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  • Essay Project 2021

Essay Project 2021: A Town on Two Rivers

By: Molly Johnson

Running 252 miles across the state, the Grand River is the longest river in Michigan. Although its size and length are impressive, the Grand holds so many more possibilities. Like many other cities in Michigan, Portland has the Grand River running right through. Portland, Michigan is home to not one, but two rivers. The Grand and Looking Glass River provide much importance to our small town, after all we are called “The City of Two Rivers.” The rivers today provide for a scenic kayaking trip, a place for fishing, and a fun swimming spot. Growing up I spent a lot of my time in the rivers, whether it was taking a kayak down the river or taking paddle boards out to have a picnic on the water. Today the rivers provide much more of a recreational area than anything else, but were these rivers always just for relaxation and fun or did they provide more?

In our small town of Portland, we don’t have flashy casinos, big arenas, or skyscraper buildings. In places like Grand Rapids or Detroit these buildings represent who they are as a city. In Portland what represents us is our rivers. We have learned to appreciate a part of our town that others might find insignificant. We have learned to appreciate why the town of Portland was created in the first place. We have learned to appreciate our rivers and what opportunities they give us.

Before Portland became an official town by the settlers, the land was home to Native Americans. The Natives used both the Grand and the Looking Glass as a way to travel. In an interview with Derek Rainey, a volunteer docent at the Michigan History Museum, he mentioned how “Natives had always traveled by the rivers and this location with two rivers coming together was a meeting place of the Three Fires- the Ojibway, the Odawa, and Potawatomi.”

Prior to being bought, many looked at the land where Portland now stands and saw potential for a town to form, due to the plentiful water power. It was in 1833 when the first land would be bought by one Elisha Newman. It was not until 1836 that the land was taken in possession by the Newman’s, and settlement began. Rainey also talked about “how early settlers would carry their crops to market by river and then when the rivers were dammed to create power for milling their grains, Portland with its abundant water power became a center for this.” Another feature that was important about the rivers was their connection to the Great Lakes. All rivers in Michigan flow towards the Great Lakes, and this provided a way of transportation of goods and other items. They used the rivers as a way to transport lumber to bigger cities.

After things were established it was time for them to decide on a name for the town. In an article about the formation of Portland, written by Alan Teelander he states some suggested names for the town were “Johnstown, Jamestown, Boguetown, Boyerville and Newmanville.” It was finally suggested by someone to call the village Portland. The name was well liked, and was thought to be appropriate with all the boats that went through. It was then that the town of Portland became official.

In 2020 the population of Portland has grown to almost 4,000 people. As time has moved forward, rivers have changed into a more tourist and recreational area, than a way of transportation. As new cars, airplanes, and helicopters arise the need for rivers in a form of transportation lessens. This however does not mean the rivers hold no value. They still provide for an exciting adventure to explore, a cool new spot to fish, or a scenic picnic by the water. We may not use them in our everyday lives, but they still make an impact. It is possible that in this lifetime the rivers will mean less and less, and eventually as the poem The Looking-Glass River by Robert Louis Stevenson goes “The stream and all in it Will clear by-and-by.” It is important we forever hold value on the rivers, as they are what gave this town life.


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