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Portland, Michigan

Portland is a city in Ionia County of the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 3,789. The city is situated in the south central portion of Portland Township, but is administratively autonomous.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.5 square miles (6.5 km²), of which, 2.4 square miles (6.2 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (4.76%) is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 3,789 people, 1,507 households, and 1,054 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,577.7 per square mile (609.6/km²). There were 1,574 housing units at an average density of 655.4/sq mi (253.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 97.68% White, 0.50% African American, 0.24% Native American, 0.18% Asian, 0.34% from other races, and 1.06% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.32% of the population.

There were 1,507 households out of which 36.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.7% were married couples living together, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.0% were non-families. 26.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.05.

In the city the population was spread out with 28.8% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 30.5% from 25 to 44, 20.5% from 45 to 64, and 12.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 89.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $45,656, and the median income for a family was $57,875. Males had a median income of $39,344 versus $30,348 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,028. About 5.7% of families and 6.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.1% of those under age 18 and 5.4% of those age 65 or over.

How the city was named

The following is an excerpt from Mary Newman Rice's journal:

"Shortly after their arrival the settlers were called together for the purpose of naming the village so that letters might reach them more readily. My father asked my uncle Abram Hixon who was visiting us to go with him to the meeting, which he did. When it came to handing in the names there were so many that it staggered the assembly. The names suggested were Johnstown, Jamestown, Boguetown, Boyerville and Newmanville. During the silence which followed, Abram Hixon said to father, "Why not call it Portland? I think that's a nice name." "Suggest it", said father, but he declined. Father then said the name of Portland had been suggested to him and he thought it very appropriate as there certainly was a fine landing where all the passing boats stopped. All present were pleased with the name and so Portland was named."

Pioneers of Portland

Although Elisha Newman made the first land entry in the township of Portland (June, 1833), he did not become a settler until three years later, by which time a few settlers had located in the town. From Mr. Newman's story, it appears that early in 1833, he was visiting friends in Ann Arbor, and during an evening conversation discussed with others the subject of unlocated lands lying west of Ann Arbor. One of the company (Joseph Wood) remarked that he had been out with the party sent to survey Ionia and other counties, and that the surveyors were struck by the valuable water-power at the mouth of the Looking Glass River, saying there would surely be a village there some day.

Mr. Newman was at once taken with the idea of locating lands at the mouth of the Looking Glass. Following up his impulse, he made ready to start at once, and, accompanied by James Newman and Joseph Wood, went out to the Looking Glass on a tour of inspection. Being satisfied with the location, he returned Eastward with his companions, and at White Pigeon made his land entry.

Newman did not return for a permanent settlement until the spring of 1836, and meanwhile, in November, 1833, Philo Bogue bought a piece of land on section 28, in the bend of the Grand River, where he proposed to set up a trading post. He brought a small load of pork, flour, and whisky with him, put up a tent, and opened traffic with the savages in short order. Unaided he rolled up a log cabin near where the Detroit, Lansing, and Northern depot was located, and when he brought the house into decent shape went over to Hunt's at Lyons for his family, whom he had left there against such time as he should have affairs prepared for their comfort.

Portland was organized as a township by legislative act March 6, 1838, and the first township meeting was held April 2, 1838 at the home of Joshua Boyer. Abram Wadsworth laid out the village in 1837, but no plats were recorded until 1846. And so the town grew in spite of the hardships of that early life. Fever and ague raged through the Village in 1846 and Dr. Beers was hard pressed to care for all the sick.

In addition to those families already mentioned the following people also helped in the development of the early village.

Taverns- Joshua Boyer - Proprietor of the Mansion House in the Churchill Building. He also acted as first Postmaster (1837-1842). James Harrington - built a tavern-hotel on southeast corner of James and Kent Streets Samuel Northam -no location given. Millwright -Peter Kent. Mill employees -William Henry, Mr. Cogswell. Physician-Dr. Moses B. Beers. Carpenters -William H. Arms, A. F. Morehouse, Christian Klimper. Blacksmiths - Hiram Harrington, Alfred Olin, Milton Sawyer, Lyman Bennett. Shoemakers-0. D. Parker, William Dinsmore, David Smith. Farmers-Isaiah Decker, Samuel Sutliff, Charles Ingalls (Postmaster 1842-1849).

In 1843 there were, reportedly, four stores on Kent Street. The only picture available for any of these is one of the Simmons block built in 1843, evidently built and occupied by others because Simmons is not reported as settling here until 1849. In 1907 it was cut in two and moved to sites at 133 and 125 Island St. to serve as residences in use today. The Knox-Blanchard block replaced the Simmons Building at the SW corner of Bridge and Kent.

Portland's historic bridges

Portland has a total of four historic metal truss bridges, all preserved, within the town. All are significant structures for the state of Michigan. Three of them are two-span structures, making them highly significant when compared to most metal truss bridges in Michigan which are only single span structures. The other is a Parker truss, and is one of only three such structures left in Michigan. One of Portland's bridges is the downtown Veteran's Memorial Bridge located on Bridge Street between Water Street and Kent Street, which still serves vehicular traffic in its original location. It is a two-span pin connected Pratt through truss built by the Groton Bridge Company of Groton, New York in 1890. The other three bridges in town were relocated from their original locations to a non-motorized recreation trail system that exists in the town. One was acquired from nearby Kent County and was moved from Burroughs Street over the Flat River to its current location in town over the Looking Glass River. A two-span Warren pony truss with riveted connections, it is an extremely rare example of a multi-span pony truss in Michigan. The third bridge is the restored the Kent Street Bridge, moved from its original location over the Grand River just outside of town, to its current location over Grand River next to I-96. It is an impressive example of the pin connected Parker truss configuration, which is partially characterized by an attractive arch shape. Finally, Portland's railroad truss bridge, a two-span pin connected Pratt truss bridge over the Grand River, was converted for pedestrian use. While perhaps the least significant of the Portland bridges, it is still impressive as a two-span structure. There is another truss bridge about downstream from the Portland Dam. Located on Goodwin Road, it is no longer in operation and in disrepair, but serves as a popular swimming hole in the Grand River.

Portland's hotels

Innkeeping has been one of the most important occupations since the beginning of civilization. No town could hope to thrive unless it offered accommodations for travelers. In early Portland, William Moore kept a "house of entertainment" on Culver Hill as early as 1836, and Joshua Boyer rented a building from Churchill and Sturgis in 1837 which was used as a tavern. The first hotel worthy of the name appears to have been run by James Harrington. By 1869 numerous inns and innkeepers had come and gone, and the hostelries changed names in a bewildering way, according to the whim of management. Probably the best-known hotel in the town's history, and the one continuded under the same name for the longest period was the Hotel Divine, shown above in 1908.

The Hotel Divine was located at the corner of Kent Street and Grand River Avenue. Up until 1897 it was the Welch House at which time Mr. and Mrs. Monroe Divine of Lakeview, Michigan, moved here to take ownership and rename it Hotel Divine. Their son Chester Monroe Divine was 12 years of age at that time and going to school and growing up in Portland, later clerking in the Hotel.

After his parents deaths he became owner of the Hotel Divine. He kept up a steady program of modernization, which over a period of years transformed it into one of the most modern hotels far and wide.

In the early years Alf Allen's Horse Drawn Jitney Service brought passengers from the train depot over to the Hotel Divine. Later it was the Cross Country Bus Station. Traveling salesmen made it their destination to display their goods in the Sample Room for Portland businessmen to come view and purchase. Later the sample room became the Coffee Shop which was very popular.

People traveling from the west side of the state on their way to Detroit would look forward to stopping at the Hotel Divine, spending the night and participating in the good food and dining room service. In the large lobby was also a barber shop. Next to the Barber Shop was a pool room and a bar room. The two upper stories provided sleeping quarters to travelers and others.

Chet Divine served on the Village Commission for nearly 20 years, was also a Director of the Maynard and Allen State Bank and on the Ionia County Road Commission. It was through Chet Divine's many efforts that the I-96 Freeway came to be where it is instead of away from the Portland area. Divine Highway north of town was named after him.

In the mid 20's he purchased the Maude Hitchcock farm on the east side of the road and persuaded his wife's brother-in-law, Ernest Vogt and family to move over from the farm on Niles Road east of Eagle to operate a dairy farm and provide the Hotel with dairy products.

Mrs. Divine died in 1940, and about 1944 Chet decided to retire and sold the Hotel business and traveled. Chet Divine died on September 23, 1948.

As automobile traffic increased over the years, hotel business decreased. Eventually the upper floors were declared unsafe. The building was demolished in 1975.

Portland public schools

The Portland Public School District was organized in 1837 and Almeron Newman was elected Moderator, William Churchill Director, and James Newman Treasurer. Jenny Berry was probably the first teacher in a small log house on the river flats on the west side of town, near the railroad bridge. After this burned a few years later, William Churchill taught in a vacant house nearby.

In 1842 the voters raised three hundred dollars and the "red schoolhouse" was built on the top of James Street Hill, at the corner of Smith St. Seventy children attended, and the school was soon too small and the older boys and girls had their classes in the basement of the Universalist Church nearby.

As more room was needed, the "red school" was sold to the Methodist society, and moved by them to the corner of Elm and Bridge St. It now stands at 230 Elm Street and is used as a residence.

To replace this school building a two-story structure was built sometime around 1858, and four teachers were hired. In 1869 a fifth teacher was added and the basement of the Universalist Church was again used-this time for the Intermediate Department. The State Teachers' Institute was held here in 1869. Prof. Carus was in charge of the school, which was not graded until 1872.

A four-acre lot between Brush and Hill with Smith Street as its east boundary had been procured and the Brown School was built on the southeast corner of it and was ready for occupancy in January in 1870.

In 1871 there were 380 children between the ages of five and twenty and the school was divided into the following departments: High School, Grammar School, Intermediate, Second Primary and First Primary.

The "White School" was built in 1873 on the West Side on Quarterline Street. This building was used until 1911 when all children were sent to the school on the east side of town. This building was used again briefly in 1918-19 when the east side building burned. It was torn down in 1940 after serving as a manufacturing plant.

The year 1881 saw the construction of a new brick school at a cost of $15,000, built on the four acre plot with the Brown School, facing Brush Street at the end of Elm. It accommodated all the grades except the First and Second Primary which were left at the Brown School. In 1903 a two story addition was built on the south side of the newer building and the old Brown School was moved to 127 Maple Street where it was used for there today.

The Portland High School graduated its first class in 1882. It consisted of Mary White and Kittie Scooberhiven.

The custom of holding the graduation exercises in the Opera House began in 1885. The building had a suitable stage and a seating capacity of six hundred. Closing exercises for elementary school. were held here also for many years.

The first St. Patrick's School was built in 1906.

In the early evening of October 16, 1918, the High School. building was destroyed by a fire believed to be of incendiary origin. As it was completely useless, arrangements were made to house the High School in the Congregational Church and the grades in the West Side school, St. Patrick's auditorium, the Nazarene Church, and the basement' of the Carnegie Library.

The taxpayers voted to bond for $100,000 to build a new school on the same site and this school opened its doors in September, 1920. The enrollment was 127 in High School and 227 in the grades. This building is still in use, housing some grades and junior High School. The Oak Street School, built in 1953 housed primary grades and one kindergarten class meets in the Baptist Church. The High School, built in 1961 is used by grades nine through twelve.


The City of Portland has a number of entertainment options. The Portland Civic Players is an active theater group that presents several productions each year. It has been in existence for over 50 years and holds a popular summer theater workshop for area youth.

The Portland Bandshell is located at Two Rivers Park, at the confluence of the Lookingglass and Grand Rivers. During the summer, the Portland Community Arts Council hosts "Thursdays on the Grand," a free concert series every Thursday evening. Other organizations hold concerts and other events sporadically. Local pubs often host area musicians. A local coffee house, Cheeky Monkeys, began hosting "unplugged" performances in the fall of 2007.

The City of Portland's Recreation Department rivals those in cities much larger than Portland and offers a large number of recreation opportunities for youth and adults, including many organized sports opportunities throughout the year. The Portland area offers two golf courses: the Portland Country Club and Willow Wood Golf Club. The Portland Country Club holds special summer events during its youth summer league and "Kids' Week."

A number of local groups offer entertainment and recreational opportunities for youth and adults. Portland has active Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, 4H, equestrian clubs and teams, the Portland Trail Riders (motocross), art and music lessons through the arts council and community schools, and a number of youth church groups.

Each year on the fourth weekend in August, Portland Area Chamber of Commerce presents Riverfest, a homegrown festival celebrating Portland's heritage as the "City of Two Rivers". Riverfest presents many family-oriented events throughout downtown, as well as promoting area businesses.


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