Florence Steamboat

About East Grand Rapids

East Grand Rapids has a long and colorful history.  The following summary was prepared by Mary Dersch, local resident and volunteer historian for the city. We invite you to visit the Local History Room at the library, located 750 Lakeside Drive, to learn more about the community’s past.

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Early History

East Grand Rapids was first settled in the early 1830s 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, stagecoach, or by horse and buggy. In the middle 1870s, horse-drawn cars became available. Passengers would board in downtown Grand Rapids, transfer onto the Grand Rapids and Reeds Lake Railway on Sherman Street Southeast and proceed to the lake down Wealthy Street. By 1877, a steam locomotive replaced the horse cars. Electric streetcars came into use in the early 1890s. Buses replaced them as a mode of transportation in 1935. Interurban also brought residents from nearby cities to Reeds Lake.

Ramona Park

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 1897 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. Built in 1914, this double track, wooden roller coaster included an 80 percent drop! It was located on the former Jacobson’s property 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 that toured the park. There were also games of chance and concession stands. Our former president, and East Grand Rapids resident, Gerald R. Ford once worked at one of the concession stands.

The Ramona Theatre Pavilion sat on the west side of the park on Lakeside Drive (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.

The Ramona Gardens Pavilion, another gem of Ramona Park, hosted big bands in the 1940s and later served double-duty as a roller skating rink. 

By the early 1950s, 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 1955. 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.


Regularly scheduled rides on excursion steamboats on Reeds Lake began in 1882 when Captain John Poisson immigrated to East Grand Rapids from Canada. 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 1882 to 1955:


Reeds Lake was home to two bathing beaches: Manhattan Beach and Rose’s Bathing Beach. 

Manhattan Beach was located on the north shore of the lake at the end of Pioneer Club Road. In 1884, Charles Seidel, boat builder and harbormaster on Reeds Lake, leased the land to create a bathing beach. In 1905, Thomas Reeds purchased and expanded the property into a more substantial beach resort. Katherine and Charles Morgan, Thomas Reeds daughter and son-in-law, continued to operate the facility until it closed and the property was sold in 1927.

Rose’s Bathing Beach and Swimming School, located on the west shore of Reeds Lake on the north side of the boat launch, was established in 1901 by James Rose.  In addition to the bathing school, the property held a bathhouse, bathing beach, and toboggan slide. After the bathing beach closed in the late 1960s, most of the facility was demolished, with the exception of one small building which was opened as a marina and restaurant by James’ son, John "Bub" Rose. Today, the property is Rose’s Restaurant and Marina.

Ramona Baseball Park

The Ramona Baseball Park stood on the corner of Lake and Lakeside Drive until 1946 (currently the high school football field). In the 1920s, Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, and the New York Yankees played in the park along with many other local, area, and national baseball teams.

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.

The oldest surviving home in East Grand Rapids is the George Young farmhouse. Originally located on the southeast corner of Lake Drive and Cardinal Drive, it was later moved to Anderson Street.

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 Robert 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 schoolhouse 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 for grades one through twelve. The Lovett-Barnard House, located on the current Wealthy School playground, served as the Kindergarten House 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 a new high school opened on Lake Drive in what is now Wealthy Elementary. The schoolhouse on Wealthy now serves 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.