By 1869, businessmen and investors in Grand Rapids realized that they could derive profits from a railroad that would extend north from Grand Rapids into Michigan’s timber country and then to a port on Lake Michigan. David Clay of Grand Rapids was the chief promoter of the Grand Rapids, Newago and Lake Shore Railroad. By 1872, the investor had funds to lay a line north from Grand Rapids as far as Newago, specifically the road bed that you see in this picture of the depot in Grant. The Chicago and West Michigan was a line that ran north from New Buffalo as far north as Pentwater. James Joy, who served for many years as president of the Michigan Center was one of the backer of the Chicago and West Michigan and its predecessor roads. In 1881, the Chicago and West Michigan purchased the Grand Rapids, Newago and Lake Shore and extended its line north reaching Baldwin in 1883 and Traverse City in 1890 and to the Petoskey/Bay View area in 1892. The Chicago and West Michigan, the Flint and Pere Marquette and the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railroads merged in 1899 to form the Pere Marquette Railroad. This line was purchased by the Chesapeake and Ohio in 1926 and merged into that railroad in 1947. In 1987, the railroad became the CSX, an identity it retains today.
In 1982, the Chesapeake and Ohio sought to abandon this line since there was little freight business. Passenger trains had been discontinued in the 1960s. The State of Michigan acquired road bed in 1982 and much of the former Pere Marquette line north of Grand Rapids is now operated by the Marquette Railroad, a component of the national rail conglomerate, Genessee and Western. That is, Marquette operates a 126 mile railroad north from Grand Rapids to Baldwin where one former Pere Marquette line is used to access Ludington and another to access Manistee. Freight trains, from time to time, pass by this depot.
The depot you see pictured here was constructed by the Chicago and West Michigan in 1891. I do not know when the railroad ceased using it. Passenger service was abandoned in 1963. For the last three dozen or so years of passenger service the Pere Marquette ran one northbound train each day departing Grand Rapids about 7 AM and getting to Bay View about 2:30 PM. The return trip departed from Bay View at 3:30 or so and arrived in Grand Rapids about 11 pm The structure has been home to the Depot Restaurant since the late 1970s.
The State of Michigan Historical Marker commemorates one of the few remaining railroad wooden water towers. The water that a steam engine converted into steam needed to replenished often. In the very earliest days of railroading in Michigan—the 1830s and 1840s—engines probably had to take on water every 10 miles or so. Later, the engines were designed to be more efficient. They pulled large tenders with the capacity of holding much water so they could travel 100 miles or more without stopping for water.
Why, you might ask, were water towers constructed from wood, not steel? Wood was used for a variety of reasons. For one, it provides more insulation than does steel, a significant issue in a cold climate. Another is cost. Wood water tanks were less expensive to build than steel ones. New York City is one place where wood tanks are still erected in considerable numbers. A building six stories tall or higher in New York needs a system for delivering water since the city water pressure is not sufficient to pump water to the seventh or eighth story of a building. If you take the #7 train out to Flushing, you will see dozens if not hundreds of water tanks on top of buildings in Queens. I have read that the cost of a new 10,000 wooden tank in 2015 is about $30,000 while a steel tank would cost $120,000.
There are very few surviving railroad wooden water tanks. Steam engines, of course, have not been in regular use since the late 1950s. One major reason for the absence of such water tanks is that they have a life span of 30 to 35 years.
After the Pere Marquette Railroad ceased using this water tank—probably around 1955—the city used it to replenish their fire trucks that carried water, presumably for remote areas. The city purchased the water tank from the CSX railroad but paid annual rent to use the track side ground where it was located. At some point, probably fearing liability issues, the railroad refused to extend the lease for their land where the water tower was. Rather than tearing it down, activities in Grant wished to preserve it and erect an historical marker. The railroad did not concur. The village of Grant decided to move the water tank 128 feet away from the rail line at a cost of $60,000. That explains that while the tank is authentic, its current location is different from where it was when it supplied steam engines.
The village of Grant takes its name from the township where it is located, Grant Township. And that name was chosen to honor one of the two United States presidents who lived in the Detroit area, Ulysses S. Grant, whose Detroit home is displayed on the Detroit1701 website.
Date of Construction: 1891
Architect: Unknown to me
Use in 2015: Restaurant
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Listed as site L0819
State of Michigan Historical Marker: In front of water tower. Erected 2011
National Register of Historic Places:
Photograph: Ren Farley; June 3, 2015
Description prepared: June, 2015
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