Archives & Photos

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Our Archive

Search our Archival Collections

The Grand Rapids History and Special Collections archive contains over 410 collections which include more than a million photographs and negatives, original letters, business documents, videos, and other types of data related to area families, businesses & organizations. The archival collections are secured in a temperature & humidity controlled storage area.

Furniture Design

Located in the city once called the "Furniture Capital of the World," the Grand Rapids Public Library holds one of the world's finest collections of books devoted to furniture history and design. It is primarily used by practicing furniture designers, researchers of furniture history, decorative arts curators, students of furniture history and design, antique collectors and hobbyists. Access is available through the GRPL on-line catalog and requests for material are made though the Grand Rapids History & Special Collections Department. The collection is for reference use only.

Finding Aids

Over 410 finding aids are available for browsing the archives of the Grand Rapids Public Library. A finding aid is a description of an archival collection, usually containing a history of the person or organization that produced the collection and an inventory of its contents.


These indexes can be used in conjunction with the finding aids to search across materials throughout the department's collections. They range from indexing Civil War-related articles in local newspapers to indexing the City Plat Maps in Collection 240

Oral Histories

A compiled list of archival collections that include substantial numbers of oral histories.

Photo Sleuth

Our October Photo Sleuth selection comes from the Robinson Studio Collection's negatives. In this undated photo, a man, possibly a Red Cross representative, is handing a new Red Cross poster to two women at a cosmetics counter. If any of these faces (or the place!) seem familiar, please email the Grand Rapids Public Library's Local History department


Over a million local photographic images document pivotal events and daily life in West Michigan during the past one hundred fifty years.

Interested in acquiring some photos for commercial, editorial, and/or personal use? Order photos from us here!

Archival Collections - Finding Aids for Photographic Collections

Digital Collections

View some of our photographs online at our Digital Collections Site Many of our photographs featured come from the Robinson Photo Studio, the Morris Collection, the Fitch Collection and more.

Photo Essays

Photo Essays - Series of photos highlighting items from our collection.

Robinson Index

The Robinson Studio Collection (#125) is the largest archival collection held by the Grand Rapids History & Special Collections Department Archives. It contains more than 950,000 black & white negatives, with some accompanying photographic prints, containing Grand Rapids views, news, businesses & peoples from the 1930's to the 1960's. A sampling of this collection is available in our Digital Collections

Some indexing of this collection is available.


View some of our stereocards in virtual stereoscopic vision by using a smartphone and a VR Headset!


Collection 175 The Grand Rapids Public Library Archives Moving Image Collection contains several titles, some now held in different format generations, including film (analog), video (analog), and digital cassette or digital disk. These moving images are received as gifts from various donors, or as the result of Grand Rapids Historical Commission projects done with the Library under former City Historian Gordon Olson, or as general usage purchases. Included are a few oral histories created by Olson; a video on the city narrated by James Stewart; video on our old streetcars and steamships; and much more. Subject matter focuses on Grand Rapids local history, Michigan topics, archival preservation, or oral history preparation. No indexing is currently available to the contents of the videos.

Art Images

A photo of the Grand Rapids artist, Reynold Weidnaar, making an etching inspired by a Grand Rapids Herald photo. The artist spent a week sketching the Pere Marquette locomotives in the Wyoming railroad yards. Photo taken for the Grand Rapids Herald on June 8 1947 and ran in the Herald on June 15th.

Collection 224 The GRPL Art & Graphics Collection was first created in 1998 to document holdings in the Grand Rapids Public Library that are valued first for the artistic, graphic and illustrative content. New information is routinely added to this finding aid as new items or information are received or as additional research materials are obtained. This collection brings together various art works which are not otherwise part of another GRPL archival collection. For information on art in other GRPL archival collections, see the list of related collections later in this document. This collection focuses primarily on Grand Rapids area artists, with occasional information on Michigan art & artists.

Collection 228 The Frederick Stuart Church Collection, including the Charles L. Freer Collection of Art Work by Church, is a devised collection that brings together original holdings and reference materials by and about the Grand Rapids, Michigan born artist Frederick Stuart Church (1842-1924). Most significant are the paintings, sketches, etchings, reproductions and photographs of work by Church, received March 1920 from the Estate of the famous art collector & philanthropist, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919).


Regarding the Grand Rapids Art Museum

Mathias J. Alten: Journey of an American Painter by GR Art Museum. 1998

Artists of Grand Rapids 1840-1980 by J. Sweeney Gray. 1981

Outdoor Sculpture in Grand Rapids by Fay Hendry. 1980

Do you know -- an illustrated history of Michigan Story by Willis Atwell. Drawings by Kreigh Collins. 1937

Web Resources

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Questions about Copyright?

Cornell University has a great guide for understanding copyright terms and the public domain.

Our Other Pages

Search our Archival Collections

Furniture Design


Grand Rapids and Michigan History

Military History

Oral Histories

Property History

Research Assistance

The Local History Department may be reached by phone at 616-988-5400 (see hours and directions). Research Requests for both the Western Michigan Genealogy Society and the Local History Department may be directed to 616-988-5400 x5496 or sent here: Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department

Due to the time and staff resources involved in researching answers to local history, genealogy, and furniture questions, some fees apply to certain types of requests. We encourage researchers to come to our library to be assisted for free.

-Family history queries are answered by the Western Michigan Genealogical Society research committee for a fee of $15.00 per hour of research.

-Michigan and Grand Rapids history research questions are answered by the Local History Department staff at a rate of $30.00 per hour. Copying charges are extra. Indexed obituaries are charged as follows: no charge for the first requested obituary, with any request beyond one obituary to be charged based on the library's research rate of $30.00 per hour. Non-indexed obituaries are charged at the hourly research rate.


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