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City Expansion (1843-1962)

From 1843 to 1962, the village/city of Kalamazoo expanded its geographic jurisdiction from a half a square mile to approximately 25 square miles. Much of the area that was annexed was land that previously made up Kalamazoo Township, with a much smaller amount once held by Portage Township. One of the early growth spurts came during the 1850s, when the city doubled in population. The northern limit of the city in 1843 was Florence Street while the southern was Wheaton Avenue. Eight years later, the northern limit became Paterson Street and the southern border was Inkster Avenue. Annexation has expanded city borders in all four directions, with land to the south being the largest portion to become enveloped.

The advancement of annexation was generally slow and steady through the first century of Kalamazoo’s history, before picking up speed dramatically in the mid 1950s, a period when the city’s geography grew 143 percent and its population by 40 percent through annexation. Because of municipal annexation, typically the result of either an election or a resolution, the city’s borders have been re-drawn several times in order to account for the changes. The motivation behind the annexations that occurred when the city was young, and possessed a smaller geographic footprint, were not all that contrasting with the later push to acquire more land during the post-WWII years, when large swaths of Kalamazoo Township were incorporated within the city. In some cases, voters turned out to reject annexation, as was the case in November of 1950, when attempts to incorporate the Westwood Neighborhood into the city failed.

“Whether to “join the city” or “not join the city” has long been a favorite subject for debate in many of Kalamazoo’s suburban areas. Both sides have their ardent supporters, and there are countless arguments for and against consolidation–or annexation, as it is often referred to.”

–Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 July 1950

Sometimes the reasoning was mandated by law, as was the case in 1970, when in order to construct a new county jail, the township land planned to be the new jail’s site, required the city to own it. A state law required that county law enforcement facilities needed to be located in the county seat. Annexation has greatly impacted the growth of the Kalamazoo Public Schools district. It has been a force behind the acquisition of land for the use of developing parks. It has allowed for industrial and commercial growth to develop as population grew.

Kalamazoo Annexations, 1843-1962 (Sq. Miles)

1843: .50

1851: 1.54

1861: 4.21

1893: 1.14

1897: .66

1928: .52

1948: .04 (Paddy Miller Woods)

1949: .10 (Dickinson Field)

1950: .05 (City Yards)

1951: .22 (Western Michigan University)

1953: .44 (Panhandle Area)

1954: .06 (Wilbur Property)

1955: 4.36 (Milwood, Bronson Boulevard, Henderson Park Terrace)

1956: 9.25 (Airport Property, Oakwood Beach, Sherwood Park, Spring Valley Park, Riverside Cemetery, Clarage Fan Property, Carney-Appledoorn Property, Burke Acres, Knollwood, Oakwood, S. Westnedge, Riverview Flood Control Area, K-College Lutheran Church Area)

1957: .64 (Ashton Mill, Grand Prairie)

1958: .40 (Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Jewish Riverside Cemetery, Nazareth College, Kilgore Well Field)

1959: .07 (Loy Norrix High School)

1961: .21 (Upjohn Mastenbrook, WMU Addition)

1962: .006 (Waterfield)

Local History Room
City of Kalamazoo, Portage Township and the Upjohn Co.

One of the more captivating annexation stories concerned the fight over who would be able to claim the Upjohn Company as its corporate resident. Originally formed in Kalamazoo in the late 19th century, Upjohn moved to Portage Township in the 1940s. In a bold attempt to annex the company (and others), the City of Kalamazoo and Portage Township went toe to toe in a struggle for the tax revenue generated by the company. In February of 1962, the City of Kalamazoo put forward a petition to annex portions of both Kalamazoo and Portage Townships, namely portions that included substantial business facilities, the Upjohn Company included. However, a petition to incorporate was filed with the county by Portage Township officials a mere hour before Kalamazoo’s move to annex was filed, thus thwarting Kalamazoo’s efforts. Criticized by both Kalamazoo and Portage Townships for the suddenness of their annexation attempt, Kalamazoo officials justified their decision the following way:

Mayor Paul Morrison and Vice Mayor C.H. Mullen explained the reasons for the city’s action in prepared statements. The city’s strategy, Morrison explained, was to get its petitions filed before either of the townships could file incorporation papers. The mayor said city officials knew of the “apparent readiness” of the townships to circulate petitions and file quickly. Therefore, he explained, the city had to act quickly and without prior notice that might have tipped its hand.

“By moving quickly and quietly Wednesday morning we hoped to insure at least a chance to bring our proposition before the voters,” Morrison said. “While we did not accomplish our full plan, we have reached the point where the eventual annexation of the Kalamazoo Township industrial units may at least be possible,” he added.

Morrison said that the fear that consultation with industries involved might also result in premature disclosure of the plan kept city officials from talking with all except a few of the firms.

–Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 March 1962

The City of Kalamazoo’s stealth manner was roundly criticized by township officials. Portage Township School Supervisor John Plantefaber argued that losing the Upjohn Company to Kalamazoo would be financially disastrous, suggesting that Portage had gone down a “road of no return,” and that if incorporation was not achieved, insolvency was likely. In the end, after a year of contentious litigation and an attempted compromise between the parties, on 18 February 1963, Portage Township voted in favor of becoming a city.


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


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Annexation

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