The City of Lansing was founded as Michigan's capitol city through a provision of the 1837 Michigan constitution. The constitution established Detroit as the state's temporary capitol, but required the legislature to select a permanent site in ten years. In 1847 the legislature was faced with making a choice. The name of Lansing Township was proposed as a compromise to the site selection controversy, at the instigation of James Seymour of Rochester, New York, owner of lands in the area. The township was located midway across the state and north of lands heavily settled already. Its selection was seen as a means of promoting growth of the more northerly parts of the state. Accordingly Lansing Township was adopted as the site.
Commissioners appointed by the 1847 legislature to select the location for the "Village of Michigan" (the settlement's name was changed to that of the township in 1849) chose section 16--bounded by Saginaw Street on the north, Logan (M L King) on the west, St. Joseph Street on the south, and the railroad tracks east of Larch Street on the east. A large square was designated as the site for the capitol building. Another block, located to the southeast of the capitol square (bounded by Allegan and Kalamazoo Streets and Capitol and Washington Avenues) was reserved for temporary state buildings. On this latter block a temporary capitol and a house for the governor--both unpretentious Greek Revival structures--were soon constructed. The first permanent governor's mansion --never used by a chief executive ( thought to have been too modest)--remained at the southeast corner of West Allegan street and south Capitol Avenue until 1923, when it was moved to its present location at 2003 West Main Street.
Lansing's isolation, motivated the 1848 legislature to finance the opening of roads from the town to other significant points, including authorization of the completion of the important Grand River Road which ran from Detroit through Howell and what is now North Lansing to Grand Rapids and the mouth of the Grand River. The section from Howell to North Lansing (present-day Grand River Avenue) was finally opened in 1849. Several of the new roads, including the Grand River Road, were turned over to turnpike companies in the 1850s and rebuilt as plank roads.
The titles of two major works on Lansing history, City in the Forest by Birt Darling (1950) and Out of a Wilderness by Justin Kestenbaum (1981) indicate the nature of Lansing Township and the site of the present City of Lansing at the time of the capitol's relocation from Detroit to Lansing. Lansing Township had been surveyed in 1825; however, the earliest plats in the area now occupied by the city proper occurred in 1835-36, including the famous "Biddle City" of Jerry and William Ford, located south of the Grand River between Beal, Bailey, Mt. Hope and the Grand Trunk railroad tracks. Biddle City was never developed, and the area's pioneer settlement, which began in the early 1840s prior to the capitol relocation, centered around the Grand River in North Lansing rather than in the more southerly Biddle City area.
The sections of Lansing Township near the capitol developed rapidly. As early as 1847 three villages existed in close proximity along the Grand River. The north village, known as the "lower village" because of its location downstream from the others, grew up around a dam and sawmill just south of the Grand River Avenue crossing of the Grand River. John W. Burchard, the area's first settler built the dam in 1843; the mill was erected the following year by workmen on the payroll of James Seymour. In 1847, following selection of Lansing as the capitol, a bridge was built across the river and stores and hotels began to appear along what is now Grand River Avenue between North Washington Avenue and Center Street and north on Turner Street. Largely rebuilt in the 1875-1920 period, the North Lansing Commercial District now contains Lansing's largest assemblage of late Victorian business blocks. The district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1976).
The south or "upper village" began to develop in 1847 along Main Street and South Washington Avenue. In 1847 a Main Street bridge was constructed over the Grand River. The village's central element was the Benton House, a four-story, brick Greek Revival-style hotel. The upper village remained an embryo, however because of its distance from the capitol site. The Main Street bridge was not replaced when it was washed out in 1860.
The "middle village", centered around Washington and Michigan Avenues near the temporary capitol, rapidly became Lansing's focal point with the announcement of the location of the capitol square. Washington Avenue, the most direct route between the lower and upper villages, was the obvious site for mercantile activity. The opening of the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Grand River in 1848 and relocating the post office to the middle village in 1851 helped to solidify the middle village's pre-eminence.
In 1859 the Village of Lansing, consisting of the three settlements and about 3000 residents, incorporated as a city. At this time, the municipality annexed a ring of property around the original 1847 plat which extended the city limits approximately to Douglas Avenue and David Street on the north, Wood and Regent Street on the east, Mt. Hope Avenue on the south, and Jenison Avenue on the west. No further annexation occurred within the survey area until 1916. During the following decades, the city's population began to grow, although settlement remained centered within the original plat. Lansing census figures swelled to 5,241 in 1870 and to 8,326 in 1880. The 1874 Beers atlas shows that the built-up area then extended from Cedar and Larch Streets on the east to Sycamore on the west, and from Willow and North Streets on the north to Main Street on the south. The routing of four railroads through the city between 1863 and 1873 and the 1872-78 construction of the new capitol were the major reasons for this growth. The Panic of 1873 impeded growth briefly, however in 1875, some 230 structures were erected in the city, among them 27 business buildings. The earliest areas of residential development grew up west and north of the Grand River within the original plat boundaries. A handful of Greek Revival structures survive.
Good rail service fostered industrial development and by 1900 Lansing's rising automobile industry contributed to Lansing's growth and expansion along the city's thinly built up fringes, where large tracts of lands were available. (Lansing has been named a Stewardship Community and Hub District of Motor Cities- Automobile National Heritage Area, designated by Congress in 1999 as a cultural heritage area, one of thirteen communities in southeast Michigan.