History unearthed under Harbor Drive

Alexander Sinn • Sep 6, 2018 at 10:00 AM

A road reconstruction project on Harbor Drive unearthed Grand Haven history Wednesday.

Wooden railroad ties were uncovered at the corner of Harbor and Franklin Avenue, resting in dirt as crews removed chunks of concrete.

“We didn’t realize there were railroad ties there,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said. “It’s been a long time since we fixed the road.”

The ties may have been installed when Harbor Drive was called Water Street, and belonged to an Interurban and street railway system that opened in 1895, according to local historian Wallace Ewing. 

The electric railway system originally moved people from downtown Grand Haven to a dance spot at the current site of the Grand Haven State Park. This was before swimming became a popular form of local recreation, Ewing said, as the city was transitioning from its roots in lumber to a vacation town. Manufacturing was also on the rise in Grand Haven at the time.

“The lumber industry was dying, dead by that point,” Ewing said. “People were trying to find new ways to bring workers into the community and improve the economy.”

The Interurban eventually expanded to Highland Park Hotel and cottages south of town. In 1905, the railway joined up with a larger system in Grand Rapids through Spring Lake and Fruitport.

The ties found under Harbor Drive could be originals, Ewing said, as the Interurban only lasted about 30 years.

“The automobile and buses did it in,” he said.

Old railroad ties have also been found on Fulton Avenue during previous road projects, Ewing added.

The Harbor Drive project is expected to wrap up the week of Nov. 19.

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