Site No.28: The City of Plainwell


The first settler in Plainwell was Henry Wellever, who was attracted to the area because of the construction  of a new plank road.  Most of the towns on this tour have in common the fact that their original reason for existing was location, location, location ... whether on the river, a railroad stop, or, in the case of Plainwell, at an important intersection of the new road.  Easy access to transportation was critical to a town’s development.

Old Plainwell
Main Street in Plainwell looking south ca. Late 1800's.
This view looks pretty much the same today, minus the horse and buggies!

In the early 1850s, the old rutted (and when it rained, muddy) dirt road between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and between here and Allegan, was replaced by a new plank road. The sawn planks were made out of oak or walnut and were 8’ long and 2” thick. This pioneer version of a paved highway was a huge improvement ... having a relatively smooth surface that would not be impacted much by the weather.  

Plainwell today

When the plank road was completed in 1854, the result was a considerable amount of traffic and the area, simply referred to as “The Junction” at that time, started to grow into a town. The town was surveyed and platted in April 1863 and was given the name Plainwell. The plank road remained in operation until the early 1900’s, when the current paved 10th Street between Wayland and Plainwell, which uses the same roadbed, replaced it.

Without a doubt, there is a lot to see and do in Plainwell, and it’s a good place to stop for lunch or dinner. So stop and have a look around. You are surrounded by history here.

Traveling to and from Plainwell must have been a treat with the stagecoach running over the plank road instead of the dirt road it replaced.

Building construction
An elephant in your basement? When this building on the corner of South Main and West Bridge Streets was being constructed in 1916, a circus came to town. One of the elephants got loose and wandered around town, eventually walking into this building and crashing through the ground level floor into the basement! Don't worry, they got it out.

Soule Memorial Fountain
This is a photo of the original Soule Memorial Fountain, which was built in 1907. Inside it had four fountains with drinking places on the outside for dogs and horses. It was destroyed by an auto accident in 1953 and was replaced by a new one in 1970. Because materials from the original fountain were hard to duplicate, the newer version was much simpler than the original.


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