Henry L. Vander Horst (1873-1945)
Kalamazoo’s 20th Century Builder
Henry L. Vander Horst
One could easily make the claim for Henry L. Vander Horst being Kalamazoo’s most important 20th century contractor. For half a century, all four corners of Kalamazoo’s hub, the intersection at Burdick and Michigan, were occupied by Vander Horst’s handiwork. Only three of the four remain today, but many of his most noteworthy construction projects continue to survive throughout Michigan, and several other Midwest states.
Early Life, 1873-1892
Born in Amsterdam, Holland, Vander Horst was accepted into the Neerbosch Trade School at the age of 12. Five years later he immigrated to Kalamazoo on 26 April 1891. After arriving, Vander Horst continued to learn the building trade under a local carpenter named O. W. Brundage. The two of them worked on the construction of the
Michigan Female Seminary and the Kalamazoo Telegraph building. Upon their completion, Vander Horst went west to Chicago to work on several projects, including the erection of the New South Wales building for the Columbian World’s Fair. Kalamazoo’s 20th Century Builder, 1893-1945
Kalamazoo National Bank Building, 2023. Photo Ryan Gage
After a couple of years plying his trade in Chicago, Vander Horst returned to Kalamazoo in 1893. Five years later, he chose to go into business for himself. Despite his youth, Vander Horst was skillful at obtaining contracts for largescale projects. After securing the contract to build Kalamazoo’s first skyscraper (Kalamazoo National Bank Building), Vander Horst took his business eastward in 1907 to Battle Creek, building several Grand Trunk locomotive shops. In fact, Vander Horst’s buildings are spread out throughout the state of Michigan (Jackson, Battle Creek, Flint, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Otsego, Lansing).
With a humming local economy and avid workforce, the first two decades of the 20th century was an ideal time to be in the building industry. That strong economy was driven by a successful paper industry, which Vander Horst benefited from, receiving contracts to build factories and warehouses for the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, Kalamazoo Paper Company, Monarch Paper Company, and Bryant Paper Company. Another building boom was taking place in the field of education.
As Kalamazoo’s population steadily grew during the early years of the 20th century, the need to construct newer and larger schools became necessary, with Vander Horst’s business winning several contracts during the roaring 1920s. Business slackened during the 1930s due to the Depression, but by 1940, Vander Horst’s commercial construction legacy had been solidified.
“His hobby, oil painting, is a far cry from these great construction jobs. And he does a good job at it, too, as is borne out by oil scenes hung in his home. It all started back in the days of the depression when construction work was slack. Without any formal training, he started to paint scenes of old Dutch landscapes, such subjects as Ben Hur’s famous chariot race and water scenes.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 February 1940
In 1923, Vander Horst built a lavish home for his wife Lizzie Kreling and daughter at 106 Thompson Street. A sturdy, brick Georgian-Colonial Revival, the home was later converted into a bed and breakfast (Hall House) in the late 1980s. Today, the home is owned by Kalamazoo College, and used for their admissions office. When not focused on business affairs, Vander Horst took an interest in oil painting and watching football games at the University of Michigan, Notre Dame and University of Wisconsin. Vander Horst passed away in June 1945.
Vander Horst Buildings
Marlborough Apartments, 2023. Photo Ryan Gage
American National Bank Building
First National Bank Building
Hanselman Building (demolished)
Hall House (Vander Horst’s home at 106 Thompson St.)
Kalamazoo Gazette Building
Kalamazoo National Bank Building (aka The Kalamazoo Building)
Kalamazoo State Theater
Hillcrest Elementary School (aka Kazoo School)
Lincoln Elementary School
Kalamazoo Gazette Building, 2023. Photo Ryan Gage
West Main Elementary School
Western Michigan University’s Men’s Gymnasium on Oakland Drive
Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, December 2023