The Madison Avenue duplex, circa 1921.

716 Madison Avenue


The earliest place that Gerald Ford called home was at 716 Madison Avenue. The house was rented and split in two, between the addresses 716 and 718, with his paternal grandmother and aunt occupying the other half. It was a neighborhood mixed with middle-class and working class families. Junior was an only child through much of his time at Madison Avenue, and his father was earning enough to take the new family on vacation to places like Florida. It was here that young Junior would play with other children in the neighborhood; though they were generally much older, he could hold his own, as he was already of a size and temperment that would make him an excellent football player. He would accompany his father to the YMCA, where he learned to be a terrific swimmer. On Sundays, the family would attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Division Avenue. All in all, it was a good place to experience childhood.


In 1918, Junior Ford enrolled in Kindergarten at Madison Elementary, across the street from his duplex home. Kindergarten is taken for granted today, but at the time, it was a progressive idea that many schools across the country were just beginning to adopt. Junior enjoyed his time at Madison, which he attended through 6th grade.


"I’ll never forget one aspect of it,” he recalled of the school. “It was on the corner of Madison and Franklin Street, and there was a fire engine house right on the corner with the last horse-drawn steam engine.  And when a fire broke out, those horses and that steam engine would come out hell bent for election!  It was a thrilling sight!


Madison School, circa 1920's

As Junior Ford made his way through the early years of elementary school, it became apparent that he had a stutter. It was also discovered in the first grade that Junior wrote better with his left hand than with his right. After an attempt to make him write right-handed, which was common for the time, his teachers and parents gave up and allowed him to use his left hand. Consequently, his stutter began to disappear. For the rest of his life, curiously, Ford was right-handed standing up but left-handed sitting down.


At this point, Jerry Sr. was working for Heystek and Canfield, a business specializing in home decorating products like paint and wood varnish. He had previously been a traveling salesman for the company, but now thirty years old in 1920, Jerry had earned a managerial position. The Madison Avenue home began to look smaller with the birth of Junior’s half-brother, Thomas, just a day after Junior’s birthday in 1918. The higher manager’s salary earned by Jerry Sr. allowed them to take a step up in society and find a more suitable home. Having outgrown the working-class neighborhood around Madison Avenue, the Ford clan looked to own a home for the first time, setting their sights on the up and coming East Grand Rapids suburb. In East Grand Rapids, houses were newer, the neighbors wealthier, and it had an amusement park, Ramona Park, at Reed’s Lake. Constructed by the cable car company, the park was a staple of Grand Rapids entertainment for decades.


Money was put down to build a house on Rosewood Avenue. In 1922, the family left their Madison Avenue home behind to take up residence in the new, socially upward neighborhood. However, economic misfortunte would soon find the Ford family, and their time on Rosewood Avenue would not last long. Jerry Sr. lost his job at Heysteck and Canfield and was forced to sell his newly built home. The Fords moved to 649 Union, not far from where they started at Madison Avenue.