In 1914, The Woodcliff Park plat was formed by John Bonnell – a local developer at the time. This was an extensive geographical area surrounding all sides of John Bonnel Park. It was not related to the geographical area defined now by the Woodcliff Park Association which is a small remnant of the original Woodcliff plat. Of note, John Bonnell was clear in the dedication of this plat that John Bonnell Park and Reeds Lake Boulevard were granted to the Grand Rapids Parks and Boulevard Association:
“ …Reeds Lake Blvd together with the park described as John Bonnell Park have been conveyed to the Grand Rapids Boulevard Association, a corporation organized and existing under and by virtue of Act 161, Public Acts of 1911”…
The Dedication from 1914 signed by John Bonnell reads clearly:
“Bonnell realty COmpany.. have caused the land in the annexed plat to be platted as Woodliff Park… in the Township of Grand Rapids …and that the streets as shown on said plat are hereby dedicated to the use of the public except Reeds Lake Blvd which together with the park described in said plat as John H. Bonnell Park have been conveyed to the Grand Rapids Boulevard Assn, a corporation organized and existing under and by virtue of Act 161, public acts of 1911.
(Signed by John Bonnell)
Available references regarding this association’s mission include:
“An organization of representative men, styling themselves the Park and Blvd Assn, has extensive plans for the improvement and extension of the park and blvd system… such as constructing a boulevard to encircle Reeds Lake…”
(City of Grand Rapids Historical Document)
Municip Journal 1912: “The Reeds Lake Blvd will run through the John Bonnell property and around the lake… known as the outside route, being adopted at meeting of Executive Committee of the Grand Rapids Park and Blvd Assn”
Municip Journal 1917: “ Gr Rap Blvd Assn … notable feature of the last season has been the completion of the blvd around reeds lake…”
Michigan Supreme Court Ruling
In 1920, the Grand Rapids Parks and Boulevard Association donated the land that John Bonnell had entrusted to them to the City of Grand Rapids. The Michigan Supreme Court debated a case when C. Fred Schneider filed suit to restrain the city from acquiring these lands. For uncertain reasons, he contested the gifting of this land as illegal. The ruling permitted the city of Grand Rapids to receive this land from The Grand Rapids Parks and Blvd Assn:
Schneider vs City of Grand Rapids Supreme court of Michigan, Sept 30 1920
The ruling in part states… “This contention we think misconceives the grant and its purpose… The deed runs to the city… It takes as trustee for the people of Grand Rapids who are really the cestuis que trustent. These parks and boulevards donated to the city of Grand Rapids are for the use and benefit of the public, and the city as trustee can take the title for the use and benefit of its citizens”
***It is our strong impression that the historical intention for this area was that the land was entrusted as a gift for all citizens to enjoy. The supreme court in fact allowed the city of Grand Rapids to accept this land as a gift precisely because it was for the use and benefit of its citizens.
We were unable to find any further documentation or reference to this area after 1920. Nor have we received any documentation from the WPA as of this date to correct our current understanding that John Bonnell Park was intended for public enjoyment.