The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff tell us about Peck’s Hill which is the hill where James Street runs today. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
A pioneer resident of Lowell, John Blain – Blacksmith, stated that town first started at the bend of the Grand River at the foot of Peck’s hill, where the Steamboat Landing was located. Residents today may wonder where was Peck’s Hill? who was Peck? and what was the significance of the Steamboat Landing?
On the East end of Lowell, opposite James Street, is the bend in the river. Today’s “James Street Hill” was known as “Peck’s Hill” to the pioneers.
As early settlers came they traveled much the way the fur traders did – on the rivers. The canoes however, were replaced by steamboats. According to John Blain, “the arrival of the steamboat was a matter of no small interest to the people of the town and when the whistle blew for the landing the inhabitants both large and small would rush for the river and many times we could see ten or fifteen people running across the flats for the boat landing.”
The Steamboat Landing brought traffic to the area and buildings were soon erected near the Landing. The Landing was directly south of the house of Mrs. Luz 1106 E. Main, according to a description given many years ago. Chapin and Booth built a warehouse, John Blain had a Blacksmith shop, the famous little red school was built in 1851 and sat where the United Methodist Church is now, Daniels and Young built a store and a dwelling, and Orson Peck began with a store in the warehouse but soon built his own store to the east of the school.
Orson Peck was born in New York in 1812 and later came to Grand Rapids. In 1837 he built the John Almy Steamboat. The John Almy was intended to run on the upper Grand River, between Grand Rapids and Ionia, or Portland if the water was deep enough at the time. Unfortunately, it was wrecked on the Grand River near the Flat River on its first run. In Grand Rapids Orson was known as a peddler and then opened his own grocery. In the fall of 1853 he brought inventory to the Chapin and Booth warehouse and moved to Lowell, living partway up Peck’s Hill.
Only one year later another Mr. Peck moved to Peck’s Hill. Dr. Arvine Peck was also born in New York, though it is unknown if they were related in any way. Living here from 1854 until his death in 1884, Dr. Peck was called one of Lowell’s ‘most prominent citizens.’
Peck’s Hill was used as a reference, as everyone knew where it was. Into the 1930’s obituaries listed Peck’s Hill, but it seems to have fallen from use after that.
The following are a couple examples of notable Lowell residents who once lived on Peck’s Hill. In August of 1866, once called Lowell’s most distinguished son, Ernest Graham was born on Peck’s Hill. Merritt Sayles, Civil War Veteran, owned a home on Peck’s hill after moving to Lowell, and served as the village Marshal.
Times change and unofficial local reference points change, especially when named after someone long gone. The Lowell Area Historical Museum seeks to preserve the history and memories of Lowell, its people and stories.
The 1870 Birdseye lithograph of Lowell (shown above) shows Pecks hill on the far left side. The Landing would have been at this bend in the River. The Methodist Church can be seen to the center of the image.