FROM THE ARCHIVES: A look at Greenville 140 years ago

From the Archives | Sandy Main

The Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory was published every other year during in the mid to late 1800s. Its purpose was “to give a succinct description of every city, village and hamlet in the State, with lists of the firms and individuals doing business at each,” according to the publishers’ preface.

W.H. Conover, a druggist in Greenville, wrote a description of Greenville for the edition published in 1873. The Greenville Independent reprinted Conover’s article on the front page of the newspaper in July.

“The following sketch, written about a year ago by W.H. Conover, will serve to show how Greenville appears in the Michigan State Gazetteer, now being delivered to subscribers:

“Greenville, the metropolis of Montcalm county, is located on a romantic bend in Flat river, a large tributary of Grand river, about 20 miles from its confluence with the Grand, and on the Detroit, Lansing and Lake Michigan R.R., 60 miles from Lansing and 144 from Detroit. It is also on the line of the Grand Rapids, Greenville and Alpena R.R.

“Flat River furnishes an excellent water power, which, at this point, propels 2 large flouring mills, 2 saw mills, 2 foundries, 2 machine shops, 1 woolen mill, 1 sash, door and blind factory, 1 tannery, and 1 turning shop. There are also run by steam power, 2 saw mills, 2 planing mills, 2 shingle mills, and 1 sash, door and blind factory.

“Flat river, and its tributaries above Greenville, run through a vast pine region, which is owned and worked by wealthy lumber companies, thus making the northern part of the county largely devoted to the lumber interest, for which Greenville is the base of supplies. Flat river annually floats into Grand river 75,000,000 feet of logs, and nearly as many more are sawn by mills along the river and tributaries, and the lumber transported by railroad.

“Besides its superior lumbering and manufacturing facilities, Greenville is surrounded by exceedingly rich and productive land, which, in the hands of appreciative farmers, yields abundantly of the cereals and fruits common to Michigan.

“Greenville is an incorporated city of about 3,000 inhabitants, and bids fair soon to rank as one of the most flourishing cities in the State. Although many the buildings are of wood, and less substantial than is desirable, yet the city contains many buildings that in beauty, size and convenience, are rarely surpassed in inland cities. Among the most prominent is the Union School building, a large and beautiful structure, erected in 1869 at a cost of $35,000. N. Slaght’s residence is a brick and terra cotta building, constructed in modern style, large, convenient and elegant, equal in all respects to the most finished residences of large cities. The Potter block, 31 feet front and 50 feet high, built of white pressed brick; the Post office block, 66 feet front and 3 stories high; the Lewis block, 44 feet front and 3 stories high; the Eureka block, 110 feet front and 3 stories high, are all magnificent buildings, and credible alike to the builders and the city.”

A word of explanation: The brick business buildings downtown were called “blocks.” Conover’s Drug Store was located in the Lewis block. Conover had moved his store to the Lewis block from the old Rider store in late 1872, according to the Independent. The Potter block was at the southwest corner of Lafayette and Cass streets. The post office block was made up of the three buildings at the northeast corner of Lafayette and Washington streets. The Eureka block was on the west side of Lafayette Street north of Washington and is no longer standing.

Conover’s article continues, “The educational advantages of Greenville are good, there being, besides the high school, several excellently managed ward schools. The city has four tasteful and commodious churches, Methodist, Congregational, Baptist and Episcopal.

“Greenville has also a National bank, capital, $100,000, 1 private bank, 5 hotels, 2 newspapers, 3 Masonic societies, a lodge of I.O.O.F., a Y.M.C. Association, and a Ladies Library Association; also an efficient fire department.

“One of the most interesting features of Greenville is Middleton park, in which are situated three beautiful lakes. Not counting the lakes, which cover about 400 acres, this park contains nearly 80 acres, and when completed will probably constitute the most extensive, varied and beautiful pleasure grounds in the State. On the south side and adjoining the park is located ‘Forest Home’ cemetery, C.C. Merritt, superintendent, graced by nature with ridges, mounds, evergreen and forest trees. This place is peculiarly adapted for the purposes of a cemetery, and forms a place of retirement and beauty seldom found.”

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