Lansing Grew Rapidly As New State Capital

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Tuesday, March 18, 1947.
(Article written during the Centennial Celebration of Lansing being named the State Capitol of Michigan).

Lansing Grew Rapidly As New State Capital

Building City Was Soon to Become Manufacturing Center

By Dr. George N. Fuller

Lansing grew apace as the years rolled on. The budding city was soon to have its iron works, carriage works, planing mill, marble works, woolen mill, barrel factory, furniture factory, brick manufactory, tannery and brewery in addition to its saw-mill and flour mill.

Already in these days after 1850 Lansing was forging ahead as a manufacturing town. In anticipation of these improvements a bank was established as early as 1850 but the first bank building was not built until 1855 on what has come to be known as the bank corner – Washington and Michigan. The First National banks organized in 1864 and the Second National bank later that same year.

Most of this expansion came after the Civil war.

Along with this expansion of business went growth in public utilities. Water was on the prime necessities after the Civil war. Doctors who had served in the army came back with knowledge of how easy water of open wells is made unfit for drinking. They were impressed with how disease could be controlled by pure water and sanitary surroundings. They denounced open wells and appealed to the people of Lansing to start a city water system.

Water System Started in 1855

In 1872, through the efforts of Dr. Henry B. Baker and others, the state board of health was established and used its influence. But it was not until 1855 that the city council took action and established the beginning of the present municipal water system.

Doctor Baker, as head of the state board of health, sought to form in each township, village and city a branch board. The first health board in Lansing came in this way.

With the improvement in the water system. The matter of fire protection came into the spotlight. It was very crude in the early days. For several years after the capitol came the only fire protection was a volunteer ladder and bucket company. All able-bodied male citizens were members. Each kept his ladder and bucket. The fire alarm was a pair of strong lungs put into violent action by the person discovering the fire. Then all neighbors with their ladders and pails rushed to the scene of the blaze to put out the fire if they could. Water was taken from the rivers or from wells within reach.

Several Disastrous Fires

Disastrous fires swept the city in 1853 and 1857 and inspired the organization of the Lansing fire department and the purchase of a hand engine. Two more severe losses by fire in 1866 and 1871 led to he purchase of two steam engines. In spite of this a half dozen heavy fires occurred within as many years, culminating in the great fire of 1877 in which about an acre of the city was burned over.

Lansing’s greatest difficulty in handling a fire was the long scattered reach of two miles from north to south. And again, the fire department had no municipal water supply to draw upon.

It was not until 1895 that Lansing had a police department. In the early days the city was guarded by a city marshal and one or two constables, assisted by the county sheriff and his deputies. Night watchmen were employed to report fires.

The jail was in “Middle Town” on East Allegan street, a wooden two-story building, in the top story of which the city council met. This was used until the city hall was built.

Lighting Was Problem

Along with other civic improvements came the problem of lighting streets and public buildings. Before the Civil war candles and whale oil lamps were used. Then came kerosene lamps. Before 1873 even the state capitol was thus lighted.

In 1872 the first Lansing factory to make illuminating gas was built. The city has not even yet undertaken to supply its own gas as a public utility.

It was different with electricity, which came as a public-owned utility in 1893.

With the establishment of the state capital here, came the schools. The first was a district school in “lower town” where most of the families were. It was the only cleared ground in the woods. The teacher was Eliza Powell,, daughter of a pioneer. The school started with 10 pupils. The school building was a log shanty. It was soon overcrowded and the school board built a frame building. Miss Powell’s salary was $2 a week.

A two-story brick school house was erected in 1851. Later a second school district was formed, but in 1859 the two were consolidated and after the Civil war, with the formation of other wards, the present unified system of primary, grammar and high schools was adopted.

A wooden two-story high school building was built on the old Central high school square, but in 1874 this was replaced by a three-story brick building which lasted through the pioneer period.

Methodist Society Formed in 1846

Quite as early as the schools, the churches came to Lansing. In 1846 the Methodists formed a society in “lower town” with four members. The society grew and included a number of Presbyterians. In 1865 the Presbyterians formed a church society of their own and built the Franklin Presbyterian church. The Central Methodist church was built in 1888. Three Baptist societies were formed as early as 1848. The Congregationalists worshiped with other denominations until the 1870s when the present church on Allegan street was built. A Lutheran society was formed and a church built by Lansing’s early Germans in the 1850s. The Catholic church in Lansing received its first strong impulse from the work of Father Van Dress, a Belgian priest, who came to Lansing in the period of the Civil war.

Fraternal orders gained a footing here with the coming of the capital or soon afterward. Among those was Masonry. The present Grand Lodge of Michigan had been organized only in 1844. Lansing Lodge No. 33 was organized in 1849 and Capitol Lodge No. 45, I. O. O. F. was instituted in 1850.

Other organizations came into being after the war. Among them was the Lansing Cornet band, 1865; Independent Order of Good Templars, 1866; Order of the Stars and Stripes, originally political and charitable in character, 1875; Lansing Library and Literary association, 1871, out of which grew the Lansing Woman’s club in 1874; Grand River Boat club, 1872. Lansing acquired an opera house in 1873.

The city was growing rapidly. Great improvements were made. Streets showed fewer stumps. Grading was well under way on Washington avenue. Frame houses were going up. There were some of brick.

The population of Lansing by the 1860 federal census was 3,085. By 1870 it had reached 5,241. Outside the city, Lansing township numbered 823 persons.

Only yesterday, as it were, the first citizens of Lansing were riding behind ox teams up Washington avenue in not a very straight path because they had to dodge the stumps, often with mud half way to the wagon hubs.

Woods and Indians yesterday, a modern city today.


LPD in 1894

LPD in 1894


Original Article

Original Article


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