July 26th has been a very historical day in history for Grand Rapids, Michigan...

On July 26, 1880, the city became the first in the United States to use water power to generate electricity for lights.

Three years later, in July of 1883, the residents of Grand Rapids feared the worst for the city. Was a huge log jam going to wipe out every bridge along the way as it traveled towards Lake Michigan?

A Rainy Couple of Weeks

This whole story starts with what started out as a rainy month of July. For a few weeks, heavy rains in the West Michigan area caused the Grand River to rise by nearly 20".

On the morning of July 26th, 1883, the Grand River rose above its flood stage.

Loggers Took Advantage of the High River

During this time, loggers were using the Grand River to float logs down river to saw mills. The lumberman took advantage of the high, fast moving waters to increase their flow of logs heading to be milled. With the high water and the increased number of logs floating down the river, a seven mile log jam developed. Logs piled up thirty feet deep. It was one of the largest log jams in U.S. logging history.

This photo shows some of the workers posing on one of the railroad bridges...

The Log Jam of 1883
Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum/Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0)
loading...

This photo shows two men sitting on the riverbank, and two others standing on the logs farther out...

The Log Jam of 1883
Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum/Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0)
loading...

This photo shows workers standing on the logs facing the camera. The camera was facing east showing the Grand Rapids Chair Company which was located at 900 Canal (later Monroe Avenue). A man in the forefront is holding a pole that they used to maneuver logs and keep the flow moving.

The Log Jam of 1883
Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum/Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0)
loading...

The Morning of July 26, 1883

The Log Jam of 1883
Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum/Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0)
loading...

On the morning of July 26, 1883, that log jam broke loose and roared through the city of Grand Rapids. Over 600,000 logs rushed through Grand Rapids, taking out every railroad bridge in its path. For two hours, residents watched helplessly as the log jam slowly made its way toward Lake Michigan. The photo above shows a crowd gathering as the logs floated under the Pearl Street covered bridge. The two railroad bridges at Fulton and Wealthy Street were destroyed by the pressure of the jam. Some reports indicate that three bridges were destroyed in total. Many other pedestrian and street bridges were damaged -- which disrupted transportation in the city of Grand Rapids for several months.

This photo shows one of the damaged railroad bridges...

Log Jam of 1883
Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum/Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0)
loading...

Here is another photo of the damage to one of the railroad bridges...

The Log Jam of 1883
Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum/Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0)
loading...

Preventing the Logs from Getting into Lake Michigan

The fear was the 150 million board feet of timber would flow into Lake Michigan once it reached Grand Haven. Fortunately lumberjacks in Grand Haven were able to build booms strong enough to hold back all the logs just short of entering the Great Lake.

Logging the Grand River Ended

Within a few years of this historic log jam, the lumbering industry in Grand Rapids was over. The residents of the city no longer had to worry about any future log jams.

Historical Marker

There is an historical marker that explains the Log Jam of 1883 located near the east end of the Pearl Street Bridge.

The Log Jam of 1883 Marker
Photo: HistoryGrandRapids.org
loading...

 

See What Grand Rapids Looked Like Almost 100 Years Ago

A look back at what the city of Grand Rapids looked like sometime in the 1920s. The pictures come from a film called "Grand Rapids Gateway to the Playground of a Nation and the Furniture Capital of America". The film was used to get businesses and organizations to have their conventions in the city of Grand Rapids, MI.

ABC's of Grand Rapids

Here is an interesting, alphabetical look at the people and places that played a part in Grand Rapids history.