Lansing Once Was City of Ponds and Swales
Many Small Streams and Creeks Drained, Hills Graded
Topography Changed With City’s Development
Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Sunday, May 24, 1959
By Theodore G. Foster
(Journal Special Writer)
It seems strange as we drive around the comparatively level streets of Lansing that not so many years ago the topography of the city was similar to the present day farmland that surrounds the city, hills, gullies, brooks, ponds, swales and swamps. The hills of the city have been graded down, the swamps and ravines filled in and the ponds and streams of yesterday are no more.
One of the first named streams in Lansing was called Alcott’s or Olcott’s as it was named on some maps of the city. It was so called for S. B. Alcott who in 1836 was a “land looker” for Lee, Seymour and Bushnell of New York state. We had a camp site on the east side of the Grand River on the bank of the creek near the site of the present North Lansing dam. We attempted to build a log cabin near his camping site. The stream drained the land northeasterly of the present bridge including the site of the Gier division of Motor Wheel corporation. To the east of the Gier plant was a small unamed pound south of the bend in the old Lake Lansing road. It was on the banks of this stream that the ashery of James M. Turner was located and gave the name of Ash to the street that eventually was laid out.
A second stream flowing from the east into the Grand river south of the Saginaw bridge was commonly called Price’s creek for Capt. John R. Price who owned land through which the stream flowed. Capt. Price was born in South Amboy, Middlesex county, New Jersey, in 1816, and after locating in Lansing was one of the Lansing’s first city marshalls. He received his title of captain of company G of the Third regiment of Michigan infantry. The stream where entering the Grand flowed in to a small backwater that at one time was used as mill pond.
SAW LOGS ON RIVER
It is difficult to believe, but at one time saw logs were floated down the Cedar river from the present Potter park and the holdings of H. & E. Morgan. Scofield’s sawmill was located on the north side of the backwater or log pond on land now occupied by the Lansing company. In 1872 the land and mill were occupied by D. G. Canfield coal and lumber yard. The stream flowed from the east through property now occupied by the Simon Iron and Metal company, crossing the Michigan Central and Pere Marquette tracks to drain the land of Oak park, which was at the time Lansing’s cemetery, and the land of the present Motor Wheel corporation.
To the north and east it drained a pond located near the intersection of Sheridan and Pennsylvania aves. There are old timers in the city who insist they used to swim in that pond. The drainage basin included the land to the north of Saginaw st., including the site of the brick yard that was located about one and one half blocks south of Franklin ave. on Larch st.
The land west of Pennsylvania ave. from Saginaw st. to the junction of the Grand and Cedar rivers drained to the river with no real water courses, it being a gradual slope so that most the distance was damp springy ground except from Kalamazoo st. south, where the river bank was so high and the drainage was toward the south into the Cedar river.
B. V. S. WATER SUPPLY
The question of the water supply for the Boys Vocation school or the Boys Industrial school, as it was then called, was a serious one, and eventually settled by obtaining water from a large flowing spring located on Shiawassee st. near the present freight depot of the C. & O. The flow from this spring was forced to the school through wooden pipes by a hydraulic ram. As the school grew, requiring more water, and the land between the railroad and the school land was cleared the spring diminished in volume so that it was necessary to obtain a new source. This new supply was obtained from a much larger spring near the Grand river south of Shiawassee st. and from here the water was forced to the school by steam engine. It was not until 1871 that a six hundred foot well was driven on the school property which produced an abundance of good water.
Present agitation for the construction of toll roads in the state is a reminder that almost one hundred years ago we had a toll road from Lansing to Detroit that operated under the title of the Detroit, Howell, and Lansing Plank Road. Near the intersection of Sheridan and Grand River ave. was Toll Gate No. 1. This toll gave gave the name of the largest creek on Lansing’s east side. Toll Gate creek or drain, as it was more commonly known, drained most of the land east of Pennsylvania ave. to Harrison rd., and south of Grand River ave. to the Red Cedar river.
TOLL GATE POND
North of the toll gate on the present Groesbeck golf course were a couple of small ponds that were the source of the creek. The larger of these ponds was known as Toll Gate pond. The creek from this pond flowed south to cross Michigan ave., and thence southeasterly to join the Cedar. Located on the property of the Boys Vocational school were a couple of small ponds and were much used for skating by the public. These ponds were gradually filled in.
In Lansing’s old “Middle Town” there were two unnamed streams that can be recalled by a few citizens living here at the present time. The stream that entered the Grand river near the foot of Genesee st. flowed from the west from Ferris park. At the present site of the Lansing Storage building there was a deep ravine that required a foot bridge with a handrail. Old timers say it was quite a feat for early legislators who roomed at the old Seymour House at North Lansing to accomplish the crossing of the foot bridge on their way home after the closing of the day’s session. The land at the corner of Lapeer and Pine streets drained to the southeast toward Genesee street to form the drainage basin of the stream, the course of which could be said to follow Genesee st. to the river.
George R. Woodworth, Lansing’s pioneer boot and shoe merchant, came to Lansing in 1855 and purchased land on N. Washington ave. north of the present Lansing Storage building. He selected the site because there was a good-sized spring on the property, the overflow of which flowed to the south to enter the stream that came down Genesee street from the west.
BOUGHT LAND HERE
Woodworth was from Rochester, N.Y. where he was owner of a brick home and a boot and shoe business, but like many easterners caught the western fever and so decided to close out and migrate to Michigan. Under the circumstances he negotiated what he considered a satisfactory deal whereby trading his Rochester home for 40 acres of land near DeWitt, which he had never seen. Upon arriving in Lansing and learning that the capitol was definitely located here he decided to go no farther, and so made a purchase on the west side of the 100 block of N. Washington ave. Here he erected a building which was combined dwelling and a boot and shoemaker’s shop which was maintained for years under the name of George R. Woodworth and Son. The son, Henry A. Woodworth, carried on the store and, later, under the name of H. A. Woodworth and Sons.
In close proximity to the south at Ottawa st., another of “Middle Town’s” unnamed streams had its sources west of Pine st., one of which was a small pond located near Pine and Shiawassee sts. This pond extended into the west block of Ferris park and was used for skating by boys of the neighborhood. It was even claimed that before the neighborhood citizens started using it as a dump it was large enough and deep enough to be used as a swimming hole.
The outlet of this pond flowed south along Pine st., up Ottawa st., where it joined a stream from the west that had its beginning near Logan st. and followed the general course of the present Ottawa st. The land north of Ottawa st. and east of Sycamore st. drained into a small pond located in the rear of the former W. K. Prudden residence.
BOAT HOUSE ON RIVER
Owing to the contour of the land the stream followed today’s Ottawa st., flowing past St. Paul’s Episcopal and Central Methodist churches, the city hall, Tussing building and the old Thoman mill, to enter a backwater or bayou of the Grand river. At the mouth of the stream was a boat house that sheltered racing shells of the old Grand River Boat club.
The land at the old city hall, now about to be razed, was below street level, and before the present building was erected was the site of a stone crusher that prepared stone for the first of the macadamized streets. Farmers for miles around the city cleaned their fields of stone and brought them to the crusher to receive some remuneration for each “perch” of stone delivered.
Rising in the marshland west of VerLinden ave. and the Belt Line railroad, Weinman creek was one of the large streams of the city. Flowing northeasterly through what is now Westmoreland subdivision to Logan st. and thence north to Saginaw st., where it flowed diagonally through what was commonly known as the “40 acres”. This tract was heavily timbered before platting with Princeton, Chicago and Wisconsin aves. Near Brook st., from which the street derived its name, the creek flowed northerly to near the corner of Pine and Maple sts. Between Maple st. and Franklin ave. on the banks of the creek was located the old Weinman brewery, and it was from this brewery that the creek derived its name.
From the brewery the stream flowed northeasterly to enter the river west of Seymour st. and east of Stambaugh Island, which is no longer discernible. West of the Belt Line, near its source, was a branch which flowed through the land of Senaca Pratt. It was called Pratt’s drain. The low marsh land on the the rear of Pratt’s farm and the territory to the north was a favorite hunting ground for the boys of the 1880s and 1890s for a mess of frog legs.
The land north and west of the present Oldsmobile Forge plant drained into the Bogus Swamp creek, which flowed into Dryer creek, which in later days was known as Dryer drain. The Bogus swamp creek derived its name from the fact that a gang of counterfeiters were supposed to have had headquarters in a shack in the large swamp just south of Saginaw st.
William Dryer, for whom the creek was name, was one of Lansing township’s pioneers, having moved to Lansing in 1848. He was given credit for having made the first wagon in Lansing. In 1856 he purchased 105 acres of land just west of the School for the Blind on the north side of Willow st., which he farmed. He was considered as one of the community’s most progressive farmers, having been the first to introduce Merino sheep. He was one of the originators of the Central Michigan Agricultural association, and was township supervisor for several years.
Entering the Red Cedar river just west of Cedar st., was Marvin Creek, later called Marvin drain. The stream had its source near Paris ave., flowing northerly near Maplewood ave., where low land in the rear of the present lots indicate the old creek bed. Near Riley st. a branch from the west joined the main creek. This branch drained land as far west as the present Federal Forge company, and was called Mallory drain. Near Maplewood school another branch from the east joined the main stream. This drained land from as far east as the Michigan Central railroad.
Near Cedar st. and Mt. Hope ave. the creek flowed through present Walter French school land. On the southeast corner of Mt. Hope ave. and Cedar st. lived Matthew Marvin, for whom the creek was named. Marvin operated a tavern at his home, which during the period of the Civil was, was painted red, white and blue. He was the father of Kate Marvin Kedzie of Michigan Agricultural college. The stream flowed northerly to near Norman st., where a branch from the west joined the main stream. This branch had its source west of Washington ave., draining land south of Barnes ave., and crossed Washington ave. near the L. S. & M. C. right of way. It was only a few years past that in digging the street at this location, a large brick culvert was found about six feet below present grade line. From Norman st. to where the creek joined the Grand river, the stream could be considered to almost parallel the present right of way of the L. S. & M. C.
MINERAL WELL HOTEL
East of the Red Cedar river and south of the Grand, near the junction of the two rivers on property of the Jarvis Engineering company, was the old Lansing Magnetic and Bath House, site of the Mineral Well Hotel.
Another unnamed creek, flowing into the Red Cedar river from the south had its source south of Baker st. and east of the Michigan Central right-of-way. The low land east of the Michigan Central tracks indicates its approximate course to the river. On the north side of the Red Cedar river the soil was much lighter and sandy, and there were no well-defined creeks. On the north side of the light land, on Beech st., the soil became heavy, and on Beech st. was located Hall’s brick and tile yard. It was from this yard that most of the brick was manufactured for use in construction of the present state capitol building.
Beginning about where Ward’s Heating salesroom is now located another unnamed stream had its source in the flat land now occupied by the Atlas Forge plant. This stretch of low, level land was usually flooded in the spring and was used mainly for summer pasture. The creek flowed almost due north to enter the Grand river in Moores park just west of Glenn island. The course of the stream may be seen in the low lot on the north side side of W. Mt. Hope ave. in the 500 block and farther north on the west side of Bradley ave. in the 1700 block, where originally there was a ravine that has been filled and now a park site owned by the city.
Farther west on land owned by the Country club may be seen the channel of another unnamed stream, the gully of which is now crossed by Moores River drive. The pond on the Country club was created by building a dam across the channel of the stream, which drained most of the Country club land. Just to the east of this stream was a much smaller and shorter creek that drained the northeast corner of the golf links and land to the east of it. Traces of the old creek bed may still be seen in the low land on the south side of Moores River drive in the 1800 block.