History Detectives

Sleuthing for Local History

Saturday, January 20, 2018

9:30 am – 4:00 pm | Main Library | 111 Library St NE

A day-long event made up of six programs exploring various aspects of Grand Rapids history. Presented by area historians and members of historical and cultural organizations, topics are varied and reflect the unique heritage of West Michigan. 

9:30 – 10:15 am

Welcome to the Madison Square

Don Bryant

While researching his church’s first hundred years for This Far by Faith: The Unfinished Story of Madison Square Church (2017), Don Bryant discovered surprising connections among people, organizations, and events that characterized the Grand Rapids neighborhood in which the church was planted in 1914. As the first business district outside downtown, the Square’s long history provides fodder for compelling looks at the area’s past. Bryant illustrates why knowing local history can impact the present and how it can connect to one’s family background in personal, exciting, and rewarding ways.

Sponsor: Western Michigan Genealogical Society

10:30 – 11:15 am

Elective Detectives & Crowdsourcing Grand Rapids Women’s History 

Julia Bouwkamp & Jo Ellyn Clarey

The historical charting of Grand Rapids women’s runs for public office beginning in 1887 is upending conventional wisdom and offering surprises about dates, the number of races, and the identities of losers. This unique historical accounting hopes to inspire cities across the nation to create their own comprehensive elective histories. Julia Bouwkamp and Jo Ellyn Clarey will report that Her Hat Was in the Ring, a national crowdsourcing project, now has invited local researchers to share their data with the world, to help others complete and complicate American women’s history by seeking out every woman who ran before 1920.

Sponsors: Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council & Grand Rapids City Archives

11:30 am – 12:15 pm

Making History: State Historical Markers in Grand Rapids

Jeff Neumann

Located around Michigan are over 1,700 historical markers that tell the story of the state and its people. Each and every one of them provides a wonderful reminder of our history and offers insights about where we are headed. Fifty of the historical site markers are located in Kent County, both in and around Grand Rapids. We will take a virtual tour within the city limits of Grand Rapids to seek out and highlight these hidden gems that represent a great deal of our local area’s history.

Sponsors: Grand Rapids Historical Commission

12:15 – 1:00 pm

Lunch – Reserve ahead of time!

Boxed lunches are $10 and must be ordered in advance. Choose a turkey, ham, or vegetarian sandwich (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 rsvp@grpl.org by 5:00 pm on January 10. Cash payment is due at the event.

Lunches provided by Cherry Deli; afternoon cookies by Lomonaco Sicilian Cookies.

1:00 – 1:45 pm

African Americans in Early Grand Rapids

Ruth Van Stee

From 1850 to 1920 African Americans in Grand Rapids were a steady one percent of the city’s rapidly growing population. Ruth Van Stee will present on the vibrant community’s broader population before providing snapshots of business, cultural, and political leaders. She will also discuss how she explored some of her examples: a wealthy business man; a women’s club leader active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union movement; and a citizen serving with the YMCA overseas during WWI, and others.

Sponsor: Grand Rapids Historical Society & Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University

2:00 – 2:45 pm

Dress Discoveries: Fashion and the Voigt Family

Andrea Melvin

Peer into the incredible closet of a prominent Grand Rapids entrepreneurial family, the Voigts. The collection of over 600 items of personal dress dates from the 1890s through the 1970s and includes pieces rarely appearing in museum collections, particularly the active wear and clothing worn privately in the home. The garments will be used to explore the fashion, culture and society of Grand Rapids from the Victorian Era to the middle of the twentieth century and help weave together the personal stories of the Voigt family, Carl and Elizabeth, their six children, and extended family.

Sponsor: Grand Rapids Public Museum

3:00 – 3:45 pm

The North End Gets a Name

Michael J. Page

The Page family has had a continuous presence in the Creston Neighborhood for the last 167 years with 71 years at 114 Page St. NE. Through day-to-day accounts in Loren M. Page’s journal, kept from 1847 to 1852, get a peek at life at the “north-end” of early Grand Rapids, now the Creston neighborhood. The recently donated diary of Loren M. Page provides a detailed and personal look at upper and lower class life in the young city, and will be supplemented by photographs and maps. The program will include the history and development of the “North End” from 1850 – 1906, including the influences of the railroad, street railways, churches, schools, fire department, businesses, residences and the people who were “movers & shakers”.

Sponsor: Grand Rapids Public Library