Big Rapids is situated on the big rapids of the Muskegon River at the site of a dam that raised the water level high enough to float logs downstream. Several sawmills were built here. Lumbermen financed the construction of the Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad. This railroad provided an easy means to transport logging supplies past the dam, where they could be loaded on rafts for movement farther upriver. This activity caused Big Rapids to grow as a commercial center. With the arrival of the Grand Rapids and Indiana and of the Pere Marquette railroads it also became a railroad center. The discovery of mineral water brought tourists to the area in the late nineteenth century. Then Woodridge N. Ferris established a school at Big Rapids, later known as Ferris Institute, to teach industrial and commercial arts. Incorporated in 1923, it became a state-supported college in 1949, and was renamed Ferris State College in 1963 and Ferris State University in 1987.
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