The Old Plank Road
The road that would one day be known as Grand River Avenue appeared in this area sometime in the late 1830s; unlike other roads that followed surveyed section lines, it cut through the land on a (mostly) straight-line diagonal. In those pre-railroad days it served as the main trucking route between Detroit and Portland, but the unimproved dirt track was rutted and frequently swampy, and travel was slow and arduous.
In 1850 the state legislature enacted a law establishing the Lansing and Howell Plank Road Company. The company was charged with the construction of a wooden-plank thoroughfare that would connect to the Detroit and Howell Plank Road, thus improving the horrendous traveling conditions between Lansing and the state’s great metropolis to the southeast. The plank road, built of lumber hewn from the abundant forests along the way, was completed in 1853 and included seven tollhouses between Lansing and Howell, only one of which remains standing today. It operated as a toll road into the 1880s.[Towar, pp. 25–26]
Old Plank Road demolition, facing west near Bailey Street. Spring 1996.
Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
During major reconstruction work on Grand River Avenue in 1995–96, workers were surprised to find a layer of logs laid side-by-side along the right-of-way, about two feet below the present grade, near the intersection with Bailey Street. The logs were determined to be part of the old plank road, and had lain there for nearly 150 years. They had been used as underlayment to raise the grade of the road in a particularly swampy area. The 3-inch-thick planks that would have sat atop the logs as the actual road surface were no longer in place. Once the site was inspected, photographed and documented, the rotted logs were removed and discarded.