The ABCs of Lowell History: G is for Grand River

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at the Grand River which borders the southern end of the City of Lowell. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.


The Grand River has remained a constant over the years in Lowell. Known as O-wash-ta-nong by the Odawa, La Grande Riviere by French fur traders and the Grand River by English and Americans, the river is the longest in Michigan. It flows past the southern edge of Lowell from its source near Jackson to Grand Haven where it empties into Lake Michigan.

The river has witnessed Odawa traveling by canoe and settling on its shores, fur traders arriving in bateaux with trade goods, settlers coming on steamboats to start a new life, merchants using it to transport goods and residents canoeing and kayaking for pleasure.

An early settler described it as follows:

“At Lowell, there was no bridge over the Grand River, so we forded at the mouth of the Flat River, and in the winter we crossed the ice east of the village. When the water was high, John Monks or his daughter would run a ferry. Then (in 1848) they built a bridge where the present upper (east) bridge is now.”
~Pioneer Harriet Hatch Sherman

Canoeing has long been a popular activity on the river. At the start of the 20th century many postcards were made showing canoes lined up along the banks and happy canoers paddling by islands.

In 1830 the river was described as “beautiful, clear, clean, deep with many fish.” Later, industries along the river polluted the waters with debris from sawmills, municipal sewage and other industries. In 1905, the Grand Rapids Evening Press predicted “By the year 2005 the Grand River will be more of a sewer than a river.” Thankfully, communities began cleaning the river. Lowell built its first Waste Water Treatment Plant in 1965 and the second in 1987-1989.

The Kerekes family is pictured above fishing from a houseboat on the Grand River. They lived just east of Lowell.

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  1. My son is named after Ben Kerekes. Does anyone know if Ben is in the picture above and which one he is? I was thinking the one on the left.

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