Local History and Genealogy
News, comments, resources, and more.
If you’ve visited the “All About Kalamazoo History” section of the KPL website lately, you’ve probably noticed a few changes here and there—most notably the addition of a State History Award “gold medal” banner! “All About Kalamazoo History” (KPL’s online collection of local history essays) has been awarded a 2011 State History Award by the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM)! State History Awards are presented to those individuals and organizations that “have made outstanding contributions to the appreciation and understanding of Michigan history.” The State History Awards are the highest recognition presented by the state’s official historical society.
When asked what prompted the judges to select KPL for this prestigious award, Dr. Sharon Carlson, HSM board secretary and director of the WMU Archives & Regional History Collections, responded without hesitation by saying, “it was the breadth and depth of the collection. I regularly refer people to these information rich pages. They are an appropriate resource for researchers ranging from a middle school student competing in History Day to genealogists to more serious researchers looking for core publications about a topic.” HSM education and awards coordinator, Emily Asbenson, added, “the judges were extremely impressed with the way KPL presents and teaches local history.”
“All About Kalamazoo History” has grown considerably since its inception, and now consists of more than 600 pages in twenty one different categories, which collect and preserve the stories of those who helped shape Kalamazoo and its environs. Some are brief vignettes while others offer richly detailed cultural histories; all are painstakingly written and researched by members of the Kalamazoo Public Library staff. These pages attempt to provide interesting reading and valuable research tools for local and regional genealogists, historians, educators, and library patrons.
According to retired KPL Local History librarian Catherine Larson, “we have tried to answer the most frequently asked questions about each topic, (both) for the convenience of our patrons, and to make efficient use of staff time. We have tried to design a structure that is sufficiently flexible that it can grow in any direction that seems appropriate, even if we can’t foresee it right now. As I recall, we established the web site in 1998 or 1999. The initial Local History offering was three essays each in four categories. We have grown quite a bit since then, and the structure has served us well. It feels good to be part of a team that puts out such a useful product.”
“One of the great things about the website,” says current Local History specialist Beth Timmerman, “is that it has allowed us to collaborate with other institutions in Kalamazoo. Many of the house and building histories are from the 1973 Initial Inventory of Historic Sites and Buildings in Kalamazoo which was made available to us by Sharon Ferraro, the city’s historic preservation coordinator. Another great collaboration has given us one of our most popular sections—the Kalamazoo: Then and Now photo gallery. This is an ongoing project with Professor William Davis at WMU and his photography students who re-create historic photos from our collection.” In addition, staff at Kalamazoo Valley Museum and WMU Archives & Regional History Collections have been extremely helpful with providing photographs and information, as have our patrons. Comments and valuable additions to these essays have been received from across the United States, Canada and abroad.
Congratulations to Beth, the Local History staff, and everyone else who contributes to KPL’s virtual branch! Your award-winning library now has an award-winning website!
Read the official Kalamazoo Public Library press release. PDF
Read the official Historical Society of Michigan press release. PDF
2011 State History Award
After reading the article about Social Music in 19th Century Kalamazoo, part of the “All About Kalamazoo History” section of the Kalamazoo Public Library website, a KPL patron alerted us to an artifact that provides some interesting information about Hull & Arnold’s Quadrille Band.
While searching through some family items, Ray Buhl wrote that he had found a letter written to his great-great-grandfather, James Crawford, by John Hull, a highly respected violinist and leader of Hull & Arnold’s Quadrille Band of Constantine. Hull & Arnold’s Band was well known throughout Michigan and Indiana during the mid-nineteenth century and the group performed often in Kalamazoo.
The letter, written in John Hull’s own hand on band stationery, reads as follows:
Florence, Mich. Feb 26th, 1882
Friend Jas. Crawford,
Enclosed please find two violin strings. I had them on my violin and when I got my Italian strings, I changed them. I hope they will please you and make your old Amati ring. With regard to you and your amiable wife,
I am as ever your friend,
While the text is of little historical significance, the printed letterhead provides important clues about the membership of Hull and Arnold’s band during the 1880s. At the time the letter was written (and the letterhead was printed), band members were John Hull, violin; Daniel Arnold, Clarionet(sic); Charles H. Arnold (replacing Morris Arnold), trombone; and (importantly), Charles E. Rogers, cornet.
Charles Rogers was the leader of the Constantine (Michigan) Cornet Band, and he later formed the Rogers Cornet Band of Goshen, Indiana. During the late 1880s, Rogers’ Band became the “official” musical performance group of the Chautauqua movement in upstate New York. Several prominent Kalamazoo musicians, including Chester Z. Bronson and his brother, William Bronson, were members of Rogers’ bands at one time or another. C. Z. Bronson was, of course, the first director of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to the band roster, the letterhead also verifies that Hull & Arnold’s band was indeed organized in 1838, a fact that that was generally understood, but remained unconfirmed until now, and that as of 1882, Hull was living in Florence Township just east of Constantine in St. Joseph County.
After reading the article on the KPL website, Mr. Buhl was kind enough to provide the library with a copy of the letter and a note explaining that the letter was found in his great-grandfather Norman Crawford’s violin case (having been passed down from his father, James), but sadly the violin in the case was not an Amati.
Our sincere thanks to Mr. Buhl for sharing his findings. No matter how small, items such as this help fill the missing pieces of the mosaic that makes up our local history. Like the store owner says during the Pawn Stars program on the History Channel, “You never know what is going to walk through that door.”
Violinist John Hull, ca. 1875
On Monday evening, September 26, at 6 pm, the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club will host a presentation by Madeline Okerman Adie at the Oshtemo Branch Library entitled “A Historical Timeline of Michilimackinac.” Madeline is the author of Mackinaw City, part of the Postcard History Series from Arcadia Publishing.
The Mackinac Straits Area, including Colonial Michilimackinac, St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Mackinac Island, has captivated tourists for generations. Madeline will discuss three different theories about the meaning of Michilimackinac, and then take the audience on an excursion through the history of the Mackinac area from the 1600s until the opening of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957, illustrated with dozens of historic postcard images. “I think I have some interesting trivia about the Mackinac area that many folks don't know!” says Adie.
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about one of Michigan’s favorite getaway destinations!
While genealogy is a great pursuit any time of year, many people take a break from serious research in the summer. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the thrills of a genealogical search. Whether you’re soaking up sun at the beach, on your way to a fantastic vacation destination, or just hiding inside your air conditioned house, there are many engaging books related to genealogy to enjoy. Buzzy Jackson’s Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist is a fun account of a historian-turned-genealogist and her quest to track down her Jackson (20th most common American surname) ancestors. With chapters entitled “Information Wants to be Free; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DNA Testing” and “Beaches and Burke’s Peerage; or, The Genealogy Cruise” you know you’re in for an entertaining read that is definitely NOT a typical genealogy how-to.
If you prefer your leisure reading in the form of a mystery, there are many books and series to choose from. The Torie O’Shea Mysteries by Rett MacPherson and the Family Tree Mysteries by Patricia Sprinkle are both series that feature a main character who is a genealogist. A keyword search in the library catalog for ‘genealogy and mystery’ or ‘genealogy and fiction’ will turn up many other genealogy-themed summer reads like; Legacy by Danielle Steel and Out of the Shadows by Joanne Rendell.
So while you’re enjoying your break, keep sharp by reading about someone else’s family search – whether it be fact or fiction.
Shaking the Family Tree
Whether you like baseball or not (ok… there might be one or two), you must admit that it was exciting when Kalamazoo native Derek Jeter belted the 3,000th hit of his career in grand style on Saturday with a solo home run, a feat that only a handful of others have achieved—and the first New York Yankee to do so. Gazette writer Joyce Pines called for city-wide recognition for the “Kid from Kalamazoo. ” He deserves it.
But believe it or not, Jeter was not the first Kalamazoo kid to make significant “firsts” for the same New York team. Just over a century ago, “Big John” Ganzel, nicknamed for his imposing six foot, 195 pound stature (a truly BIG man by 19th century standards), signed a three year contract with the New York Highlanders (later Yankees) in 1903 and proceeded to make his mark with the team during its inaugural season. On May 5th of that year, John was responsible for the Highlander’s first ever triple play, and a week later, John belted the Highlander’s first ever home run against the Detroit team in his home state on May 11th.
John Ganzel was one of five brothers who made names for themselves in “America’s game” during the late 1800s and the early decades of the twentieth century. All five played local, regional and state league ball. John had a very successful career as player and later as a manager, and his brother Charlie, “one of the greatest catchers the world has ever produced” (Gazette), became one of the most famous ball players of his day with four National League Championships and one World Series championship to his credit. Charlie’s son, Foster Pirie “Babe” Ganzel, later carried on the tradition through the 1920s. Read the full story of the Ganzel Brothers, Michigan’s “First Family” of baseball in the “All About Kalamazoo History” section of the KPL website.
Once again, congratulations Derek! You continue to make Kalamazoo (and the rest of the country) very proud!
On a walk through downtown Kalamazoo, one would be hard pressed to fail to take notice of both the number and variety of works of public art which adorn building facades, walkways, parks, and even alleys. After completion of a photo gallery dedicated to public sculpture in Kalamazoo, the idea of creating a similar gallery of public murals came up and immediately appealed to me. One of the tasks that I have enjoyed the most as the local history room intern has been the exploration and documentation of the landscape of Kalamazoo through photography.
Once begun, the project began to swell beyond my initial impressions of the number of public murals to be found in Kalamazoo. Some murals have been present for decades and have become so well integrated into the cityscape that they have become easy to overlook. New murals are arriving annually, being painted by local artists such as Conrad Kaufman, who has made a name for himself in the region due to the sheer number of murals he has created for both public and private audiences.
While some of Kalamazoo's murals are easily located, others are more well hidden. Throughout the process of locating and documenting these works of art, I have often been surprised at what can be discovered through a slight variation of a routine route through town. After an examination of the murals in the photo gallery, it is my hope that you will seek them out on your own if should you happen find yourself nearby. If you are aware of any murals that are readily accessible to the public and have not yet been included in the gallery, please let me know in order to help make the list as complete as possible.
One of the most interesting and fun aspects of working in the local history room is receiving new (old) materials for the collection. These come to us from a variety of sources and are often a complete surprise. Last week we received one of these unexpected gifts all the way from North Carolina. The donor had apparently never lived here. His father had lived in Michigan but moved away over 80 years ago – however, for some reason he saved a postcard of the Triangle Lunch on old US 131 between Kalamazoo and Plainwell. The family held onto that postcard all these years and then very thoughtfully passed it on to us. I am always amazed and grateful when people take the time to do things like that.
We are having a wonderful time trying to unlock the clues in this photo. Our donor believes that it would have been purchased in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and we know from phonebooks that a Triangle Lunchroom was operating in Cooper Township at that time. We have not yet determined where on old 131 (Douglas Avenue) the diner sat, or the owners, but we have many resources still to check. If you have any information for us regarding the photo, please let us know. Local residents are often our best resources!
One interesting note – we had hoped to get vital information from a sign in the window of the building, but no amount of magnification seemed to help. Finally, Mandana Nordbrock, with her sharp (young) eyes solved this important mystery – it read “Juicy Ham Burgers.”
On Monday evening, May 23, the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club will present part two of its series of programs at the Oshtemo Branch Library entitled “Railroads of Michigan: Small Pictures, Big Stories.”
Regional railroad history expert and author Mark Worrall will share more rare and unusual photos of railroads from Michigan’s past and discuss the intriguing and sometimes unbelievable stories behind them. “From oat powered trains to air powered railroads; oil trains on the Annie to Hunter Specials roaring across the Upper Peninsula; Grand Rapids reefers to the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic’s spending binge in 1888.” Mark is a compelling presenter and his programs always receive enthusiastic reviews. Come early, Mark’s program begins promptly at 6:30 pm.
“Lakeshore & Michigan Southern wreck that occured on the northside of Kalamazoo on June 18, 1913.” ~Mark Worrall
Mark has coauthored books about Michigan’s railroad history, including Michigan Rail Disasters 1900-1940 with Benjamin Bernhart and Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Railroad with Charlie Conn. In 2009, Mark was a featured speaker at the Michigan Railroad History Conference.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn more about Michigan’s historic rail lines!
Railroads of Michigan: Small Pictures, Big Stories
Over the course of the last year, my position as local history intern has afforded me numerous opportunities to engage in a variety of projects, most of which have allowed me to pursue my own personal local history interests while contributing to the body of material available to the public for use in their own historical inquiries. When the weather has been appropriate, these projects have often taken me outdoors, camera in hand, and onto the streets of Kalamazoo. Last summer, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting and photographing the various historic districts of Kalamazoo County in order to compile information from the National Register of Historic Places and the State Historic Preservation Office in a series of web pages. When appropriate, I would always opt to walk to these destinations. In my pedestrian travels throughout Kalamazoo, I was frequently impressed by the quality and quantity of public memorials, monuments, sculptures, murals, and other works of art. When discussion regarding updates to the library’s online photo gallery of local public sculpture occurred last winter, I immediately became interested in contributing to this effort.
As soon as the last of the significant quantities of snow had melted, and the weather had begun to turn more hospitable, I was ready to take new photographs of the works previously included, and quickly decided to expand the collection. From nine, the gallery has grown to thirty-nine with plans to include approximately two dozen additional sculptures. The sheer number of works of public sculpture found in Kalamazoo renders even this list incomplete, and it is my hope that if you are aware of a work that has been currently overlooked, you will inform me in order to help create the most comprehensive list possible.
These sculptures are, and have been, sources of civic pride for the residents of Kalamazoo, and we are lucky to conduct our lives amidst an atmosphere that encourages and appreciates the creation of works of artistic expression. While I am continuing to expand the gallery devoted to public sculpture in Kalamazoo, I am also currently engaged in creating a similar gallery focusing on public murals. It is my hope to have a version available by the end of spring.
Kalamazoo Ruby Light Chandelier
Some things just get better with age; a vintage wine, a hand crafted musical instrument, or perhaps a lifelong relationship with a significant other. On the other hand, some things need a little help if they are expected to survive.
During the 1970s, the water tower at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital nearly met its demise before a public effort succeeded in raising the necessary funds to save it. Countless other structures around the city—the GR&I Depot, the Michigan Central Railroad Station, Henderson Castle, and more recently, the historic Michigan Avenue business district—can all lay claim to similar stories. Others—the original Kalamazoo Public Library building comes immediately to mind—weren’t so fortunate.
There’s a new movement afoot to save the aging smokestack next to the old Gibson guitar factory (now home to Heritage Guitar Inc., and others) at 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo. The factory was built in 1917 and its smokestack, emblazoned with the vertical letters G-I-B-S-O-N, has since stood as a proud monument to the iconic company that once occupied the property. Sadly, time has begun to take its toll on this historic landmark. The aging structure is in desperate need of repair or it will eventually have to face the inevitable.
Local supporters have started a “Save the Stack” campaign to raise awareness and hopefully save the Gibson smokestack. Visit the group’s new Facebook page, share photos and stories, “Like” what they are doing, and join the effort!
The Historic Gibson Smokestack