Michigan is a large state with many prominent cities, the most well-known being Detroit. While Detroit is known for many things, like being at the forefront of America’s automotive industry, it is not the capital of Michigan. That distinction actually goes to Lansing. So why is Lansing, which has a population under 120,000, the capital of Michigan, and not another city like Detroit? Let’s explore the history of Michigan a little bit.
Quiz yourself: Can you name the most populous cities in Michigan?
The Capital of Michigan
From 1805 to 1847, the original capital of Michigan (the territory, then state) was actually Detroit. Detroit was a major port on the Detroit River, which was one of the four major straits connecting the Great Lakes to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Throughout the 19th century, Detroit would serve as an important industrial and commercial hub at the center of the Great Lakes region.
Detroit had some issues as capital, however, the main being its proximity to British-controlled Canada. Britain had actually captured Detroit during the War of 1812, and there was a desire among many in Michigan’s government to move their capital to a more central, and safer, location. There was also a concern that Detroit, being the largest city, had too much influence over the politics of the entire state.
In 1847, a multi-day session was held to discuss potential new sites for a new Michigan state capital. Many cities, like Ann Arbor, Marshall, and Jackson, were suggested as possible locations. But with government officials unable to come to a consensus, the Michigan House of Representatives privately chose a small, wooded township called Lansing out of frustration.
Why Is Lansing the Capital of Michigan?
When Lansing was first announced as the new capital of Michigan, many were left scratching their heads at how such an insignificant settlement of fewer than 20 people could possibly be picked. But two months later, Governor William L. Greenly signed the act into law, making Lansing Township the new Michigan capital.
Once Lansing was made capital, it didn’t take long for the small village to quickly transform into the seat of government. Located along the Grand River, more settlements would soon crop up in the region, which was home to ample land for expansion.
By 1859, Lansing had grown to have a population of nearly 3,000 and was incorporated as a city. The city would continue to grow and develop throughout the 19th century. Railroads were built to connect the city to the rest of the state, and in 1878 the current capitol building was completed.
Related post: Why Is Jefferson City the Capital of Missouri?
Lansing has continued to grow over the years, transforming from an underpopulated woodland to an established city. Today, the city is a center of education and history, in addition to serving as Michigan state capital.
Lansing is home to many landmarks and attractions, including Michigan State University, the Library of Michigan, and of course, the beautiful Capitol Building. The city also offers many sightseeing opportunities, with the 5-acre W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, Abrams Planetarium education center, Potter Park Zoo, and the Rose Lake State Wildlife Research Area.
Art lovers can visit the Wharton Center for Performing Arts or the non-profit Lansing Symphony Orchestra for concerts and events. Lansing is also home to the Greater Lansing Ballet Company and The Lansing Arts Gallery & Education Center.
With plenty to do and see, make sure to check out Lansing the next time you find yourself in Michigan!
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