
Lately, Grand Rapids has been gripped by the urge to become eco-friendly. No city in Michigan is as committed to Green Power as Grand Rapids. The city's mayor has even said he would pursue ways to end its dependence on coal and other fossil fuels. This in addition to more bike and pedestrian friendly transportation and more LEED6 Certified buildings assist their increasingly credible claim to being the greenest city in America.