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University of Michigan Branch

1838-1843


Yes, there really was once a University of Michigan branch here in Kalamazoo, and it occupied the northeast corner of Bronson Park (then called Academy Square), where S. Rose and Academy streets meet. Its brief time as an institution of higher learning for local students interestingly overlaps with the other local, 19th century-established school—Kalamazoo College (originally called The Michigan and Huron Institute).

“One of the manifestations of the optimistic spirit of the boom period was the plan to establish “branches” of the University of Michigan throughout the state. They were designed to serve as preparatory schools for the university, to train teachers, and to provide education for women.”

Kalamazoo and How It Grew and Grew, p.38-39

Two Schools, One Village

In 1835, two years after the institute had been granted its charter, the ambitious trustees at the University of Michigan saw as part of their charge, a calling to spread itself throughout the state (then, still a territory) in the form of branch campuses. The university had received federal funding and seventy-two sections of land to be used to finance a university, and to create decentralized branches that would serve the primary university, which later opened in Ann Arbor in 1841. “The regents established branches in various parts of the State, which they designed should bear the same relation to the central institution that the gymnasia of Germany do to the universities of that country.” (Durant)

The first branch had been located in Pontiac, and soon others followed in “Kalamazoo, Detroit, Niles, Tecumseh, White Pigeon, and Romeo.” (KG) With an eye on Kalamazoo, the University of Michigan must have thought that their presence would not ruffle feathers, but for many village settlers, the idea of opening their pocketbooks to fund another school building was not well received.

Drawing of the University of Michigan Branch in Kalamazoo

“In pursuance of the foregoing resolutions, the undersigned, members of the committee on branches, respectfully invite the citizens of the several senatorial districts, to propose to said committee such grants or donations of land, cash or other property, as they shall think proper, to enable the Regents of the University more effectually to carry out the plan of instruction contemplated in the law organizing the University of Michigan. As the location of the sites for the said branches in the several districts, will, in some measure, depend upon the amount of donations which shall be made to aid in the erection of suitable buildings therefor, we earnestly appeal to the liberality of the public, and ask their active and cordial co-operation in the establishment of these nurseries, so essential to the success of the parent institution, the importance of which must be felt by every good citizen of the state.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 July 1837

Despite a cool reception from many in the young village, the regents were able to obtain adequate donations in order to erect a building along Rose and Academy streets. The site for the university had been chosen because of an earlier clause that deemed the northeast portion of the city square to be used for educational purposes. The new university branch opened to students in Kalamazoo 1 May 1838, but despite its optimism, the school floundered, finding it difficult to enroll students. Many within the community saw the new university as an oppositional institution, and preferred to support the already established institute. The school’s first administrator was George B. Eastman, a graduate of the University of Vermont. In addition to the enrollment woes, Eastman’s replacement, David Alden, also had to contend with a debilitating recession that began in 1836.

By 1839, the speculation boom had slowed, and the local economy grew stagnant, leaving both the institute and the university to band together in order to survive the downturn. The solution resulted in a plan that would see the institute’s trustees hold the power to nominate and elect faculty. The university’s role would be in ratifying the elections, thus making the faculty part of the university. The university would then be responsible for providing payments to the faculty. Classes would be held at the university building, and the college’s facility near Walnut Street would be used only as a dormitory. The solution appears to have worked for both parties and their students, that is, until 1843.

Arrival of James A.B. Stone

James Andrus Blinn Stone

The institutional break between the institute and the university branch began in 1842, when Dr. James Andrus Blinn Stone replaced William Dutton as the head of administration. University regents pulled what few state funds they were using to support the college, in part because they saw of Stone and the Baptist Church’s influence, a desire to return to institutional sovereignty; a move that would restore the influence of the Baptist Church and its educational goals. Under Stone’s progressive leadership, forty acres of land had been purchased west of the village, and a four-story building erected for both dormitory and instructional purposes. “The regents soon withdrew their pecuniary aid, which had at no time been as large as the promises made, and measures were taken to reorganize and rehabilitate the board of trustees of the institute. The conviction was general that the Baptists of Michigan, who had begun this work of establishing a college at Kalamazoo, must carry it on.” (Durant) Stone and his feminist wife Dr. Lucinda Stone were both supportive of the education of women and abolitionism.

The University Branch Building

After the dissolution of the dual-organization plan in 1843, local residents who had donated funds to the branch building were eager to be repaid, for now their investment was no longer actively being utilized. The solution was for Dr. Stone to payback the local investors and take ownership of the building. For a while, the structure housed the women’s department of the institute. But as the years wore on, the village became increasingly frustrated with the building’s presence, for it was at this time that village officials began to plan for the development of a public park. Unable to legally remove the building without title to the property, village officials reached out to Stone in 1855.

“Just before the expiration of the twenty years, the village trustees gave Dr. Stone official notice to remove the building from the square, although neither he nor the college were proposing to acquire a permanent title by occupation. But the building having been purchased, with all the rights it entailed, and the continued occupation making the title as complete as the title of the churches to the several sites they occupied on Church Square, no attention was paid to the notice of the trustees.” (Durant)

Shortly after contacting Stone, one morning the building was found to have been unmoored from its location on Academy, and dumped at the corner of Main and Park streets. Those responsible for the removal were vaguely described as “men who were awake while the rest of the city slept.” Upon hearing this, Stone responded by asking village trustees to move the building back to its former site. The trustees refused to do so, and the building remained for several weeks on Main, an “eyesore to the public.” Village officials agreed to move the building anywhere in the village other than back to Academy. Stone stood his ground, and the village eventually paid the cost to have the structure hauled off to the corner of Willard and Cooley streets, where it functioned as a public school building for several years, and then later as a “dwelling-house.” In 1874, Israel Kellogg, former building superintendent of the Kalamazoo Asylum and one-time owner of the Kalamazoo House, purchased the building.

 

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

Sources

Books

Kalamazoo and how it grew and grew
Willis F. Dunbar
Kalamazoo : Western Michigan University, 1969
H 977.418 D89.2

History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan: with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers
Samuel Durant, 1880
H 977.417 H67U


Articles

“Kalamazoo’s share in University of Michigan once tossed into street”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 May 1949


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Mich., University of, Kalamazoo Branch

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