A Look Back: July 26, 1883 – Historic Log Jam on the Grand River
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...
This photo shows two men sitting on the riverbank, and two others standing on the logs farther out...
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 Morning of July 26, 1883
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...
Here is another photo of the damage to one of the railroad bridges...
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.
There is an historical marker that explains the Log Jam of 1883 located near the east end of the Pearl Street Bridge.