“Bright Kalamazoo”

William Henry Woodhams & James Maurice Hubbard

Over the years dozens of songs have been written in and/or inspired by the town of Kalamazoo, from contemporary tunes by The Black Keys, The Show Ponies and Primus, to Glen Miller’s ubiquitous 1940s standard “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” and even Ed Desenberg’s “Kalamazoo, An Original Rag-Time Cake-Walk” from 1899. But long before any of those “Kalamazoo” songs were penned, folks were singing the praises of the Kalamazoo River in an 1854 piece entitled “Bright Kalamazoo.”

“Fair river, bright river, Oh beautiful river,
On thy crystal bosom may I float on forever.
Gliding adown in my tiny canoe
Glittering fairy stream, Kalamazoo.”

William Henry Woodhams, c.1860. Nebraska State Historical Society

The poem “Bright Kalamazoo” was written by an English adventurer named William Henry Woodhams and set to music in 1854 by James Maurice Hubbard, who later became a professor of music at Kalamazoo College. The lyrics describe a highly romanticized scene on the Kalamazoo River, which was a great source of pride in the local community during the mid-nineteenth century.

W.H. Woodhams

Born in 1829, William Henry Woodhams, Jr. spent his childhood years in the London suburb of Croyden. While still in his mid-teens Woodhams traveled to Michigan for the first time in 1845 and managed to secure a piece of land along the Kalamazoo River several miles north of Kalamazoo, which eventually became part of the village of Plainwell. Woodhams quickly returned to England and urged his father, who was a miller in Croyden, to bring the rest of the family to Michigan. During the summer of 1846 William Woodhams, Sr. built the first frame house in Plainwell where East Bridge Street meets the Kalamazoo River and established the community’s first gristmill.

While the elder Woodhams worked to establish the village of Plainwell the young William Henry had a taste for adventure and traveled extensively during the early 1850s. He journeyed from New York to San Francisco on three separate occasions, twice by sea and once overland on horseback, no small feat in mid-nineteenth century America.

In 1859 Woodhams returned to Michigan and settled in the village of Kalamazoo, where he opened a music store with his brother, Henry. The Woodhams Bros.’ store was located on North Burdick (48-50 N Burdick, later renumbered 222 N Burdick) near Eleanor Street, where they specialized in pianos, organs, sheet music, toys, “fancy goods,” and musical merchandise. The store survived a pair of fires in 1875 and 1876 and went on to become one of Kalamazoo’s longest running early music sellers.

“Bright Kalamazoo,” handwritten music and lyrics, c.1854. Local History Room.

Aside from music and writing Woodhams had a keen interest in science and education. He served as a Kalamazoo Township school inspector and was president of the Kalamazoo Mechanics’ Institute and Scientific Association (est. 1875). Woodhams hosted musical events at his store on behalf of the institute and conducted lectures about music and his travel experience. In 1880 he established the Woodhams Wholesale Gardening Company in Kalamazoo, which he operated with his wife and five children until his death in December 1891.

J. Maurice Hubbard

During the 1850s W.H. Woodhams became associated with James Maurice Hubbard, a concert violinist and music instructor who, like Woodhams, operated a music store in Kalamazoo at the corner of Main and Burdick, where he sold pianos, melodeons, violins, guitars, and sheet music. Born in Connecticut about 1822, Hubbard was a music instructor at Yale University for a time, and in 1857 became a professor of instrumental music at Kalamazoo College.

Hubbard was a rather prolific writer who composed numerous musical pieces during his lifetime, including a massively popular 1850s college song called “My Last Cigar.” He composed “Ceres Schottische” and “Viola Schottische” for solo piano, along with numerous ballads like “Little Alice,” “The Bridal Song,” “Robin Red Breast,” “Evening Bells,” “Sabbath Morn,” “My Mother’s Voice,” and “What They Say About Cupid.” He also wrote and performed patriotic and military marches like “The Ruler in Peace and the Leader in War” and the “Grand March from Lucia di Lammermoor,” as well as the “Douglas Quickstep,” which Hubbard composed in support of 1860 Democratic presidential candidate Stephen Douglas and dedicated to the Douglas Club of Kalamazoo. (Douglas was defeated that year by Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln).

“J.M. Hubbard, music dealer, &c., north-east corner of Main and Burdick streets, has an assortment of new pianos, of various styles and prices, all warranted. His knowledge and experience are worth a great deal in the selection of instruments.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, May 26, 1858

“View on the Kalamazoo River” from Art Work of City of Kalamazoo, published in 1894 by the W.H.Parrish Publishing Co., Chicago. Local History Room.

“Bright Kalamazoo”

Hubbard composed the music to accompany Woodhams’ poem “Bright Kalamazoo” in 1854, the same year that Woodhams himself embarked on a lengthy overland journey from Michigan to California, some fifteen years before the First Transcontinental Railroad. Woodhams most likely penned the lyrics to his song while on the five-month expedition with two of his cousins. As their entourage crossed the Mississippi River near Warsaw, Illinois, in April 1854, Woodhams noted in his diary the stark contrast between the muddy Mississippi and the “bright” Kalamazoo. “I am at last on the banks of the so called Father of waters,” he wrote, “a broad, muddy, sluggish stream. In my ideas the name is not appropriate, as but few of the rivers of my acquaintance bear the marks of such dirty parentage. Let me live by the bright Kalamazoo,” he lamented, “and the Father of waters may run dry for me; it is too large a scale, too much like a big city. It is a vile receptacle for all the filth of the surrounding country.”

“Thy mirror-like eddies, thy swift leap lug rapids;
All rivers beside thee are hueless and vapid,
Each bend in thy course shows beauty anew,
Swift rolling, and crystal clear, Kalamazoo.”

The resulting song and chorus was first published in Chicago by Root & Cady in 1854, and later by Silas Brainard’s Sons of Cleveland, one of the largest music publishing firms in the nation. Hubbard and his wife, Sarah, both taught instrumental and vocal music at Kalamazoo College until 1867. They lived in Battle Creek for a time before moving to Chicago around 1870, where James became librarian for the Beethoven Society of Chicago. Hubbard and Woodhams evidently remained in contact over the years, as they collaborated on at least one additional piece entitled “The Century Bird,” published by Brainard’s Sons in honor of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the United States’ first major World’s Fair. Hubbard passed away in Chicago in October 1900.

Kalamazoo Public Library has in its collection a handwritten copy of “Bright Kalamazoo,” as published by Root & Cady of Chicago in 1854. In addition to being one of the earliest known musical compositions written about the village of Kalamazoo, this piece is notable for being among items published in Chicago before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, 2019.

“Bright Kalamazoo” (1854) by W.H. Woodhams and J. Maurice Hubbard. Performed by David DeVries, Kalamazoo Public Library, July 2019.



Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory, Volume 1
F. Raymond & Co., 1860 – Detroit (Mich.)

American Imprints Inventory: No. 4. Check List of Chicago Ante-Fire Imprints 1851-1871
Chicago Historical Records Survey, 1838 – Chicago (Ill.)

The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago
Chicago Directory Company, 1876 – Chicago (Ill.)


“The Diary of William H Woodhams, 1852-1854: The Great American Deserts or Around and Across”
Charles W Martin, ed., Nebraska History 61 (1980): p.1-101. Nebraska State Historical Society

“J.M. Hubbard”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 July 1857, p.1, col.2.

“The Douglas Ratification!”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 August 1860, p.4, col.8.

“New Music.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 May 1876, p.4, col.1.

“About the Ladies.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 June 1876, p.2, col.2.

“Old and New Road to the Queen City of the Pacific”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 December 1879, p.1. col.6.

“Public Alliance Meeting.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 February 1880, p.4, col.3.

“Death of W.H. Woodhams”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 January 1892, p.5, col.3.

“Deaths. James M. Hubbard”
Kalamazoo Gazette-News, 18 June 1900, p.5, col.1.

“Clan Woodhams to Rally Again”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 June 1905, p.6, col.3.

“Woodhams at Family Reunion”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 June 1905, p.2, col.4.

“Poem Was A Feature”
Kalamazoo Telegraph, January 26, 1906, p.9, col.1.

“A Musical College”
Kalamazoo College Alumnus, May 1946, Vol VI, Number 8, p.5.
Kalamazoo College Cache Digital Archive

Census Records

William H Woodhams household, 1850 United States Federal Census, Allegan County, Michigan
Census Place: Gunplain, Allegan, Michigan, page 8B, dwelling 109, family 121
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

William H Woodhams household, 1880 United States Federal Census, Kalamazoo County, Michigan
Census Place: Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, page 118C, enumeration district 132, dwelling 206, family 216, house number 48 Burdick Street
Online database, Ancestry Library (in library only)

Sheet Music

Hubbard, J.M. (James Maurice). “Ceres Schottische.” Kalamazoo: William Mack & Co., [n.d.] c.1850s.

Hubbard, J.M. (James Maurice). “Little Alice.” Kalamazoo: William Mack & Co., [n.d.] c.1850s.

Hubbard, J.M. (James Maurice). “My Last Cigar or ’Twas off the blue Canaries.” Boston: Oliver Ditson, [n.d.] c.1854.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. Words by W.H. Woodhams. “Bright Kalamazoo.” Cleveland: S. Brainard’s Sons, 1854.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “What They Say About Cupid.” New York: Firth, Pond, & Co, 1854.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Grand march from Lucia di Lammermoor.” St. Louis: Balmer and Weber, 1855.

Hubbard, J.M. (James Maurice). “The Maid of Cherokee.” New York: William A. Pond, 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Chattanooga Schottische.” New York: J.M. Hubbard and Co., 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “College Waltz.” New York: J.M. Hubbard and Co., 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Adelphai. (To The Sisters in the Adelphai College)” New York: J.M. Hubbard and Co., 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “The Maid of Cherokee.” New York: Firth, Pond, & Co, 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Students Schottische.” New York: William Hall and Son, 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Meet Me in the Linden Grove, ballad.” New York: J.M. Hubbard and Co., 1855.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Evening Bells.” New York: William A. Pond & Co., 1856.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “My Mother’s Voice.” St. Louis : Balmer & Weber, 1856.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Bridal Song.” New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1857.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “The Creole Belle, ballad.” New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1857.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Robin Red Breast, song.” New York: Firth, Son & Co., 1859.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Douglas Quickstep.” Kalamazoo: J.M. Hubbard, 1860.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. Words by C. Chauncy Burr. “I Never Kiss and Tell.” Cleveland: S. Brainard’s Sons, 1861.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Song of the Egyptian Girl.” Chicago: Root & Cady, 1861.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Forever Shalt Thou be ‘Mine Own’.” Chicago: Root & Cady, 1861.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Viola Schottische.” Chicago: Root & Cady, 1865.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. Words by D. Blakely. “Sabbath Morn, sacred hymn.” Cleveland: S. Brainard’s Sons, 1868.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “The Ruler in Peace and the Leader in War.” Chicago: Root & Cady, 1868.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Bird of the Mountain.” Chicago: Root & Cady, 1871.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. Words by W.H. Woodhams. “The Century Bird, song and chorus” Cleveland: S. Brainard’s Sons, 1876.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Garfield’s at the Front!” Cleveland: S. Brainard’s Sons, 1880.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Carol of the Seasons.” New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1880.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “What a Maiden Said to Me.” Chicago: Chicago Music Co., 1881.

Hubbard, J. Maurice. “Under the Moon.” St. Louis: Balmer & Weber, 1900.

Woodhams, W.H. (William Henry) “Song of Ceres and Pomona.” Chicago: Lyon & Healy, 1874.

Local History Files

Authors Scrapbook: Bright Kalamazoo


Plainwell (Gun Plain Twp.). Atlas of Allegan County, Michigan. Published by C.O. Titus, Philadelphia. 1873.


National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form: “Historic Resources of Plainwell, Michigan” United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 1991.


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