The ABCs of Lowell History: Z is for Zoom Around County Roads

1923 Annual Report Grand River bridge

The ABCs of Lowell History is back for another round. This popular series explores a wide variety of topics in Lowell area history in weekly online articles and is written by volunteers and staff from the Lowell Area Historical Museum.

Z is for Zoom Around County Roads

As Michigan’s population and the production of automobiles expanded, so did the need for a planned network of longer distance, stronger built roads. The Michigan Legislature created the Michigan State Highway Department and provided funding assistance to counties and townships for road construction according to statewide standards. In 1909, the Legislature passed the County Road Act, permitting Michigan counties, by vote of its residents, to create a county road commission and network of county roads. In 1911, voters approved the creation of the Kent County Road Commission. Three men were appointed to be the first Road Commissioners of Kent County. They were Alvah W. Brown of Grand Rapids, Dexter G. Look of Lowell and C. A. Bloomer of Sparta.

When planning roads, a large concern of the county was connecting communities. Local roads had been built in communities, but many times there wasn’t a good connection to outside areas, forcing drivers to go miles out of their way. The county also worked with the state to establish and reorganize the state trunk lines.

The following examples from early annual reports of the Kent County Road Commission show the local projects to connect communities and build state trunk lines, or highways.

1923 South Lowell Road

1922 – The county connected Hudson Street south through Lowell Township to the south line of Section 26. The new road was called the ‘South Lowell Road’ and is today’s Segwun Ave. In 1923 a traffic census from August 9 – September 26 showed that the average daily traffic on this new stretch of the South Lowell Road was 6 horse drawn vehicles and 471 motor passenger cars and 23 trucks. The census points out that 11 of those cars were foreign.

1923 Annual Report Flat River from today’s Flat River Drive former T.L. 66

1925 – the annual report stated that the 14 miles of concrete pavement of the new route of M-16 (later US-16 and today’s Cascade Road) “is, no doubt, the most important State Trunk Line pavement ever constructed in Kent County.” It was built in 1924, but three sections have required ongoing work. This included a 150-foot section near the intersection of M-16 and the ‘South Lowell Road’ (Cascade and Segwun), because of a sink hole. A connecting project for the year was ‘Lowell – Moseley Road’ (today’s Lincoln Lake Avenue). This was to begin at the previously improved road north of Lowell and then northward for five miles to Moseley. It was described by the Road Commission that “this stretch of road is very rough and hilly and involves some difficult engineering and construction work.”

1923 Annual Report Grand River bridge

1926 and 1927 reported that today’s 5 Mile Rd was extended past Parnell to connect to Lincoln Lake, and today’s 4 Mile Rd was built connecting Murray Lake to Moseley.

1928 saw the construction of M-21, affecting the daily lives of so many. The old gravel road between Ada and Lowell was considered one of the most heavily traveled roads in the county.

1929 Flat River from Fallasburg Park

1929 road projects continued from 1928 including a road titled the ‘Flat River-Moseley Road’ that went through sections 23, 14, and 13 of Vergennes township. It was to provide an entrance to the new county park, Fallasburg Park. It was a little confusing though, as it did not go to Moseley at that point. In addition, the ‘Fallasburg Bridge Road’ was constructed. It went from the covered bridge, along the south side of the park, westward to the ‘Lowell-Lincoln Lake Road.’ About this road it was said, “drive over this mile of road once and you will be sure to come again to make certain that you haven’t missed anything the first time.” South of Lowell, the ‘South Lowell River Road’ (Grand River Drive today) began. It lay almost parallel to the Grand Trunk Railroad, at the foot of the hills just south of the tracks. It would connect Ada to Lowell and was predicted to be one of the most scenic roads in Kent County.

1931 County Street Signs

As stated in some of the examples above, the Lowell area has some beautiful landscapes and therefore, beautiful roads. The Kent County Road Commission has a program designating ‘Natural Beauty’ roads. Of the 39.59 miles of Natural Beauty roads, 11.42 miles are in Lowell and Vergennes townships. There are 21 townships in Kent County, and two of those have more than a quarter of the natural beauty roads.

1931 Fallasburg Park  

A later project that affected the Lowell area was the creation of M-91 and rerouting of M-66. Historically, the original route of M-66 began at M-16 in Lowell. Then M-66 continued northeasterly (leaving/exiting Lowell on present-day Flat River Dr) to Belding, then northerly through Greenville and Langston, ending at M-46 near Lakeview. When M-91 was created, M-66 was moved to its present-day route.

Today, the Kent County Road Commission has grown to become the second largest road commission in Michigan with a network that spans nearly 2,000 miles of both rural and urban roadways.

Images come from the Kent County Road Commission

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