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There has been a dam across the Grand River at this site since 1843, when John Burchard, one of Lansing’s first residents, built one here. Burchard Park was named for John Burchard. The Board of Water and Light purchased this site in 1934 and erected a new concrete dam and a small 200 KW hydroelectric station. The dam was built primarily to supply the Ottawa Street Steam Station with condensing water. The dam, approximately 200 feet long, has a four foot moveable crest which permits the regulation of the height of the Grand River.
From “Past and Present of the city of Lansing and Ingham County, Michigan”, by Albert E. Cowles, 1905: The lands where the City of Lansing now is were located by entries in the United States Land Office, in the years 1835, 1836 and 1837, principally by Isaac Townsend, Frederick Bushnell and James Seymour, not jointly, but each locating separate tracts. They were wild, very wild lands, heavily timbered, and infested by wolves, bears, wild cats and many other kinds of wild animals, and there was not a house or building of any kind upon any of it, or within miles of it. October 13, 1841, John W. Burchard purchased of James Seymour the southeast fractional quarter of section nine, town four, north of range two west, including the adjacent water power, and in 1843 he built the first house in what is now the City of Lansing. It was, of course, a log house, as all the houses that were built in the woods, and it stood on the east side of Grand river at what is North Lansing, a few rods west of what is now Center Street, and north of what is now Wall Street. It has been gone many years, but is well remembered by many men and women now living. Mr. Burchard, with his family, consisting of a wife and two young children, a boy, John, and a girl, Louise, moved into the house and began the erection of a dam across the river, where the present dam is, and completed it the same year, and was making preparations to erect a mill, when the spring rains, in 1844, caused a flood which made a break in the dam, and, on April 7, he went out in a canoe to make an examination and decide how he might repair the damage, when he, with his canoe, was drawn under the fall of the water and he was drowned. Soon after this the family moved away, and the land and water privileges again became the property of James Seymour. Mr. Seymour, desirous of continuing the work of building the mill, induced Joab Page, then living in Vevay, this county, to remove to the locality, with his family, and his sons-in-law, Whitney Smith, George Pease and Alvin Rolfe, came with him. All of these men are well remembered, by many people now living, as men of sterling character and physically and in every way very competent men, just the best kind of men to start and build up a new settlement. Mr. Page and Mr. Smith were experienced millwrights, and all of them were first-class mechanics. Mr. Rolfe remained only a short time, and moved back to his farm in Vevay, but the others remained until about 1853; though when they came it was not their intention to remain longer than they had completed the mill. These men, with their families, and a few others, were the only inhabitants, until after the location of the capitol here in 1847. After that there was a rush of people to the capital; and board shanties, put up for temporary occupancy, and temporary hotels and business places were constructed. The Grand River house, quite a respectable building for those times, had already been built by Messrs. Page and Smith, at the northwest corner of Center and Wall Streets. In I847-8, three or four quite respectable hotels were built; the Seymour House, at the present southwest corner of Center and Franklin Street, a two and a half-story frame, extending on Center Street about half way to Wall Street, with rooms for stores south of the hotel office or bar-room, as it was then called, parlor and sleeping rooms in the second story and a dance hall ran the whole length in the upper half or two-thirds story, for it seemed too high for a half, and too low for a full story. The building is now owned by E. S. Porter, and is remodeled into sixteen apartment houses. It was the scene, in the early days, of many pleasant and enjoyable occasions, lasting from “early candlelight” until daylight.
The Brenke Fish Ladder was built in 1981 to help fish swimming up the Grand River pass the dam without injury. The fish ladder is a peaceful place to visit along the river and you can always catch fishermen along the riverside of the ladder catching catfish, carp, sunfish, and other smaller species of fish that inhabit the Grand River.
The North Lansing Brenke Fish Ladder, is the sixth in a series of fish ladders on the Grand River to allow trout and salmon to migrate 184 miles from Lake Michigan to the South Lansing (Moores Park) Dam. It is part of a cooperative fish management project between the City of Lansing and the State of Michigan. Funds to build it were provided by the City of Lansing, the Michigan Urban Recreational Bond Program and the Anadromous Fisheries Restoration Program. It was named in honor of William Brenke who worked tirelessly to bring trout and salmon to Lansing.