Monthly Archives: May 2014

Travel History in Lansing 1900-1950

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – January 1, 1950.

Travel Was Rigorous Undertaking in 1900
Electric Trolleys, Paving Fights Mark History of Lansing
By Hal Fildey (State Journal Staff Writer)

–Commuters were few and far between in 1900. And automobiles were more scarce than commuters. If you were fortunate enough to own the grandfather of the modern chrome and steel automobile you drove in the roads that were designed for horse and buggy travel. Mud, loose gravel, deep ditches and ruts, plus the mechanical difficulties encountered with the first “horseless carriages.” all added to the headaches of the early motorist. Grandmother heated bricks in the oven – to keep the feet warm – and grandfather dug out the horsehair lap robe from the storage shed when a trip longer than five miles was planned in cold weather.
–Summertime travel was also a problem. Dressed in her Sunday best, mother could always count on dusty roads or a sudden thunder shower.
–A trip to Detroit by horse and buggy took about six days. If you had an automobile, it took about two.
–The first big advance in local transportation at the beginning of the 20th century came with the infant Lansing, St. Johns and St. Louis street railway.
–A small venture here, the company provided little actual service, but the idea was started.
–In 1901 Mayor James Hammell made the first official plea for “modernization of transportation,” when he asked the city council for an interurban electric system which he asserted was “very important to the future of this city.”
–The city got its system, the old City Electric Railway company, but its service was short-lived. In 1903, the franchise of the organization was revoked on the grounds of poor service and rundown equipment.
–With the temporary end of rail transportation, the council developed a half-hearted program to pave the city streets with crushed stone to make carriage and auto travel easier.
–Rapid growth of the city in the first five years of the century caused a group of 114 townspeople to ask a construction of a bridge over the river on Washington ave., south of Main st. to eliminate the long detour over the river in that end of town.
–The fist five years also saw the advent of brick and stone sidewalks, when the city fathers decided to replace rotting plank walks with something more durable.
–Between 1905 and 1907 there was a noticeable accent in street paving and extension. To aid in construction, the city purchased its first steamroller at a cost to the taxpayers of $2,100.
–In 1906, street rail transportation made a significant comeback with the Lansing and Suburban Traction company taking up where its younger counterpart had left off.
–The new company laid tracks on E. Michigan ave. extending to the city limits to increase service which had been previously rendered by earlier companies.
–This company, which during a shakeup changed its name to the Michigan Electric Railways, was to remain as the chief transportation unit in the city until streetcars went out of favor in buses in 1933.
–Along with the advance in community transportation, road building also reached a fever pitch. A survey taken in 1909 revealed that the city had 103 miles of streets and some 16 miles of sidewalks. Eight and three-fifths miles of the street total were paved.
–It was around this time that the Michigan Electric Railways inaugurated their famous Owosso and Jackson interurban runs.
–Between 1909 and 1912, the city spent over $50,040 to gravel streets in many outlying areas of town, marking the first time that any significant sum of money had been spent for street improvements outside the “main” area of town.
–From then until 1916, transportation advances and street construction and repair work continued at a slow steady pace. But, with the fast growth of the city in pre-war years, Lansing citizens began flooding the council with requests for new sidewalks and curbing on streets which are now a half-century later, the main thoroughfares of the city.
–Also, and a point which can not be overestimated in significance, the automobile industry was progressing rapidly and the many new car owners hesitated to attempt the poor roads and streets.
–With Lansing fast becoming one of the new centers of the new industry, much attention was paid to the wishes of manufacturers and owners alike.
–One of the bigger problems which the auto industry was bringing, was the question of new and revised traffic ordinances.
–Typical of the laws passed in connection with these reforms were “vehicles shall be driven in a careful manner and with due regard for the safety and convenience of pedestrians . . . vehicles shall have during the period of one hour before sunset to one hour before sunrise at least two warning lamps, visible within 200 feet in the direction that the vehicle is proceeding . . . and, all vehicles shall equip themselves with a horn for the purpose of warning pedestrians and horse-drawn conveyances of their approach.”
–A survey taken in 1918 upon the request of Mayor Gottlieb Reutter, showed that the city now had 203,047 square yards of paving and 300,000 square feet of sidewalk.
–The years from 1920 to 1923 saw heavy agitation for additional bridges and improvement for those already in service. Again, the auto industry led in the fight to replace the many old plank crossings.
–Topping the list were new bridges for the river crossing at Elm st., the railroad crossing on E. Main st., the river crossing at Seymour ave., the river and rail crossing on Shiawassee st., the river crossing on Pennsylvania ave., and the river and rail crossing on E. Kalamazoo st.
–In 1924, traffic congestion at the downtown street crossings prompted the city council to authorize the installation of traffic signals to be operated from a “crow’s nest” on the corner of Michigan and Washington avenues.
–To eliminate parking problems, which the new influx of cars was bringing, time limits were established on Michigan and Washington avenues.
–By the January of 1926, Lansing had a total of 178 miles of streets, 45 of which were paved. A review of the city budget showed that the yearly sum of $79,000 was going for upkeep of the streets.
–Bridges came back into the limelight in the latter part of the year with petitions received from many Lansing citizens to put in a new Saginaw st. crossing as well as repair the antiquated Michigan ave. and the old Logan st. crossings.
–The response to the demand, new structures were placed over the Grand river at Grand River ave., Saginaw st., Logan st., and Island ave. Improved during the building spree were the Pennsylvania ave. viaduct and the Logan st. viaduct.
–The 1927-to-1931 bridge building drive carried over into new street additions. With a spurt around 1930, the city street total was raised to 190 miles, 71 of them paved.
–With the increasing perfection of motor-driven vehicles, a large number of Lansing citizens banded together to ask that the street railways of the city be replaced by motor coach service.
–Whether in deference to these demands or in an attempt to keep up with changing trends, the Michigan Electric Railways added a few buses. These units first saw service in 1931.
–In April of 1933, the Peoples Transit company of Muskegon founded the first bus company in the city. Two months later, the old Electric Railway folded up.
–The Muskegon organization lasted until 1925, when the City Transport company, an employe owned corporation, took over.
–As had been the case with so many of the street railways, this company was short-lived and in September of 1936, the National City Lines replaced them.
–A Chicago-owned and operated organization, the company lasted only until Dec. 1, 1938, when the present Inter-City coach lines were granted the franchise.
–Today, Lansing citizens have some of the best roads in the state. New improvements such as the Logan, Cedar st. additions, and the new Main street bridge are keeping the city in step with the nation’s leading municipalities.
–With annexation of the Everett district, the mileage total of city streets has increased to a present figure of 223,225 miles, 183,935 of which are paved.
–Street lighting improvements, runaway gutters for standing water and improved safety codes make the lot of the motorist of today, a far-cry from his counterpart of yesteryear.

Transcribed by Timothy Bowman on May 25, 2014.

bus token

bus token









the original article

the original article


History of Lansing, MI Parks article

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Sunday, January 1, 1950 – Mid Century Edition – Third Section

Citizens Gave Lansing Parks, Love of Nature
Natural Beauty Taken in Hand as New Century Dawned
By Frank Hand (Journal Staff Writer)

–Nature survived the advent of a rushing, industrial Lansing, but shade trees along quiet boulevards and streets were strangling each other in 1900.
–Citizens had never been unduly concerned with trees – because Lansing was carved out of the forest.
–Later, well meaning groups with more civic ferver than horticultural knowledge, planted shade trees along the streets, but so close together that their natural growth stunted and killed each other.
–The city’s only park was in the third ward and was given to the city by the state in 1878. It was named Reutter Park in honor of Gottlieb Reutter, a former mayor.
–Oak park at the time was used as the municipal cemetery.
–With the advent of the 20th century the city began a more organized approach toward the beautification and planning for research facilities.
–The first move came in 1900 when the graves at Oak park were transferred to the newly acquired Mt. Hope cemetery and Oak park was changed to a city park.
-The park became known as East Side park or Fifth Ward park. Later a mucky lake was dried up, and a wading pool installed.
–A huge fountain with a series of cup-like juttings was located on one side of the lake. An ingenious underground cement passage allowed a constant flow of water which in turn kept the fish alive and was one of the features of the fountain.
–In 1911 the first tree surgery was done in the park as several of the huge oak trees were filled with cement and asphalt strippings.
–The present rest house was completed in 1914 and in 1915 the first organized facilities of the new recreation department were installed at the park.
–During the previous year Mayor Gottlieb Reutter asked the council for a regular forester to care for the city trees. H. Lee Bancroft was appointed.
–In 1916 the city charter was revised and the new department of parks and cemeteries was created. Mr. Bancroft headed this department until 1945 when it was dissolved and the department of parks and recreation was created.
–Under the new department things began to take shape of a long-range program.
–In 1908, James Henry Moores wishing to preserve a particularly lovely cove of trees along the Grand River donated to the city 18 acres of land along the river area known as Belvedere park. In 1913 a small park named Reasoner was added to the north end.
–At the time of his death he left in his will provision for the development of Frances park and a trust fund to building a swimming pool in Moores park.
–In his honor at the entrance of the park an archway was built and inscribed “I shall pass this way but once, therefore any good that I may do let me do it now for I shall not pass this way again.”
–Shortly after Mr. Moores’ gift to the city a close friend, J. W. Potter, donated the land which is now Potter Park.
–A special committee headed by Mr. Moores was appointed to plan for the park. Serving on the committee were Mr. Reutter who later donated the fountain for Reutter park.
–Richard Scott also served on the committee and donated Scott park and playground to the city and money for its development.
–Potter park was welcomed by the residents of Lansing so well Mr. Potter later donated a pavilion. Shortly after an elk that had been at Moores park was transferred to Potter and a pair of raccoons were added. Thus began the zoo which is now housed there.
–Once the granting of parks to the city began the project snow-balled.
–In 1917 Dr. George Ranney left 20 acres between E. Grand River and E. Michigan ave. to the city and was later developed into Ranney playfield.
–Smith Young in 1918 gave the river frontage at the south end of Logan st. bridge and west along Moores River drive which, with additional funds from the River Drive association and the Country club, donated the area which later became known as Riverside park.
–In the same year William Trager gave a small park at the entrance of Potter park.
–In 1920 Mark Clifford left the city the site of what is now Foster playground. William C. Durant purchased the Cowles property at Washington and Saginaw and gave it to the city.
–Bancroft was donated to the city by the Bancroft family along with a portion of what is now Quentin park. This park was completed with a purchase in 1930 from the Motor Wheel corp. and developed with WPA funds.
–The west block of Ferris park was developed in 1921 by permission of the state. A year later the city obtained the old tourist camp on E. Michigan ave.
–Evergreen cemetery was purchased and the city accepted a 100-year lease from the state for part of the land which is now Groesbeck golf course.
–The Red Cedar golf course and present site of the Municipal ball park was purchased by the Michigan avenue development funds in 1926.
–In 1922 the park board purchased river frontage on the north side of the Grand river west of the Logan street bridge and, by 1927, more land was purchased. In 1945 R. E. Olds donated 39 acres to complete the long range program.
–The old Reo ball park was purchased in 1924 and named Sycamore park.
–Two ball fields called Marshall and West Marshall were developed in 1931 through a city purchase and a gift from the Motor Wheel corporation.
–Comstock field was made possible by a purchase of part of the Blind school farm in 1935.
–Purchases in 1937, ’40 and ’45 made possible the development of the Lincoln Community center.
–E. H. Cooley left at the time of his death in 1938 the beautiful Cooley gardens at Main and Townsend streets to the city.
–A $40,000 purchase of land between Saginaw st. and Waverly rd. acquired 120 acres for the city, which was the last major development purchase made by the city.
–In the same year the park department purchased the old hog farm west of the city on Willow st. and named it Grand Woods camp.
–In 1940 Mr. and Mrs. Christian Stabler donated a park in honor of their son. In 1941 the land at Kalamazoo and Holmes ave. was purchased by the city and will be developed into a park.
–The Reo proving grounds on S. Washington and the land behind Sexton high school was later purchased, both of which will be developed in future years.
–A 40 acre gift by Mrs. Joseph Coleman near the Townsend st. school will be used as a playground and future site of a junior high school.
–Credit for the marked improvements in the beauty of the city for the most part could be given to the public spirited citizens who contributed the land, and, to the long range view of the members of the board of parks and cemeteries.

Transcribed by Timothy Bowman – May 16, 2014.

Reuuter Park fountain

Reutter Park fountain

the original 1950 article

the original 1950 article

Lansing Townsfolk Greeted Year 1900 With Elation

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – January 1, 1950

New Century Hailed With High Hopes Here
Lansing Townsfolk Greeted Year 1900 With Elation, Expectancy
By Birt Darling
(Journal Staff Writer)

–Never did the townsfolk of Lansing face a new year with a sense of great things to come the way they did on that New Year’s Eve of Dec. 31, 1899. The moustache cup came out that night, and daring young belles scented their hair and girded themselves in the new straight – front French corsets – sans busks. There was a feeling of elation in the air. A new century doesn’t come very often, and this was a special new century – the century of science. The oldsters had quiet parties in their homes and retired even before the new year and the new century arrived, not so sure in their own minds that the new era of science was good for mankind.
–Already, early in the evening, some of the gay young blades were motoring up and down Washington ave., attaining the fearful rate of 20 miles per hour.
–The police department was busy trying to rescue runaway teams of horses and apprehend those youthful violators.
–The city had weathered the depression of 1893 in good style. It had only one regret: Ransom Eli Olds, the local young man who hadn’t been able to get the support he needed here for his new mass-production auto venture, had moved bag and baggage to Detroit, and it looked as though he might stay there, now that his factory in that city was beginning to turn out horseless carriages at an astounding rate.
–But they celebrated anyway, on that memorable night, despite the fact nobody was quite sure just when the new century should begin. Donsereaux “busy big store” was offering a $10 clock or overcoat to the person who could give the correct answer as to when the 20th century began – or was to begin.
–Out at the agricultural college, a little group of M.A.C. students celebrated by ripping all the advertisements of a street-car that ran between their institution and Lansing. Among those arrested was the captain of the football team, and it was greatly feared on the morning after that his expulsion might hurt M. A. C.’s gridiron chances the next autumn.
–There was some concern, as the 20th century opened, that the state might be in for a difficult time. The Lansing Journal ran an item headed “Not Clean Broke,” in which it pointed out that Michigan’s cash balance was only $361,134. It added, however, that this was about $113,500 more than a year previously. This, of course, was long before the days when the state’s debt ran many millions annually, and a national debt was unheard of.
–Many a Lansing family spent part of New Year’s Eve skating on the ice rink just east of the Michigan ave. bridge on the north side of E. Michigan ave. The operators of the rink advertised: “Don’t Drown Your Children – Send Them to the Ice Rink!”
–Baird’s Opera House, where the present Gladmer theater stands, was the scene of gala presentations, the cultural center of a community of 17,000 souls, and the ladies and gentlemen of Lansing were there that night in silk hats and fur capes.
–But the home was the center of life, much as it had been in 1847, when pioneers, many of them still living, had cut their clearings in the shadow of the new frame capitol. There were taffy-pulls and stereoptican slides among the horsehair chairs and davenports, and the tasseled curtains between hall and living-room lent a homey touch. Besides, it was Sunday night, and reading from the big, thick, leather-bound family Bible were in order. Parents who were sons and daughters of the pioneers and who knew how the Good Book had carried their fathers and mothers through desperate times, though it would be a good way to see 1900 in.
–Speculation was in the spirit of the times. A group of five local men controlled the board of the Verde Mining company of New Mexico, and had returned in time for the new century festivities, “weary but decidedly happy” over the fact that their ore was assaying as high as $114 to the ton. Some of the successors in similar ventures were to end up merely weary and decidedly broke, but the opening of America’s natural resources required such investments.
–Telephone were all the rage, having appeared on the local scene not many years before. The Lansing Telephone Exchange had just completed a “handsome new private telephone system” in the Bement factory at the foot of Ionia st., and the Michigan Telephone company was advertising, advising merchants to “put a telephone in your store – it will draw customers.”
–Waverly park and Pine lake (now Lake Lansing) provided outlets for family energies in the warmer months. Street-car lines were extended to both, and the ride was as much a thrill as the cotton-candy and carousels at the other end. Waverly could be reached either by street-car or by river steamer, and it had the advantage of being close in. It was located just north of the present-day S. Waverly bridge, on the east of Waverly rd. Tall trees and underbrush hide any vestige of the site nowadays, but it was quite a place in its heyday, and even boasted a hotel.
–The advent of the automobile was soon to bring an end to Waverly park. Folks wanted to motor farther out. Lake Lansing, conversely, became even more popular. It was just a “nice ride,” and could be reached in less than an hour if your horseless carriage was functioning well and the old “Pine lake rd.” that cut through Chandler’s marsh wasn’t too boggy.
–The marsh was a great place for hunting and fishing, and in the fall ducks and geese settled there by the tens of thousands. You could even shoot an occasional wildcat if you were on your toes. Widespread draining hadn’t been started yet, and it wasn’t until around 1915 that the area ceased to be one of the best hunting grounds in lower Michigan.
–They’d started laying underground conduits for electric wires, and cars were becoming common on city streets after R. E. Olds relocated here. Autos were getting so thick that the common council passed an ordinance regulating their use. No car was allowed to travel more than 10 miles per hour in the business section, nor more than 15 in other parts of the community. The aldermen further decreed that horns must be sounded at all points to warn pedestrians. Owners were required to register their vehicles with the city clerk. Violations would result in fines ranging from $3 to $25 – or 30 days in jail.
–A fuel famine hit the city in the fall of 1902, and Mayor James Hammell and councilmen nearly exhausted themselves trying to find some way to solve it. The board of water and electric light commissioners stepped forward and offered several carloads of coal to the commissioner of the poor, and thus was one of the city’s earlier crises met.
–The following year was the one during which Lucy Gaston Page, cited as a “prominent civic leader,” received a commendation from the city council for her “efforts to put down the cigaret evil.” The aldermen, in fact, became so enthused about the crusade to crush that Old Devil Nicotine, that they petitioned the state legislature to enact a law forbidding the manufacture or “sale of cigarets in Michigan.”
–Behind all this, was the fact that Lansing, a former prominent cigar manufacturing center, was losing out to eastern centers. The straight-laced aldermen seemed to forget too, that some of their mothers and grandmothers had smoked corn-cob pipes.
–This same year a “Law and Order league” got itself some headlines for its attacks upon the saloon. The league urged checks upon suspected acts of criminal nature coming to their attention. –Indicative of the growing restiveness of a new generation with the “Victorian” generation, was the petition some “gentlemen drivers” had brought before common council. They wanted to use Capitol ave. for a “speedway” for harness-racing during the winter months.” Councilmen took a dim view of this and solidly said “no.” The fathers of the “hot-rodders” turned away, chagrined.
–Mayor Lyons suggested in 1904 that saloons be limited, suggesting one per 1,000 population. He was opposed to granting franchises, and advocated allowing more transportation firms to operate in and through the city.
–This was the same year when councilmen adopted an anti-spit ordinance, making it unlawful to expectorate on city sidewalks, under threat of a $5 fine or five days in jail.
–The Lansing Central Women’s Christian Temperance union hit at the most vital part of the saloon business in 1906 when they asked council to prohibit free lunches in saloons. They succeeded too, but music “and other features” were allowed to continue.
–Old Dobbin still outnumbered the automobile in 1906, when new water troughs were installed in the downtown district, in one of the most notable civic improvements of that year.
–There was some indication that a civic auditorium might be a good thing, even as far back, for it is noted that, in 1906, common council chambers were being used for state conventions.
–If it didn’t have an auditorium, Lansing did have one object of which it was proud. This was the E. Michigan ave. bridge, erected in 1896-97. In a 1908 city council notation, we find the boast of officials that it was “the widest bridge in the world.”
–Boxing was an early-day target of reformers. In 1910 we find that the Lansing Ministers’ union had asked council to forbid showing of the Johnson-Jeffries prize fight, “because of the demoralizing influence on our youth.”
–Skating on the Grand River was regularly banned by police, when the ice was considered too thin, but of course, small fry skated anyway, there not being the system of municipal rinks of today.
–Slot machine raids are nothing new. There is note of them as far back as 1911. There were also raids on “gambling dens.”
–Things were looking up for the woman suffrage movement that year, when O. P. Black, city attorney ruled that women were entitled to vote in city elections. There was a slight catch, however – they had to be taxpayers. And very few of them were.
–The horse was still far from extinct in 1912, for that was the year aldermen gave the assent to horse races on River st., from E. Main st. to Grand ave., during the period from Dec. 1 to April 1 at specified hours, and ordered installation of hitching posts, six of them to the block, in the downtown area.
–We’d been separated from Europe by 3,000 miles of space and generations in time, when the kaiser sent his armies through Belgium in 1914. We didn’t know it, but things would never be the same again. City council that year urged Lansing citizens to contribute to a drive for Belgian relief.
–The liquor issue was becoming thornier all the time. A teachers’ committee representing Michigan Agricultural college sent a report to city council asking an ordinance to prohibit saloons from operating with curtains, screens, shades or room annexes, in order that the moral standards of young students might be maintained.
–Prohibition came in 1917, ending the controversy – at least on the surface. That was the year we were pretty busy thinking about other things. We were singing “Over There,” and sending our finest to a far-away front in France, and Lansing found itself in full-scale war production for the first time.
–When the shooting was all over, Lansing looked around and found it had grown. It had acquired a “know how” that made it a far more important industrial town than even before. In a word, it had entered a new era. It was becoming more important as a state capitol too, as the new state office building, started in 1919, attested.
–The “jazz age,” also referred to as the “era of wonderful nonsense” was upon us, replete with short skirts, non-curvaceous silhouettes, mannish hair “bobs,” raccoon-skin coats, hip flasks, and two cars in every garage. Several thousand grown men in night-shirts marched down Michigan ave. as the state Ku Klux Klan met in solemn “konklave” in 1925.
–There were other evidences of wackiness, but it mustn’t be supposed that all citizens were indulging in it. We were starting fresh air camps for tubercular children, improving our school system and making our city government one of the most solvent in the nation. Our industry was building was steadily and offering men higher wages and shorter hours. We were making more, we were buying more. But there was some doubt that we were any happier than we’d been on that New Year’s Eve of 1900.
–The depression of 1929 hit Lansing as it did every other city, town and crossroads hamlet in the country. But Lansing, with such diversification as industry, the state capitol payroll and Michigan State college, wasn’t hit as hard. More and more, people realized it was a good town in which to live and rear their families, even though, temporarily, they were “just getting by.”
–The return of prosperity was inevitable, but we’d hardly begun to enjoy it when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In the 23 years since we had last gone into war-production our engineers had learned a lot of techniques – techniques that made our World War I effort look like child’s play.
–On a population basis, Lansing turned out far more than its share of war material.
–Then we settled down to “normalcy,” whatever that was. Some of us forget World War II as quickly as possible. Others were aware that Lansing was now as close to Europe as London had been before that war. Where we had once had only a sense of world responsibility, and it would shape our minds and our institutions from now on.

Transcribed by Timothy Bowman – May 11, 2014.

Ransom Eli "R. E."  Olds

Ransom Eli “R. E.” Olds








the original 1950 article

the original 1950 article