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Charles B. Hays

The Man Who Helped Build Kalamazoo


Charles B. Hays
Men of Michigan, 1904, page 325

There are few people who have contributed as much to the city of Kalamazoo as Charles B. Hays. He was born, lived, worked, played, and died in Kalamazoo, and he left his city a much better place then he found it. “The man who helped build Kalamazoo” was a businessman, a developer, a husband, a father, a politician, and a golfer. Most importantly, Charles B. Hays possessed the fighting spirit that is so essential for a successful entrepreneur.

Hays was born in Kalamazoo on 15 November 1862. He graduated from Kalamazoo High School in 1881 and completed his education with two years at Kalamazoo College and two years at Michigan Agricultural College. In 1889 he married Luella Phillips, daughter of local businessman Colonel Delos Phillips, and eventually they had three children.

Building Kalamazoo

It has been said that Hays started his business career the day before he graduated from high school and did not quit until the day he died. He bought his first plat of land for $12.50. In 1887 he formed a partnership with August B. Scheid who financed many of Hays’s ventures. The two men were both willing to take risks in business, and although they both profited from their success, it was the city of Kalamazoo that was the real winner. In 1937 it was estimated that Scheid’s money and Hays’s real estate acumen were responsible for one sixth of all the streets in Kalamazoo, employment for over 3,000 people, the building or improvement of 1,500 homes, and the sale of 3,000 city lots. Hays saw some rough times, and his fortunes rose and fell with the economy. However, he had an uncanny ability to keep the confidence of his creditors and always managed to come out ahead. Among other things, he developed the area once occupied by the National Driving Park and the land south of it, including the South Side Improvement Addition, Hays Park, South Park and the Elmwood Plat. This area includes much of what is now the Edison Neighborhood.

Industry and Community Interests

Charles Hays Exhibit
Kalamazoo Public Library Photograph P-932

In addition to residential development, Hays was also involved in industry, and particularly in the paper industry. In the early years of the twentieth century, he did much to make Kalamazoo into the ‘paper city.’ He served as the secretary of the Bryant Paper Company and the Watervliet Paper Company, worked with the Superior Paper Company, and helped finance the King Paper Company. Hays was twice nominated by the Democrats for mayor of Kalamazoo and was elected to that office in 1912. In 1927 he achieved a personal goal and opened his own Arcadia Brook Golf Course on what is now the campus of Western Michigan University. The beautiful course was soon open to the public and charged thirty-five cents for nine holes.

Charles B. Hays died at his home on Saturday, 31 May 1958 at the age of 95. He will be remembered in this city for his long and productive career that improved many aspects of the city he loved. He built a family, streets, homes, business, and golf courses. He helped build Kalamazoo.

Written by Alex Forist, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, July 2005. Updated 29 January 2008.

Sources

Books

Kalamazoo Lost & Found
Houghton, Lynn Smith and Pamela Hall O’Connor
Kalamazoo: Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission, 2001, page 147
H 720.9774 H838

Articles

“August B. Scheid and Chas. B. Hays End Remarkable Partnership After Unbroken Stretch of 50 Years”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 November 1937, page 8, column 2
“C. B. Hays Dies at 95”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 June 1958, page 1, column 7

History Room Name File

Hays, Charles B

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