City Incorporation: The 1907 Charter
Within a few years of the turn of the century, it was becoming apparent that the burgeoning community needed to form its own corporate government. The township line, running along the center of Abbot Road, divided both the taxation and political bases, with Oakwood, College Delta, and Collegeville in Lansing Township, and College Grove and Fairview in Meridian Township. Water and sewer service was divided as well: although College Grove had its own systems, Oakwood and College Delta depended on the college via a temporary arrangement, and Collegeville and Brooks’ Addition had neither system and relied on private wells and unsanitary outhouses. “Streets were roughly graded and sparsely gravelled, a few cement walks had been constructed without regard to grade, width, or location. There were no street lights, no police officers nor fire protection.”[Towar, p. 72]
In 1907, a committee led by C. B. Collingwood petitioned the state to grant a charter of incorporation. Among the names in contention were “College Park” and “Bird Center,” after Agriculture Secretary A. C. Bird. After much debate the legislature finally decided upon “East Lansing,” despite that this name might lead to the obvious misconception that the new city was actually a part of Lansing. (It has been rumored that the Post Office might have had something to do with this choice, as the name lends itself to logical mail delivery; J. D. Towar, in his history, claims credit for suggesting the city’s name.[Towar, p. v]) “The bill passed both houses by unanimous vote and was signed by Governor Fred M. Warner on May 8, 1907.”[Towar, p. 73]
At the time of its incorporation, East Lansing was the smallest city in the state.[Towar, p. 131] In fact, while most cities began their lives as small towns or villages, East Lansing’s charter set it out as a full-fledged city, with a mayor, city council, etc.* Towar writes, “Pretentious as the project at first appeared to a community of eight hundred souls, after considering the advantages of a city organization [over that of a village] we petitioned the 1907 legislature for a city charter.”[Towar, p. 72] It was not until the 1950s and ’60s that East Lansing would experience its greatest expansion, tripling in size, and finally becoming in population what the charter declared it to be back in 1907.
Most students and many East Lansing residents are surprised to learn that the original city charter included a clause making it illegal for anyone within the city limits to “manufacture, sell, keep for sale, give away or furnish any vinous, malt, brewed, fermented, spirituous or intoxicating liquors.” In other words, East Lansing was a dry town and remained as such until a public referendum vote in November 1968 passed by a margin of nearly two-to-one. Until that fateful day, students wishing to imbibe had to travel outside the city limits to do so.
For example, both Coral Gables and the former Silver Dollar Saloon got their start as student hangouts. Until it was demolished in January 2009, the Silver Dollar’s easternmost wall was coplanar with the Lansing city limit sign at 3411 E. Michigan Avenue. This was no coincidence—the builders knew that no matter how much East Lansing expanded, the saloon would remain in Lansing, and in business. Likewise, the original Coral Gables stood a few blocks west of the current address. That building burned down in 1957, and the following year the city expanded its limits, encompassing the site. The business was thus forced to rebuild across the line at its current location.