Unskilled factory jobs lured German, Polish, and Irish immigrants to the west side of Grand Rapids in the mid-nineteenth century. By the 1850s Germans had settled the Bridge Street area in significant numbers. The west side is characterized by the close proximity of housing and factories, with industrial buildings interspersed among modest houses. The opening of the west side power canal in 1866 aided the development of mills and factories along Front Street. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, completed in 1869, and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, completed in 1870, provided further impetus for growth. Many of the furniture factories that contributed to the national reputation of the industry in Grand Rapids were located on the west side, among them were such large and long-surviving furniture manufacturers as Widdicomb, Stowe-Davis, and American Seating.
Most of the employees lived in the surrounding neighborhood, which was predominantly made up of wood-frame single or double houses and multiple-family residences, often with Italianate, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival detailing. Churches, schools, parish halls, rectories, convents, and ethnically based fraternal and social halls attested to the strong European ties of the west side's residents.