Greater Lansing History
Throughout its history, Michigan's capital city has hosted a diverse population of forward-thinking innovators.
The area that is now Lansing was originally surveyed in 1825 in what was then dense forest. There would be no roads to this area for decades to come.
In the winter of 1835 and early 1836, two brothers from New York plotted the area now known as REO Town just south of downtown Lansing and named it "Biddle City." All of this land lay in a floodplain and was underwater during the majority of the year. Regardless, the brothers went back to New York, specifically Lansing, New York, to sell plots for the town that did not exist. They told the residents of Lansing, New York that this new "city" had an area of 65 blocks, contained a church and also a public and academic square. A group of 16 men bought plots in the nonexistent city and, upon reaching the area later that year, found they had been scammed. Many in the group too disappointed to stay ended up settling around what is now metropolitan Lansing. Those who stayed quickly renamed the area "Lansing Township" in honor of their home village in New York.
The sleepy settlement of fewer than 20 people would remain dormant until the winter of 1847, when the state constitution required that the capital be moved from Detroit to a more centralized and safer location in the interior of the state. Many were concerned about Detroit's close proximity to British-controlled Canada, which had captured Detroit in the War of 1812. The United States had recaptured the city in 1813, but these events led to the dire need to have the center of government relocated away from hostile British Territory. In addition, there was also concern with Detroit's strong influence over Michigan politics, being the largest city in the state as well as the capital city.
Becoming the Capital City
During the multi-day session to determine a new location for the state capital, many cities, including Ann Arbor, Marshall and Jackson, lobbied hard to win this designation. Unable to publicly reach a consensus due to constant political wrangling, the Michigan House of Representatives privately chose the Township of Lansing out of frustration. When announced, many present openly laughed that such an insignificant settlement was now the capital city of Michigan. Two months later, Governor William L. Greenly signed into law the act of the legislature, officially making Lansing Township the state capital.
With the announcement that Lansing Township had been made the capital, the small village quickly transformed into the seat of state government. The legislature gave the settlement the temporary name of the "Town of Michigan." In April 1848, the legislature then gave the settlement the name of "Lansing." Within months after it became the capital city, individual settlements began to develop along three key points along the Grand River in the township.
"Lower Village/Town," where present-day Old Town stands, was the oldest of the three villages. It was home to the first house built in Lansing in 1843 by pioneer James Seymour and his family. Lower Town began to develop in 1847 with the completion of the Franklin Avenue (now Grand River Avenue) covered bridge over the Grand River.*
"Upper Village/Town," where present-day REO Town stands, was at the confluence of the Grand River and the Red Cedar River. It began to take off in 1847, when the Main Street Bridge was constructed over the Grand River. This village's focal point was the Benton House, a 4-story hotel which opened in 1848. It was the first brick building in Lansing and was later razed in 1900.
"Middle Village/Town," where downtown Lansing now stands, was the last of the three villages to develop in 1848 with the completion of the Michigan Avenue bridge across the Grand River and the completion of the temporary State Capitol Building. The first Capitol sat where Cooley Law School stands today on Capitol Avenue between Allegan and Washtenaw Streets. The post office was relocated to the village in 1851. This area would grow to become larger than the other two villages up and down river. For a brief time, the combined villages were referred to as "Michigan" but was officially named Lansing in 1848.
In 1859, the settlement, having grown to nearly 3,000 and encompassing about seven square miles (18 km²) in area, was incorporated as a city. The boundaries of the original city were Douglas Avenue to the north, Wood and Regent Streets to the east, Mount Hope Avenue to the south, and Jenison Avenue to the west. These boundaries would remain unchanged until 1916. Lansing began to grow steadily over the next two decades, with the completion of the railroads through the city, a plank road and the completion of the current State Capitol in 1878.
Most of what is known as Lansing today is the direct result of the city becoming an industrial powerhouse, which began with the founding of Olds Motor Vehicle Company in August, 1897. The company went through many changes, including a buyout, between its founding and 1905 when founder Ransom E. Olds started his REO Motor Car Company, which would last in Lansing for another 70 years. Olds would be joined by the less successful Clarkmobile around 1903. Over the next decades, the city would see itself transformed into a major American industrial center for the manufacturing of automobiles and automobile parts, among other industries. The city continued to grow in area. By 1956, the city had grown to 15 square miles (39 km²), and doubled in size over the next decade to its current size of roughly 33 square miles (85 km²).
Today, the city's economy is now diversified among government service, health care, manufacturing, insurance, banking and education.