Kentwood, Michigan: Small Town Charm
Kentwood, Michigan (originally called Paris Township) has roots that stretch back to the first half of the 19th century. Barney Burton was the first to pitch a tent and to construct a house in Paris Township. Around this time, government land in Michigan Territory was available for $1.25/acre. Its location, so close to the much larger settlement of Grand Rapids, led to difficulties in obtaining full cityhood. It remained an unincorporated township for the first 100+ years of its history.
Kentwood is home to one of the few remaining “Octagon houses” left in America. This style of house experienced a surge in popularity in the mid-19th century due to a book by Orson Fowler, which described a wealth of benefits imparted by the unusual design. Among these benefits were: additional living space, increased natural lighting, and ease of heating and cooling. A resident named Sluman Bailey who served varyingly as a school inspector, tax collector and sheriff moved to the area in 1846 with his family. The Baileys’ first home was a log cabin which Sluman built himself. After acquiring some wealth, Bailey followed the basic design principles proposed by Fowler and constructed an octagon house, which is still standing on Paris Avenue today.
Throughout the mid-20th century, the quickly-growing Grand Rapids annexed sections of the surrounding townships, including Paris Township. Time and again, elections brought with them further annexations, costing Paris Township population and tax revenue. By the end of the 1960s, after difficulties with the city of Grand Rapids refusing water and sewage for a proposed shopping center in Paris Township, residents were ready to make a change and incorporate. In 1967, a special election was held in which residents voted overwhelmingly in support of becoming a city. Paris Township’s name was changed to Kentwood, in honor of legal scholar James Kent. This change prevented any further annexation of Kentwood property by the city of Grand Rapids.
Kentwood began its life as a quaint farming community, but these days it is increasingly suburban, with housing developments and thriving businesses. It retains something of its small-town charm, despite many of its farms have given way to neighborhoods and apartments. Though Kentwood increasingly looks to the future, monuments to its past, like the Octagon house on Paris Avenue, still remain.