Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, MI – Sunday, April 24, 1938
Grand Avenue in the Grand Old Days
By Hayden R. Palmer
This is the story of Lansing of yesterday – of the days in 1865 when this city, which today is a teeming metropolis of 120,000 inhabitants, was just a sprawling scrawly town of some 3,500 persons.
It is a story particular of Grand street, which now bears the more dignified title of Grand avenue, but a thoroughfare that 73 years ago was the bon ton street of the town. Here the best people lived in homes that long since have been torn down in the march of progress and large business establishments have taken their places.
Let us take a walk in memory up and down the wooden sidewalks and cinder paths or in the dirt road that marked the thoroughfare with two pioneers of that day – O. A. Jenison and J. P. Edmonds – who still can visualize the street as old timers knew it then.
The principal residential district – dotted here and there with some business places – was the most thickly populated in that section between Ottawa and Washtenaw streets.
Back in 1848, Orien A. Jenison, father of O. A. Jenison, came to Lansing and in 1865 O. A. Jenison was born in a little frame house which was located on the site of the present Dyer-Jenison-Barry company at Grand avenue and Allegan street, just north of the present Central fire station.
“Our house was a twin house,” Mr. Jenison recalls. “It’s twin was located at the corner of Grand street and Michigan avenue. It was occupied by a Doctor Bailey.
On the corner to the west of the Bailey home, where the VanDervoort hardware store is now located, was the old Chapman house, a quite famous hostelry in its day. It was operated by “Uncle Ben” Brown. After his death, his son, Charles, operated the hotel on the northeast corner of Grand and Michigan avenues.
One of the first telephones in Lansing was in the old Chapman house and Mr. Jenison recalls making his first telephone call from there. There were no numbers as now, and the person using the phone merely asked the operator to connect him with the phone in the home of the person with whom he wished to talk. That was in 1881.
About the same year Mr. Jenison’s father sold his home on Grand avenue for $2,500 to James Turner. It was considered a good deal. He took the money and erected an even finer home at Ionia and Sycamore streets.
In later years, the Bell Telephone company constructed a building on the site of the Jenisons’ old home and still later the Dyer-Jenison-Barry company purchased it for many times the price for which the elder Mr. Jenison sold it.
South of the old Chapman house was a carpenter shop operated by Henry Jackson and that comprised the buildings on the west side of the block between Michigan avenue and Allegan street. The northwest corner of Allegan and Grand, now occupied by a hotel and mercantile house, was a sand pit, Mr. Jenison recalls.
Directly south of the sand pit, on the southwest corner of Grand and Allegan, was a vacant lot which was part of the property of Abram Allen. Mr. Allen was a lumberman and operated a planning mill. Prior to Mr. Allen’s occupancy of the home, Milo Baker, who operated a foundry here at Capitol avenue and Washtenaw street, lived in the house. It was one of the show places of the street.
Next to and south of the Allen home was that of Dr. I. H. Bartholomew and William Bartholomew, still reside in Lansing.
Adjoining the Bartholomew property on the south was the home of Philo Daniels, a druggist, whose house was next to the blacksmith shop of Garrett Lansing who married one of the sisters of Edward W. Sparrow, who more than 25 years ago was the donor of Sparrow hospital. The blacksmith shop occupied the lot on the northwest corner of Grand avenue and Washtenaw street where the Fleming hotel now stands.
Directly opposite it on the northeast corner of Grand and Washtenaw was another business house, that of A. Clark and Son, who made buggies, and next to that to the north was the home of Doctor Bancroft.
Next door north of the Bancroft property was the home of George W. Chandler, and north of his home was that known as the old Havens property. The building occupied for years by the late Charles Lawrence, still is in use. It stands directly opposite the rear of the present Strand theater. Atop the house – which has been greatly modernized through the years – is a cupola. Legend has it that Mrs. Havens kept a casket in the cupola and at the time of his death he was buried in it. The legend, however, never has been definitely proved.
Adjoining the Havens home on the north was that of Doctor Lanterman, a dentist. He later moved to California and the home was purchased by a Doctor Moffit, also a dentist. Next was the old Universalist church, which occupied the site where now stands the fire alarm telegraph station of the fire department.
Where Central fire station now is located was an extension of Allegan street, which ended at the Grand river.
The Jenison home was north of that. Adjoining the front of the present-day Dyer-Jenison-Barry company building is a copper plaque bearing a likeness of the Jenison home. Mr. Jenison works in the building in a room not more than 30 feet from where he was born.
“We had no well,” he says, “and I had to carry water from a cistern. There were no pavements then, no gas, no electricity. We burned candles in the upstairs rooms and kerosene lamps in the parlor and other rooms downstairs.”
Mr. Jenison’s father kept a cow on his property and he also had a smoke house.
Next door to the Jenisons, north, was the home of N. B. Jones. He had a son, Roy Jones, who at one time was editor of The Lansing Journal. Later Mr. Jones sold his home and moved over to North Cedar street, and a laundry, operator by a foreigner, was established on the site.
Next to the Jones home, to the north, was a grist mill owned and operated by on Egbert Ingersoll.
Just around the corner of Michigan avenue, and just east of Doctor Bailey was the Nathan Giles livery stable, which was a popular place for the young swains of the town to hire a horse and buggy and take their best girls for a ride, sometimes as far away as “the college.”
About where the old Hotel Kerns stood in recent years was the office and home of Judge Pickney, a municipal jurist, who dispensed justice in town.
About opposite his home, where the VanDervoort Hardware company’s wholesale house at the southwest corner of Grand avenue and Ottawa street now stands, was the residence of George P. Sanford, publisher of the The Lansing Journal and prominent politician of his day.
Beyond this to the north of Ottawa street were a few homes, but they were scattered and mixed in with some manufacturing establishments, including a wagon works. In the 300 block of North Grand avenue, however, was the old Leadley estate, one of the outstanding residences of the town which, just a few weeks ago, was torn down to make room for a modern-day parking lot.
But the show place of show places in those days was far to the south, at St. Joseph street and Grand avenue, where John A. Kerr, first state printer and a member of the publishing firm of Hosmer and Kerr, built a large home. It was a large white rambling structure with huge pillars and in the yard was a gas plant.
Part of the home still stands today and is still occupied. It has been moved, however, back from its original location and faces on East St. Joseph street between Grand avenue and Cherry street.
It was recognized, however, as one of the finest homes in Lansing. It’s high-ceilinged rooms and its massive pillars made it a real mansion in the town.
Both Mr. Hosmer and Mr. Kerr had streets in Lansing named for them. Hosmer street still remains but Kerr street now has been changed to Eighth street.
On the southwest corner of Grand avenue and Lenawee street today stands a home that graced the street back in the old days. It is the old B. F. Simonds home and it was erected many score years ago.
In the block between Washtenaw street and Kalamazoo street were many other old residences. Most of them are gone now, replaced by modern business structures. In these homes lived G. W. Bement, A. O. Bement, Homer Cornell, A. Beemer, John T. Page, Deacon Green, and Dan Edwards, sixth ward alderman. Further south was the Simonds home and also that of George K. Grove.
The lots on Grand avenue, and throughout the original town of Lansing, a map reveals, were all the same size, 66 feet wide by 165 feet deep. Where River street touches the Grand river was a ferry boat which carried passengers and horse buggies across the Grand to the street on the opposite side, known as Oak street, where the old mineral well was located.
Lansing had a volunteer fire department in those days, which was associated with the social life of the town. The young men of the best families all belonged and raced to fires when there were any. The fire station was located on Allegan street, near Grand, about where the present Capitol Savings and Loan company’s nine-story building now stands.
When a fire broke out, Mr. Jenison and Mr. Edmonds recall, it was shouted by the discoverer and soon someone who heard it would rush to the fire hall and ring the bell to arouse the populace. Then the firemen would come running from all parts of the village and haul the fire apparatus to the blaze.
At the northern end of Grand avenue back in the Civil war days was a slaughter house. There was no bridge across the Grand river at Saginaw as there is today and cattle were brought across by barge or swam the stream. That point in the river also was a favorite ice cutting section and the process of carving the huge frozen cakes from the stream each winter was the occasion for large gatherings of people to watch the operation.
The olden days that some old-timers still here recall in Lansing have gone now as the town, casting aside the humble garments of a village, has donned the raiments of a city. But in the memory of early residents still remains the picturesque little settlement of yesterday that squatted along the banks of the mighty Grand.
Time does march on.