I love the following glimpse into Grand Rapids’ past.  Taken at 9:30 according to the tower clock in the background it is a northwestern look down Monroe Center toward the Pantlind Hotel.

The photo is now in the public domain.  It was taken by the Detroit Publishing Company and has an estimated time-frame from 1900 to 1910.  Are there perhaps clues in this photo that can narrow down a more precise date?  Let’s take a closer look and find out.

Monroe Center Street NW of yesteryear.

The best method of testing the era of this photo is to examine each of the businesses shown in period city directories to determine what years they were at the locations shown.  This is easily done using Ancestry.com which has most of the Grand Rapids City Directories.  Of those listed the ones that point to a specific era include the Grand Rapids Candy Kitchen which did not appear in any directory prior to 1907; the A C Smith Barber who was in another location in 1904; the Dentist, Mr. I L Lee who did not move to this present location until 1907; the Dentist, Mr. Marcus Cox, who moved from this location in 1908.

This refines the year to 1907.  Do objects pictured fit this year?  Without a doubt.  There are three automobiles in the picture mixed in with horse and buggy.  The center car where we can only see the rear does appear to be a 1907 runabout, either Ford or Buick.  The car parked adjacent the Eli Cross Florist is a 1907 Ford Model S.

Everything seems to fit 1907.  As for clothing style, the long-flowing dresses, white shirts and bonnets all fit the 1900s as do the suits and hats for the men.

New for 1907 was the Model R Runabout replacing the Ford Model N in April. The Model R was then revised in August 1907 becoming the Model S.

It’s difficult to determine the model of car driven in the picture above left as it was taken from the rear.  It does appear to be a runabout.  There were several runabout models during the 1907 era: Ford, Buick, Cadillac and others.  The auto may be a Buick Model G or K or a Ford Model R.  The seats seem more like a Buicks.  The rear fenders seem to lift up slightly.

As for the car sitting in front of Eli’s Florist, that does look more like a 1906-07 Ford Model S.  What appears to be passengers sitting in reverse is only an illusion of depth.  They are likely pedestrians walking behind the vehicle.

In either case, I believe the cars help date the photo to the 1907 era.


I believe all evidence points to the year 1907.

1907 Buick Model G Runabout

1907 Buick Model K Runabout

1907 Buick Model S Runabout

1906-07 FORD MODEL “R”

1906-07 FORD MODEL “S”

Monroe Center Street NW today.