Garfield Park

Est. 1906 (playground) 1918 (park)

In 1906, Julia Fletcher and Charles Garfield gave land for the Fletcher-Garfield playground. In 1918, Garfield donated 15 additional acres of woodland containing trees he’d planted; these two gifts were combined into present-day Garfield Park.

A leading proponent of reforestation, Garfield’s ashes are buried beneath a grove of trees at the park.  There is a small marker at the base of a Sycamore Tree. It is located next to the Garfield Lodge parking lot, and directly east of the Garfield Memorial. The marker reads: “Memory Tree, Chas. W. Garfield, Useful Citizen, Lover of Trees.”  There is also a large boulder that bears his name.

A new playground was installed at Garfield Park in 2010 as part of the Hands Across the City event in partnership with KaBOOM!  The non-functioning pool was removed from the park that same year.

From Garfield Park Neighborhood Association

In 1833 Barney Burton moved to the area from New York. He purchased 320 acres of land for $1.25 an acre from the U.S. Government. The land was bound on the east and west by Madison Avenue and Division and on the North and South by Burton and 28th streets. In 1858 the Samuel M. Garfield family came to visit relatives. They liked the area and purchased a portion of the Burton farm.  After a short time other settlers began to join the Burtons.  The included Edward Feakins, who built the house that still exists at 247 Burton SW, and the Samuel Garfield family, who liked the area and purchased a prtion of the Burton farm.

Samuel’s son, Charles W. Garfield, replanted a 6 acre portion of the farm with 10 varieties of trees in 1892. This reforested farm land became known as the Burton Woods. In 1914 Charles W. Garfield gave the Burton Woods to the Grand Rapids Park and Boulevard Association as a “forestry park.” It was deeded to the city of Grand Rapids in 1921 to remain forever as a “forest preserve.” In 1960 and again in 1968 the City of Grand Rapids proposed to release the Burton Woods land and sell it as city lots. The people of the area joined together to protest the city’s plans. After many meetings and letters, the group incorporated and applied to the city for the right to lease the woods and care for it. On January 6th 1970, the application was approved.  The Nature Center is now under the control of Grands Rapids Parks.

The Garfield Lodge was constructed in 1906 with funds provided by Harriet Garfield, in memory of her husband Samuel, as a meeting place for people and societies for purposes of art, learning and community gatherings. The upstairs of the Garfield Park Lodge was the residence of the park’s first caretaker.  The first floor is still used for community events and the second floor houses the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association offices. It is on the City of Grand Rapids list of historic places.

The Garfield Park land was donated in 1906 by Charles Garfield and Cousins Julia Fletcher and Ossian Cole Simonds.

On September 9th 1934; Charles W. Garfield, had a heart attack and passed away. He was burried in the Garfield Park under one of the trees he had planted near the Garfield Park Lodge.

Charles W. Garfield, born in Wisconsin in 1848, first came to revere trees as a child, the story goes, on the trip that brought his family to reside in Michigan. Encountering a monumental roadside tree near Martin, on the coach road between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, the stage stopped and its occupants gaped. Reputed to be ten feet in diameter, the champion walnut reportedly prompted Garfield’s father to urge, “Take off your hat, Charlie, to that noble tree.”

The meeting was an important one for Michigan’s forests. Garfield, later a successful and beloved Grand Rapids banker, would become a mighty force in the battle to renew Michigan’s cutover and burned-over forests – devoting over 40 years to the cause, mostly as a volunteer.

An 1870 graduate of Michigan Agricultural College, Garfield became a nurseryman and horticulturist, then Secretary of the State Horticultural Society in 1876. As a new member of the State House of Representatives in 1881, Garfield introduced a modest bill that required the planting of shade trees along both sides of public highways one hundred feet apart and within eight feet of the highway edge, protected existing shade trees on roadsides, and credited roadside property owners for a portion of their highway tax if they planted trees.

Garfield’s bill did not pass and the plunder of Michigan’s forests continued. At an 1897 Arbor Day observance, A. A. Crozier described the grim scene in Michigan’s north. While traveling to farmers’ institutes in the region the past two winters, he said, “…I think some of you will be as surprised as I was when I say that in traveling nearly two thousand miles through some forty counties in the lumber regions of the State, I cannot now recall having seen in any one place as much as a single standing acre of white pine in good condition.” Riding from Manistee on the Lake Michigan shore to Saginaw, he added, he had seen an almost continuous succession of “abandoned lumber fields, miles upon miles of stumps as far as the eye can see…“

Such scenes, and the swift abandonment of the north by the lumber industry, fostered a new political consensus that the state had been exploited and cheated. The Legislature created a forestry commission in 1899. Charles Garfield was named president of the three-man panel.

The law authorized the Commission to withdraw from sale up to 200,000 acres of state swamplands and tax-reverted lands to create a state forest reserve. In May 1901, at the next session of the Legislature, lawmakers approved a reserve of approximately 35,000 acres – the genesis of the modern state forest system.

Although Garfield did not believe it at the time, his work on the Forestry Commission and lobbying of the Legislature had produced a major shift in management of northern lands that would provide the base for a rebirth of the forests. Today, the seeds they planted have sprouted, giving Michigan 3.9 million acres of state forestland.

  • City: Grand Rapids
  • State: MI
  • Zip: 49507
  • Address: 250 Burton St SE