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The Kalamazoo House

Kalamazoo’s First Hotel


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Kalamazoo House c.1832-1861. Kalamazoo Public Library Photo File P-1022

“Earliest of Kalamazoo enterprises to experience a business boom were its hotels–institutions which became the rallying places for the community and the scenes of many festive occasions in the first years of the city’s history. As early as 1834 when government land speculation was it its height travelers were moving westward in large numbers. There were always two persons and sometimes three in each bed. In rooms where beds could not be placed the floors were strewn with sleepers. Every house became a hostelry and pie and cake venders reaped a harvest as the hotels were unable to feed the hordes and hungry men who were turned away by the hundreds.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 October 1925

Kalamazoo’s First Hotel

Kalamazoo County Atlas, 1873

A vital resource for both the weary traveler seeking a safe place to lodge overnight, and the permanent villager needing of a community hub to take in the news and public discourse of the day, Kalamazoo’s first hotel was aptly named the Kalamazoo House. It was erected in the summer of 1832 and opened to the public by the end of the year.

Situated along Main Street, it was built by Elisha Hall, Smith L. Wood and R. Foster, and managed by Cyren Burdick. The two-story lodge was built of both logs and lumber, the latter of which was harvested from a mill run by Wood. Prior to its construction, early pioneers like Titus Bronson and Nathan Harrison kept their houses open for those who required lodging. It was Bronson’s home that was first used for public meetings prior to the Kalamazoo House being built.

Cyren Burdick was the brother of General Justus Burdick, who in 1831 arrived in Kalamazoo to purchase “all but four lots of the east half of the southwest quarter of section 15 from Bronson for $850.” (Peterson, p.3) Justus returned to his residence in Vermont after his real estate purchase, and later had his brother come west to Kalamazoo to oversee development of the property, including managing the village’s newest hotel. The structure was two stories tall and lacked interior plaster for the walls. Its initial dimensions were 30 by 40 feet but over the next several years, additions were made to enlarge the structure’s capacity.

“In its early years the Kalamazoo House was the scene of nearly all the township meetings and public gatherings. Here land was traded freely or auctioned off for taxes and mortgages until the court house was built. Probate court was held in the Kalamazoo House on the first Monday of each month in 1837, until the court house was constructed.”

— Peterson, p.12

Centerpiece of the Community

As the once tiny village began to grow in population over the next several decades, so too did the Kalamazoo House mature in size and purpose. In 1834, the United States Land Office was relocated from White Pigeon to Kalamazoo (then called Bronson), a move that had a major impact on the increase of land speculators arriving in the budding village. It was a boom time for the village, and the Kalamazoo House was at the center of much of the business and real estate activity. “During an 1835 real estate boom, and searchers were said to have pitched their tents before the Kalamazoo House for lack of accommodations. Guards were posted to keep hungry crowds from entering windows of the dining room.” (KG, 21 November 1948) The hotel’s prominence in the community amplified the value of the surrounding land. Not simply a place for sleeping, eating and deal-making, the lively hotel was also the site of celebratory occasions and social gatherings, such as dances.

By the end of the 1840s, a railroad office had been added inside of the hotel, as well as a livery stable situated nearby that served the customer needing a horse or carriage. Over time, an assortment of different proprietors owned the hotel after 1834, when Burdick sold the enterprise to F.A. Booher.

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East Main Street (Michigan Ave.) from Portage Street c.1869-70 (Kalamazoo House on the left.) Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-339.

Major Renovation

In 1861, the start of a major renovation of the hotel began under owners E. H. Phetteplace and John R. Glynn. The initial idea of simply adding on to the existing structure was scrapped, and plans for an entirely new structure, one four-stories high, were drawn up. Construction began in April and by year’s end the new building was complete. A barbershop and tobacco store were added by the early 1870s.

To make way for the new building, the original structure was “cut about in half” (Gazette). One portion was moved to the rear of the property and used as a temporary location until the new building was complete, while the other portion was moved to the northwest corner of Portage and Spring streets. It was bought by John M. Waud in 1872 and converted into a boarding house, and later used by George Waddel for his veterinary practice. In 1934, that portion of the original hotel was given the wrecking ball by the Upjohn Company, to make room for their expanding facilities.

“‘They don’t build ’em like that any more,’ said one of the wreckers as he ripped up an inch and a quarter matched whitewood piece of six-inch flooring. ‘Look at that sill — 10 by 10 hand-shaped white oak she is, and sound as the day she was laid. Sounder, by George. It’s seasoned and cured till it’s hard as iron. No sag there. That studding there, most of it 4 by 4 — white oak. Why, you can hardly get a nail out of it, to say nothing of drive one in. Look how those floor joists were morticed into the sills. Four by six, those joists are, and they’re prime clear lumber, too. Hardly a knot in ’em. Walnut’s pretty good lumber these days, you know. Well, there in that pile is a lot of walnut that was used for stair treads. Pretty fancy treads for a hotel. She sure was built to last.’”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 April 1934

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Kalamazoo House c.1894. Art Work of City of Kalamazoo, W. H. Parish Publishing Co., 1894.

After many years in business, the city’s first hotel and tavern finally closed in 1906. The building was demolished to make room for the construction of the Kalamazoo Savings Bank building and the Edward & Chamberlain Hardware Company building (aka the Haymarket Building).

 

Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, April 2023

Sources

Books

Hotels and Taverns in Kalamazoo, 1832-1876
Karen Peterson
History Seminar of Kalamazoo College; no. 67
H 647.9 P485


Articles

“Hotels were first enterprise in city to experience boom”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 October 1925

“Wreckers assert aged structure put up ‘to stay’”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 April 1934, page 5

“Kalamazoo House, dating to 1832, razed in 1906: 50-Cent game dinners won wide fame”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 November 1948


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Hotels and Motels

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