SIA Grand Rapids 2023 – Tours & Events

Conference Home    TOURS & EVENTS •  Registration Information

Hotel & Travel



  • Public Speaking Event on Historic Preservation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Historic Main Branch, Grand Rapids Public Library


  • Pre-conference tours*
  • Welcome Reception for New Members
  • Evening Reception at Embassy Suites Grand Rapids Downtown Hotel


  • Choose one of three all-day bus tours
  • Dinner on your own
  • SIA Industrial Film Festival and Special Interest Groups Meet-ups


  • Full day of research presentations & exhibits
  • Annual Business Meeting & Luncheon
  • SIA Banquet*


  • Post-conference tours*

* Additional fees apply

CONFERENCE EVENTS – Included in Registration

Event schedules tentative and subject to change.

Wednesday Evening, June 7

Public Presentation on Historic Preservation (6:30 – 9:00 PM)

Jointly with the Grand Rapids Historical Society, the SIA hosts a public speaker event with historic preservationists Rebecca Smith-Hoffman and Jennifer Metz of Past Perfect, Inc. on the history and impact of preservation in Grand Rapids. Both have over 40 years of experience in the struggle to document and preserve industrial and domestic sites in the area. This event is free and open to the public at the Ryerson Auditorium at the historic Main Branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Thursday, June 8

(6:00 – 6:30 PM) New Members Opening Reception.

(6:30 – 9:00 PM) The opening reception at the conference hotel will include hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and an orientation on the history of Grand Rapids and West Michigan. 

Friday, June 9 Tours

F1 – Traditional Furniture, Water, and Sky (8:00 AM – 5:00 PM) Though much of Grand Rapids’ furniture industry is tied to specialized and office furnishings, Kindel Furniture continues to produce pieces that combine traditional designs and methods with modern techniques. Among the oldest companies, Kindel moved to the city in 1912 and while no longer in its initial structure, has continued to expand its product offerings. The site offers a window into a range of traditional practices in carving, veneering, and design that is unlike any other company. The tour then moves to the Grand Rapids Water Resources facility that manages a regional system extending from Lake Michigan inland. The system pioneered the use of fluoridated water in 1945 and with other efforts altered the city’s relationship to the Grand River and the lake in the ensuing decades. The plant is a window into the changes in clean water processes. Next is a trip to Saugatuck on the Lake Michigan coast to view a unique part of Cold War history, the Saugatuck Gap Filler Radar Annex. Put into operation on the top of Mt. Baldhead dune in 1958 the system warned against aircraft coming over the Arctic it would operate until 1968. Recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, the site is a window into the era’s technology and give spectacular views of the harbors of Saugatuck and Douglas, important nineteenth century lumber towns. The group ends at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven where a host of watercraft from sailing ships to U.S. Lifesaving Service and Coast Guard rescue craft are maintained. It is a window into the efforts to maintain harbors and manage the complex Great Lakes maritime system. Please note that the climb up Mt. Baldhead is on 300 wooden steps to the top. There is a new display on the site at the base of the dune in the 1904 built Pump House.

F2 – Belts, Dams, and Boats (8:00 AM – 5:00 PM) Belt drive machinery remained critical to the furniture industry’s operation and suppliers set up shop in Grand Rapids. Clipper Belt Lacer Company would emerge in 1910 as a leading supplier of belt lacing equipment and is now part of the Flexco company in Walker. Flexco continues to produce items on vintage equipment at its new facility along with belting and conveyor systems used in Amazon and other warehousing operations. Along with its testing and design operations, it is an impressive combination of old and new. The tour then takes a ride north to Consumers Energy’s flagship hydroelectric facility, Hardy Dam on the Muskegon River near Newaygo. Put into operation in 1931, the earth embankment dam produces 30,000 kilowatts from its large reservoir. The complex was updated in 2009 and operates as a key part of the company’s move to non-fossil fuel production sites. An opportunity to also view the older Croton Dam from 1907 is a part of the tour at this point. Next the tour moves on to Muskegon, a former lumber port that evolved into an industrial center by the twentieth century. The historic center of the city that escaped urban renewal and the active waterfront demonstrates the scale of the Muskegon River’s exit point on Lake Michigan. Finally, the tour ends at the Milwaukee Clipper a 1904 built passenger vessel modernized in 1940 into an Art Deco masterpiece. Featuring a quadruple-expansion steam engine, the ship is a blend of old and new with specially built features still intact along with its original equipment. The site also includes the remains of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad’s car ferry slip with remaining headworks to facilitate transfer of railcars. This tour entails two extended travel times of 55 minutes each.

F3 – Preservation, Restoration, and Demonstration (8:00 AM – 5:00 PM) Kalamazoo’s Air Zoo is not only a museum for aircraft but also a Smithsonian affiliated museum that works extensively in historic aircraft restoration. Currently, two World War II aircraft recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan are undergoing this process. The tour will interact with the Restoration Team and see their efforts up close as this painstaking work takes place.

Next, the group visits the Calhoun County Historic Bridge Park, a unique resource that preserves six of Michigan’s historic bridges in a county park located on the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek. In addition to a stone railroad bridge original to the site, the park showcases five restored metal truss bridges of different designs from various counties in the state. The tour of the bridges will include discussion of the restoration processes by Vern Mesler, whose crew was responsible for carrying out the repair, restoration, and erection of the bridges. Next, hot riveting was a key restoration process for the work done to preserve Michigan’s historic truss bridges for the Calhoun County Historic Bridge Park, where efforts were made to use historically accurate techniques as much as possible. The restoration work at the Park has led to ongoing training in riveting at Lansing Community College and to the specification of riveting by MDOT for rehabilitation of some of Michigan’s highway bridges currently in use. Hot riveting will be demonstrated at Lansing Community College’s West Campus, where each participant will be able to use a field rivet hammer to try their hand at driving rivets.

Finally, the tour will also visit the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing to encounter the city’s long automotive legacy. Its collections document the role played by the city and Ransom Olds in helping to develop not only automobiles but other vehicular transportation. This tour entails two extended travel times of 55 minutes each.

Saturday, June 10 Paper Presentations

(8:00 AM – 11:30 AM) MORNING PRESENTATION SESSIONS (Coffee and soft drinks will be available, session topics, presentation titles, and a list of speakers will be posted on the SIA website:

(11:45 AM – 1:45 PM) ANNUAL BUSINESS MEETING AND LUNCHEON (Included in the price of registration)




Thursday, June 8

T1 – Walking tour of the Grand River Waterfront and Downtown Grand Rapids (2:00 PM – 4:00 PM) $15 This walking tour will examine the Grand River Waterfront’s rich legacy of flood control, repurposing from industry to parks, industrial structures, public art, and bridges (road, rail, and two interurban). The tour will depart from the hotel.

T2 – Furniture, Rails, and Mines (8:00 AM – 5:00 PM) $80 Furniture is on the agenda for the start of this tour beginning with Nucraft in Comstock Park. Formed in 1945 the company has transitioned from traditional office furniture into meeting space and conference rooms with a focus on cutting-edge design and custom arrangements. This facility highlights the manufacturing process of materials and design under the same roof.  The group then shifts to Irwin Seating Company in Walker one of the region’s oldest furniture manufacturing firms with roots back to the 1870s. Audience seating for theaters, stadiums, and other public venues provides a very different production profile along with design and installation on large-scale projects. Both companies reflect efforts to diversify manufacturing in Michigan and efforts to draw on design and other regional firms. The next site is the Coopersville & Marne Railway a volunteer organization that also serves as a small common carrier in the area as well. The CMR operates on former Grand Trunk Western trackage out of the small town of Coopersville and has an extensive collection of vintage and operating equipment, structures, and small shops for maintaining locomotives and rolling stock. The final stop is Michigan Natural Storage which along with warehousing operates underground storage in some of the area’s former gypsum mines. These sites date to the late nineteenth century with some operating until the late 1990s

Saturday, June 10

SB – Saturday Night Banquet (6:00 PM – 9:00 PM) $85 The Saturday night banquet will be held at The Knickerbocker New Holland Brewing Company at 417 Bridge Street NW. This is a walkable distance from the conference hotel (along the Grand River Riverwalk) and can also be reached using Grand Rapids’ free DASH downtown shuttle service.

Sunday, June 11

S1 – Walking tour of the Grand River Waterfront and Downtown Grand Rapids (9:00 AM– 11:00 AM) $15 This walking tour will examine the Grand River Waterfront’s rich legacy of flood control, repurposing from industry to parks, industrial structures, public art, and bridges (road, rail, and two interurban) that front the downtown area. The tour will depart from the hotel.

S2 – Walking tour of Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill and Cherry Hill Districts (9:00 AM – 11:30 AM) $15 The Grand River Valley limited sprawl meaning that even houses of factory owners were not located too far away. This walking tour examines the industrial legacy, urban renewal, and historic architecture of downtown and nearby historic districts. The tour will depart from the hotel. This tour goes up the side of the valley which has a significant grade, participants should have appropriate footwear and be aware of this.

Other Local/Regional Points of Interest

Frederik Meijer Gardens:

John Ball Zoo: 10th oldest zoo in the country, one of the last central city zoos:

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum:

Grand Rapids Public Museum:

Muskegon Heritage Museum of Business & Industry