Mecosta County Heritage Tour


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Story of Where® is a history app designed for mobile devices.  Story of Where enables everyone to explore, discover and experience the rich history that surrounds us everyday.  We have curated the sites below to simulate a local tour.  Enjoy your tour and we encourage you to download our app for even more stories.


Big Rapids, MI

Big Rapids, MI140th Michigan History Conference

Mecosta County History

Big Rapids

The Big Rapids area was originally occupied by the Ottawa and Chippewa Native Americans. Big Rapids saw its first permanent pioneer settlement in 1855 when it was known as Leonard. In 1859 the community became the Mecosta County seat and was later named Big Rapids.

The Muskegon River and its tributaries along with the surrounding forests provided the natural resources that made Mecosta County a logging community. Big Rapids progressed to a major furniture center boasting several manufacturing companies.

Woodbridge N. Ferris was an important early contributor to Big Rapids. In 1884 he established the Ferris Industrial School , now known as Ferris State University . Mr. Ferris later became a Michigan governor and a United States Senator.


Mecosta County, Michigan

Mecosta County Heritate Cruise

Big Rapids, Michigan

Big Rapids Heritage Tour

Saint Andrews Episcopal Church

323 South State Street

Big Rapids, Michigan

Saint Andrews Church PinSaint Andrews Church



Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church is a simple, white pine, Gothic Revival church constructed in 1872, two years after the congregation was organized.


St. Andrew’s Parish was organized in 1870, when Michigan’s logging industry was flourishing. Among its early members were George Stearns, the mayor, and Thomas Lazell, the police magistrate. The simple white pine Gothic Revival church was built by the congregation, and dedicated on January 21, 1872. Part of the Western Michigan Diocese since 1874, St. Andrew’s has served the Big Rapids community for over a century.


Mecosta County Jail

220 South Warren Avenue

Big Rapids, Michigan

Mecosta County JailMecosta County Jail



The Mecosta County Jail, built in 1893, is a two-story, red-brick building with a modified, slate-covered hip roof and two protruding turrets. Utilized as a jail until the mid 1960s, it is one of the few jails of this age still standing in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. The exterior is in good condition, but the interior has been poorly maintained. The last nineteenth century building remaining in Big Rapids, it is now being utilized as a Teen Center.


OLD MECOSTA COUNTY JAIL Big Rapids became the county seat in 1859 and incorporated as a city in 1869. This building, antedated by two other jails, served as the county jail and sheriff’s residence from 1893 until 1965. The oldest public structure in the original plat of the village of Big Rapids, it features gable and hip roofs and turrets characteristic of Queen Anne-style architecture. The adjacent grounds have been used for a park and for concerts.


Edwin C. Morris House

321 Maple Street

Big Rapids, Michigan

Edwin C. Morris House PinEdwin C. Morris House Photo



The Edwin C. Morris-William C. Taggart House is a two-story, gable-roofed, clapboard covered building with an attached, one-story, flanking wing– now clad in aluminum siding. A first story, flat-roofed, square entrance portico, topped by a wrought iron balustrade and supported by round wood columns, shelters the front entrance. The facade has a bay front window on the first floor. The house has a plain frieze line and square brick chimneys; its roof is covered with asphalt shingles.


The Edwin C. Morris-William C. Taggart House has architectural significance as an example of restrained Colonial Revival style design in Big Rapids. It has historical significance for its association with two Big Rapids business persons. Edwin C. Morris, owner of a dry goods business, constructed this house in 1902, but died before its completion. William C. “Top” Taggart (1890-1968) later occupied the home. A native of Big Rapids and a graduate of Ferris State College, Taggart began his career with the formation of the Peerless Oil Company in 1921 with his brother James. Their company expanded rapidly with the construction of numerous gas stations throughout central Michigan. In 1932, the Taggarts sold their service stations and refinery interests to the Sinclair Refinery Company. Forming the Taggart Brothers Gas Company in 1933, the brothers put a pipeline into the City of Big Rapids and became the first suppliers of natural gas for city residents and industries.

First United Methodist Church

304 Elm Street

Big Rapids, Michigan

First United Methodist Church PinFirst United Methodist Church Photo



The First United Methodist Church is a domed, cross-gable-roofed, Georgian Revival-style building of Zanesville, Ohio red brick trimmed in grey Bedford limestone. It is fronted by an ascending stairway and rests on an above-basement stone foundation. The front facade features a broken pediment entrance supported by four limestone piers surmounted by brackets, and is flanked by oculi at the side facades and at the gabled peak, and is accented by swags. Semi-arched front and side windows and rectangular fenestration at front and side facades are capped by cartouches. The church’s semi-circular auditorium plan interior retains its original liturgical fittings, and is notable for its colorful stained glass windows.


FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH The First United Methodist Church was designed by W. E. N. Hunter, a Detroit architect who specialized in church designs. The domed Beaux Arts-style building reflects a trend in using Early Christian architectural forms of the fourth and fifth centuries in early twentieth century churches. This church was completed in 1907 and retains its original semi-circular auditorium plan interior and stained-glass windows. The north window depicts the insignia of the Epworth League, a Methodist youth organization. SIDE TWO In 1865 the Reverend W. J. Aldrich organized the first congregation in Big Rapids; it became the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1867. That year a frame church was built on this site. For many years the building served as a community center and was shared by members of the Presbyterian church. The present structure was dedicated on May 26, 1907. In February 1911 a fire damaged much of the building. The church reopened in time for Easter services on April 16.

The First United Methodist Church was the first denomination organized in Big Rapids and dates from 1865. Their first church was built at a cost of $4,000 and dedicated for religious worship on November 18, 1867 with appropriate ceremonials. The present church building’s cornerstone was laid on August 21, 1906. Its architect William E. N. Hunter of Detroit (1868-1947), himself a Methodist, specialized in the design of impressive-looking churches for congregations of modest means. Completed at a cost of $26,000, First Methodist’s ornate brick and limestone church building was dedicated on May 26, 1907. First United Methodist of Big Rapids recalls the city’s oldest religious congregation.


Fairman Building

102-106 S. Michigan Ave.

Big Rapids, Michigan

Fairman Building PinFairman Building Photo



The Fairman Building is a rectangular, three-story commercial block located at the corner of Maple and South Michigan, the main intersection of the Big Rapids downtown business district. The Fairman Building is the largest commercial block in Big Rapids and was built during the 1880s, the decade of the community’s lumbering heyday. It is a fine example of Victorian Italianate construction. The building is clad in red brick with buff colored brick work at the corners. The metal, dentil cornice is supported by single brackets. The placing of the brackets provides the visual division between the five three-bay storefronts and single-bay upper-floor access on the South Michigan facade; and the four three-bay storefronts on Maple. Two, three-bay storefronts and single-bay access are at the rear of the building on Maple. The building is further accented by a dentil beltcourse and white window caps. The Fairman Building was designed and built by Crocker and Hudnutt, a Big Rapids architectural and building firm in 1880.


The Fairman Building, built in 1880, remains the largest commercial block in Big Rapids. It is a fine example of Victorian Italianate style construction, and, except for the ground level, has remained largely unchanged for more than one hundred years. Ferdinand Fairman, a native of New York State who came to Big Rapids in 1873, constructed and owned the building. In 1875, Fairman and a partner opened a private bank; the partnership dissolved in 1879 and Fairman continued to operate the bank on his own. The bank was housed in this commercial block until the early 1890s when Fairman dissolved it. As a result of his banking, real estate, and investment activities, Fairman was responsible for much of the non-lumbering industrial sector of Big Rapids economy which lasted beyond the closing of Big Rapids mills in the 1890s. The Fairman building has both architectural significance in the community and is associated with a leading businessman of the community as well as the efforts to establish an economy not solely dependent on lumbering.


Clark’s Mineral Well Informational Site

14300 Northland Dr.

Big Rapids, Michigan

Clarks Mineral Well PinClark's Mineral Water Photo



In 1890, Alf Clark, who hoped to find oil at this site, found instead mineral water. Baths or drinks of Clark’s Red Cross Electric Mineral Water were said to cure many maladies. By 1893 the Big Rapids Mineral Water Company was marketing the water on the East Coast and using it in its bath house on West Maple. In 1896, having changed its product name to Natural Medicinal Water, the firm built a bandstand next to the bath house. Twenty warm, soothing mineral baths cost five dollars. The water was bottled in a plant on North State Street. SIDE TWO The 1905 prospectus of the Yo-Landa Mineral Springs Company envisioned using Clark’s mineral water in soft drinks, automobile anti-freeze and curative drinks. But scientific medicine, exemplified by the Ferris State College School of Pharmacy, which opened in 1893, was beginning to challenge elixirs. In 1912 the last local effort to market Clark’s water failed. Its plant became Pioneer Publications’ home in 1971; and in 1979 the well site became part of Ferris State, whose offerings include degrees in pharmacy, optometry and allied health.

Idlewild Historic District

U.S. 10

Idlewild, Michigan

Idlewild HIstoric District PinIdlewild Historic District Photo



The Idlewild Historic District comprises approximately 1,300 acres and includes 500 structures on the Pere Marquette River Watershed. This isolated area consists primarily of gentle hills punctuated by intermittent low-lying swampy zones and four lakes. Most buildings in the district are small, bungalow vacation cottages. Many of the structures are covered with asbestos or clapboard siding. Few wide or paved roads spoil the quiet, rural atmosphere. The commercial center is located at the south end of the district and consists of several brick or concrete block structures that house seasonal and some year-round businesses.


Idlewild was one of the most popular African-American resorts in the nation and is significant for its place in ethnic history as well as its association with many prominent citizens. Segregation or unfair practices barred African-Americans from other vacation areas and led to the development of Idlewild in approximately 1915. The majority of building activity took place during 1919-1945. Important leaders such as Dr. Daniel Hale, who performed the first open heart surgery, writer W.E.B. DuBois, and others bought lots in its subdivisions. Entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Joe Louis, and later Jackie Wilson and Della Reese performed in local establishments. Peak attendance reached 25,000 vacationers and residents in 1959. By the early 1970s, however, the area was almost deserted when new civil rights laws opened access to formerly segregated resorts. Approximately fifteen percent of Idlewild’s pre-1945 building stock has been abandoned or demolished. A revitalization effort started in the late 1970s, led by concerned local citizens, has recognized and preserved much of Idlewild’s historic character. The district currently contains both the most significant and best-preserved elements of Idlewild’s distinctive street plan and buildings.



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