On Friday, May 22, 1959, a series of 10 historical markers written and constructed by Dave and Dottie Seibold were unveiled in the Tri-Cities. Covering a variety of topics related to the founding and development of Grand Haven and the surrounding area, the markers were the first attempt to publicly share the story of the Tri-Cities.
Following the reveal of the historical markers, formal discussions began to organize the Tri-Cities Historical Society. Just six months later, the idea had become a reality, and on Nov. 2, the Tri-Cities Historical Society hosted its first event: a community dinner in celebration of the 125th anniversary of Grand Haven’s founding.
Nearly 60 years have passed since that community dinner, and the Tri-Cities Historical Museum remains committed to preserving and sharing the history of the Tri-Cities. Our mission, “Creating Connections to Local History,” continues to drive and inspire us. This year, we look back on the founding of the museum with pride as we celebrate our “diamond anniversary,” and in celebration we’ve decided to travel down memory lane to rediscover some of the other fascinating international, national and local events of 1959. Here are some of our favorites:
Music tastes in transition
At the close of the 1950s, interest in rock ‘n’ roll continued to grow among young people across the country. No. 1 hits on the radio in 1959 included “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, “Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison and “A Big Hunk o’ Love” by Elvis Presley. In Detroit, Motown Records was founded on Jan. 12, 1959. Unfortunately, the year was also marred with tragedy; on Feb. 3, a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, claimed the lives of rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
Locally, 1959 saw the sale of Grand Haven’s popular music venue The Pavilion. Previously a local hotspot for traveling musicians and big bands, attendance had been waning due to increasing interest in rock ‘n’ roll and other music genres.
A potential roadblock to local interest in rock ‘n’ roll, however, appeared as part of the 1959 City Charter, which mandated that taverns and bars receive a special license in order to host dancing. The license was required to be issued by the City Council and could only be approved if both the police chief and fire chief had first inspected and approved the facility. This controversial policy made receiving dance permits difficult and ultimately was taken to the voters in 1963.
Connecting communities and waterways
In international news, the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed April 25, 1959, uniting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. Here in the Tri-Cities, transportation was also improved with the creation of the new four-lane Beacon Boulevard, which accommodated increased levels of automobile traffic. The bascule bridge over the Grand River was also completed that year, and its dedication ceremony in July 1959 was officiated by the state highway commissioner.
At the time of its construction, the bascule bridge was considered an improved to its predecessor. It replaced an older swing bridge over the Grand River, which had been deemed ill-suited to handle the increased traffic demands. In fact, on April 17, 1959, the timbers supporting the old swing bridge caught fire, causing U.S. 31 traffic to be diverted for several hours while the fire was put out.
Celebrating our shared history today
This year, on Thursday, Oct. 10, from 6-9 p.m., the Tri-Cities Historical Museum will formally mark its 60th anniversary with a fundraising dinner at the Spring Lake Country Club. Open to all, this fun-filled evening will include dinner, a silent auction, a live auction, and mystery wine and dine packages. Reservations are required; tickets are $60 per person and may be purchased at the museum, 200 Washington Ave.
In the meantime, if you are interested in seeing three of the original 10 historical markers created by Dave and Dottie Seibold that inspired the creation of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, visit our exhibit “Tri-Cities A to Z,” on display through the end of September. The exhibit highlights fascinating events, places and people from all three Tri-Cities, and features seldom-seen artifacts from the museum’s collection.
About the writer: Connie Locker VerHulst is the development and membership manager for the Tri-Cities Historical Museum.