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Volume 38, number 1

September 2016

Grand River Times The Newsletter of the Grand Rapids Historical Society Inside this issue:

Return to Oak Hill Cemetery

Cover Story: September program

PRESENTED BY: Letter from our President page 2 GRHS Program Schedule page 4

Thomas Dilley

Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. (rain date: Saturday, September 10, 2016) Located at Eastern Avenue at Hall Street

Happening in History page 6 Mercy Central School of Nursing page 7 Photo Sleuth page 7 Search: Grand Rapids Historical Society

Next program: After the September program, the Grand Rapids Historical Society’s next program will be on October 13, 2016 at the Grand Rapids Public Library. The speaker will be Mary Jane Dockeray. Her program is titled: Grand Rapids Underworld Grand River Times

On Saturday, September 3, 2016, we will return to Oak Hill Cemetery for another walk with cemetery scholar and historian, Thomas R. Dilley. We will explore the southern half of the finest example of a “park cemetery” to be found in western Michigan, visiting some sites we have seen before, as well as sites that will be “new” to attendees. Emphasis will be given to the history and architecture of the cemetery, and its place in the developmental history of cemetery spaces in 19th century America. Continued on page 3



I hope you have had a great summer. The Program Committee has been hard at work putting together a wonderful year of varied topics. We hope to see you at all, or at least most of them. The Grand River Times is the newsletter of the Grand Rapids Historical Society, published six times annually. Established in 1894, the Grand Rapids Historical Society is dedicated to exploring the history of West Michigan; to discover its romance and tragedy, its heroes and scoundrels, its leaders and its ordinary citizens. The Society collects and preserves our heritage, passing it on to new generations through books, lectures, and education projects. Executive Committee: Gina Bivins, president Matthew Daley, vice-president John Gelderloos, treasurer Nan Schichtel, secretary Board members: Alan Bennett Charles Bocskey Thomas Dilley Tim Gleisner Marilyn Hamill Chris Kaupa Gordon Olson, emeritus Wilhelm Seeger, emeritus Jeff Sytsma Jim Winslow Tony Wright Kurt Yost

Jessica Riley, editor Grand Rapids Historical Society c/o Grand Rapids Public Library 111 Library St. NE

Grand River Times

We are moving again. This year we are collaborating with the Grand Rapids Public Library. Our programs will be at the Main Branch in the auditorium on the second floor. Parking will be free in the library lot. As usual the programs will begin at 7:00 pm on the second Thursday of the month. Put them on your calendar now so you don't miss any. Dates and details are elsewhere in this newsletter. Now that I have said all of that, our first program of the year will be at Oak Hill Cemetery on Saturday, September 3 at 10:00 am. We have set aside September 10 as a rain date. For those who have been on these cemetery tours before you know that you will learn the history of cemeteries, family histories and Grand Rapids city history. For those who have not attended before wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for a large crowd. We will have an elevated amplifier to project the speaker's voice. There will only be one tour. We are grateful that Thomas Dilley has again agreed to enlighten us. Continued on page 5

About the Grand Rapids Historical Society. The Grand Rapids Historical Society sponsors eight programs each year, beginning in September and running through May, including lectures, audio/video presentations, demonstrations, collections, or special tours. Membership. Membership is open to all interested persons with annual dues of $30 per family, $20 for seniors and students, or $400 for a lifetime membership. The membership year runs from May to the following May. Members of the Grand Rapids Historical Society receive eight newsletters each year and a subscription to our annual magazine, Grand River Valley History. Members also receive a 20% discount on books published by the society as well as books published by the Grand Rapids Historical Commission.

Change of Address. If you will be permanently or temporarily moving to a new address, please notify GRHS before your change occurs. Let us know your new address and the date you plan to leave and plan to return. Email to, or mail to Grand Rapids Historical Society, c/o Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 2


Return To Oak Hill Cemetery, continued‌.. The grandest of the historic cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Oak Hill Cemetery has been in existence for more than 150 years. Here are buried many of the most important players in the history of the city, and here are many of the most interesting and elaborate monuments to those people. Please join us for a walking tour of the southern half of this historic cemetery, and learn about its history and occupants, as well as the art and architecture of this wonderful, historic place. Oak Hill Cemetery was opened, at the eastern edge of the limits of the city of Grand Rapids, in October, 1859. The original parcel, located entirely north of Hall Street, consisted of approximately 35 acres, and was privately administered by an association of lot owners until 1885 when it was taken over by the city. As the much talked about opening of the new cemetery approached, the city purchased roughly 40 acres on the south side of Hall Street, and opened the Valley City Cemetery, also in 1859. The two cemeteries, of similar design, were operated separately until when they were joined together, under City administration, as Oak Hill Cemetery, in 1885. Oak Hill represents the local high water mark of the influence of the rural, garden cemetery movement, which swept the eastern United States between 1830 and 1900. The rural (as opposed to urban) garden cemetery offered a far different look and approach to burials than had been the case for centuries before, and as is illustrated locally by the Fulton Street Cemetery, opened in 1838. The theory and practice of the garden cemetery offered a far more relaxed, welcoming, park-like arrangement of burial spaces than had been the case previously. Gone were the rigid rows and individualized plots, replaced with curving drives and vistas, and larger, family oriented lots, intended to serve a single family for generations. All of this was reflective of a significant change which had occurred, beginning in the early 19th century, in the beliefs of the predominantly Christian Protestant population of the nation, with particular emphasis on their view of the end of life. While the earliest graveyards here and elsewhere, taking their inspiration from the pre-colonial graveyards of New England (from whence most of the early settlers of Michigan came), offered rather stark and sometimes forbidding messages of loss and grief, the garden cemetery took up and reflected a more hopeful, resurrection oriented viewpoint, which is more familiar to us today. While the earliest graveyards were usually laid out in a firm grid pattern, reminiscent of the fields of the farmers buried there, and allowing little opportunity for sentimental decoration, the garden cemetery, with its self-espoused message of being at rest, offered an atmosphere of peaceful, commemorative reflection, which proved far more attractive to visitors, whether family members or not. The garden cemetery also welcomed, for the first time, the placement of larger, more decorative markers and monuments on graves, which allowed lot owners to memorialize their families, and to satisfy the seemingly insatiable Victorian appetite for elaborate, and sometimes ostentatious display. Today many of these markers and monuments provide fascinating insights about what was important to the people who placed them, as well as the world in which they lived. The walking tour will encompass only a part of the southern, formerly Valley City portion of the cemetery. We will visit the last resting places of men and women who built the city of Grand Rapids and its industries during a time of phenomenal growth in Grand Rapids, and the entire Midwestern United States. We will also take an opportunity to view some of the monuments as the art objects which they truly are, preserved for us in stone, for all time. By: Thomas Dilley (reprinted from 2010) Grand River Times



2016—2017 Grand Rapids Historical Society Programs **All programs (excluding cemetery tour) are being held at the Grand Rapids Public Library in the auditorium** RETURN TO OAK HILL: THE SOUTH SIDE


Saturday, September 3, 2016, 10:00 a.m. (rain date) Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, 10:00 a.m. Presented by: Thomas Dilley

February 9, 2017, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Jeff Sytsma

GRAND RAPIDS UNDERWORLD October 13, 2016, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Mary Jane Dockery Discover how natural resources have – and in many cases still do – affect our fair city. Slides depict an era long gone or at least modified.

WACs, WASPs, SPARs AND MARINES: NICKNAMES, RECRUITING, AND THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE OF SERVICEWOMEN FROM GRAND RAPIDS November 10, 2016, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Will Miner World War II saw the first large-scale employment of women in the armed forces. Initially unwelcomed by the services, women were first accepted by the Army, later the Navy and Coast Guard, and finally the Marine Corps.

Who were the Blodgetts, and what did they do? And what’s the story behind that palatial estate people refer to as the Blodgett Estate?

FIGHTERS FROM THE FURNITURE CITY March 9, 2017, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Louis Moore Although Grand Rapids doesn’t have a reputation that rivals larger boxing cities, the “Furniture City” has produced some of boxing’s best & most colorful fighters

THE MURDER OF MAJOR GENERAL NELSON April 13, 2017, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Robert Girardi Civil War Historian and author Robert I. Girardi will discuss the murder of Major General Nelson and its aftermath from his perspective as a veteran Chicago Police Department homicide detective.



January 12, 2016, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Carl Bajema and Tom Maas

May 11, 2017, 7:00 p.m. Presented by: Mark Thomson

Step back in time with street cars in Grand Rapids. Horse cars, cable cars, steam dummy trains, electric street cars and interurbans all carried passengers within and to-and-from Grand Rapids between 1865 and 1935.

Come hear the story of the founding and history of St. John’s Home and the remarkable women who came to save hundreds of orphaned children and, in the process, changed an entire community.

Grand River Times


GRAND RAPIDS HISTORICAL SOCIETY JOIN THE GRAND RAPIDS HISTORICAL SOCIETY OR GIVE A MEMBERSHIP AS A GIFT The Grand Rapids Historical Society sponsors eight lectures each year. Members of the society enjoy these benefits: 

The Grand River Times is the newsletter of the Grand Rapids Historical Society. Published and mailed to members eight times a year, it includes current items of historical interest, details of upcoming lectures, historically relevant activities, and short articles.

The Grand River Valley History is the society’s annual magazine. Featured are illustrated articles by local history researchers and contributions from the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the City Archivist, the Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

20% Discount on all books and other items published by the society.

Please enroll me as a member of the Grand Rapids Historical Society: ____ New ___Renewal ____Gift _____Lifetime:

$400.00 one-time fee

_____Individual/Family Membership

$30.00 per year

_____Senior Citizen or Student

$20.00 per year

Name: Address: City/State/Zip: Please make check payable to the Grand Rapids Historical Society and mail it with this form to: Grand Rapids Historical Society, c/o Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Continued from page 2

This summer while traveling my husband and I visited Green Wood cemetery in Brooklyn New York with our son and his family. Having read "The Art of Memory" by Thomas Dilley, I find I appreciate the art of the cemetery layout and headstone art even more than I did before. Don't forget to check our web site and our Facebook page for the most up to date program information. We are always looking for opportunities to bring you special member events. If you share your email address with us we will let you know about these. We promise not to share your address.

Grand River Times



HAPPENING IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 2016 Reading the Great Lakes Thursday, September 1, 2016, 7:00 p.m. Main Library—111 Library St. NE Come explore the Lakes with the Grand Rapids Public Library! They are reading a range of titles including mystery, history, fiction, and nonfiction all taking place in the Great Lakes region—from Chicago to Cleveland. This book club will be lead by librarians and will take place the first Thursday of every month. Additional copies of the book are available to be checked out on Level 4 of the Main Library. For a complete list of books, visit September’s Selection is Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treur.

West Michigan Postcard Club Monday, September 12, 2016, 7:00 p.m. Faith United Methodist Church 2600 7th St. NW Topic: Vacationing at Spring Lake Presenter: Dr. Wallace K. Ewing About the same time that the lumber industry in West Michigan was dying, people throughout the Midwest discovered it as an excellent vacation spot. Spring Lake was among the many resort destinations that sprung up in the late 1800’s and continue to flourish

Western Michigan Genealogical Society Saturday, September 10, 2016, 1:30 p.m. Main Library- Ryerson Auditorium 111 Library St. NE Topic: The Book in Each of Us Presenter: Buck Matthews This presentation by Buck Matthews emphasizes the importance of preserving our life stories for those who follow us in life. Almost every family has been faced with the task of trying to reconstruct the life journey of some beloved ancestor and hitting the blank wall. Objects and artifacts and keepsakes and old snapshots are relatively easy to discover - but the stories that formed the fabric of their lives are lost forever. Buck Matthews has spent more than sixty years in radio and television, yet he has often thought of himself as a writer who just happened to earn a living in broadcasting. His "Buck Matthews Show" on WOOD-TV, Grand Rapids, aired nearly two thousand times over a nine-year period. He has numerous writing credits. Grand River Times

today. Fortunately, many of the scenic post card views of local resorts have survived, allowing us to see them as they once appeared.

Grand Rapids Civil War Round Table Wednesday, September 21, 7:30 p.m. De Witt Student Center Kuyper College 3333 East Beltline NE Roger Rosentreter will be presenting on a topic to be determined.



BOOK REVIEW Mercy Central School of Nursing History Written by: Nancy Schulte, Class of 1958 In 1898 it became clear to the four Sisters of Mercy at Saint Mary’s Hospital that they could no longer continue to provide all of the nursing care for their patients. They decided that they needed to begin receiving candidates for training as nurses. The institution, founded on the premise of caring for the sick and needy, would provide a strong foundation for 3,336 future nurses during the 88 years that the School of Nursing was in existence. This book tells the story of the training school and nursing in general from 18981986. The content includes events in each decade in the world, Michigan, Grand Rapids, St. Mary’s Hospital and the school of nursing. There are great stories, school facts, state and local events, student experiences, pictures, some of which are almost 100 years old, and comments from MCSN alumni members. The reader should savor the history, read carefully and digest the subtle and not so subtle changes in our society and culture as they influence nursing education and the way that nursing care is given.

Available at Schuler Books (28th Street) or online at

GRAND RAPIDS PUBLIC LIBRARY PHOTO SLEUTH Our September Photo Sleuth selection comes from the Robinson Studio Collection's Vinegar Syndrome negatives. In this undated photo, four women are canning vegetables in the Lee High School cafeteria. If any of these women seem familiar, please email the Grand Rapids Public Library's Local History department at

Grand River Times


Non-Profit Org. U.S. postage PAID Grand Rapids, MI Permit No. 234

Grand Rapids Historical Society, Inc. c/o Grand Rapids Public Library 111 Library St. NE Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Return to Oak Hill Cemetery

PRESENTED BY: Thomas Dilley Saturday, September 3, 2016

10:00 a.m.

Cover Story: September program Letter from our President page 2 GRHS Program Schedule page 4 Happening in History page 6 Mercy Central School of Nursing page 7 Photo Sleuth page 7

For more information on Historical Society programs, please visit Grand River Times


2016 09 GRHS Grand River Times 38-01  

Return to Oak Hill Cemetery, presented by Thomas Dilley. On Saturday, September 3, 2016, we will return to Oak Hill Cemetery for another wa...

2016 09 GRHS Grand River Times 38-01  

Return to Oak Hill Cemetery, presented by Thomas Dilley. On Saturday, September 3, 2016, we will return to Oak Hill Cemetery for another wa...