The Bass River is a 3.6-mile-long stream in Ottawa County, Michigan. It flows into the Grand River.
Location: 42.9778° N, 86.03421° W
From about 1865 to 1936, Bass River was an active community. It
was located in the northwest corner of Allendale Township, west of
Eastmanville, where the Bass River joins the Grand. On July 18,
1882 Andrew J. White was named the first Postmaster of this small
settlement at a landing on the Grand River [Section 7 of Allendale
Township], a position he still held in the early 1890s. The office
closed on September 30, 1910. Around 1900 Bass River was larger
than Allendale. It had two stores, a post office, church, school,
and sawmill, and there was a landing for vessels like the Mae Graham,
where passengers could be picked up or dropped off, and strawberries,
beans, and grapes could be sent down river for shipment across Lake
Michigan. Before white settlers arrived, it was a trapping and
fishing site for Fox, Muskotay, and Potawatomie Indians, and long
before their time, the glaciers left some of the richest and most
extensive stores of gravel in the area. As that natural resource
was mined, farms were purchased, people moved out, and gravel
companies moved in. Gradually, the town disappeared, most of the
original sites were under water, and the gravel was gone.
[Adapted from an article by Karin Orr, Grand Rapids Press, January 1, 1989.]
BASS LANDING, Ottawa County: this settlement at a landing on the
Grand River, in Allendale Township, was given a post office named North
Robinson, on March 23, 1877, with Joseph G. Failing as its first
postmaster, the office operating until August 28, 1879 [GSM 1881; PO Archives]
BASS RIVER, Ottawa County; this settlement at a landing on the
Grand River was given a post office on July 18, 1882, with Andrew J. White
as its first postmaster, the office operating until September 30, 1910
[GSM 1883; PO Archives]
The Postmaster at Bass River in 1892 was A.J. White.
Michigan Place Names: The History of the Founding and the Naming of
More Than Five Thousand Past and Present Michigan Communities,
Walter Romig, 1986
|Bass River area plat in 1897|
|Bass River area plat in 1955|
The boarding house was across from the school and a little south but on
the same road.
The hotel (they called it a resort) was west 3 or 4 buildings from the
store in a big old Gothic house. The driveway was lined with huge trees
and had a front porch that went all the way across the front that looked
out over the river and the steamboat dock.
As shown by the story of Port Sheldon, in the first half of the
nineteenth century Eastern investors saw an opportunity to make money
by platting cities and towns in Michigan to attract the large numbers
of people moving west, thanks to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825.
Unfortunately, many of these plats became "paper cities," including
Warren City, which was platted in 1836 to have 90 river lots and 500
back lots. Located on the south side of the Grand River and west of the
mouth of the Bass River, on the Robinson and Allendale Township lines,
it failed to attract any permanent residents. In 1840 Warren City was
selected by the Board of Supervisors to be the County's seat, but official
business continued to be carried out in Grand Haven. Plat maps of the
nineteenth century show some of these "paper cities." David Smith was
one of the few residents of Warren City along with some Native Americans.
George W. Amigh in Section 7, Jesse Molyneux in Section 7, and Charles
W. Ingraham in Section 6 were early fruit farmers.
Warren City was another pioneer adventure, and found its location
just west of Bass River, facing Grand River. A plat was made in 1837,
which was entered in the plat book at the recorder's office; but it was
never recorded; the streets were never named nor the blocks numbered;
the names of the proprietors are not given on the plat, and the title
was conveyed by the State some years after; so it is safe to conclude
that the town was pre-eminently a paper town. David Smith, who married
a half-breed woman, lived for several years in Warren City; himself
and wife and a large number of Indians constituting the population.
In those days Grand River was lined with Indians, but at the present
time Allendale is the only township in the county in which Indians
are to be found. Quite a number camp near the mouth of Bass River.
About 1840 the county commissioners located the county seat at Warren
City, and never removed it. The town was never a success in the county
seat business, but makes excellent fruit farms.
Historical and Business Compendium of Ottawa County, Michigan, 1892
In 1831, Ottawa County was designated as a territorial County and in
1836 it was attached to Kent County for judicial purposes. Ottawa County
was organized by an act of the Michigan legislature on December 29,
1837. At the time, the County included part of what is now Muskegon
County. The County Board of 1838 ordered that court was to be held
in Grand Haven until further notice. In 1839, the Michigan legislature
enabled the appointment by the governor of three county commissioners. The
commissioners were directed to impartially select a location for the
County seat, considering the County's present and future population. In
1840, the County Commission selected Warren City in Robinson Township
(a city on paper only) as the County seat. At that time there were
only 208 people and five townships in the County, (Ottawa, Georgetown,
Tallmadge, Norton and Muskegon). In 1846, the County population had
swelled to 1,200. The County seat was never moved from Grand Haven even
though there were votes by the Board of Commissioners in 1856, 1857,
1858 and 1864 to move it to places other than Grand Haven. By 1850,
the County population had grown to almost 8,500.
|Gravel mining cranes circa 1925|
The series of glaciers that crept down from the north many millennia ago
bulldozed the rock and ground it into large deposits of gravel and sand,
referred to as aggregate. As the need for paved roads grew with the
expansion of the automobile industry, so did the demand for aggregate,
one of the essential ingredients for concrete. One company organized
locally for that purpose was Construction Aggregates, initially called
Construction Materials Corporation. Three men from Chicago guided the
destiny of this company since it was founded in 1907: Mandel Sensibar,
founder; his son, Jacob R. Sensibar, President from 1911 to 1964; and
another son, Ezra Sensibar who succeeded Jacob and became President and
Chairman. In 1922 the company purchased
[from Ralph Van Tol and John Walsma]
a large amount of property eleven
miles up the Grand River at Bass Creek, which constituted a vast area
of gravel beds. In 1923 the owners of Construction Aggregates located
their plant on sand-filled marshland along the Grand River in Ferrysburg.
The company screened and graded gravel for more than 100 specifications
and sold it to the road building and contracting industry.
Gravel was brought on barges down river from the Bass River quarry to the
Ferrysburg screening plant, where graded materials were loaded on cargo
ships such as Baystate and Andaste and shipped to Chicago.
The name of the firm was changed to Construction Aggregates in 1948.
The firm closed the gravel pit acreage at Bass River in 1974.
The State of Michigan was interested in the 1,100 acres at Bass River
for a public park.
In 1907, the Construction Materials Corp. was established for obtaining
and processing sand and gravel. Wooden scows, loaded by hand with
wheelbarrows, were pushed by tug 16 miles downstream from the Bass
river gravel pits. Wooden tugs were powered by steam engines built by
Located at a landing on the Grand River near the west line of
Allendale Township, Bass Landing also had the name North Robinson.
Joseph G. Failing became the first Postmaster of North Robinson on March
23, 1877. The federal office closed on August 28, 1879.
Bass River Landing was located on a high gravel bluff on the Grand River
west of the mouth of the Bass River. Later known as the Village of Bass
River, this farming community included a saw mill, general store and
a number of houses. Bass River citizens operated summer resorts which
were popular with residents of Grand Rapids, Chicago and as far away as
St. Louis. However as time went on, the site became most known for the
excellent gravel it contained. Mining interests supplanted the community;
which was bought out and literally undermined.
Gravel mining began in the 1880's and slowly the land around the village
was eaten away by steam shovels. A mining company called Construction
Aggregates began operations in 1920 and operated large scale gravel
mining until 1976 with river barges hauling gravel to Grand Haven,
where it was processed and loaded onto freighters for many destinations.
Gravel from this site has been used for many prominent building footings
in Chicago and other cities in the Midwest, not to mention providing
the material for almost all of Ottawa County's early roads.
In the 1960's, mining also yielded two startling artifacts - a large
fossil bone that was determined to be part of a prehistoric .Mammoth';
and also the tooth of a Mammoth. The bone is currently at the Michigan
State University Museum; the tooth resides with the Grand Rapids Museum.
The property was acquired by the State of Michigan in 1994 and today is a
1,665 acre undeveloped state park known as the Bass River Recreation Area.
Sources: Donald W. Linebaugh, Dr. Carl Bajema , James Ponshair, Marjorie
Viveen, Wallace K Ewing; Olive Wilhems Gleans, Ruth Bethke Horton
The Construction Materials Corporation was established in 1907 for the
purpose of obtaining and processing sand and gravel. Wooden scows, loaded
by hand with wheelbarrows, were pushed by tug 16 miles downstream from
the Bass River gravel pits. Wooden tugs were powered by steam engines
built by Johnston Bros.
The Hennepin was built in Milwaukee in 1888 as a wood-hulled steamer
named George H. Dyer. It was 208 feet long, 35 feet wide and had a draft
of 22 feet. It sported a large cargo container rated for 1,600 tons - perfect
for hauling bulk cargo like gravel. In 1898 the ship was sold and the new
owners renamed her Hennepin.
After catching fire in 1901, she was sold to Lakeshore Stone Company and fitted
with a conveyor system designed to speed up the loading and unloading
of gravel and crushed stone. This made her the world's first self-loading
vessel and a model for future ships to follow.
In 1922 or 1923 [sources vary] she was bought by
Construction Materials Corporation, a Chicago company founded in
1907. While the ship was old and tired, its unloading equipment made it
valuable to a company which had just purchased 1,100 acres of property
several miles up the Grand River from Grand Haven, Michigan. The property
contained vast deposits of stone ready to be mined and the Hennepin would
be used to haul the aggregate. (Today the quarry has filled with water
and is the site of the Bass River Recreational Area in Ottawa County.)
After being quarried, stone was brought down the Grand River to
Ferrysburg, Michigan where it was sorted into different sized gravel
and rock, then loaded onto ships and transported to Chicago. Much
of the gravel hauled to Chicago on the Hennepin was used as fill,
becoming the bed for the Outer Drive, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium,
and Adler Planetarium.
On August 18, 1927, Hennepin sprang a leak while being towed back
to Grand Haven from Chicago. The crew were unable to save the ship and
she sank off South Haven at about 6 pm with no loss of life.
A year later Construction Materials Corporation replaced the Hennepin
with the Andaste, a 266-foot ship built in Cleveland in 1892.
Just two years after the Hennepin sank,
the Andaste - owned by the same
company, running the same route, delivering the same cargo, and equipped
with a similar prototypical unloading system - was swallowed up just miles
from her predecessor. The ship took with her Captain Albert Anderson,
who piloted the tug Lotus when the Hennepin sank, and all 28 crew members,
many of who crewed on the Hennepin.
On the afternoon of Monday, September 9, 1929 the Andaste was docked at
Ferrysburg, Michigan, up the river from Grand Haven, taking on a load of
gravel. She passed the Grand Haven harbor pier heads at 9:03 PM, heading
west-southwest across the southern end of Lake Michigan toward Chicago.
At about ten PM, a stiff wind arose, later becoming a full gale.
Andaste was late for her scheduled arrival at South Chicago on Tuesday,
but since she was often late and lacked radio equipment,
no one raised an alarm until Wednesday.
The bodies of 14 of the 25 crew members ultimately
floated to shore, 11 of them wearing life jackets.
An inquest into the sinking recommended that (a) all ships should be equipped
with wireless (radio) equipment, (b) that a central office maintain shipping
schedules and promptly report delays, and (c) that adequate search and rescue
capabilities be maintained on all of the Great Lakes.
Although there were some roads in the early days of Northwest Ottawa
County, the rivers provided the most important routes for transportation
and communication and proved an indispensable necessity in the development
of the county. The names of landings along the Grand River, beginning
with Grand Rapids and traveling west, were Freeman Godfrey's Plaster
Mills, Hovey's Plaster Mill, Grandville, Chilsion's, Harreses, John
Hare's, Sand Creek, Blendon Bluffs, Stoddard's Bend, Steele's Landing
[Lamont], Richard Robert's Sawmill, Charleston, Eastmanville, County Poor
House, Bass River, Ottawa Center, Spring Lake, Sisson, and Lilley Sawmill,
Ferrysburg, and Grand Haven. Boats appeared to stop at least every mile,
and many times in between, for all a person had to do to stop the boat
was to go out and wave.
Directory of Historical Topics in Northwest Ottawa County, Wallace K. Ewing, Ph.D.
In 1857 the Blendon Lumber Company purchased a seven-year-old Michigan
Central locomotive and began hauling logs on wooden rails. They built
their railroad southwest from the Grand River several miles into the Bass
River valley to reach "2500 acres of good pine, almost in a body, on a
part of which there was some good white oak." Old Joe, as the Blendon
locomotive was affectionately known, hauled 100,000 board feet in 3-4
daily trips. The logs were dumped into the Grand River at Blendon Landing
(now the southeast corner of Grand Valley State University's campus)
and floated down to the Nortonville sawmill (just upstream from the site
of present-day Spring Lake).
Geography of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region, GEO 333 at Michigan State University
The May Graham, shown above in a 1912 photograph, is said to have
been the last last Grand River steamer, and at that time was
apparently as much an entertainment vehicle as a freight operation.
It seems that all the steamers on the Grand River were small. The
May Graham weighed 95 tons and had a loaded draft of just 30 inches.
The river was not all that deep compared to, say, the Mississippi
River, and mostly operated west of the city, connecting Grand Rapids
with Lake Michigan, and then large ports like Chicago. According
to one source, the May Graham plied the St. Joseph River as early
as 1895, and even after dredging the rivers was only 36 inches deep
in all places where the boat might go. Similar limitations on the
Grand River meant that really large ships between Lake Michigan and
Grand Rapids were never practical.
Steam boats were more highly developed that steam engines for a few
decades, and did not require right of ways other than suitably deep
rivers. But with the arrival of the railroads in Grand Rapids in
1858 and before, the window of opportunity for the steamers was
small. Once the tracks to Grand Rapids were laid, the railroads
could haul large amounts of freight quickly to places like Chicago.
And steamers mostly couldn't reach any cities to the east of Grand
Rapids in any timely or effective way. So overall steamboats were
a minor, if colorful footnote to the travel history of Grand Rapids.
A steam, two-sided paddlewheeler named the May Graham. Built in St.
Joseph in 1879 as Hull No. U.S. 91173, it weighed 91 tons. She
paddled the St. Joseph River for several years; occasionally bringing
loads of clam shells from Battle Point to be delivered to the button
factory on the Grand River at Lamont.
Grand Haven became the homeport for the May Graham around 1885. She
paddled the Grand River for decades, had a loaded draft of just 30
inches, averaging four round-trips a week from Grand Haven to Grand
Rapids, with an occasional trip to ports in Chicago.
With the building of the last railroad bridge across the Grand just
below Wealthy Street, the May Graham could no longer reach the docks
in Grand Rapids. Once the railroads laid tracks east of Grand Rapids
to Grand Haven and around the lake to Chicago, the steam boats
The May Graham was retired in 1918 after 39 years of service. Its
pilothouse was removed and placed on the west side of the Grand
River, at the future site of North Shore Marina. When the marina
was constructed in 1952, the pilot house was relocated; this time
to the north side of the Grand River, east of Grand Haven.
| Bass River School circa 1936|
Ottawa County Commissioner Gives Statistics
on Opening of Rural Schools
(dated August 28, 1936)
| Allendale High School || || Stanley Boven, Principal |
| White School || || Mrs. Doris Plant |
| Star School || || Lois VanSomeren |
| Curry School || || Enno Keegstra |
| Tuttle School || || No report |
| Parish School || || Mary E. Wolbrink |
| Bass School || || Closed |
| Brotherton School || || Mrs. Mildred Scott |
| Blakeney School || || Elsa M. Vannatter |
| VanWestenburg School || || Closed |
Some of the rural schools of Ottawa county will begin their 1936
sessions as early as August 31 this year. It is expected the schools
will take a week's vacation in October for potato harvesting, according
to G. G. Groenewoud, Ottawa county school commissioner. The remaining
schools will begin the Tuesday after Labor Day.
By the term "Rural School" is meant those schools which are not located
within the incorporated limit of any city or village. Ottawa county has
123 school districts, each of which has one school, with the exception of
School District No. 1 Park township, which has three schools and employs
nine teachers. The enrollment in this particular district is 275, which
of course, makes it the largest rural school district in the county.
Not all of the 123 school districts hire teachers, however, for
if any one district has an enrollment so small that it would not be
worthwhile to hire a teacher, arrangements are made so that the district
provides transportation and tuition and the children are sent to a nearby
school. Schools in these districts are called "closed schools". The people
located in a school district can determine, by vote, whether or not a
teacher should be hired or the school closed. At the present time there
are five closed schools in the county. The Reister school transports
its children to the Porter school, and the Lachman school transports its
children to the Lisbon school. Those schools are in Chester township. The
Van Westenberg school in Allendale township, transports its children
to the Allendale high school, and the Spoonville school in Crockery
transports its pupils to the Nunica high school. The Bass River
school district is taking steps to close its school and send the children
to the Parish school, in Allendale township for the coming year. In the
123 school districts, five of which employ no teacher, there is a total of
161 teachers employed. There are 86 schools employing one teacher; 22, two
teachers; 4, three teachers; 3, four teachers; one district employing six
teachers and one district employing nine teachers in its three schools.
Each school district is an independent unit, being entirely under the
control of its own school. The board hires the teachers, janitor, and
other employees; makes all reports; adopts text books; takes the school
census and does all that is necessary for the maintenance and success
of the school.
During the school year of 1936-1937 many of the school districts will
furnish text books and supplies for all the pupils, so that it will no
longer be necessary for the parents to bear this additional expense.
Five hundred thirty-four pupils graduated from the eighth grade rural
schools last spring; a majority of whom are expected to enter high
school this fall. Mr. Groenewoude states that it is not necessary to
make application to enter one of the high schools and that the State
pays the tuition. It is, however, necessary for the student to buy his,
or her, own books and supplies. Six of the rural schools taught some high
school subjects last year, but few reached above the tenth. Coopersville,
Marne and Hudsonville are the only twelve-grade schools in this area.
This little settlement disappeared long ago. It was located in Crockery
Township south of Nunica on the Grand River by Crockery Creek. Indian
mounds were near this site which was named for John Spoon who built a
sawmill there in 1856. Grand Valley State University has had
archaeological digs at Spoonville.
BASS RIVER RECREATIONAL AREA
Bass River Recreational Area was acquired from Waste Management Inc. in 1994 for outdoor
recreation purposes and was assigned to Parks and Recreation Division (PRD)
to administer as a State Recreation Area.
Bass River Recreation Area is located within Ottawa County, a 565
square mile county located along the eastern shoreline
of Lake Michigan. The largest river in Michigan, the Grand
River, traverses the entire county before it enters Lake Michigan.
The county is in the center of three vibrant metropolitan areas:
Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland, the connection between
them having strong influence on the county - a result of their
geographic, economic and cultural relationship.
The recreation area itself is located along both the Grand River and Bass
River in the center of Ottawa County, its boundaries resting in
both Allendale and Robinson townships. The recreation area is
directly located between Grand Haven and Grand Rapids.
When originally purchased the recreation area was approximately 1,115 acres.
An additional 550 acres of land, a rather diverse parcel, was purchased
afterwards and adjoined at the easterly boundary. This piece brought Bass River
Recreation Area to its current acreage of 1,665 acres.
The area is easily accessible from M-45 and I-96, making it a popular destination
for travelers. Abundant with natural resources, Bass River Recreation Area is
primarily used for boating, hiking and biking, with equestrians and hunters also
making use of the area. Its open meadows, brush lands and mature hardwood
stands offer a diverse experience along the Grand River.
Prior to state ownership, the area is used for hunting, fishing access, and
extensive off-road-vehicle trail system. Several gravel mining companies also
used the area, former owner Construction Aggregates conducted extensive
mining operations. Once the mining halted, the property was acquired by Waste
Management, Inc. for planned landfill purposes. Strong public opposition and the
subsequent court action prohibited Waste Management, Inc. from moving
forward, eventually leading to the State of Michigan obtaining ownership.
Man made lake dates back to approximately 1975.
General Management Plan