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Bassett House: 154 South Burdick

Italianate-style Home (built 1858)


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Bassett House, then 154 South Burdick, c.1890, from Picturesque Kalamazoo (J.P. Craig, 1890), Kalamazoo Public Library

Hidden in plain sight, the Bassett House still sits at the northwest corner of South Burdick and West South streets, although one could easily walk by and not notice it. These days, the home itself is all but hidden behind turn-of-the-20th century brick storefronts, except for a second story bay window on the south side of the building and the home’s telltale roofline. If you’ve ever dined indoors at Taco Bob’s, you were sitting in a portion of the original home. The upper level with the bay window would have been a parlor, the lower level was a portion of the original kitchen. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, it is believed to be the third oldest standing structure in the city.

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Lot #226 showing original structures, c.1853. Kalamazoo map published by Henry Hart, New York, 1853. Kalamazoo Public Library

Dr. J. Adams Allen

When Dr. J. Adams Allen first arrived in Kalamazoo from Middlebury, Vermont, in January 1847, Kalamazoo’s commercial corridor was at that time concentrated along Main Street. South Burdick, on the other hand, was a quiet, tree-lined residential street with several fine homes. After a time away in Ann Arbor, Allen returned to Kalamazoo in 1855 and set up his practice inside the newly constructed Firemen’s Hall. The following year in April, Allen purchased property at the corner of Burdick and South streets (then lot #226, although likely later renumbered) from banker William A. Wood. The existing structures were removed and by 1858 work had begun on an elegant new Italianate-style home designed and built by Kalamazoo builder James C. Prince, with masonry and plastering by Hugh Sproul and Peter McGoff. The home’s interior was finished “in a most elegant manner” (Gazette) and was noted for its fine marble mantels and ornamental stonework.

“It was the type of home with an English basement accommodating the kitchen, while the first floor was some 10 feet above the ground and was reached by a broad flight of stone steps.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 October 1928

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Bassett house (“Dwelling”) before the surrounding buildings. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Kalamazoo, MI, 1887. Library of Congress

John C. Bassett

Although Dr. Allen intended to make Kalamazoo his permanent home (he was a founding member of the Young Men’s Library Association), a new opportunity beckoned and in 1859 he joined the faculty at Rush Medical College (Rush University) in Chicago. John C. Bassett (1829-1870), a well-known local real estate developer, grocer, and dry goods merchant, purchased Allen’s somewhat unfinished home in September 1859. Bassett then added the distinctive cupola and otherwise made several notable improvements in the property. “John is bound to stand No.1, in the way of a home,” stated the Gazette as the work progressed.

Bassett had arrived in Kalamazoo in 1845 and soon after became a clerk at James A. Walter’s grocery store on East Main Street. In July 1851, Bassett bought Walter out and continued the firm under his own name, although the two eventually became partners.

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 December 1899

Their store was in a wooden building on the southeast corner of Main Street (Michigan Avenue) and Portage known as the Wolverine Exchange. When Charles Bates joined the firm in 1853, Bassett continued as a silent partner. In 1855, Bates put up a new brick building on the property known as the Humphrey Block, now called the Peninsula Building. Walter sold out in 1857, and the business continued as Bassett & Bates in a new building on Main Street. The store was viewed as one of the leading businesses in the state.

John Bassett, a highly regarded businessman and village trustee, passed away in November 1870, an apparent victim of typhoid fever. The mayor and members of the village board attended his funeral and passed a special resolution in his honor. Bassett’s wife, Eliza Rice Bassett (1840-1869), had passed away just a year beforehand, also an apparent victim of typhoid. Bassett left his estate to their five-year-old son, George Rice Bassett (1865-1898), who was then under the care of John’s sister, Louise Bassett. George Bassett would later gain possession of his parents’ estate on his 21st birthday in October 1886. Meanwhile, the family lived there for a time, then later rented the spacious home to a variety of individuals and organizations.

Bassett house c.1870s. Note the veranda along the west side of the home. Published by J. J. Stoner, 1874. Kalamazoo Public Library

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Burdick Street looking south from just north of South Street c.1885-1888. Bassett house on the right. Photo print from a glass negative, probably taken by W.S. White. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-277

“Near one hundred persons assembled at the rooms of Rev. C.T. Stout in the Bassett house, Monday evening, to listen to and participate in an informal musical entertainment. Those who were present speak of it as a rare musical and social treat.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 December 1881

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Burdick Street north from South Street c.1890, before the Daily Telegraph building was built (Bassett house far left). From Picturesque Kalamazoo (J.P. Craig, 1890), Kalamazoo Public Library

Kalamazoo Club

In December 1889, members of a recently formed men’s fraternal organization called the Kalamazoo Club signed a lease to rent the Bassett home for use as a clubhouse. The club soon became one of Kalamazoo’s leading social organizations with more than 110 members. Club members used the home for meetings, dancing parties, card parties, literary and musical events, and other social activities. At times, as many as 200 or more attended events in the Bassett house.

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Bassett house (“Club House”) and Daily Telegraph building, c.1891. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Kalamazoo. Library of Congress

Evening Telegraph Building

In 1890, Kalamazoo photographer T.E. Wood leased the strip of land along the north side of the Bassett property where he intended to erect a two-story building for use as a photo studio. That plan failed to materialize, but the following year a narrow brick building fronting Burdick Street was built by Wesley Damerall to be occupied by the Evening Telegraph newspaper operation. Press rooms and offices would be located on the first floor, composing was done upstairs on the second floor. This building became 150 South Burdick Street. (The addresses shown throughout this writing were accurate as of the dates given, before the city streets were renumbered c.1924-25 and later renamed, e.g., 150 South Burdick Street is now 236 South Kalamazoo Mall.)

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Burdick Street, north from South Street, c.1891-92. Note Daily Telegraph building on the left. Local History Room photo file P-201

By 1897, the Kalamazoo Club had outgrown its quarters in the Bassett house and moved to a larger space across the street in the Fuller Block. The Bassett house was later leased to various individuals and a similar, although much smaller fraternal organization.

After a decade of legal wrangling over control of the family estate, George Rice Bassett committed suicide in May 1898 at the age of 32. George and his wife, Edena M. Sheriff Bassett (1866-1944), had four children by then, all of whom were placed under the guardianship of Edena’s father, a former local newspaper editor named Thomas M. Sheriff (1841-1910). Sheriff and his daughter soon announced plans to make extensive improvements in the property at the corner of Burdick and South streets. An application to build between the house and Burdick Street was presented to building inspectors in November 1900, and by December, construction along Burdick Street was underway.

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Bassett house (“Dwelling” 1st floor, “Office” 2nd floor) w/ new buildings (Bassett Block) along Burdick Street, c.1902. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Kalamazoo. Library of Congress

Bassett Block

By the early weeks of 1901, a row of three new two-story structures known as the Bassett Block had been completed along South Burdick Street in front of the Bassett house. In February, Arthur Reams moved his music store into the middle portion at street level (then 154 South Burdick). Teachers Edward L. Wynn and Charles M. Cook conducted music lessons in the rooms upstairs, and the Reams brothers used the space as a practice hall for their popular Chamber of Commerce Band, said to be “one of the best military and concert bands in the state” (Gazette). In March, Van Kersen & Hull moved their millinery firm into the northernmost storefront (152 South Burdick), with the Charles Stevens & Bros. tailor shop in the upper level. Also in March, the Chicago Coffee & Tea Company opened for business at the South Street corner (156 South Burdick), with physician James McCall occupying the rooms above.

Boudeman Buildings

Attorney Dallas Boudeman and his wife acquired the Bassett property from the family in January 1901. A year or so later, Joseph Wyckoff, publisher of the Kalamazoo Telegraph, announced that he intended to put up a large new building for the Telegraph on West South Street and would thereby be vacating the premises on Burdick. Boudeman then made plans to completely renovate the old building and add a third story. He also intended to construct a second two-story building along the west side of the Bassett house facing South Street (108 South Street). Plans for these new projects were being drawn by Kalamazoo architect C.A. Fairchild. Once completed, the Bassett house would be nearly surrounded by commercial structures, except for its southern exposure along South Street.

With the newspaper settled in its new quarters, renovation of the old Telegraph building (150 South Burdick) got underway and was completed by the fall of 1904. The building, now three stories tall, included a large piano showroom and recital hall when R.A. Benjamin, a piano and musical instrument dealer from Danville, Illinois, opened his “Temple of Music” store there in October.

Several more additions to the former Bassett property were added rather piecemeal over the coming decade. The two-story building along the west side of the Bassett house (108 West South Street) went up during the summer of 1905. Fisher & Rocklin’s flower shop was declared a “grand success” when it opened there in April 1906. Donald Boudeman located his insurance office on the upper level soon after.

The three-story Boudeman Building (110-112 West South Street) went up along the far west edge of the Bassett property in 1906, just across the alley from the new Telegraph building. Music teachers, tailors, lawyers, and draftsmen were among its first tenants, along with Dorr Wood’s Acme School of Drawing, which occupied the entire third floor.

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Bassett house and surrounding buildings, c.1908. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Kalamazoo. Library of Congress

In 1910 a tiny one-story office building was built facing South Street along the south side of the Bassett house directly below its signature bay window (104 West South Street). Music director Frederick Rogers set up a temporary studio there after his original space in the YMCA building was consumed by fire. The space later became a realtor’s office.

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Bassett house and surrounding buildings, c.1931. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo Public Library

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Burdick Street, north from South Street, c.1912. Bassett Block on the left. Local History Room postcard collection (uncatalogued)

By 1916, a small barber shop (106 West South Street) had been added to the east side of Boudeman’s 108 West South Street building. But the large, finely manicured lawn, the broad stone steps, and the ornamental iron railings are long gone. From street level, the first floor bay window and a couple of second story windows are about all that’s left to be seen of the once stately home on Burdick Street. When viewed from above, however, the nearly complete roofline of the old house is still clearly visible, except for the original cupola, which was removed long ago.

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NW corner of Burdick and South streets, c.1940. John Todd Photograph Collection, Portage District Library

At one time a jewel in the Kalamazoo streetscape, the Bassett house still stands against all odds, surrounded by a wall of brick commercial structures that seemingly guard the old mansion against the urban developers and their ubiquitous wrecking crews.

 

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, March 2024.

Special thanks to Lynn Houghton, Regional History Curator for WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, for sharing her thorough research of John C. Bassett and Dr. J. Adams Allen.

Sources

Books

Kalamazoo: Lost & Found
Houghton, Lynn Smith, and Pamela Hall O’Connor
Kalamazoo, Michigan: Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission, 2001
H 720.9774 H838, page 89


Articles

“They must be sold!”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 July 1851, page 2

“All the world should deal with John C. Bassett”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 January 1852, page 3

“Walter & Bassett, [formerly J.C. Bassett,] at wholesale & retail”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 March 1852, page 3

“A variety of changes…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 February 1854, page 2

“Death of John C. Bassett”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 November 1870, page 3

“Kalamazoo business men”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 March 1872, page 4

“Local news”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 December 1881, page 5

“The Kalamazoo club…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 December 1889, page 5

“Local gleanings”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 January 1890, page 3

“Local gleanings”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 March 1890, page 5

“Local gleanings”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 August 1890, page 5

“Local gleanings”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 May 1891, page 4

“Jottings”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 May 1898, page 5

“George Bassett repented”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 May 1898, page 4

“Group of ye olden time Kalamazoo residents now passed beyond”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 December 1899, page 3

“Ask for money from Bassett estate with which to complete new block”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 December 1900, page 3

“Mrs. T.M. Sheriff”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 January 1901, page 3

“Real estate transfers”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1901, page 9

“Many improvements”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 July 1903, page 3

“New music store”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 October 1904, page 5

“Next to the Wyckoff”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 June 1905, page 2

“For Rent – stores and offices”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 December 1905, page 8

“Few blocks are built in city”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 December 1905, page 13

“A grand success”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 March 1906, page 8

“Business block to be erected”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 June 1906, page 2

“For building permit”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 August 1906, page 6

“About buildings”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 September 1906, page 3

“Work begun on building”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 September 1906, page 10

“Start foundation”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 September 1906, page 5

“Interurban gets place for depot”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 February 1907, page 10

Display ad
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 March 1907, page 8

“Acme drawing school moves”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 March 1907, page 12

“Mansion, once center of pioneer social life, enclosed by blocks”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 October 1928, page 7

The Gazette’s Historical Scrap-Book”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 April 1929, page 12

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