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The Whitmore House on Abbott Road around 1908.

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East Lansing Centennial: 1907–2007

The year 2007 marks the centennial anniversary of the city of East Lansing. From its humble beginnings as a suburb of Michigan Agricultural College to the vibrant city of today, East Lansing has seen many changes. The following text and visual images give a glimpse of what the city looked like in 1907.

In 1906, citizens in the area surrounding the Michigan State College (the area known as Collegeville) began discussing the chartering of a city. Briefly weighing the considerations of a village versus a city charter, the community overwhelmingly supported the organization of a city. The community had many suggested names for the new city to choose among. Names considered included Collegeville, Agricultural College, Oakwood, College Park, Montrose, and East Lansing. College Park received the most votes and the proposal was sent to the state government. The Senate approved but decided that East Lansing would be a better name. On May 8, 1907, Governor Fred Warner signed the bill authorizing the city charter.

In 1907, East Lansing was a city of less than 700 inhabitants and encompassed an area of about two square miles. Much of the unimproved land in the city limits was natural swamp (and the accompanying mosquitoes) and needed draining prior to usage. Other issues before the new city council included water, sewers, sidewalks, street lights, and other services.

The first mayor of East Lansing was Clinton Smith, a professor of agriculture. To satisfy immediate cash funding for the new city, he put up $300 of his own money. Serving on the first city council was MAC professor Chase Newman. He later developed a system of numbering buildings within the city and created an official map of East Lansing.

Travel through the city in the first years was by horse and automobile on dirt roads or via Lansing-based streetcars. In 1894, a streetcar ran from downtown Lansing along Michigan Avenue to Harrison Road (the edge of campus). Reasons used for ending the line at that point included preventing undesirable elements from visiting the campus and to keep the MAC students from visiting Lansing bars and other less reputable places. Later, the line was extended and entered MAC near Grand River and Evergreen. In 1905, an interurban line was built and ran north along M.A.C., east from Burcham to Pine Lake (now Lake Lansing), and ended in Owosso.

Unfortunately, many of the homes that existed in 1907 no longer are standing. These include the Luther Baker House and the Whitmore House. Some beautiful houses from that period are still standing and in use today. These include the Chester Woodbury House (c. 1903) at 415 M.A.C., the Chester Clark House (1905) at 1107 Burcham Drive, the Charles B. Collingwood House (1905) at 526 Sunset Lane, and the Faculty Row House No. 9 (1884) at 217 Beech Street.

In 1907, the city had a commercial district along Grand River across from the campus. Buildings such as the Chase Building were home to cafes, barbers, drug stores, billiards, and more. One commercial building from that year still in use is the hardware store on Harrison Street near Grand River. It is thought that this building may have originally been a grocery store around 1880.

In 1907, the People's Church was organized and represented 11 different religious affiliations. Church services were first held at the Armory. Construction of their own building began in 1910 and was completed in 1911 at a cost of $17,000. The original building was replaced with a new one in 1926. The newer church building still stands as a major East Lansing institution and landmark.

In 1901, a new school district was set up to serve the area. Classes were first held in the YMCA room at Williams Hall at MAC. East Lansing's first local school building was the Central School built in 1901 at Grand River and Hillcrest. A second story was added in 1905 to meet the growing class sizes. Unfortunately, this building burned to the ground in 1916.

All images shown here can be found at Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections (UAHC). Other useful references for East Lansing history are: Collegeville Revisited by Whitney Miller, At the Campus Gate by Justin L. Kestinbaum, and History of the City of East Lansing by James DeLoss Towar (unpublished but available in the collections at UAHC).

For information on East Lansing's historic homes, visit Kevin S. Forsyth's Web site.


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