This watercolor was painted by Grand Rapids artist Aaron Turner in the 1880s. Although unsigned, the piece resembles his famous oil painting of Grand Rapids called "Grand Rapids in 1886," also in the Grand Rapids Public Museum Collection (see related objects). The watercolor was likely painted in the 1880s as duplication or study of the larger oil painting, sharing many similar features though the handwritten title calls this version "Campau Square in 1835."
The landscape depicts Turner's recollection of what Grand Rapids looked like when he arrived as a 13-year-old boy. The painting shows a view of Grand Rapids looking east from Island Number One. The Grand River is in the foreground and Prospect Hill dominates the center. The three structures are, (from left to right) a Native American wigwam (presently the site of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel), the first frame house in Grand Rapids belonging to Joel Guild (now the location of the McKay Tower), and Louis Campau's fur storage house (currently Rosa Parks Circle). According to chronicler "Captain" Charles E. Belknap, Turner, "the Horace Greeley of the West, was the earliest resident to trace and color on canvas the surroundings and outline of the first white man's cabin."
Turner, Aaron B. Aaron B. Turner (August 22, 1822 - June 9, 1903) was born in Plattsburg, New York. His family was some of the first pioneers to arrive in Grand Rapids in 1836. At a young age, Turner went to work at Grand Rapids first newspaper, the Grand Rapids Times and went on to a distinguished career as the editor of the Grand Rapids Eagle newspaper. In 1843 he married a Miss Sibley, and had several children. In 1850 he became the first City Clerk for the newly incorporated City of Grand Rapids. He also designed and engraved the City Seal for Grand Rapids. Turner was involved in politics, and identified with anti-slavery elements of the new Republican Party as early as 1854. Later in life he was known as a sportsman interested in hunting and fishing, as well as an amateur artist of some talent. Turner died at the age of 80 after sustaining serious injuries falling from a streetcar in Cincinnati.