Early Accounts maintained that the denest deciduous forests known in the region grew in the Lansing area. "Ingham County forests were denser, it's swamps were swampier, its soundless vastness less penetrable... few indian trials and no roads".
The City of Lansing lies in the center of this area, in a shallow bowl formed by rolling hills. The Grand River flows through the city in a wide loop. Sycamore Creek flows up from the south and joins the Red Cedar River a short distance from where it meets the Grand in the Center of the city. There is very little fall on the Red Cedar and the Sycamore and both streams loop and twist through an extensive flood plain. Much of this low land is swampy and still covered with elm, soft maples and other swamp species. As the area developed, the land was cleared. First for farms and later for residential development, the well-drained land covered with oaks and maples was chosen first, leaving the sites that supported soft maple and elm. By the 1950's, a high percentage of the "wild trees" of the Lansing area were swamp elm types, growing in the most inaccessible and neglected parts of the city.
The first settlement was established in 1837, near the confluence of the Grand and Red Cedar River. In 1847, the State Legislature voted to move the state capital from Detroit, and the decision for Lansing was approved in December 1847. The name was changed from the original, "Town of Michigan", to Lansing in 1859. It was incorporated by legislative act on February 15, 1859 and named for a New York State town from which most of the early settlers had migrated. The city grew slowly around the state capitol and mills on the Grand River. As the railroads were built, the industry developed and the city began to grow.
In 1878, the City Council passed Ordinance No.32. This ordinance was to provide for the planting and protection of shade and ornamental trees in the City of Lansing. Many of the early plantings date from this ordinance, and many of the old hard maples are still on the streets.
In 1912, Lansing became a home-rule city under the provisions of the state constitution. On June14, 1920, the City Council entered into contract with Harland Bartholomew, City Plan Engineer of Saint Louis, Missouri, to prepare a comprehensive city plan report for Lansing. A City Planning Commission was formed on September 7, 1920. One of the active members of the Commission was H. Lee Bancroft, Superintendent of Parks and City Forester.
In the city plan of 1922, Harland Batholomew listed a number of things to improve the city. It is significant that among this list of improvements were a number that were definitely linked to horticultural values. He was critical of the hit-or-miss development of the city park system and the street tree plantings of the past. He commented that while the native forest trees had "mostly disappeared," there had been many others planted to take their places.
To improve the city in a horticultural way, he recommended the encouragement of more home landscape gardening, stressing the advantages to be gained through the use of lawns, trees, and shrubs. He urged more widespread planting of street trees, to be maintained at city expense. Additional plantings should be made when new subdivisions are laid out, and on older streets when improvements, curbs and gutters, are put in. Uniform extensive plantings are to be desired, but will not be secured if left to individual property owners.
In the Bartholomew plan, the designs of the proposed streets all showed three plantings as playing an important part of the design.
When Bartholomew returned in 1938, to revise and update the 1922 city plan, he commented favorably on the progress made since 1922. City changes that had been made included 300 acres of new parks (including Groesbeck and Red Cedar golf courses, additions to Potter Park, Scott Field, and improvements of river banks. Nearly 11,000 street trees had been planted since 1930, and "all this in conformity with the city plan of 1922".
In 1958, the city had grown considerably, and the park and street tree system had grown with it. A period of expansion, by annexation of large areas of Lansing Township, had begun in 1949 and was to continue through the period of the study until the city would more than double in size. By 1958, the city had a population of over 115,000 and there were over 155,000 people in the Greater Lansing urban area.
The growth of the city during the period of the study had a significant effect on the success of the Dutch elm disease control program. Not only did this expansion mean more elms to protect, but also the disease and bark beetle-carrier population had been established for a period of several years without any sort of official control measures being taken except for a few state condemnations made during the early years of the study period. The Ingham County Road Commission removed dead trees along the right-of-way, and the township government removed a few dead trees from time to time. However, there was no organized effort and control measures in these areas until they were annexed to the city. By this time the city was faced with a high beetle population and a large backlog of dead elm trees.
The city grew by annexation from approximately 9646 acres with a population of 92,129 in 1956, to an area of 21,294 acres with a 130,398 people by June 1965. This increase of 11,648 acres more than doubled the size of the city and brought it to a total of 33.27 square miles, with a population increase of 38,269. The final population figures were based on the 1960 census, plus the mergers, plus growth factors over deaths and migration....