Early Years of EGR
East Grand Rapids has a long and colorful history. In addition to perusing the materials on this website, we invite you to visit the East Grand Rapids History Room, located in the upper level of the library at 746 Lakeside Drive, to learn more about the community’s past.
East Grand Rapids was first settled in 1834 when the Reed family arrived from New York State. Originally part of Paris Township, it is one of the oldest suburbs in Kent County. Residents voted to establish the Village of East Grand Rapids in 1891. The village was then incorporated into a home-rule city in 1926 when the population was approximately 1,300 people.
By the 1870s, the Reeds Lake area was a popular summertime day trip destination for the people of Grand Rapids and surrounding areas who made the long journey to spend the day picnicking, boating, swimming, or spending a leisurely day at the lake. At the lakeside pavilion on the west shore of Reeds Lake, viewers could take in a play or listen to a popular orchestra of the day.
Originally, those who wished to reach Reeds Lake would do so by foot or by horse and buggy. In the middle 1870s, horse-drawn street cars became available. Passengers would board in downtown Grand Rapids, transfer onto the Grand Rapids and Reeds Lake Railway (below left) on East Street Southeast and proceed to the lake down Sherman to Wealthy Street. By 1877, a steam locomotive began replacing the horse cars. Electric streetcars (below right) came into use in the early 1890s. Buses replaced them as a mode of transportation in 1935. Interurban trains also brought residents from nearby cities to Reeds Lake.
Grand Rapids and Reeds Lake Railway
Ramona Park is the most remembered feature of early East Grand Rapids. The amusement park, owned and operated by the Grand Rapids Street Railway Company, was a destination spot for thousands of families between 1881 and 1955. Ramona Park was bordered by Wealthy Street, Lovett Avenue, and Lakeside Drive.
One of the most popular rides was the Jack Rabbit Derby Racer (below left). Built in 1914, this double track, wooden roller coaster included an 80 foot drop. It stretched across the former Jacobson’s property and current D&W parking lot on Wealthy Street. There were a great number of other rides and activities at the park, including the merry-go-round, fun house, mystic chutes, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, aeroswings and a miniature locomotive (below right) in the park. There were also games of chance and food concession stands. Our former president, and East Grand Rapids resident, Gerald R. Ford once worked at Rose's popcorn stand in the park.
|Jack Rabbit Derby Racer||Miniature locomotive|
The Ramona Theatre Pavilion (below left) sat on the north side of the park on Lakeside Drive overlooking Reeds Lake (currently the Lakewood Hills Apartments) from 1897 until 1949. It was an extremely popular summertime venue that could seat 1,700 people and hosted popular plays, musicals, Vaudevillian and burlesque acts, silent films, talkies, and favorite local and national entertainers, such as Will Rogers, America's cowboy humorist. The Ramona Gardens Pavilion (below right), another gem of Ramona Park, hosted big bands in the 1940s and also served double-duty as a roller skating rink.
|Ramona Theatre Pavilion||Ramona Gardens Pavilion|
After World War II, with the availability of more cars, people were able to travel further and faster for weekend trips and vacations and attendance at Ramona Park dwindled. Ramona Park's glory days of entertainment were fading. The park fell into disrepair and closed in 1954. The community voted to replace the park with residential apartments and a new commercial shopping center. The land was eventually developed into portions of the current Gaslight Village, including Ramona Shopping Center (D&W and other small businesses), the Jade Pig retail development, apartments and condominiums, and Collins Park on the lakeshore.
By the late 1870s, several pleasure steamboats were operating on Reeds Lake. Regularly scheduled rides on excursion steamboats began in earnest in 1883 when Captain John Honore Poisson (right) established his business in East Grand Rapids. Fierce competition between steamboat captains ensued, several times resulting in fisticuffs or boats colliding.
The SS Florence, a single-decked boat, was brought from Frankfort, Michigan, up the Grand River, and then moved by land up Wealthy Street to Reeds Lake. An upper deck was then added, and the Florence ran until 1902. Captain John, his son Charles, and grandson William ran four steamboats on the lake from 1883 to 1955 (below).
SS Florence 1882 - 1902
SS Major A.B. Watson 1891 - 1921
SS Hazel A 1896 - 1926
SS Ramona 1923 - 1956
Ramona Athletic Park
The Ramona Athletic Park (right) stood on the corner of Lake and Lakeside Drive until 1942 (currently the high school football field). In the 1920s and 1930s, Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, and the New York Yankees played exhibition games in the park. Many other area and national baseball teams also played here.
Building East Grand Rapids
Major waves of home construction in East Grand Rapids occurred in the 1920s and 1950s, although there are several homes that are more than 100 years old. Neighborhoods now include a pleasing mix of Victorian, traditional, modern, and new designs with many homes being renovated over the years to keep pace with the needs of families.
East Grand Rapids Schools
While the East Grand Rapids School District was not established until 1841, Sophia Reed (daughter of Ezra Reed) and Euphemia Davis (daughter of Ezekiel Davis) were teaching children in East Grand Rapids as early as 1834 in the Ezra Reed home on the west shore of Reeds Lake. In 1841 a log cabin schoolhouse was erected on the lake near where the current Community Center is located. From the mid 1840s to 1890, school-age children may have attended class in a variety of other small school buildings.
In 1891 a two-room, wood-framed Greenwood Schoolhouse (below left) was built on the northwest corner of Wealthy and Greenwood for children in kindergarten through eighth grades. High school students attended Grand Rapids High School and later Grand Rapids Central High School.
In 1917 a new brick schoolhouse was built on Wealthy Street for grades one through eight. The Lovett-Barnard House (below right), located on the current Wealthy School playground, served as the Kindergarten House from 1928 until 1967. The former Greenwood School was divided in two and both sections currently serve as private residences on the bend on Greenwood.
In 1928 the first high school opened on Lake Drive in what is now Wealthy Elementary. The old schoolhouse on Wealthy then served as the elementary school.
Breton Downs Elementary School was built in 1930. All the other East Grand Rapids schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s, including the middle school and current high school.
|Greenwood Schoolhouse||Lovett-Barnard House|