About Mecosta County
Farming & Amish Community
Mecosta County residents share this area with one of the largest and most conservative Amish communities in the state. Over 80 families reside in or near Stanwood, living off the land. Their homes have no electricity, telephones or automobiles. Children attend one of seven Amish schools through 8th grade. Boys then develop farming skills at their father's side and girls learn homemaking skills.
Amish agriculture is powered by draft horses. A typical Amish farmer farms 80 acres, milks 10-12 cows, raises feeder pigs and laying hens. A large garden and orchard helps their self-sufficiency. Many Amish are craftsmen, building fine furniture or operating a sawmill.
Milk from this area is processed into a variety of hard cheeses at a cooperative plant south of Lakeland.
Click here for Amish Tour information. All shops are closed on Sunday. Please do not take any pictures of the Amish when you go to their shops, please respect their traditions.
History & Heritage
The Big Rapids area was originally occupied by the Ottawa and Chippewa Native Americans. Big Rapids saw its first permanent pioneer settlement in 1855 when it was known as Leonard. In 1859 the community became the Mecosta County seat and was later named Big Rapids.
The Muskegon River and its tributaries along with the surrounding forests provided the natural resources that made Mecosta County a logging community. Big Rapids progressed to a major furniture center boasting several manufacturing companies.
Woodbridge N. Ferris was an important early contributor to Big Rapids. In 1884 he established the Ferris Industrial School , now known as Ferris State University . Mr. Ferris later became a Michigan governor and a United States Senator.
Mecosta County Historic Sites
St Andrews Episcopal Church
Many churches were established in Big Rapids in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s to accommodate the growing population of Big Rapids. One of these was St. Andrews parish.
On July 6, 1971, the cornerstone of the church building was laid by the Recto Rev. Edward Flower. Through its years, the church made many acquisitions and improvements on the building. Today, its native white pine siding is covered, however, its timber remain as sturdy as when they were first put into place over 100 years ago. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is located at the northeast corner of Locust and State Street in Big Rapids.
Anna Howard Shaw Statue
“To the Honor and Happy Memory of Anna Howard Shaw, she cut a path through tangled underwood of old tradition out to broader ways.” Thus reads the inscription on the boulder monument located on the grounds of the Big Rapids Intermediate School, where Miss Shaw attended high school. She and her family moved to this area when she was 12 years of age in 1869 and after high school went on to become an ordained minister and also a medical doctor. One of the foremost daughters of Big Rapids, she took a very active part in the Women's Suffrage Association with Susan B Anthony. In 1983, Miss Shaw was among the first group of women to be inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in Lansing. The monument also reads: “Distinguished Daughter of the State of Michigan. Pioneer Resident of the City of Big Rapids. World Citizen.” Big Rapids is indeed proud of this great lady.
A sculpture is erected in her honor at the corner of Michigan and Oak near the Big Rapids Library.
Bell Tower of the Immanuel Lutheran Church
In the center of the original village of Big Rapid next to the Immanuel Lutheran Church stands a Bell Tower containing three bells which represent three of the city’s Scandinavian houses of worship. One of the bells came from Immanuel Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church which was organized in 1874 and whose bell was hung in 1904.
The second bell came from St. Ansgar Danish Lutheran Church which was organized in 1875 and whose bell was in 1889.
Both of the churches were located on the east side of the Muskegon River in the upper Big Rapids and serviced the pioneer Swedish and Danish settlers. When the churches were sold their bells were stored at local farms until the Bell Tower was constructed in 1974 and dedicated in 1975.
Michigan stands “The Indian,” as it is named. Made of concrete the statue stands eight feet tall, including its full headdress. The statue commemorates the W.P.A workers of the 1930’s, a few of which crafted the figure in their leisure time. The sculpture is indeed rare, for it depicts one of the few outdoor examples of folk art from the depression era.
Mecosta County Historical Museum
Mecosta County Historical Museum is located on the corner of Elm and Stewart Street, in the former residence of Mitch Phelps. The Museum was established in 1965 by Mecosta County Historical Society and is run by volunteers of that group. It is open Fridays 2pm-5pm or by special arrangements by calling one of several phone numbers posted in the entry way of the museum. Financial support comes from the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners, the Big Rapids City Commission, donations and memorials. There is no admission charge to visit the museum.
Mineral Water Well - Michigan Historic Site
In December, 1983, a Michigan Historical Marker was placed at the site of former Clark’s Mineral Water Well, south of Big Rapids.
The mineral well was a part of the Pioneering health care continuum in Big Rapids, initiated with the opening of Mercy Hospital in 1879, and predating scientific health education at Ferris which started with Pharmacy education in 1893. The marker is erected at the actual well head site.
The Old Jail
This building, set in the heart of Big Rapids, served as the county jail and sheriff’s residence from 1893 to 1965. It is the oldest public structure in the original plat of the village of Big Rapids of 1859. It is noted for its gable and hip roofs and turrets characteristic of Queen Anne style architecture and fine construction.
A great effort by community citizens was exerted in recent years to preserve that part of the town’s history found in the Old Jail. The efforts were successful and prevented the massive structure from being torn down for parking purposes.
Paris Fish Hatchery
Located in Mecosta County’s Paris Park is the historic Paris Fish Hatchery which was Michigan’s second fish rearing site. The hatchery was opened in 1881 and selected because of it’s abundance of high quality water and railroad connection. The five ponds on the grounds contain brown trout and rainbow trout and are set in a tranquil wooded area with facilities for picnicking, barbecuing and camping.
“The Antique Pharmacy” is an actual late 19th century drug store, which had been reconstructed and relocated to the school of Pharmacy Building on the campus of Ferris State University. The Pharmacy’s original site was in Summerville South Carolina where it was owned and operated as Tupper Pharmacy CO. by Joseoph Melfi. The pharmacy was dedicated as part of the Ferris Centennial observance in 1983.
The store is a complete pharmacy with apothecary jars, herbal medicines and carved oak features. Guided tours are available by contacting the Dean's office, School of Pharmacy.
Swede Hill Settlement
Big Rapids is no exception when it comes to the American melting pot tradition. The Swede Hill area of the northeast side of the city has had a very distinct history of its own. Upper Big Rapids, as it was originally known, was settled by people of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish heritage, who maintained their homes and businesses and in the time became integral participants of the total community.
Woodbridge N. Ferris Statue
This heroic statue of Michigan’s 1913-1918 Governor, 1922-1928 U.S. Senator and the founder of the college which bears his name is a permanent memento of the university’s 1983-1984 observance. Renowned artist, Avard Fairbanks, sculptured the bronze statue which was cast in Salt Lake City Utah. The massive pink granite die stone is from Cold Springs, Minnesota, has carved in it the attributes of Mr. Ferris; Statesman, Humanitarian and Educator.
The statue itself stands 8 ½ feet on a 5 foot base and faces towards Mr. Ferris’ birthplace in Spencer, Tioga County, New York. The idea of the statue was sparked by students as a centennial tribute to Mr. Ferris and paid for by donations from students, alumni, faculty and friends of the University.
Please contact the Historical Society at the museum for more information at 231-592-5091.