Grand Rapids and Michigan History

The collections listed below contain materials related to general Grand Rapids and Michigan history. Materials may be accessed by request in the Reading Room in Seidman House. Contact Leigh Rupinski at (616) 331-8726 or rupinskl@gvsu.edu to schedule a research appointment.

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Regional Newspapers Collection (RHP)

A collection of local community newspapers from the West Michigan region, spanning from 1930 to the present day. The newspapers relate to local business, ethnic, social, religious, and political communities.

View Regional Newspapers Collection Finding Aids


Grand Rapids Boat and Canoe Club Records (RHC-54)

The Owashtanong Boat Club was formed in 1884 and housed at Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was disbanded in 1900 and re-established in 1902 as the Grand Rapids Boat and Canoe Club. The collection consists of two scrapbooks of news clippings, photographs, and ephemera collected by Charles McQuewan of the Grand Rapids Boat and Canoe Club. 

View the Grand Rapids Boat and Canoe Club Records Finding Aid


Grand Rapids Oral History Collection (RHC-23)

Taped and transcribed interviews conducted in the early 1970s primarily of the children and grandchildren of many of the founders of Grand Rapids, Michigan; many of whom were residents of the Heritage Hill neighborhood. Interviews were collected to develop a significant collection of oral resources that would supplement other primary and secondary local history materials. Initially funded as a private project, Grand Valley assumed responsibility for continuing the project until 1977.

View the Grand Rapids Oral History Collection Finding Aid 


David M. Austin Diary (RHC-63)

David M. Austin was a carpenter in Elsie, Michigan (Clinton County). He enlisted as a private in Co. B, 8th Michigan Cavalry on 13 August, 1864. He was born in 1845 and died in 1935. He was married to Allie Mudge, who died in 1919. Handwritten diary maintained by David M. Austin of Elsie, Michigan.  The diary is written in a day book. Entries begin on January 1, 1913 and conclude on December 31st 1916.  Austin records the details of his everyday life including the weather, his work around the farm and jobs he is hired to do, and details of friends and family.

View the David Austin Diary Finding Aid


Grand Rapids History Scrapbooks (RHC-69)

Series of five scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings and articles from local Grand Rapids, Michigan’s newspapers focusing on the history of the city, its people, places, and events.  The collection includes clippings about the election of Grand Rapid’s first black mayor, the demolition of historic buildings, celebrations, and public transportation within the city. Scrapbooks also contain some printed photographs and brochures. Extensively included are historical columns from The Interpreter, a weekly Grand Rapids newspaper, called "Those Were the Days" by G. Harrington, and from the Grand Rapids Press, 1968-1975. One volume (#2) includes Grand Rapids Press columns of "The yesterdays of Grand Rapids" by Charles E. Belknap, his obituary in 1929, and a program from dedication of memorial statue on Dec. 26, 1931.  

View the Grand Rapids History Scrapbook Finding Aid


Michigan Place Names Index (RHC-03)

Card index of place names used as an authority file by the United States Department of the Interior in the Geological Survey in the 1976 Topographic Maps of Michigan projectGrand Valley State faculty Robert Alotta created these cards with student assistance. The card index of Michigan place names may include the following fields of information: Place name, map source, latitude, longitude, elevation, township, range quarter, remarks and researcher initials. Each card also has a category for the type of place (river, mountain, plain, city, dry river bed, church, lake, railroad). 

View the Michigan Place Names Finding Aid


Conrad Thornquist Papers (RHC-35)

Conrad Thornquist was a Michigan native who attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and attended Harvard Law School in the Class of 1931. His papers include handwritten and bound class notes from his Harvard Law School coursework with annotations, newspapers with headlines of significant events, and picture postcards and art cards from European travels. The collection also includes Justice Court docket book from Ottawa County, Michigan, Oct. 22, 1849–April 3, 1862; and a memorial scrapbook for Claude C. Hopkins, former head of Lord & Thomas advertising agency.

View the Conrad Thornquist Papers Finding Aid


Gordon Olson Research Collection (RHC-37)

Gordon Olson, historian and researcher wrote a series of biographical essays for Grand Valley State College. Subjects included major donors including Russel Kirkhof, D.J. Angus, Robert B. Annis, Fred M. Keller, Seymour K. Padnos, L. V. Eberhard, William G. Jackson, Leslie E. Tassell, and Clare Jarecki. Materials include taped and transcribed interviews, drafts of publications, copies of articles and personal and career related information about the subject of each biography.

View the Gordon Olson Research Collection Finding Aid


Frank J. Schulte Papers (RHC-06)

Frank J. Schulte is known as the Father of Civil Service in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Schulte worked in civil service throughout Michigan and on the proposed personnel system for the royal government in Afghanistan in the early 1960s. The collection includes materials from Grand Rapids and other Michigan cities, budget reports, civil service board files, newspaper clippings, and Public administration reports from Afghanistan.

View the Frank Schulte Papers Finding Aid


Regional History Subject Files (RHC-87)

Subject collection compiled by donor Harvey Lemmen and continued by Grand Valley State University Special Collections after acquisition. Topics include politics, local history, business, populations, and culture.

View the Regional History Subject Files Finding Aid


Ionia County Postal History Collection (RHC-96)

This is a small, artificial collection mostly of stamped and stampless covers to and from Michigan cities and villages, primarily from Ionia County in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Compiled by Harvey Lemmen, the items in the collection fall mostly within the date range of 1843 to 1916, although newspaper articles on Ionia County postal history and auxiliary records pertaining to the collection fall within the date range of 1956 to 2000. Ten items of correspondence (letters and postcards) are contained within the collection.

View the Ionia County Postal History Collection Finding Aid


Alabastine Company Collection (RHC-100)

The Alabastine Company produced a paint-like wall covering made from gypsum, which was mined from the abundant shale beds near Grand Rapids. Though the company was organized in New York, the company took its name from the Alabastine mine near Wyoming, Michigan. This small collection contains colorful printed ephemera, such as brochures, advertisements, and promotional materials from the Alabastine Company dating from the 1890s to the 1940s. 

View the Alabastine Company Collection Finding Aid


Michigan Autograph Albums (RHC-111)

Although dating from the middle ages, the autograph album became very popular in the latter part of the 19th century. They were used to collect signatures of family members, friends, neighbors, and classmates and often displayed examples of fine penmanship, personal sentiments, verse, and drawings. Many varieties of commercially-available albums were produced, often with color lithograph vignettes on some pages; format was usually oblong with the average size being about 4½ x 7 inches. Examples in this collection were all owned by Michigan residents.

View the Michigan Autograph Albums Finding Aid


Michigan Soldiers Home Collection (RHC-53)

The Michigan Soldiers’ Home was established in 1885. The city of Grand Rapids established a post office on the grounds in 1892. The collection includes envelopes and postcards cancelled by the post office, images of the Soldiers Home, and postcards to and from residents of the home.

View the Michigan Soldiers' Home Collection Finding Aid


Angus Family Papers (RHC-60)

Alice Griffen was born to a Quaker family Jan. 19, 1816 in Saratoga, NY. James Angus was born July 21, 1815 in Sheboygan Co. Wisconsin. Alice and James married in 1846.  Their son, John James Angus, born in Sheboygan County in 1859 married May Benton Sibley Jan. 15, 1883. Their two sons, Francis Clark (F.C.) and Donald James (D.J.) were born in Wisconsin and later moved with the family to Spring Lake, Michigan. This collection contains family history information, marriage certificates, deeds, a friendship book belonging to Alice Griffin, and correspondence between Alice, her friends and family and her future husband J.J. Angus. Routine correspondence and the friendship book includes mention of women’s rights, abolition, Quakers, and the Sodus Bay Phalanx utopian community utopian communities.

View the Angus Family Papers Finding Aid


Citizen Bee Records (RHC-30)

Citizen Bee was an educational competition originated by Robert Clarke, a political science professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, to challenge high school students on their knowledge of American history, government, geography, economics, and current events. This collection includes organizational records, contest materials, photographs, and videos of competitions.

View the Citizen Bee Records Finding Aid


Grande Vitesse Installation Film (RHC-64)

The documentary film produced by William Lawson, La Grande Vitesse: The Work of Alexander Calder, which was erected in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. The film follows the unloading of the stabile pieces in Detroit where it was shipped after being created by Calder in Paris , its construction in downtown Grand Rapids, Calder’s arrival in the city, and several interview pieces on Calder’s life and work. The collection contains 16mm film reels, an audio CD of interview and lecture material from Klaus Perls and Sweeney, and a DVD of the completed documentary. 

View the La Grande Vitesse Film Finding Aid


Paul I. Phillips Papers (RHC-19)

Paul Phillips was a prominent African-American community service leader and was the first African-American to hold elected office in Grand Rapids. The collection includes biographical information, copies of speech notes and testimony, writings, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles from 1947-1980 about blacks in America.

View the Paul Phillips Papers Finding Aid


Florence Williams Jackson Scrapbooks (RHC-117)

Florence Ruth Williams was born in November 1922 in Grand Rapids, married William Carl Jackson in 1942. The collection contains one scrapbook of ephemera and personal memorabilia of Grand Rapids Central High School from the late 1930s, where Florence Williams was a student; and two photograph albums containing nearly 300 black and white photographs, mostly of Florence and William Jackson, dated around 1940. 

View the Florence Williams Jackson scrapbooks finding aid


Irene Fassbender Sparhawk Scrapbook (RHC-121)

Scrapbook of Irene Louise "Babs" Fassbender Sparhawk (1928-2012). Contents, including school event programs and ephemera, dance cards, letters and poems document Irene Fassbender's educational and social life at Graveraet High School (611 N. Front Street) in Marquette, Michigan.

View the Irene Fassbender Sparhawk scrapbook finding aid


Marjory Ann Reubene College Scrapbook (RHC-124)

Marjory Ann Reubene attended the University of Michigan from 1948-1952, and graduated with a B.B.A. degree in personnel. The scrapbook contains letters, invitations, dance cards, playbills, university publications, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, notes, postcards, and other ephemera affixed to leaves with cellophane tape. Most of the materials relate to the educational and social experiences of Marjory Reubene during her first two years in attendance at the University of Michigan.

View the Marjory Ann Reubene scrapbook finding aid


South Range, Michigan Postcard Album (RHC-129)

A postcard album comprised of 42 black-and-white photographs, mostly Real Photo Post Cards (RPPC); 25 are stamped "[William J.] Goodfellow" and one "[John H.] Taylors Studio." Both photographers were located in South Range, Michigan. Nearly all the photos were taken indoors in a studio and are of women alone and groups of women, men alone and groups of men, children, and dogs. Two were taken outdoors. The location is most assuredly is in or the vicinity of the Upper Peninsula town of South Range, Michigan, a copper mining area just a few miles south of Houghton. Photo dates range from 1905 to 1915.

View the South Range, Michigan Postcard Album Finding Aid


Robertson-Curry Photograph Album (RHC-131)

A photograph album containing 30 black-and-white cabinet card photographic portraits and six loose photographs, taken roughly from 1880 to 1900, most of which carry imprints of Grand Rapids photographic studios. Also includes remnants of watered silk endpapers, containing extensive genealogical notes concerning the Robertson and Curry families. The Robertson and Curry families immigrated to the United States from Scotland and Ireland respectively, and by the 1870s had settled in Allendale Township, Ottawa County, Michigan on farms. The Robertsons had 160 acres in the southwest quarter of section 22, and the Currys had 80 acres in the northern part of section 36. The two families are connected through the marriage of Isabella Robertson (1868-1937) and Robert Curry (1868-1929) in May of 1889. They had three children: Raymond George Curry (1889-1966), Nelle A. Curry (1894-1987), and William Albert Curry (1897-1953).

View the Robertson-Curry Photograph Album Finding Aid


Willson-Ortman Photographs (RHC-134)

Sue Carol Willson (1936-1992) was born in Saginaw, Michigan and married Robert L. Ortman (1929-1999), also a resident of Saginaw, most likely in 1955. This collection contains a photograph album comprised of 37 black-and-white photographs of the Willson family’s trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the summer of 1940. Scenes include the passenger ferry "City of Munising," views of lakeshores, camping, Copper Harbor, churches, and Tahquamenon Falls. In addition, there are 23 loose photographs, of which three are in color. Most are of the Willson family, 1928-1948, and nine date from 1957-1959 after Sue and Robert were married. Locations include Saginaw, Thompsonville, and Big Star Lake (Lake County); most have captions.

View the Willson-Ortman Photographs Finding Aid


Reidel Family Photograph Album (RHC-135)

Reverend Otto Martin Andrew Riedel (1902-1965) was pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Jackson, Michigan from 1933 to 1965. This collection contains a photograph album of 400 black-and-white photographs documenting the Riedel family during their residence in Jackson, including the exterior of their home and Trinity Lutheran Church, outings and vacations throughout Michigan and other locales, and gatherings with relatives and friends. Children's milestones include Richard's high school graduation and Linda's graduation from nursing school. Also included are photographic Christmas greetings from friends.

View the Riedel Family Photograph Album Finding Aid


Fuller Family Cartes-de-Visite Album (RHC-37)

A photograph album attributed to the Fuller family containing 14 carte-de-visite photographic portraits and one tintype. Photos were taken approximately between 1870 and 1880. Among the identified portraits are: Alice Marguerite Fuller Seely (1851-1942), Otis (“Tic”) Fuller (1853-1936), Caroline (“Carrie”) L. Cowles Fuller (1842-1908), Cora Elizabeth Brigham (1860-1905), and Eva M. Huntington Campbell (1859-1929). Additional biographical information is included within the collection.

View the Fuller Family Cartes-de-Visite Album Finding Aid


Smith-Whitfield Family Photograph Album (RHC-153)

This collection includes a photograph album which contains 31 cyanotypes and 71 black-and-white photographs assembled by Eliza (Lila) E. Whitfield Smith (?-1956) from ca. 1919 to 1923. Besides family, friends, and neighbors, subjects include scenes in Detroit, Michigan: Detroit River, Water Works Park, and Belle Isle; Hudson, Morenci, Medina, Ames Mill dam, Prospect and Catholic Hills, the Wheatland cyclone damage, farm views, cemeteries in Morenci, Hudson, and Pittsford; other than the Detroit photos, the rest were taken in both Hillsdale and Lenawee Counties, Michigan. Also included in this collection are correspondence and ephemera, dating back to 1882, as well as information on Morenci Union Schools. Eliza married Miley J. Smith in November of 1906 and following the death of Edward Whitfield (1832-1916) gained ownership of Edward’s 80-acre farm in Pittsford Township. Together they had one child, Mahlon Vaughn Smith (1917-2006).

View the Smith-Whitfield Family Photograph Album Finding Aid


Gladys Dora Hillman Photograph Album (RHC-156)

Gladys Dora Hillman (1916-2015) was born in Lansing, Michigan, and worked as a clerk for the Oldsmobile auto factory in Lansing until at least the mid-1950s. She later worked for the State of Michigan before her retirement in 1975. This photograph album contains 29 black-and-white photographs documenting a road trip (with house trailer) taken by Gladys Dora Hillman and two other women in August 1939 from Lansing, Michigan, to various locations in northern Michigan. Michigan locations visited include Houghton, Harrison, Cheboygan, Gaylord, Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, Sault Ste. Marie, Traverse City, Beulah, and Lansing.

View the Gladys Dora Hillman Photograph Album Finding Aid


Edward Nequette Photograph Album (RHC-157)

Edward Nequette (1872-1945) worked as a photographer in Manistique, Michigan, from 1904 to 1913. This photograph album, created by Nequette, contains 154 black-and-white photographs covering a variety of subject in and around the Manistique area, including ships, nearby attractions, local industry, and groups and individuals, and houses from the years 1905 to 1913. By 1907 Edward had a partner in his photography business, his nephew Edward Odelion Brault (1880-1962), the son of his sister Lucy. When Edward Nequette left Manistique before 1913, his nephew continued with his photography career in that city until at least 1940. By 1918 Edward Nequette and his family were living in Ionia, Michigan where he was employed as a metal worker at the Hayes-Ionia Company, and continued in that field until at least 1940. 

View the Edward Nequette Photograph Album Finding Aid


Annette Plourde Photograph Album (RHC-163)

Vida Annette Plourde was born in Vulcan, Dickinson County, Michigan in 1901. She was the eldest of seven children born to Joseph Dona Plourde (1873-1936) and Lydian Sarah Belrose Plourde (1881-1947). In 1920 Annette was living at home with her family and was employed as a clerk in the local post office. By 1930 she was a teacher at the high school in Channing, Michigan and boarding with a family in nearby Sagola. It appears she attended Western State Teachers College (now Western Michigan University) in Kalamazoo in 1931. Annette married Hollis Abner Stenshoel (1901-1981) in Vulcan on 20 June 1936 and the couple relocated to Green Bay, Wisconsin where Hollis was a clerk at the Beaumont Hotel in Green Bay. This photo album, created by Annette, contains 212 black-and-white photographs, consisting mostly of the Plourde family and friends in Vulcan, including family reunions; various trips and outings to Beulah and Crystal Lake, Michigan (1931), Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts (1931), Breezy Point, Minnesota (1932), Hamilton Lake (1933), Marinette, Wisconsin (1933), and Pennsylvania (1935). Photos range from 1927 to 1936.

View the Annette Plourde Photograph Album Finding Aid