The Rapidian

Rock-Hounds Downtown

Geologist Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray guides a geological tour of downtown Grand Rapids landmarks
Underwriting support from:
Gastropd Fossil

Gastropd Fossil /Tony Edger

As dozens of fresh faces and old gathered in the Amway Grand Hotel Lobby last Thursday evening, Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray giggled with excitement.

“I can’t believe the turnout!”

A geologist with Blandford Nature Center, Dr. Dockeray guided this interested group around seemingly familiar landmarks of downtown Grand Rapids.

Her short white hair and round frame glasses are well known in the “rock-hound” circles of Western Michigan.

The tour began right at our feet. Hundreds of gastropod (or “snail”) fossils and coral colonies scattered the elaborate Inca gold limestone floor of the lobby, imported from India.

Dr. Dockeray led the group with excitement and ambition, not once using her cane as a walking support, but more conveniently as a pointer.

We continued on to the massive rock wall outside of Fifth Third Bank on Lyon Street.

Glacial boulders from Canada, this wall has multitudes of stories to tell. Dr. Dockeray explained the three families of rocks- Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphosis- and then jumped into the explanation of one rock's distinction from another. The colors, the lines, the crystals: she knew it all.

Oh my gosh, what do you think happened here?” She bent down to touch a unique, copper looking mark on a protruding rock, leaving us momentarily in suspense. The group’s ogling broke into laughter as she enlightened us.

“A plow in the winter came and clocked it.”

We continued on to the Waters Building floor with Tennessee limestone, to the Trust Building (Grand Rapids’ first skyscraper) with Jacobsville, Michigan’s famous sandstone, to Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church and finally to the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Grand Rapids is a showcase of history, right on the surface. But the surface is what we usually miss. Dr. Dockeray gave a new perspective of Grand Rapids as she opened our eyes to its treasures and stories hidden in the walls, floors and the columns, right down the sidewalks we trod daily.

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Thank you for sharing this beautifully written piece. I'm naturally curious as to Grand Rapids history. I had no idea to start in plain sight. Beautiful article. Thank you.