Lansing's History

235 North Capitol Avenue

Long before Lansing became Michigan's capital city, the region was unsettled, full of dense forests and abundant wildlife. The only occupants were Native Americans who survived by living off the land along the state's longest river.

In the winter of 1835, two brothers from Lansing, New York plotted the area just south of downtown Lansing, naming the territory "Biddle Town." Most of this land was in a floodplain and underwater for much of the year. Despite the condition of the land, the brothers returned to New York to sell the plots to unsuspecting individuals wanting to test their fortunes in a new land. The group of settlers arrived to Mid-Michigan only to find their plots submerged under several feet of water. Nevertheless, many in the group chose to stay and established what is now Metropolitan Lansing. They christened the town "Lansing Township" after their home village in New York.

In 1847, the sleepy settlement had fewer than 20 residents when the state constitution mandated that the current state capital relocate from Detroit to a more centralized and protected location. The state legislature determined that Detroit's proximity to the border made it vulnerable to invasions by British forces in Canada. There was also concern that the large city would hold too much influence over state politics.

Unable to agree upon a suitable location for the new capital, the Michigan House of Representatives eventually settled on Lansing Township out of sheer frustration. The state renamed Lansing, after John Lansing, a New York patriot and one of the official delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

The small village quickly expanded in the years following the re-positioning of the state's capital. The Michigan Agriculture College in East Lansing and the Michigan Female College opened. The Agricultural College, established in 1855, is the first land grant college and oldest agricultural teaching center in the nation. These educational institutions would ultimately combine to become Michigan State University.

By the time the city was incorporated in 1859, Lansing had nearly 3,000 residents. The city continued to grow steadily during the next two decades, adding a city-wide rail system, plank road, and the current state Capitol building.

The land had been a farm for decades before its owner sold it to Standard Realty and the Dyer-Jenison-Barry Land Co. All that remained was an old cattle barn, according to author Birt Darling in his history of Lansing, "City in the Forest." This new development became a pseudo-suburb - new homes built on former farmland, yet within walking distance of the Capitol.

Throughout the remainder of the century, Lansing developed as an industrial powerhouse. The city's transition to manufacturing began in 1897 with the founding of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company by R.E. Olds. Lansing soon emerged as a major American industrial center for the manufacturing of automobiles. And now produces more cars each year than any other city on the continent. Today, the city's economy is diversified among government service, healthcare, manufacturing, and education.

With a booming economy and a diversified population of more than 500,000, the greater Lansing area honors its humble beginnings while embracing the changes of the future.