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Haymarket Building

161 E. Michigan Avenue


One of downtown’s tallest buildings, the Haymarket Building at 161 E. Michigan Avenue, has been a durable feature of the city’s commercial artery since it was built in 1908. The building’s name derives from its proximity to the nearby hay and wood market, found between Burdick, Edwards, Water, and East Main Streets. While different businesses have occupied its six-story frame over time, historians will often mention the building’s first occupant, the Edwards & Chamberlin Hardware Company, a retail and wholesale hub for hardware supplies, whose origins date back to the 1840s, when pioneer Allen Potter established the firm that would over a half century, find its home inside the building.

f-w-beers-kalamazoo-map-1873-haymarket-district-1200.jpg
Atlas of Kalamazoo County, published by F.W. Beers & Co., 1873. Kalamazoo Public Library

Allen Potter (1818-1885)

Allen Potter, c.1870s

Allen Potter’s civic and entrepreneurial role in the development of Kalamazoo, from a small village to a commercially vibrant city was a significant one. Known primarily as the resident of Kalamazoo’s most well-known octagon home, as well as being the city’s first mayor, Potter’s role as a hardware store merchant in the late 1840s connects his legacy to the Haymarket Building’s creation.

Potter and his family came to Michigan in 1831 from Saratoga County, New York. In 1845, Potter arrived in Kalamazoo and purchased the local hardware store for $500. The store was located next to the Kalamazoo House, the village’s first hotel. Potter was soon joined in business with Henry Gale, but when Gale departed to California in 1849 as part of the gold rush hysteria, Potter continued on with a succession of business partners and name changes to the business. By 1858, Potter had moved on from the hardware trade, instead concentrating his commercial interests on banking and gas works.  In 1888, the remnants of Potter’s hardware store was purchased by the A.K. Edwards Co. After several mergers and ownership changes, the Edwards (W. D. Edwards) & Chamberlin (C.M. Chamberlin) Hardware Co. emerged.

In 1906, two years before the Haymarket Building would be erected along the north side of East Main Street, across from the Portage Street intersection, the Edwards & Chamberlin Hardware Company partnered with the Kalamazoo Savings Bank to buy the land of the former site of the Kalamazoo House. The two firms would erect their buildings next to each other, the bank adopting the architectural form of a Neo-Classical structure, and the hardware store embracing the fashionable skyscraper form.


The Human Fly

The “Human Fly” ascends the Haymarket Building. Kalamazoo Valley Museum Collection, 70.84.

In September of 1916, Jack Williams, known as “The Human Fly”, was invited as part of the Kalamazoo County Fair events, to scale without assistance, the facade of the hardware store. According to Williams, the building’s relatively smooth surface would provide the performer with quite the challenge. He bragged that if spectators were drawn to the spectacle to see him fall to his death, they would be sorely disappointed. Indeed, true to his claim, Williams successfully ascended the Haymarket Building without injury. According to news reports, the climb took Williams about six minutes to finish his ascent, with approximately 15,000 people in attendance.


Sears and Redevelopment

Around 1930, the second major tenant to call the Haymarket Building home was the nationally recognized chain Sears and Roebuck Company. Sears operated their department store out of the building until 1956, when they changed locations, moving to a new facility located at Crosstown Parkway and S. Burdick. Super Bargains Centers, a chain of discount stores, moved in after Sears left, but by the late 1970s, the building was being eyed for redevelopment and renewal.  An advertisement placed in the Kalamazoo Gazette by the Haymarket Company in the summer of 1979 promoted opportunities to embrace downtown revitalization by stating:

“The Haymarket will be the focal point in the restoration of the East Michigan downtown area. It will be the new municipal market for a changing Kalamazoo. The Haymarket, Kalamazoo’s first creative recycling of a substantial downtown building, will provide the commercial vitality that similar projects have demonstrated in San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, and other cities. Drawing on the solid traditions and beauty of the nineteenth century, The Haymarket will breathe life into a new Kalamazoo.”

–Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 July 1979

The building’s windows were replaced, the exterior was sandblasted and a new coat of paint was added to the historical building as well as other renovations in an attempt to appeal to new tenants. In February of 1982, Gordon Rogers Associates were recognized for their efforts to rejuvenate the old hardware store building when they were awarded the Distinguished Building Award by a jury of architects.

The past decade has seen the first floor of the building being used as a restaurant, while the upper floors are rented to an assortment of small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The Haymarket Building, 2024. Photo: Ryan Gage

 

Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, May 2024

Sources

Books

A tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Allen Potter
MacCarthy, Joseph P., 1910
H 921 P866M


Articles

“Historic building grew from $500 investment”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 April 1979

“Architects recognize Haymarket renovation”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 February 1982


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Buildings – Kalamazoo – Michigan, E., 161

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