Monday, June 20, 2011

Meet the Campaus

The Campaus

That's Louis on the right, the wife Sophie on the left with the broken headstone.

I've been on this history kick lately, so I was thrilled when I got in to see St. Andrew's Cemetery on Memorial Day. St. Andrew's is Grand Rapids first Catholic cemetery, established in 1852 at what was then the edge of town, and now is definitely what you would call inner-city. It was fenced off in the 1970s due to repeated vandalism (which obviously still is a problem), and usually the place is locked up tight and accessible by appointment only, but that Monday found it wide open - and I finally saw where all the French-Canadian, Irish, and the other Catholic early settlers are buried.

Louis Campau founded both Saginaw and Grand Rapids. From Wiki:

Louis Campau (August 11, 1791 – April 13, 1871) was an important figure in the early settlement of two important Michigan cities.

He established the first trading post at what is today Saginaw, Michigan, as early as 1815. He also fought in the War of 1812 and played a key role in negotiating the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819. This Treaty was made between Gen. Lewis Cass and Native American tribes of the Great Lakes region (principally the Ojibwe, but also the Ottawa and Potawatomi) of Michigan. Native Americans ceded a large tract of land (more than six million acres (24,000 km²), or 24,000 km²) in the central portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

In 1826, Campau moved South and established a trading post in what is today Grand Rapids, Michigan. Although he was not the first permanent white settler (that distinction falls to a Baptist minister named Isaac McCoy who arrived in 1825), Campau became perhaps the most important settler of Grand Rapids when, in 1831, he bought what is now the entire downtown business district of that city from the federal government for $90. He is considered the "father" of the town.

A bunch of the Campau family moved here, brothers and others are buried at St. Andrew's too. 1832 is when Campau laid out streets and boundaries, and Grand Rapids could officially be called something other than the trading post that it had been for years. 1834 was the first election, where a total of nine votes were cast, which should give you an indication of the size of the place at the time. By 1836 there were an estimated 500-1000 people drifting in and out of here, transient land speculators and others moving through (for a comparison, Detroit had nearly 7,000 people by then). A treaty signed in 1836 made the land grab final, and by January 1837 Michigan was officially a state - and the lumber rush in Kent County was on.

St. Andrew's was opened during the height of great anti-Catholic/anti-immigration sentiment elsewhere in America. Apparently there were squabbles here in Grand Rapids about it as well, the "first" settler Issac McCoy was not so fond of the Catholics, battles over booze and the Native Americans, etc. and so on. Fulton Street, the oldest cemetery in town, had reserved 1/3 of its space for those of the Catholic faith. With the city rapidly growing though, another space was needed - and that's where the Campaus came to rest.

Michigan history is not something I know a lot about, but I think I'd like to learn more. Now that gas is coming down, maybe I can do some shoots and share a bit of this hobby from time to time here...