“The principle attraction of the place is its picturesque and beautiful scenery. It is one of those natural parks, of mingled cliff, river and island scenery, so seldom seen, and seems especially designed to win mankind away from the fatigue and cares of everyday life to find in nature’s companionship renewed health and vigor of life.”
Thus stated an 1880 account of the local scenery. Writers often tried to describe the unique landscape of Grand Ledge. Another author tried in 1880 when he wrote:
“Early settlers marveled at the beauty of the Ledges and the riches the area provided. The river was noted for being crystal clear to the river bed and full of fish for the taking. Historians noted sturgeon being caught here weighing in at over 50 pounds. The river provided water power in the summer and ice in the winter. The ice was gathered and kept all summer in local ice houses. The ledges themselves provided not only stone for building, but were mined for coal, shale and clay”
Unique ledges rising up to 60 feet on the banks of the Grand River appear for about a mile in Grand Ledge. This ancient sedimentary rock is the largest outcropping of rocks in Central Michigan, and the seventh largest in the state. Some 300 million years ago Grand Ledge was a salt water sea. Sediments (sand, silt and clay) were carried by the water and deposited in layers along river banks and beaches. Time and pressure compacted and cemented the sediments into the ledges we have today. The rocks found in the area contain fossils some of which can only be found here. Veins of coal can still be found along the river path which runs from Island Park to Fitzgerald Park. On the northside, Oak Park is used by rock climbers to practice and learn their skills.
Lions Head Rock
The most famous and recognized rock formation of the ledges. This great outcropping, next to Sandstone Creek, reared up high over the river and jutted out over the river bank. Lions Head was often explored and many generations left there names scratched into the soft rock. Sadly the great rock was partially destroyed in 1936 when the City blasted for the laying of drainage pipe in the area. While the base of Lions Head can still be seen today, it is only a small part of its former splendor.
At the base of Lions Head Rock, where Sandstone Creek joins the river, is Hemlock Point. This sandy hill was a destination for many boaters on the river and was the starting point for exploring Lions Head and all the ledges. The Point features a natural stand of Hemlock trees, one of the few natural groves in Lower Michigan.
Sandstone Creek has been know variously as Gulf Stream and Stone Creek. In 1890 it was describedas:
“At the western extremity of the village a small stream, known as Sandstone Creek, discharges its waters into the river, after passing for some distance through a dark and rocky gorge, or gulf, grown thick with hemlocks. The admirer of the rugged in nature would not expect, on approaching the river at the point, the beauties which await him, and the surprise on a nearer approach is delightful.”
When the settlers arrived the river was fed by other tributaries in the area. Early pioneer histories tell of a spring in the large gully near the corner of E. Jefferson and S. Clinton Streets. There was also a small creek in what is now the parking lot between W. Jefferson, Harrison and W. River streets. This creek ran down toward Second Island. Finally another creek on the northside ran along the West side of Bridge street where the brick buildings now stand. This creek ran down
to where the bridge now stands.
Seven finger islands stretched through grand ledge from downtown to the western edge of the city. Second Island was used the most, and soon this was expanded onto Third Island. A causeway was build to join the two islands in the 1880s. Second Island as we see it today is really Second and Third joined together. Islands Four, Five and Six were small wooded islands too small for much usage. Seventh Island or Half-Mile Island was the destination of many boaters. This was often a picnic spot before exploring the ledges at the island’s end where
Sandstone Creek joined the river.
The Flats, or Campground Flats, was and area of level river bank using as the a boat landing and entrance to the Spiritualist Campground near Sandstone Creek.
This part of the ledges is an area of shear cliffs that runs from the corner of West Main and Tallman Road to the dam.
Stone was gathered in quarries in the area. One quarry was located in the large gully near the intersection of E. Jefferson and S. Clinton Streets. This was also mined for clay to help build the first dam. Another area, known as The Heart, was located on the Kent farm on Jenne Street. This farm, now filled with three school buildings, had a stone quarry along the hill where Sandstone Creek passed. The Heart was named for a heart-shaped pond along Sandstone Creek in this wooded area. The Heart pond survives today near Beagle School and South Street.