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Lansing: History

Wilderness Site Chosen for State Capital

The original settlers of Lansing arrived at the junction of the Grand and Red Cedar rivers expecting to find New Settlement, a city that turned out to exist only on paper. Most of the pioneers were from the village of Lansing, New York, and some decided to settle the area, deciding to call it Lansing Township in honor of their former home. James Seymour, another resident of New York State, migrated to Detroit in the mid-1830s and acquired land holdings in the Michigan interior for purposes of speculation. Seymour was aware that the Michigan constitution of 1835 specified that a permanent site be found by 1847 for the state capital, which was then temporarily located in Detroit. The legislators feared Detroit's proximity to Canada would make it susceptible to foreign invasion, as had been the case in the War of 1812 when it fell under British rule. Since no mutually agreed-upon township could be found, Seymour pressed the idea of Lansing as the site, but his suggestion initially evoked laughter from the legislators. Seymour's persistence finally prevailed and Lansing, a wilderness spot with one log house and a sawmill, became the new center of Michigan's government.

By December 1847, a frame capitol building had been built, and the creation of a business district had begun at the point where Main Street and Washington Avenue now meet. Lansing was incorporated with a population of 1,500 inhabitants in 1849. Five years later a new brick capitol was constructed. Small agricultural implement industries began to introduce mechanical farming techniques to combat the manpower shortage caused by the Civil War. Development, however, was slowed by lack of transportation and the uncertainty of retaining the state capital at Lansing. But the arrival of the railroad boosted the economy by linking Lansing with the rest of the state. The legislature appropriated funding for a new capitol, which was completed in 1878 on a 10-acre park near the Grand River in the center of the city at a cost of more than $1.4 million.

Industry and Education Join Government

Automotive innovator Ransom E. Olds, who used gasoline power instead of steam, founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897. Olds is credited with building the first practical automobile, and by the turn of the century his company was the world's largest car manufacturer and had earned a reputation for high quality. Olds's company lived on as the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors until its discontinuation in 2004. By 1904 Lansing was the base of more than 200 manufacturing businesses and a world leader in the production of agricultural implements, automobiles, and gasoline engines.

Farmers had created the Michigan Agricultural Society in 1850 as a means to be heard in the state legislature. Many of the settlers from the East placed high value on education and culture; they petitioned the state legislature through the Agricultural Society for a college of agriculture to be founded separately from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The nation's oldest land-grant institution, created as part of Michigan's state constitution of 1850, was thus granted authorization in 1855. The Michigan Agricultural College was founded on 676 acres in the woods three miles east of Lansing in present-day East Lansing, which was granted a city charter in 1907. The name of the college was changed to Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences in 1923, and became a university upon its centennial celebration in 1955. Finally, in 1964, the name was shortened to Michigan State University.

Today, Lansing is a community where government, industry, education, and culture thrive. Although the city itself has witnessed a population decrease of 6.4 percent, the metropolitan area has increased by 3.5 percent. Residents enjoy the area for its economic stability and variety of activities. The business climate is active and was recognized by Entrepreneur magazine in 2003 as number seven on its list of "Best Cities for Entrepreneurs: Top Midsize Cities in the Midwest." The nearby residence of Michigan State University fosters an academia-minded atmosphere that contributed to the area's seventh place ranking in Richard Florida's bestselling book "Rise of the Creative Class" in 2002 as one of the "Top Ten Most Creative Small Cities."

Historical Information: Library of Michigan, 702 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing, MI 48909-7507; telephone (517)373-1580; fax (517)373-4480