History of Grand Rapids
The area known today as the City of Grand Rapids
was first settled over 2,000 years ago when the Hopewell Indians, known for their large burial mounds, occupied the Grand River Valley. About 300 years ago, the Ottawa Indians moved into the area and lived in several villages along the river. The Chippewa were just to the north and the Pottowattomie were just south. They made up a group called The People of the Three Fires. When the British and French arrived, the Ottawa traded fur pelts for European metal and textile goods.
One French trader named Louis Campau established a trading post here in 1826. Although he was not the first permanent settler (that distinction falls to a Baptist minister named Isaac McCoy who arrived in 1825), Campau became perhaps the most important settler when, in 1831, he bought what is now the entire downtown business district of Grand Rapids from the federal government for $90. Dutch and German immigrants followed soon after. Eastern and Southern Europeans came at the end of the 19th century.
When Grand Rapids was incorporated on April 2, 1850, it already had one furniture factory and several small private shops that created various furniture pieces. The Grand River was used to generate power for the factory and provide transportation for the logs from the hard and soft wood forests upstream. After an international exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Grand Rapids became recognized worldwide as a leader in the production of fine furniture. Even today, Grand Rapids is considered the world leader in the production of office furniture.
Through the years, the residents of Grand Rapids have adapted to changing times with innovative solutions. When residents voted to abolish the old aldermanic system of city government in 1916, they replaced it with the Commission-Manager form of government that is still in place today. Another example came during the Great Depression when the City started a jobs program that preceded the federal employment effort. Grand Rapids once again led the nation in 1945 when it became the first city in the United States to add fluoride to its drinking water.