NOTICE: On Sunday, April 2nd, from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Lovell Street will be closed to traffic due to an upcoming crane project by our neighbors at the AT&T building across the street. Library guests can access the Central Library parking lot on the corner of Rose and Lovell via the Rose St. entrance which will also serve as the exit during this time. 

den Bleyker, Harry

Realtor and Property Developer

Harry den Bleyker was one of the most successful realtors in Kalamazoo. From 1911 until his sudden death in 1920, he ran a company that worked to promote home ownership through the development of new plats and the active involvement of realtors in professional organizations. He believed that homeownership increased the value of an individual in the eyes of his neighbors and encouraged that person’s involvement in municipal concerns. With this philosophy den Bleyker looked to create new homes where land was less expensive, and that offered unique settings. To this end, he often pushed the city to extend utilities beyond the city limits. As den Bleyker’s visions helped change where people thought they had to live in Kalamazoo, he gained professional recognition on local and state levels. 

Bank, Gold, Love, and Politics

Den Bleyker was born in 1873, the son of John and Anna Balch den Bleyker. Though the family lived on a farm, the den Bleyker’s combined work in the rural setting with involvement in some urban businesses. So, it was not unusual, at nineteen, for Harry den Bleyker to take a job as a messenger boy at the Kalamazoo National Bank where his father served on the Board of Directors.

Den Bleyker worked at the bank until January 1898 when he resigned to join the Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company. The members of the company were united by an equal financial contribution toward a group effort to make their fortune in the gold fields of Alaska. While the group did not find any profitable claims and eventually dissolved, den Bleyker met up with another Kalamazooan, Frank Keasley, in Dawson, Alaska and worked with him in his wallpaper business. As the treasurer of the former company, den Bleyker had stayed in Dawson to complete the sale of a building that the company had owned. After one more attempt at gold in Nome, Alaska, den Bleyker finally returned in 1900 to Kalamazoo to work at the bank. Within a few months he became the new teller and within a year was promoted to cashier. Around the same time as the promotion at the bank, den Bleyker met his future wife, Lucia E. Clark, the new vocal and piano teacher, for the 1902-03 year, at the Michigan Female Seminary. His father sat on the board of the school and over the years, Harry helped at some of the school’s social events. Clark was listed among the faculty at the start of the next year but resigned in the fall of 1903 to marry den Bleyker. She eventually returned to the school and was highly regarded in Kalamazoo’s music society. With a wife, home, and a job in the community, den Bleyker adhered to his own philosophy and ran for public office. Advertisements for his campaign described him as the “best businessman in the Third Ward” and “under obligations to no one” involved with the “machine.” He ran on the Democratic ticket in 1906 and was elected the alderman for the Third Ward.

Harry and Lucia den Bleyker, 1903. KPL Photograph Collection, P-1680
The Real Estate Years

On 1 April 1911, Harry den Bleyker resigned from the bank and four days later opened a real estate office at 104 W. South Street. He did not have to play off his famous grandfather’s pioneer status, nor his father’s business associations. The Kalamazoo Gazette credited den Bleyker with his own business acumen, through which he had established many professional acquaintances that would guarantee a successful business. “Steady growth for the city” was his prediction and his firm played a significant role making that happen. He was especially noted for buying old farms that still existed inside the city limits and subdividing them into neighborhoods described as “nature’s choicest spots.” He came by this naturally as his grandfather, Paulus den Bleyker, bought the farm of Epaphroditus Ransom and subdivided it back in the 1850s to make money and help the city. Harry den Bleyker wanted to be a part of major property developments in Kalamazoo, and within a few months of opening his office, he joined the Kalamazoo Improvement Company. Their first big project was to plat the forty acres of land at the top of the hill on South West Street’s east side. The company named the new neighborhood “Sunrise Heights”, today the Westnedge Hill neighborhood. Den Bleyker served as the sales manager for the project. He promoted the lots as cheaper land where the “air is purer, cleaner and more healthful than it is down in Kalamazoo’s pocket with its constant smoke and its almost continual fog.” For his own company’s role in the growth on the hill, den Bleyker approached the city and bought their undeveloped lots, especially along Inkster, to sell with houses he built on them.  

In 1912, den Bleyker began development of a new neighborhood on the west side of the hill, Parkwood. The lots were laid out to make use of the natural setting of houses built on rolling hills with as little tree removal as possible. It was this development that led to the layout of Bronson Boulevard winding through the area. Throughout this natural setting, den Bleyker had “thousands of feet of cement sidewalk and concrete curb and gutter” laid along with water, sewer, gas and electricity made available.” While the neighborhood lots sold steadily, it was during 1915-16, when his company sold the greatest number. During that time, den Bleyker took on a partner, Floyd R. Olmstead, formerly the attorney for Kalamazoo Corset Company. This addition changed the name of the real estate company to Den Bleyker and Olmstead. They closed the South Street office and moved into offices on the second floor in the Hanselman Building. Along with an enlarged staff, den Bleyker’s role in local and state organizations grew; he was president of the local Real Estate Exchange, a member of the Chamber of Commerce Industrial Board, served on the Public Utilities Commission, and served as the first vice president of the Real Estate Association of the State of Michigan.  

During the country’s involvement in the Great War, 1917-1919, a change occurred in Kalamazoo that pushed den Bleyker to challenge the city. The high cost of materials and labor had made it difficult for people to buy a home. Den Bleyker claimed that only 30% of people in Kalamazoo owned their homes because the prohibitive costs of materials and labor pushed the housing market toward building rental properties. He referred to renters as “floaters” who lacked concern for municipal improvements, unlike a homeowner. Working with other realtors, den Bleyker hoped that the soon to mature first Liberty Loan would help show people how far their money could go in buying a home. While bankers disputed his claims, they did agree that there was a shortage of single-family homes. It was due to the difficulties people incurred when trying to buy a home, that led den Bleyker to offer home loans through his company. With his partner, he took this further to include fire insurance and the risk of dealing in stocks and bonds. He offered these services in the belief that Kalamazoo needed a new source to better meet the community’s needs.

A Tragic Death

Den Bleyker and his wife enjoyed taking extended trips to various parts of the country. In July of 1920, while returning from one of these trips through New York state, den Bleyker drove fast to catch a boat that would take them from Buffalo to Detroit. Unfortunately, while other motorists tried to warn him about a dangerous curve ahead, he did not slow down, and the car went off the road into a tree. Den Bleyker and his wife, Lucia, died from their injuries. Their son, Clark, was thrown from the car and sustained minor cuts. At the time of his death, Harry den Bleyker sat on the boards of four companies in Kalamazoo, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis. His trip east was made partly to meet with a company in Massachusetts that had bought a subdivision in Kalamazoo, which he would further help to develop. Harry den Bleyker’s civic and professional involvements were geared not only to bring profits to his company, but to bring success to Kalamazoo. Many believed that he was “destined beyond question to become a civic leader.”    

Written by Brent Coates, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, December 2022


“Broken and scattered” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 August 1899, page 8, column 2 

“Jottings: A letter from Harry den Bleyker…” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 July 1900, page 6, column 3 

“Has returned from Nome City” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 November 1900, page 4, column 4 

“Change in tellers” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 May 1901, page 1, column 5 

“Society Notes: Mr. And Mrs. George Dandee Clark…” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 April 1903, page 4, column 4 

“Harry den Bleyker is one of the best…” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 April 1905, page 4, column 3 

“Ralston did his duty as an alderman…” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 March 1905, page 4, column 3 

“Open real estate office” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 April 1911, page 5, column 2 

“Open new building addition” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 July 1911, page 3, column 2 


Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 September 1911, page 8, column 1 

“Real estate boom ahead, says dealer” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 January 1915, page 4, column 4 

“Den Bleyker heads real estate body” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1915, page 1, column 5 

“Real estate men honor den Bleyker” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 March 1915, page 8, column 2 

“Industrial board is enlarged To 48”  

Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 August 1915, page 7, column 3 

“The Velvet Hammer”  

Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 January 1916, page 4, column 3 

“Parkwood is fast growing in popularity” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 September 1916, page 5, column 1 

“Home buying to be given a boost” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 January 1918, page 5, column 8 

“Only 30 out of every 100 Kazoo residents own their homes” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 February 1919, page 8, column 3 

“More own their homes in Kazoo” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 February 1919, page 6, column 5 

“Kazoo realtor and wife meet death while hurrying to catch a boat home” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 July 1920, page 1, column 3 

“Mrs. John Den Bleyker, born here in 1840; city’s oldest native resident” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 October 1925, page 160, column 5 

“Founder of Den Bleyker’ Addition dies here on April 8, 1872, according to Gazette record” 

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 May 1930, page 13, column 2

Local History Room Files

Michigan Female Seminary Catalogues, 1888- 1907 

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