The History of the Belknap Highway Mural
We’ve all driven on I-196 in downtown Grand Rapids and seen the mural painted on the wall on the northside of the highway -- but what is it all about?
Prior to the early 80s it was just a big, concrete, graffiti covered, retaining wall. The Neighbors of Belknap Lookout arranged for the mural to be created in 1982. The mural was painted in hopes of making the giant concrete structure look much more appealing than all the amateur spray paint artwork that was there in the past.
Designed by artist Russ Brown, the mural depicts the city's history from 1826 to 1930 by featuring settler Louis Campau and his wife Sophie, a horse-drawn fire engine, and a Grand River steamboat.
The mural is a tribute to Grand Rapids founder Louis Campau, early civic leader Charles Belknap, and the founding of the city in 1826.
So who were these people?
Louis Campau often noted as the founder of Grand Rapids. The Detroit-born Campau built a trading post, blacksmith shop and cabin on the banks of the Grand River in 1926. Grand Rapids became a village in 1838 and a city in 1850. (Campau was not the first to set up shop in what is now Grand Rapids. French-Canadian Joseph La Framboise and his wife Magdalene established the first fur-trading post here twenty years prior in 1806.) He was also involved in negotiations between the local Native Americans and the federal government, including the Treaty of Detroit, that was signed in 1855. Campau died in 1871 at the age of 79. He is buried in the St. Andrew's Cemetery (located on Prince Street between Madison and Union).
Charles Belknap was born in Massena, New York but moved with his family to Grand Rapids in 1855. He organized a very successful business that made wagons and sleighs called the Belknap Wagon and Sleigh Company.
He also served in the city's volunteer fire service for many years and was instrumental in the transition from a volunteer to a paid fire service. He was also a member of the Grand Rapids Board of Education. He died in 1929 at the age of 82. He is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery (located at Leonard and Bristol on the northwest side).
Surprisingly and thankfully, over the years the mural has not been defaced by graffiti. Over the years, it has received numerous touch-ups to keep it looking nice.
Some have suggested that perhaps the mural needs a reboot. It’s been the same artwork for almost 40 years now. It is time for it to be updated a bit?