Sleuthing for Local History

What’s happening? If you’ve ever read or heard any local history story, chances are you’ve been left wondering more about something — maybe a detail you think would be great to have fleshed out and related. The Grand Rapids Public Library’s annual winter program, History Detectives, is the place to come learn about such details!

Where and when? Our 10th Annual History Detectives program will take place at the Main Library’s Ryerson Auditorium on Saturday, January 28, 2017. This all-day event runs from 9:30 a.m. — 3:45 p.m., is free to the public, and requires no tickets nor registrations. Space is limited, and our past programs have been so popular, that an overflow area with a simulcast experience will once again be provided on site. Attendees can stay all day, or may pick and choose which sessions they’d like to join. Each session lasts 45 minutes, and a lunch break will take place from 12:15 p.m. — 1:00 p.m. See end of post for lunch and parking information.

What and who? See session descriptions below for session speakers, details and times.

9:30 — 10:15 a.m.
Present, But Not Counted: Dutch Immigrant Midwives in Grand Rapids
Janet Sjaarda Sheeres; Sponsor: Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council

Though sSheeres - midwife3tories of male physicians are adequately represented in medical histories, accounts of female midwives have been woefully neglected. And what histories of early American immigrants ever ask, “Who delivered the babies?” Adding to her body of work on invisible Dutch women, Janet Sjaarda Sheeres has uncovered ten midwives working in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Grand Rapids, and thirty more in other Dutch colonies. She will address why these women chose to work delivering babies; who their clients were; what hardships they faced; and why they are not in our histories. Sheeres’ findings also shed light on midwives serving other ethnic communities and why they have been sidelined in early historical records.


10:30 — 11:15 a.m.
Selling Grand Rapids: Expositions in the Furniture City, 1878-1965
Scott St. LouisSt Louis - Furniture City Flag; Sponsor: Grand Rapids Historical Society
Grand Rapids’ late-nineteenth-century business leaders were ambitious and optimistic: striving for the greatest profit from available resources, they rationalized production workflows, integrating the latest technologies into their factories. They also took advantage of the railroad network connecting Grand Rapids to an emerging consumer economy, reaching new levels of prosperity through and industry on the verge of unprecedented growth: domestic furniture production. Local leaders established semi-annual furniture expositions and collaborated to make Grand Rapids’ name synonymous with excellent household furniture on an international scale. With the help of a supportive community, leaders also resolved to prevent similar efforts in other cities from eclipsing their own. Their success transformed the physical and economic landscape of Grand Rapids.

11:30 a.m. –12:15 p.m.
Making Waves: Michigan’s Boat Building Industry, 1865-2000
Scott M. Peters; Sponsor: Grand Rapids Historical Commission
MiPeters - Guys overlooking boat framechigan’s late-nineteenth-century emergence as the boat-building industry’s hub drew together talented designers, builders, and engine makers to produce some of the fastest, most innovative boats ever created. Entrepreneurs like Christopher Columbus Smith, John L. Hacker, and Gar Wood established some of the nation’s top brands and brought the prospect of boat ownership within reach for every American consumer. Michigan boat builders also left their mark on history — from developing the speedy runabouts favored by Prohibition-era rum-runners, to creating the landing craft that carried Allied forces to Europe and the Pacific. Making Waves explores the intriguing story of people, processes, and products — of an industry
that evolved in Michigan but would change boating across the world.

1:00 — 1:45 p.m.
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Rediscovering Emma Cole’s 19th-Century Grand Rapids FloraStivers - E from Archives A to Z exhibit
Julie Stivers, Garrett E. Crow, and David P. Warners; Sponsor: Grand Rapids Public Museum
In 1901, Emma Cole published Grand Rapids Flora, a catalog of plants growing without cultivation in the vicinity of Kent County. Enormous changes have taken place since those days, yet her book remains one of the most complete accounts of plants specific to our area. Who was this high school teacher, world traveler, and Kent Scientific Institute botanist? Where were her favorite spots for wildflowers? Do they still exist? Julie Stivers will speak about the life of Emma Cole; Professors Warner and Crow will describe their work with Calvin College students to rediscover Emma’s haunts and assess their natural quality today. There are interesting surprises as we observe the changes over more than 100 years.

2:00 — 2:45 p.m.
A Modern Vision Realized: The Mid-Century Park School Development Program
Pam VanderPloeg; Sponsor:Grand Rapids City Archives

VanderPloeg - SCHOOLS PROGRAM RIVERSIDE FROM CITY ARCHIVESIn 1951, a successful Grand Rapids Public Schools millage vote launched a twenty-year building program to solve the crisis of aging, overcrowded schools and the post-World War II baby boom. A collaboration between the schools, prominent West Michigan architects and the Grand Rapids Parks Department, led by landscape architect Fred See, created beautiful modern schools set in expansive parks in old and new neighborhoods, and brought national recognition. The story of how that program unfolded, and of the fate of those schools today, will be told through original and contemporary photos and images.

3:00 — 3:45 p.m.
Reflections on the Gi-Gikinomaage-min (We Are All Teachers) Project
Belinda Bardwell; Sponsor: Western Michigan Genealogical SocietyBardwell - GVSU-8230
Launched in November 2014, the Gi-gikinomaage-min project aims to document the urban Native American
experience in Grand Rapids. The local Native American community grew dramatically in the last half of the 20th century as a result of a little-known federal program that still impacts American Indian lives today. The Urban Relocation Program created one of the largest mass movements of Indians in American history. This talk invites you to learn more about the Gi-gikinomaage-min project, based in the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University.

Lunch — Reserve ahead of time!!
12:15 — 1:00 p.m.
Boxed lunches are $10 and must be ordered in advance. Choose a turkey, ham, or vegetarian sandwich option (or make any of these gluten-free). Also included in the lunches are a fruit cup, pasta salad, cookie, condiments and bottled water. Pop will be available for an additional $1.00
To reserve a lunch, call 616.988.5492 or email by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, January 23. Cash only payment is due at the event.

Limited parking is available in the Library lot, and is free with a validated parking lot ticket.

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