Guest blog from intern Brian Hall

For the past three months, I’ve been working on a project with the Local History department here at the library. I learned last summer that our library has a large archive of photographs. Lots and lots of photographs. Just in the collection I worked with there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 photos!

For my internship, I worked with the Grand Rapids Herald series of the Robinson Studio Collection, making the images available digitally. The photographs were taken specifically for use in articles in the Grand Rapids Herald. That means every picture has a story attached to it, and if you know where to look (in our Local History department for example) you can get a better understanding of what makes it significant.

As a non-native to Grand Rapids, basically everything I know about the city I’ve learned over the past five years. This collection has been a fascinating look at a Grand Rapids I never knew. At several points I found myself recognizing places quickly due to how little things have changed in some 70 years. Several other images had me not recognizing places I see every day!

American Legion parade in August 1941.

This picture in particular caught my eye, as it was extremely familiar but impossible for me to map out. I recognized the basic layout of the roads, and I had seen that statue before, so what was I missing? As it turns out, a lot can change in 74 years. Were you aware that Monroe Center used to be called Monroe Street and connected with Fulton at Sheldon? I sure wasn’t! Many of you might recognize this as what is now Monument park!

With this revelation came more questions. Monroe Center seems like an entirely different place! It’s so wide and open, when did it get turned into a one-way street? What are those stores sitting where (what is now) the Police Station is? With the help of others in the Local History department, I was given a whirlwind tour of what went on at this corner.

As I discovered, Monroe Street was closed to road traffic in 1980 and turned into an outdoor mall. After proving to be a less than ideal setup, it was reopened to vehicles in 1997. Having been down Monroe Center a few times, knowing this put the layout into context, and it now makes a lot more sense.

I learned that the shops on the southwest corner of Division and Monroe (on the left side of the photo) were, among other things, Birney’s and Hager’s Music House. These would later be torn down and replaced by Herpolsheimer’s, and after several other later revisions, the Police Department.

As someone with a love of history and a fascination with how places evolve over time, this has been a really cool project to be involved in. While I was able to spend some time inspecting each of the pictures I worked with, I constantly felt myself wanting to know more about them, wanting to dig deeper into their stories. One of my hopes for this project is that making these pictures more widely and easily available will cause someone to find their own fascination in this.

The American Legion parade passing the Morton Hotel.