Just for funsies, let’s say you are sitting at Creston Brewery having a great new brew and you glance out at the street…. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, outside the door, it has gone back in time to late spring in the year 1897. It’s late afternoon, and it must be quitting time at the nearby factories because a steady stream of men is filing in the door, desperate for that post-work pint. Being the confused, social butterfly that you are, you introduce yourself and start asking the gentlemen, “Where do you work?” Besides noticing a lot of different accents — German, Irish, Polish, French— you soon discover that many of the guys walked over and others took the Taylor Street Streetcar Line, hopping off just a few blocks away. Some took the Scribner Streetcar Line from the west of the river, across the Leonard Street Bridge. Most live in the neighborhoods around what we now know as the Creston area, but they simply knew it as home or, “The north end.”
As you meet more new people and observe the ebb and flow of the crowd, you realize the scene you were magically transported to is exactly like something you read in Albert Baxter’s 1891 History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan:
“With neighborly greetings and animated discussion of all topics – news, work, politics, morals and religion – some five minutes are spent, while they sip a glass of beer (for the German seldom pours it down in the Yankee fashion), taking also a small piece of rye bread and cheese, and then they move on to home and family.”
There are so many new faces that you have to make a mental list of all the places they work, and soon learn that all are employed in the furniture industry. Every one of them have jobs in shops or factories north of Bridge Street and all within a couple blocks of the Grand River. One fellow you meet is especially talkative, and he turns out to work in payroll at the Kent Furniture Company, just a few blocks away on North Front Street. You learn that today is the last payday of the month, and that he had just completed this month’s processing of over $7,000 for Kent’s 200 employees. That averages $35 a month or $8.75 a week per worker. Which in that time was considered doing very well for yourself.
Well, no wonder these guys could afford a beer or two . . .
As time went by, men were arriving from Bridge Street, which was just a tad bit further away. You sorted your list starting with first to arrive/closest to Creston Brewery and here’s is what you found…
Your new friends worked for several different employers involved in some way with furniture on the north end of Grand Rapids, including:
- Grand Rapids Chair Company, east of the Grand River, near Sweet St.
- Kent Furniture
- Waddell Manufacturing Company
- Grand Rapids School Furniture Company
- Grand Rapids Veneer Works
- Grand Rapids Mattress Company
In 1897, Grand Rapids was Furniture City, USA indeed. A little more research shows that more than 20 furniture related companies were located south of Bridge Street down to Burton St. and all of them were within just a few blocks of the Grand River. Over fifty different furniture businesses, large and small, up and down the river. That’s a whole lot of factories and magically all these gents have come to one local watering hole.
You glance around the table at your newly acquainted blue collar friends and reach again for that frosty beverage. In the blink of an eye, you are suddenly back (or ahead?) in 2016, where you’re still in Creston Brewery, as though no time has passed. Your beer is still cool, your food still warm. Except now you know exactly what lead to this satisfying moment.
So eat up, drink up and never forget where you came from.
Thanks to Furniture City History, Grand Rapids Historical Commission, Grand Rapids Furniture Industry Map in 1897.