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That's old news

Contributed by Terry Judd • Feb 11, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Local historian Ron Kuiper recently delivered the news to Loutit District Library — all of it more than a century old.

Kuiper’s donation came in the form of yellowing and brittle local newspapers dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Jeanette Weiden, who oversees the Grand Haven library’s local history and genealogy department, said the papers will be digitally scanned and made available to the public for viewing on the department’s computer.

The donated papers include five editions from 1879 to 1880 of The Spring Lake Republican, and eight editions from 1909 to 1915 of The Grand Haven Courier-Journal. The Spring Lake Republican published from 1876-81; The Grand Haven Courier published from 1887-1908.

Weiden said the library typically does not accept old newspapers, but the papers in Kuiper’s collection were too rare to pass up. Because of their rarity, the library will preserve the originals.

“Papers reporting the assassination of President Kennedy or the death of Princess Diana are not rare because a lot of people saved them,” Weiden explained. “But because these papers are so old, and more importantly local, we gladly took them for the historical collection.”

More than a dozen newspapers, most with political ties, were published in Northwest Ottawa County in the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, only the Grand Haven Tribune survives, which began in 1885 as The Venture and went through two name changes — The Grand Haven Evening Tribune and The Grand Haven Daily Tribune — before assuming its current title.

Kuiper, who authored “Crisis on the Grand” detailing the 1883 logjam on the Grand River, and co-authored “Summers in the Haven,” said he amassed early Ottawa County newspapers while conducting historical interviews with aging residents in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“One handed me a stack of papers and said, ‘It’s no good keeping them anymore,” Kuiper said. “I want them to go somewhere where they won’t be thrown away.”

Kuiper, now 81, said it is his turn to pass the papers to an entity that would appreciate and preserve them.

“Now I’m the one who is old,” he said. “I wanted these papers to go somewhere besides a dumpster.”

Kuiper made his first donation of newspapers to Loutit District Library about four years ago. Papers in that collection included The Grand Haven Union, 1862-72; The Ottawa Courier, 1877-81; and The Grand Haven Daily Journal, 1881-1915.

Kuiper said he didn’t read each paper cover to cover because century-old newspapers are fragile. But many of the stories show “it didn’t take much to end up in the paper.”

Stories about sickness, death and weather were common. When Sarah Savidge, wife of lumber mill owner Hunter Savidge, was feeling “under the weather,” that warranted a story in the March 6, 1880, Grand Haven Courier-Journal. The same issue also noted Grand Haven had endured a Thursday night storm “and the city was decidedly dreary on Friday, particularly (around) the Kirby House and Music Hall.”

The Spring Lake Republican used the simple headline of “Dead” when it reported Feb. 7, 1880, on the demise of a resident, who “had been on our streets only a week before.”

Major events also were reported, including the Oct. 15, 1880, sinking of the SS. Alpena while en route to Chicago from Grand Haven. “The Steamer Alpena Lost With 80 Lives,” The Spring Lake Republican solemnly reported eight days after the disaster.

The papers also were filled with advertisements for businesses that have since shut their doors, including the Sheldon Magnetic Mineral Springs.

“The newspapers provide a unique look into the past,” Kuiper said. “It was a whole different kind of world back then than it is now.”

Weiden said the library is on constant lookout for historical items, including letters, scrapbooks and photos. Although the library is selective in what it will accept, she said residents should not be reluctant to bring in items that might be of historical value.

“There is no harm with having us take a look,” she said. “When in doubt, come see me.”

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