The Arcade, often referred to as Exchange Place Alley, was a sort of shopping mall, a pedestrian cut-through, created by William T. Powers in 1857. His Powers Furniture Ware Room (Showroom) was located just west of the Arcade on Pearl Street, where Flanagan’s Irish Pub and 616 Lofts at Pearl stands today in the old 1873 (Charles C.) Rood Block. In March 1857 Powers said he would be turning around and moving buildings to face this new business street. The alley would be nicely planked, and posts set so as to prevent its being used for the passage of teams. The frontage of the alley is already mostly engaged for business purposes, and would be lined on either side by buildings for this purpose. The building the Post Office was located in on Lyon would be moved and placed on the alley. He said this street would rival the foot traffic then on Canal St.
This would be the earliest creation a pedestrian market or mall. Sometime between 1857 and 1864 William T. Powers, in partnership with Warren P. Mills, will construct a row of buildings running nearly the length of the alley from Pearl Street to Lyon Street known as the Arcade Block. Then on March 17, 1864, eight wood buildings, mostly occupied by small stores and including the City Clerk’s office on the east side of Exchange Place Alley were destroyed by fire. The city safe and papers were saved. In 1867 Powers and Mills gave to the City of Grand Rapids the pedestrian right-of-way through a Quit Claim.
When Powers Opera House will be constructed in 1873–74, the Arcade side of the block will have single story storefronts for shops. These shops will remain in place from 1874 until the summer of 1883 then the first floor of the opera house will be lowered to gain a second gallery.
1857 Mar 17 — Grand Rapids Daily Enquirer, page 1
1867 Oct 17 — City of Grand Rapids Quit Claim, Powers & Mills
1864 Mar 17 — Eight wood buildings, mostly occupied by small stores and including the City Clerk’s office on the east side of Exchange Place Alley were destroyed by fire. The city safe and papers were saved.
Source: History of the City of Grand Rapids, Albert Baxter, page 126, 1891.
1867 Oct 17 — The foundation for a New Arcade Block is ready to build upon.
Source: City of Grand Rapids Quit Claim, Powers & Mills
Excerpt from The Yesterdays of Grand Rapids
by Charles Eugene Belknap
Perhaps no locality in town has so much in the way of bits of history, comedy and tragedy as the short cut between Pearl and Lyon-sts., known as the Arcade.
In the early days this was an alley leading from Grab Corners to Kent, but along in the sixties (1860s) William T. Powers, who owned considerable property nearby, made it a business thoroughfare. Later when Grand Rapids became a typical lumbering town with everything booming, including the river, there were in the county two hundred and forty-six water reservoirs, and eighteen licensed rum holes in near proximity to the Arcade.
It seemed that all the awful thirsts of the valley came here to slake. Orators were being imported at considerable expense to counteract this evil when Mr. Powers, with open eyes and in face of protest and ridicule, sent a drill three hundred feet into the earth on his own property in the Arcade and opened up a flowing stream of pure cold water tinged with iron.
In a short time the well was called “Iron John”. Only Mr. Powers ever knew what it cost, but it flowed day and night for many years and was the greatest temperance reformer in the valley. Hundreds paused there daily — the business man, log runner, lumberjack, newsboy, and wandering dog, all shared in the coolness of the Arcade and the blessing of Iron John. A treasured visitor for a season or two was a little one-legged bird. The newspaper offices of the day were all in the vicinity. Hall’s book store on the Pearl st. corner; and Leppig’s, where one could get the best coffee in town, on the Lyon st. corner.
But the Arcade had its shadows and Tom Traxler, one of the most faithful police on night patrol, could have told you the unhappy side. Many the stray boy that Tom’s kind arms carried from sleep in the dark corners, many the old booze fighter he booted toward jail for safe keeping.
The entrance to Powers theater for stage people and all their baggage, was up a stairway in the Arcade. One sultry night when all the windows were open and noise of the under-world drifted from the basement saloons down the block and blended with the applause and gay music in the theater above, Tom Traxler flashed his light into the foot of a dark stairway and staggered to Iron John, a moment later carrying a poor girl with a baby hugged in her arms. It was too late to save the mother, but kind hearted chorus girls gathering around seemed to understand and they cared for the baby.
In contrast to this undercurrent there was a great deal of neighboring and friendliness among the various business concerns along the block. This can best be told with this true story of a little dog.
Music was the name of the little beagle hound which used to wander up and down the streets around Grab Corners and in the Arcade along in the seventies. He would watch his chance to get in the door of Fred Loetgert’s dry goods store and crawl into the wastebasket in Eliza Hall’s millinery department, which was in the back of the store. This basket was beside Julie, deservedly the most popular saleslady thereabout for she had a kind word and open hand for every stray thing that drifted by. Music was all right until he got to snoring and then he became a nuisance and when Julie got tired of having him around she opened the door and told him to go bother his master at the Eagle office. One day she sent him forth with the following jingle tied to his neck by a piece of blue ribbon:
I belong to Aaron T.,
But he don’t care a cent for me.
I wander up and down the street,
Sniff at every one I meet.
Through the dust and mud I wade,
Part the time in the Arcade,
Then in Leppig’s stop awhile
To see Leppig’s happy smile.
Then from there across the way
With Charlie Hall to have a play
Back again to Loetgert’s shop,
There I have a happy lot.
Meat and crackers every day,
Not a single cent to pay.
Julie gives them all to me
— Happy may she ever be.
When some day I go to sleep
In the basket at her feet
She’ll forget to wake me up,
Then goodbye to this old pup.
Music went over to the Eagle office with this card attached to his neck and someone took it off and printed it in the evening paper under the heading of “Doggerel.” So here in memory is just a bit of the shadow and sunshine of the old Arcade.
The Yesterdays of Grand Rapids, Charles E. Belknap, The Dean-Hicks Company, 1922, pgs 111-113
Officer Tom Traxler
Aaron Bradley Turner “Aaron T.”
Mayor, Congressman, City Clerk, Postmaster, Newspaperman, Engraver, Artist and Designer of the Official Seal of Grand Rapids in 1850 with the words “Motu Viget”, the motto of the City of Grand Rapids. It is a Latin phrase meaning “strength in activity”.
Music, the dog
He was owned by Aaron B. Turner proprietor and publisher of a The Grand Rapids Eagle located on Pearl Street just west of the Rood Block.
Charles “Charlie” Hall
Possibly William T. Powers’ brother-in-law
Owned and operated by William Leppig
The Grand Rapids Eagle
Established as The Grand River Eagle, a weekly established by Aaron B. Turner, published its first issue December 25, 1844. The “River” was soon dropped and “Rapids” substituted. Mr. Turner often found it difficult to procure paper for his publication. The Eagle was a weekly until May 26, 1856, when it came out as a morning daily. But in September of the same year it became an evening daily, continuing as such until it went out of existence in 1894.
In January 1873 before laying the foundation for his opera house William T. Powers sank an artesian well down some 300 feet east of the Arcade and tapped a natural spring that was tinged with a slight iron taste. Being the first artesian well in Grand Rapids it’s possibly the first in the state. After visiting the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 he saw areas that survived had an artesian well associated with them.