History, Mission & Goals



History of Garfield Park

The history of the Garfield Park neighborhood best begins with the founding of the parks. In 1833 Barney Burton moved to the area from New York. He purchased 320 acres of land for $1.25 an acre from the U.S. Government. The land was bound on the east and west by Madison Avenue and Division and on the North and South by Burton and 28th streets. In 1858 the Samuel M. Garfield family came to visit relatives. They liked the area and purchased a portion of the Burton farm.  After a short time other settlers began to join the Burtons.  The included Edward Feakins, who built the house that still exists at 247 Burton SW, and the Samuel Garfield family, who liked the area and purchased a portion of the Burton farm.


Samuel's son, Charles W. Garfield, replanted a 6 acre portion of the farm with 10 varieties of trees in 1892. This reforested farm land became known as the Burton Woods. In 1914 Charles W. Garfield gave the Burton Woods to the Grand Rapids Park and Boulevard Association as a "forestry park." It was deeded to the city of Grand Rapids in 1921 to remain forever as a "forest preserve." In 1960 and again in 1968 the City of Grand Rapids proposed to release the Burton Woods land and sell it as city lots. The people of the area joined together to protest the city's plans. After many meetings and letters, the group incorporated and applied to the city for the right to lease the woods and care for it. On January 6th 1970, the application was approved.  The Nature Center is now under the control of Grand Rapids Parks. 


The Garfield Lodge was constructed in 1906 with funds provided by Harriet Garfield, in memory of her husband Samuel, as a meeting place for people and societies for purposes of art, learning and community gatherings. The upstairs of the Garfield Park Lodge was the residence of the park's first caretaker.  The first floor is still used for community events and the second floor houses the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association offices. It is on the City of Grand Rapids list of historic places.


The Garfield Park land was donated in 1906 by Charles Garfield and Cousins Julia Fletcher and Ossian Cole Simonds.


On September 9th 1934; Charles W. Garfield, had a heart attack and passed away. He was buried in the Garfield Park under one of the trees he had planted near the Garfield Park Lodge.


GPNA now rents the Garfield Park Lodge from the city and it continues to be the center for our efforts  to preserve and improve the several neighborhoods we serve.


Charles Garfield Story:


Charles W. Garfield, born in Wisconsin in 1848, first came to revere trees on the childhood trip that brought his family to reside in Michigan. Encountering a monumental roadside tree near Martin, on the coach road between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, the stage stopped and its occupants gaped. Reputed to be ten feet in diameter, the champion walnut reportedly prompted Garfield's father to urge, "Take off your hat, Charlie, to that noble tree."


The meeting was an important one for Michigan's forests. Garfield, later a successful and beloved Grand Rapids banker, would become a mighty force in the battle to renew Michigan's cutover and burned-over forests - devoting over 40 years to the cause, mostly as a volunteer.


An 1870 graduate of Michigan Agricultural College, Garfield became a nurseryman and horticulturist, then Secretary of the State Horticultural Society in 1876. As a new member of the State House of Representatives in 1881, Garfield introduced a modest bill that required the planting of shade trees along both sides of public highways one hundred feet apart and within eight feet of the highway edge, protected existing shade trees on roadsides, and credited roadside property owners for a portion of their highway tax if they planted trees.


Garfield's bill did not pass and the plunder of Michigan's forests continued. At an 1897 Arbor Day observance, A. A. Crozier described the grim scene in Michigan's north. While traveling to farmers' institutes in the region the past two winters, he said, "…I think some of you will be as surprised as I was when I say that in traveling nearly two thousand miles through some forty counties in the lumber regions of the State, I cannot now recall having seen in any one place as much as a single standing acre of white pine in good condition." Riding from Manistee on the Lake Michigan shore to Saginaw, he added, he had seen an almost continuous succession of "abandoned lumber fields, miles upon miles of stumps as far as the eye can see…“


Such scenes, and the swift abandonment of the north by the lumber industry, fostered a new political consensus that the state had been exploited and cheated. The Legislature created a forestry commission in 1899. Charles Garfield was named president of the three-man panel.


The law authorized the Commission to withdraw from sale up to 200,000 acres of state swamplands and tax-reverted lands to create a state forest reserve. In May 1901, at the next session of the Legislature, lawmakers approved a reserve of approximately 35,000 acres - the genesis of the modern state forest system.
Although Garfield did not believe it at the time, his work on the Forestry Commission and lobbying of the Legislature had produced a major shift in management of northern lands that would provide the base for a rebirth of the forests. Today, the seeds they planted have sprouted, giving Michigan 3.9 million acres of state forestland.


The Future- Our Master Plan:


What is a Master Plan?
A Master Plan is a document that enables the City to determine both broad and specific goals for area land use, community resources, and citizen priorities. The Master Plan should reflect the interests of the people who reside within and around city neighborhoods. The Master Plan gives the City Commission, the Planning Commission, the Planning Department, and City staff a "working blue-print" with which to make decisions regarding community resources, zoning designations, traffic flow, historic preservation, and development. Therefore, the development of a Master Plan is an excellent tool only if it reflects the interests and concerns of the neighborhoods that it is meant to serve.


What can the Master Plan mean to Garfield Park area neighborhoods?
The Master Plan can and will effect land use, zoning, traffic patterns, parks improvements, and economic development.


Land Use
Do you want the industrial area in your neighborhood to expand, thereby tearing down several houses? - If yes, it could be an opportunity for more jobs to be located within walking distance of you and your neighbors. However, it could also be a way to lose more affordable housing in your neighborhood.


Whatever is best for your neighborhood is what can be decided during the development of the Master Plan. It provides residents with the opportunity to look at how the land in their neighborhood is currently being used and how it might be used in the future. One neighborhood may want industrial expansion, and another neighborhood may not - you now have the chance to examine what is best for your area and plan for its future.


Do you want the vacant lots in your neighborhood to be turned into a neighborhood park or new housing built there? Build a consensus in your neighborhood as to what you want with the vacant property and then have it incorporated into the Master Plan - it will have a much better chance of becoming reality this way. And, it will prevent the vacant lots from being used in a way not desired by the neighbors.


Would you like to see more apartments in your neighborhood or less? Whichever you prefer can be accomplished by changing the zoning in your neighborhood. The development of a Master Plan provides the opportunity to examine zoning designations within your neighborhood and make adjustments according to how you want your neighborhood to look in the future. For example, if you want less density and your neighborhood is currently zoned R-2, the zoning could be changed to R-1A. The City of Grand Rapids will be updating its Zoning Code based on the results of the Master Plan.


Traffic Patterns
Is there too much speeding on neighborhood streets? This and other traffic flow problems can be explored through the Master Plan process. A traffic problem on one block needs to be examined in relation to traffic patterns throughout the entire neighborhood. The Master Plan process should assist neighbors in solving problems without simply moving them to other area.


Economic Development
Do you consider your neighborhood business or commercial district to be an asset to the neighborhood, presenting a positive image of the area? Do the businesses provide jobs for residents as well as goods and services needed by residents?


How neighborhood business districts can be redeveloped is an important aspect of an area that can be addressed by the Master Plan. The economic viability of a business area is critical to the well-being of the surrounding residential area. The commercial district's redevelopment can incorporate land use and zoning decisions as well as economic development strategies.


Citizen Participation
Unless neighbors become involved in the Master Plan process, neighborhood desires (such as those given as examples above) will probably not be included and thereby will probably not become a reality. In fact, someone else may be deciding what should happen in your neighborhood in the future.


The development of a Master Plan provides the opportunity for neighbors to come together to plan for the future development of their neighborhood - the way they want it to be. Residents can unite with their business neighbors as well as other neighborhood stakeholders in deciding what kind of a neighborhood they want.