The Ford residence at Union Avenue.

649 Union Avenue


After a change in management at Heysteck and Canfield, Jerry Sr. lost his job, and though he quickly found a new position with a different company, he was no longer able to keep up with the mortgage to pay for the house on Rosewood Avenue. Forced to move, they found a house on the edge of the Hill District, at 649 Union Avenue. It was here where his two other half brothers were born: Richard was born in 1924 and James in 1927. When they moved to Union, Gerald Ford was almost ten years old and entering the 4th grade. He would spend the most formative years of his childhood at this address.


The neighborhood around Union Avenue was a mix of occupations and ethnicities, from the top end of the working class to the lower levels of the middle class. Half of the families were of Dutch origin, the most prominent ethnicity in the Grand Rapids area. The house itself was a two-and-a-half story structure with a large front porch and a two-story garage. It had the basic amenities of a pre-World War I home: a coal furnace, a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and tub, and a single telephone. A primary sign that the Fords were a middle class family was that they often hired household help, even if money was scarce. It was not a home of luxury, but 649 Union Avenue was an average middle-class dwelling for the times.


One of Junior’s many chores was to tend to the furnace, which required daily cleaning and refilling of coal on a daily basis. It was a task that required practice, as the coal had to be distributed in the furnace in such a way that it burned constantly throughout the night. This chore and others fell to Junior because his father’s new sales job at the Grand Rapids Wood Finishing Company kept him on the road for most of the week. As a consequence, Jerry Ford Jr. was often the man of the house.


Gerald R. Ford Jr., at age 10, on the front walk of 649 Union.

Young Ford made many friends in the neighborhood, playing unorganized contests of football or baseball with other boys. When he was not engaged with chores or outside playing with friends, which was much of the time, Junior would occasionally pick up a book to read. He enjoyed the Horatio Alger books given to him by his father, as well as tales of King Arthur, but more often than not, he would have rather been outside playing sports. Sometimes, he played poker with friends. Every once and awhile, though, Jerry Sr. would find his stepson during these card games. Junior recalled:


In the back of our house, we had a two-story garage.  Well, that pretty soon became the place where the Ingle twins (neighbors and close friends) and Pat Lusk, Ed Furch, myself, and some others had a club up there.  I forget the name of the club, but we got on a binge of playing poker.  I remember a couple of times when my stepfather or one of the parents of the other boys caught us, and we were pretty severely reprimanded.


It was on Union Avenue, during his elementary school years, where he learned to control what was becoming a prodigious temper. As his parents did not believe in physical punishment, Junior’s temper tantrums were dealt with by Jerry and Dorothy Ford in creative ways. His mother would point out how ridiculous he looked when he was angry, or simply confine him to his room. After one such tantrum, she made him memorize “If,” a poem by Rudyard Kipling. “It will help you control that temper of yours,” she told Junior. His father, on the other hand, would give him stern motivational talks. Overall, though, little discipline was needed, for Junior Ford was generally a cooperative youth.


The future president would call 649 Union his home until the last year of high school. However, before Jerry’s senior year in 1930, his father’s business prospects were on the rise. Jerry Ford Sr. wanted a house to better show his position as the head of the newly minted Ford Paint and Varnish Company. so he put money down on a large house in East Grand Rapids, at 2163 Lake Drive. Once again, the Ford family changed homes.