Property History

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Postcard of Campau Square in 1860.  78-1-33


Betty Gibout Real Estate Listing Cards

Real estate listing cards are accessible only by library staff. Patrons must fill out a Special Materials Request Card for access. Real estate listing cards are the original descriptive cards from the listing of a property through a local realtor.

• Organized by street (alphabetically) and address (numerically) and available from 1951 to 1997 for extant buildings. Some cards are also available for properties that have been demolished; these are in the Real Estate Razed Buildings File

• Does not include property sold by owner or other unique sales.

• Contains a property description, lot/subdivision name, amenities, owners' name, and listing price. May also contain the old-style legal description for use at the County Treasurer's office.

• Some addresses have no cards; others can have as many as 25 or more.

City Directories

The collection consists of Grand Rapids City directories, Grand Rapids Suburban directories, and a selection of directories from Battle Creek, Grand Haven, Hastings, Holland-Zeeland, Kalamazoo, and Muskegon. Directories are accessible in paper (book) form or microfilm in the Local History department. This is the most comprehensive way available to document the existence of a particular structure. Businesses, residents' surnames, and street names are all presented alphabetically within the volumes. Researchers can use the street address lookup to see who occupied which address from 1910+.

• The Grand Rapids City directories date back to 1856 and include on microfilm 1856, 1859-60, and 1865-1956.

• Directories from 1958 to current are in print form.

• Some directories are also available on Google Books

• The Suburban directories range from 1957-1997. (Note: the directories were not published during certain years, such as 1957.)

• City directories (RL Polk & Co.) are available from 1865-present.

• Since 1999, these directories cover the entire Kent County area.


Over 1,800 historical maps of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the old Northwest Territory are included in Collection #240. Current and older plat maps are used by historians to locate early settlers and property holders.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - Available on microfilm from 1887-1960 (1960 edition also available in hard copy). They include an outline map of every building, with building material and other pertinent fire information included.

Kent County Atlases - Available for 1855, 1863, 1876, 1907, these atlases indicate land owners and building locations for structures outside incorporated areas.

Master Map Index

City Plat Map Index - An index to the plat maps in Collection 240.

MI Statewide Plat Maps - This site provides access to digital images, with print capability, of the plats and related documents of land subdivisions in the State of Michigan's plat files. The State of Michigan began maintaining a file of all plats in the state in 1873. A copy of all plats prepared after that date were filed with the State.


Newspaper Clippings: Architecture/Building Data

Grand Rapids Homes and Architects - The GRHSC Architectural Database contains information on over 2800 properties in the metropolitan area. Special construction articles sometimes appeared in special sections or items on the building industry and related trades. The Grand Rapids Herald ran a Sunday building section from 1907 through its demise in 1959. This section included articles about properties recently constructed or sold, or under contract to build. Articles sometimes name the architect, builder, and special contractors. Sometimes, a description of the property, along with a photograph or sketch, the owner's name, address or neighborhood are given. The Grand Rapids Press also ran a similar, though less extensive, section, usually published on Saturdays. Articles from both papers can be found in our Architectural Street Files clippings folders, organized alphabetically by street name, in our vertical file drawers. This information has been compiled and indexed by the staff of the Grand Rapids Public Library's Local History and Special Collections department.

General Newspaper Clippings

General articles in Grand Rapids newspapers can prove key resources of information on major commercial and/or institutional buildings.

• From 1844 to present, newspapers are available on microfilm.

• Indirect indexing is available using the following resources. Ask staff for assistance.

a) Robinson Studio Collection Index - A partial index to the large photographic collection of the Robinson Photographic Studio (Coll. 125). Indexing of building photos, which might have run with a related article.

b) Lyden's File Index - Compiled by the research of local historian and newspaper editor Z.Z. Lydens. This research went on to form the basis for the book The Story of Grand Rapids. This index covers Historical topics on Grand Rapids for a majority of the 20th century.

c) Western Michigan Newspapers - An index to the Death Notices and Obituaries published in the Grand Rapids Press and Grand Rapids Herald from 1910 to today. It includes the listings of Engagements, Weddings and Anniversaries from the Saturday papers from today, going back in time to 1970. Obituaries and news articles about prominent deaths might contain information on the disposition of wills and the deceased's properties.

d) Early Grand Rapids Press Index (1893-1922) - An historical archive of the Grand Rapids Press available through NewsBank. Access to the full text articles are available at a fee, however, the search feature provides a helpful index for locating articles on microfilm in the Local History Department.

e) Grand Rapids Press Index (1982-2005) - This index, compiled by the staff of the Grand Rapids Public Library's Local History and Special Collections department, indexes the publication the Grand Rapids Press. Articles are indexed by subject, name or keyword.

Pamphlet & Article Files - Cabinets in the GRHSC containing a wealth of information on hundreds of local subjects.

Biography and Portrait File - Cabinets in the GRHSC department containing hundreds of files on the area's most notable men and women.

Special sources

A. Heritage Hill Architectural/Historical Inventory Cards Prepared as part of the application for National Register of Historic Places nomination, these microfilmed cards contain information on select houses in the Heritage Hill Historic District.

B. Heritage Hill Reference Sources Kept at the service desk, includes an index of “calendar” homes.

C. Buildings folders in the Vertical/Clippings files Clippings files on named buildings, most downtown, along with history and related literature. In the Pamphlet & Article files area under “B” for Buildings, then alphabetically arranged therein.

Archival resources

The Local History department houses over 400 archival collections, including manuscripts, images, ephemera, and occasionally, architectural plans and drawings. The content of each collection is documented in our finding aids, available in paper or electronic form. Any number of archival collections might contain images or documents relevant to building research; however, the following collections are most specifically related to buildings.

  • Collection 245 Past Perfect Historic Preservation Records. This collection contains images, documents, and architectural drawings related to the work of local historic preservation firm Past Perfect, Inc., which strives to preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods.
  • Collection 254 The Grand Rapids Building Collection. This collection includes information on architecture and planning, architects, historic preservation, city planning, and landscape architecture in published documents, images and architectural drawings.
  • Collection 125 The Robinson Studio Photographic Collection. This collection includes photographic negatives of Grand Rapids subjects from roughly 1938-1989. A special index by address can be accessed on the main floor; ask staff for assistance.
  • Collection 322 The Albert Builders Collection. The Albert Builders Collection consists of architectural drawings produced by and for the Grand Rapids-based Albert Builders firm. The drawings are primarily single-family homes designed between the mid-1950s and 1960s. The images presented here are mostly front-elevation drawings; additional details and drawings can be accessed on-site from the archives.

-You can view some of the Albert Builders drawings in our Digital Collections

Other archival collections which include large sections of images of buildings:


Some historical magazines and indexes, such as the Michigan Tradesman, the Grand Rapids Mirror, Grand Rapids Progress, and Grand Rapids Spectator, might include information on area businesses and images of their structures.


Books about architecture are generally located in the 720s. These might include illustrated books about specific house styles, about buildings constructed by specific firms, or located in specific areas.

Books about prefabricated houses, some including house plans, might be located on the shelf by call number, or might be included in the archival collections in Collection 254.

Books about neighborhoods might also be available in the 977s.

Books on the general history of Grand Rapids in the 977.456s include brief descriptive information on area buildings.

House plan books available in local history (non-circulating)

  • Allen, Frank P. Artistic Dwellings. Grand Rapids, MI. M728.6A15 [includes some stable designs and school buildings]
  • Artistic Homes. 1888. Detroit, MI: National Building Plan Association. M728.6N21
  • Homes of Beauty, Economy, Durability, Practicality, Healthfulness, Contentment. 1920. Grand Rapids, MI: Home Building Association of Grand Rapids. M728.6H75
  • Hopkins, David S. Hopkins' Homes: A Collection of Practical and Economical House and Cottage Designs. 1905. Grand Rapids, MI: Hopkins & Davis, Architects. M728.6H774
  • Hopkins, David S. Houses and Cottages, 1893. (Reprint 1982). Rockville Centre, NY: Antiquity Reprints. M728.6H774h
  • Hopkins, David S. and Davis, J. Latimer. Artistic Stables: Containing 12 Designs, Costing $150 to $1,500. 1900 (?). Grand Rapids, MI. MKG7289.5H77
  • Hopkins, David S. and Davis, J. Latimer. Moderate Cost Homes: A Collection of Practical, Late Style Dwellings Costing From $1,500 to $9,000. 1904. Grand Rapids, MI. MKG7286.H77
  • J & G Daverman Co. Your Home. 1941 (?) Grand Rapids, MI. M728.3J1y
  • Lewis Homes: Homes of Character. 1925. Bay City, MI: Lewis Manufacturing Company. M728.6L58

Information available elsewhere

  • Your neighbors or local neighborhood association
  • Previous owners
  • The City Archives and Records Center Definitely check the Assessors Real Estate Property Appraisal Cards 1936-2009. They contain information on each standing structure within the city limits, including build date, structure description and photograph(s). Open by appointment only.
  • Other archival collections, such as the State Archives in Lansing, or the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan

Key Local Government Sources

  • GR City Property Tax & Assessment Search This site will give you access to some basic property information. The assessed value, taxable value and homeowners' Principal Residence Exemption information is accurate as of the date of transfer to the Web. The building and land information is from the current production database for the upcoming assessment year. The information is subject to change before Tax Day, December 31.
  • Kent County Property Tax & Assessment Search The Property Information System combines real property (real estate) data from the Kent County Treasurer and Equalization Offices. Property values on the website are current as of March, changes made after this date will not be processed until April, at the conclusion of the annual assessment cycle. All values should be verified with the assessor in the local city or township for the most current value information.
  • Tax records from 1875 on that are available at the County Treasurer's Office in the County Building. Information includes owner, tax assessment, and limited description of structures. You must have the old-style legal description, including the name of the developer's subdivision, block, and lot number to use the records.
  • Register of deeds: Property records showing transfers in ownership. Records before 1870 are available at the library. Later years are available at the Register of Deed's Office in the County Building.

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