The Capital Region is in the middle of the Lower Peninsula's gently rolling agricultural plains. At its center, at the confluence of the Grand and Red Cedar rivers at Lansing, is the state capital. Highways radiate out in all directions from the capital linking it not only with the seats of county government within the tri-county area but also with the major population centers of the state.
The earliest building erected in the Capital Region may have been a log trading post near present-day Maple Rapids that was opened by George Campau in 1835 before he moved to Grand Rapids in 1842. An influx of New Yorkers and New Englanders followed in the 1830s, settling in all three counties. The three counties of the region were organized in the late 1830s: Eaton in 1837, Ingham in 1838, and Clinton in 1839, and with them came the need for courthouses. The substantial late-nineteenth-century courthouses that replaced earlier wooden ones remain in the center of a square surrounded by commercial and religious buildings in two seats of county government—Charlotte ( EA1) and Mason ( IN1)—and a huge courthouse (1998–2000) designed by Wigen, Tincknell and Meyer stands in the original courthouse square in St. Johns, Clinton County. Lansing and rural Stockbridge are also organized around a public square.
Lansing is the largest city in the Capital Region. Promoted by land speculators, it was founded as the capital in 1837, but the state government remained in Detroit for another ten years. Land speculation was also the motivation for the founding of St. Johns. It was established in the 1850s by investors who anticipated St. Johns's position as a major stop on the railroad that linked Owosso and Ionia. Other communities in the Capital Region were founded with more lofty purposes. Vermontville was established in 1836 by the Reverend Sylvester Cochrane of East Poultney, Vermont, and known as the Union Colony. The town is based on a New England model. Olivet was founded eight years later, in 1843, by the Reverend John J. Shipherd, who established Oberlin College in Ohio. He came to what is now Olivet, purchased the land on a hill among tall oaks and maples, and the following year opened Olivet College ( EA3).
In 1850, in an effort to improve transportation to the capital city, the legislature offered charters to build plank roads. Thus, the Lansing and Howell Plank Road Company was formed and by 1853 the road between Lansing and Detroit was complete. The old Lansing and Howell Plank Road was the precursor of MI 43. The road to Mason was also turned over to a turnpike company in the 1850s and rebuilt as a plank road.
To provide for practical farming and agricultural instruction, the Michigan state legislature approved in 1855 the establishment of an agricultural college to be built ten miles east of Lansing in Meridian Township. In 1857, a building was completed and Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University; IN17) opened to students. The college was selected as one of the nation's first two state agricultural colleges (the other was Cornell in Ithaca, New York). The campus is an arboretum park and one of the most beautiful in the nation, enhanced in no small measure by the expansive college farms that still sprawl south of the main Michigan State University campus.
Backed by Lansing investors, Ransom E. Olds started the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897, which was acquired by General Motors Company in 1908. Olds directed his attention to his newly established REO Car Company and built a factory in Lansing. With slumping sales, in 2004 General Motors discontinued the Oldsmobile.
Today Lansing remains the focus of the Capital Region. Clustered around the historic capitol is a complex of modern office buildings housing government services. To the east, in neighboring East Lansing, more than 40,000 students attend Michigan State University. Historic neighborhoods of period revival houses north of Grand River Avenue are within walking distance of the campus. Metropolitan Lansing is anchored at the north, east, and west by the Eastwood, Meridian, and Lansing regional shopping malls.
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