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Introduction to an Initial Inventory of Historic Sites and Buildings in Kalamazoo

This report was converted from a typewritten document to a digital text document in September 2004. Other than punctuation and spelling corrections, no changes were made. Minor formatting changes were made for use on this website, but the text was not altered. It was made available for use here by the Historic Preservation Office of the City of Kalamazoo. Original survey dated 1973.


To isolate, analyze and suggest for preservation sites and buildings of historical value.
Certain historic sites suggest themselves at once: Bronson Park where Lincoln spoke, the “Indian Mound,” the State Hospital Water Tower, for example. For the most part, such sites have been named in Alexis Praus’s listing of historic markers and require no further notice. This study is concerned, therefore, with buildings rather than “sites”.

Two criteria can be applied to buildings considered for preservation (see appendix for analysis of criteria). 1) Are they buildings connected with events or individuals of state or national importance? The Ladies Library Association and the home of Senator Charles Stuart fall into this category. Both are already registered with the State of Michigan. Kalamazoo has few other buildings, which might qualify on these grounds. 2) Buildings which might illustrate the life styles and architectural outlook of the people of past generations.

Buildings considered for the inventory under this second category fall into six architectural periods spanning almost eighty years of life in Kalamazoo. These six periods include:

Greek Revival (1840–1860) Gothic Revival (1850–1870) Italian Revival (1860–1880) French Mansard (1865–1875) Queen Anne (1880–1900) English Tudor (1900–1930)

Greek Revival: A style drawing heavily on classic forms loosely associated with Greek culture. Nationally popular following the Greek war for independence against the Turks in the 1820’s. Captured for Americans a feeling for democracy associated with the Presidency of Andrew Jackson (1828–1836) and with the idea of an “age of the common man”. Constructed in all parts of the country and by all classes in the society. Marked usually by, reliance on the rectangular “temple-form” with low, gable-ended roof, entablatures under the eaves, return cornices and a sidelighted doorway. Particular elements widely copied from builder’s handbooks. This style popular when Kalamazoo underwent initial settlement and continuing in vogue until the Civil War. A variant of the Greek Revival adopted a massive square shape, low hipped roof, but retained doorway, entablature, etc.

Gothic Revival: Popular in the 1840’s and 1850’s with romantic intellectuals and others repulsed by the popularity of classic design. Drawn from anglicized gothic design of the late middle ages. Steep-pitched roof, ornamental “tracery” at gable ends, dormer windows, etc. This ornamentation (popularly called “gingerbread” today) was traced by romantics like Washington Irving and John Ruskin to natural foliage patterns. A style adopted rarely and then by those who felt set apart from Jacksonian America – an early “suburban” architecture reflecting what would today be called “suburban” life styles and attitudes toward the environment.

Italian Revival: Brought to this country in the Italian landscapes shipped back by touring American artists or shown as woodcuts and engravings in the popular press, this style offered the sophistication of suburban Renaissance villas in a flexible and generalized fashion that made it adaptable to all parts of the country and to almost every income. It was marked in this country by simple square lines, topped with a low hipped roof which frequently supported a cupola or observatory, and by rounded windows and bracketed eaves. On occasion, this style shifted into what was called the “irregular villa”. In this case, the windows and brackets remained, but the lines changed to “L-shaped” and the building developed rambling additions, towers, etc.

French Mansard: Popular in many parts of the country in the years after the Civil War, this style seemed most appropriate to an urban culture. Many Americans were coming to think of Paris as a new mecca and to identify with the sophistication of city life. Thus, Lawrence and Chapin iron works chose to build in this fashion on Water and Rose Streets in 1872. A version of the French Renaissance, the “Mansard” manner differed from Italian Revival chiefly in the striking roofline

Queen Anne: Borrowed from the work of Richard Norman Shaw and other English architects in the 1880’s and 1890’s, this style was drawn from the late-seventeenth-century English country houses which were thought to combine the freedom of medieval design with growing signs of Renaissance classicism. One of the most flexible fashions Americans employed in the nineteenth century, the Queen Anne style served to express a desire for roots in a mobile age. It also met the requirements of an age of “individualism” — offering such variety that no two houses needed to look alike. Steep gables, towers, turrets, distinguished the homes of the well-to-do. Less affluent Americans decorated their homes with an elaborate array of ornamental shingles and geometric moldings.

Tudor: Just at the beginning of the twentieth century, Americans felt a growing sense of identity with English Culture. Partly rooted in what was called “Anglo Saxonism”. This urge did much to encourage adaptations from early English building styles. The Tudor, or English Cottage, fashion so popular in the first two or three decades of the twentieth century borrowed heavily from “Elizabethan” forms, employing stucco, ornamental “half-timbering”, asymmetrical gables, steep-pitched roofs, and other elements popularly associated with the “Olde Englishe” countryside in the American imagination.

Selection: Private residences constitute the largest group of buildings in the initial site inventory. Located on the periphery of the early village, they survived the commercial expansion in the downtown area. It is possible to document a range of sites dating from the 1840’s onward. Earlier buildings constructed in the first decade of settlement have long since disappeared as the commercial core spread outward.

Commercial and public-buildings provide fine examples of early building fashions and many are associated with the early growth of the town. They offer special problems in a site inventory, however. While none of the commercial buildings in the immediate downtown area date from before the Civil War, fine examples remain from the immediate post-war period. The “Baumann Block” at Water and Burdick, dating from 1870, is a particularly graceful example of Italian Renaissance styling as adapted to business structures. Similar in style is the “Shakespeare Block” on the northeast corner of Rose and Water, which the Baumann family built in 1881. Most elaborate of the buildings which could be included in the inventory is the “Lawrence and Chapin iron works” (Vermeulen Building) at Rose and Water. Built in 1872 in the fashionable French Mansard style, it was a monument to the power of heavy industry in Kalamazoo’s early economic history.

But the great size of commercial and public buildings and the high value of the real estate they occupy make preservation an expensive matter. Every step ought to be taken to find uses for such buildings which would aid in their preservation. Conversion of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad Station (1871-72) into the present “Whistlestop” restaurant is a case in point. In the absence of meaningful use, deterioration and destruction seem inevitable.


Older homes fall into two categories: 1) those which were built on village lots as on South Street, on Walnut Street, or on later “suburban” plats like the Elm-Woodward, Stuart neighborhood; 2) those which were originally farm homes swallowed up by later development.

Farm buildings constitute a special problem in documentation. Several survive from the pre-Civil War era, but the public documents used to establish age tax records, city directories, plat maps, and census rolls do not discriminate sufficiently well to indicate particular buildings. Four such early farmhouses provide a case in point. They are the Smith L. Wood house at Wood’s Lake on Oakland Drive; the Andrew Jackson Stevens House, 4024 Oakland Drive; the Stephen Love House, now the community center for the Parkview PUD; and the Ezra Nichols House, 1013 Nichols Road. Exhaustive research in public documents provides some information about all sites. Ezra Nichols came in 1843, the others with the great land rush of the mid-1830’s. Wood and Love occupied their farms for many decades. Stevens grew up on his father’s farm adjacent to the home he built about 1854 for himself and his bride. Yet the records which tell a great deal about people, tell very little about the buildings which survive. The tax assessor faithfully recorded improvements each spring, but almost never indicated whether those improvements were cleared fields, barns, outbuildings, or the house in question. There is no particular reason to suppose that Wood and Love built the present buildings when they first arrived in the 1830’s. Andrew Jackson Stevens grew up in a log cabin with oiled paper windows; Ezra Nichols lived with his brother, Sabin, for some years after he arrived here. All four buildings represent the generalized Greek Revival popular in the 1840’s and 1850’s. Tax records indicate with some probability that Nichols built in about 1848, and that Stevens built about 1854. The records do not indicate any demonstrated age for the Wood and the Love buildings. The nature of the records for farm buildings is such that preference must go to village sites for the inventory.


I. Records: A variety of public records yield information on virtually every householder who lived in Kalamazoo in the nineteenth century.

A. Tax Rolls:

The Western Michigan University Archives hold manuscript property-tax rolls for the county from 1844 to 1880. The city preserves those from 1900 on. These rolls were compiled by local assessors each spring in the nineteenth century. They list property-holders, a legal description of each site and its assessed value, and record the amount of state and local taxes to be paid. On occasion such words as “homestead”, “house”, “building under construction” also appear. Allowing for uniform assessment jumps (1853, 1862 1879), dramatic increases in assessment and tax paid can be taken on village lots for construction of buildings.

B. Plat Maps:

Both the Public Library and WMU Library have a variety of county and village plat maps. These were published at irregular intervals (1853; 1855; 1860; 1861; 1873; 1876; 1883; 1885; 1890; 1910; 1924; etc.). They range from roll maps that list the whole county by property holder, to Atlases that cover the county township by township and give several pages to detailed maps of Kalamazoo. Frequently the maps offer outline drawings of existing buildings on each lot. “Bracketing” of any site can be accomplished by comparing it on several of these maps.

C. City Directories:

The Public Library has a nearly complete set of city directories dating from 1860 down to the present. These directories list house holders, their older children and boarders alphabetically. They also list occupation and in many cases employer. From 1897 onward, these directories are cross-referenced by house number as well. In this later period, the appearance of house numbers (corrected for occasional city numbering changes) can be taken as evidence of construction. The directories also supplement tax records and allow differentiation between owners and renters. Numerous local businesses advertised in the directories as well. In addition, the compilers provided a survey of elected officials, churches, fraternal orders and their officers, banks, their officers and assets, and similar civic information. Western Michigan University Archives preserves a second set, almost complete, which had belonged to the Post Office. This set includes forwarding addresses, handwritten interim additions, etc.

D. Census Rolls:

The WMU Archives preserves on microfilm, manuscript U.S. Census rolls for Kalamazoo County, for the nineteenth century. These rolls provide a great deal of information (particularly in the 1850-1880 series). Householders are listed as visited by the Census takers in June and July. Age, occupation, place of birth and value of real and personal property are listed. Some Census takers included relationships of other individuals in the household as well. The 1880 Census is listed by street address. These Census records are major sources at ten-year intervals. They provide answers to questions of geographic and job mobility, changes in net worth, changes in marital status, family size, etc. They proved about the only identification of ordinary individuals who were black or Indian. The Census rolls have some limitations — ages were rounded off to the nearest birthday, and so might vary from census to census. Spelling of personal names varied widely and suggested that the Census takers received information orally and recorded it as best they understood it.

E. County Histories:

Kalamazoo did not lack for local historians. The city directory contains an elaborate history of the village in 1867. In 1881–1882, the Gazette carried a lengthy series of reminiscences by the daughter of Frederick Booher, one of the earliest settlers in the village. Pioneer Society recollections found their way into the Gazette at irregular intervals. At least three separate county histories and biographical records were published between the late 1870’s and 1906. At the turn of the century several pictorial folios of the city appeared as well. In addition to contemporary records, Dr. Willis Dunbar has published two editions of his Kalamazoo and How It Grew. In the 1950’s a large number of seminar papers written by Kalamazoo College students on Kalamazoo’s history were deposited with the Public Library.

F. Additional Records:

Records kept at Mountain Home Cemetery, and by the city for Riverside Cemetery provide keys to obituary notices in the Gazette and the Telegraph. Birth records, church records, wills, deeds, lodge records, county medical and bar association collections, etc., would also prove profitable.
Sufficient records do exist, then, to make it possible to continue the documentation of potential sites at any time.

II. Methodology:

Most of the methods used to document particular sites are standard in historical investigation, e.g., the use of county histories, census reports, newspaper accounts, etc. A few need illustration. The Frank Little house at 605 South Street can serve as an example of the typical research model.
All plat maps show this house already standing. It is consistently credited to Frank Little, except in the 1853 village map, where it is listed to Israel Kellogg. Title-Bond records yielded nothing earlier than Kellogg. Tax rolls listed the property first by owner and then followed with a legal description. A tedious reading of legal descriptions in 1849, indicated that the prior owner had been one John Hogeboom. Tax assessments indicated that a building was standing until 1847, when the assessed valuation dropped from 5.10 to $.39. First examination would suggest that the building had been built in 1848 as reflected by the assessment jump. The assessments were completed in May of each year, however. This would seem to indicate that assessment jumps were recorded some months after the summer building season. In this case, then, 1847 appeared the acceptable date.

Once a date could be established for a particular site, there remained to develop an occupant profile. In this case, census rolls provided basic information about Hogeboom and Tuttle, supplemented with meager directory entries. Israel Kellogg, on the other hand, had been both an early settler and a prominent businessman. His biography was included in one of the county histories, his name appeared prominently in the city directories and in newspaper advertisements. The Gazette published a notice of his death as well. Frank Little, who occupied the building from 1853 to 1903, was prominently remembered at the time of his death. He had been active in many aspects of town government, and showed in several kinds of public records. He also helped to author a history of the county issued in 1906. He worked for a time in the 1860’s for the Gazette and shared its political views, which meant that he found a ready hearing in the pages of that newspaper. A full biography of his career could be developed by exhaustive scanning of the Gazette. Samples indicate that Little developed an extensive publication list on a variety of issues.

The research model employed in the Frank Little site could be applied in any other situation. It involved:

  1. bracketing of standing building by comparing plat maps.
  2. search of tax records and/or city directories to document a specific date.
  3. examination of census rolls, obituaries, and county histories for occupant profiles.

To this model should be added personal interview with current occupants. These interviews can often yield a good deal of anecdotal interest, particularly when public documents are used to establish accuracy,
In the case of the Little House, as in all of the initial inventory selections, copies of the critique and also of the worksheet from which documentation was derived are included in the master portfolio for the building along with samples of pertinent publications and other biographical data.



I. “Age.”

Traces of Kalamazoo’s earliest development in the downtown core have been erased by commercial development. With the possible exception of early farmhouses now enveloped by the City which cannot be accurately documented, no historic sites remain from the 1830’s and few from the 1840’s. Still the “oldest” surviving buildings should have both a public interest and a place in Kalamazoo’s architectural record. Unfortunately, “age” as a criterion rests on documentation, often scanty and inadequate in early records. Tax assessment rolls appear to be the most trustworthy evidence of age; yet they do not discriminate among kinds of buildings on farmsteads, and do not deal with the problem of buildings moved from some other location. For example, as the commercial center grew, the house moving industry prospered. As early as July 1854, Ira Burdick advertised, “I have men and machinery to move houses and barns on short notice.” A number of buildings still standing, seem clearly to have been moved to their present locations from now unknown sites. “Oldest” houses on the inventory are defined, then, as those still on their original foundations, and for which reasonable proof of age exists. Four sites on the inventory would qualify on this criterion alone: 605 South Street (1847), 604 South Street (1853), 415 Oak Street (1850), and 302 Elm (1853).

II. “Architecture.”

“Architectural significance” often implies selection of sites according to “excellence”, “uniqueness”, “magnificence”, or “famed designer”. Under such an application, Kalamazoo could boast few qualifying sites in the nineteenth century, perhaps only the present Community House on South Street (based on designs by New York architect Samuel Sloan) and the “Octagon” houses on South Westnedge and South Rose. Still, Kalamazoo is fortunate to have many examples of the popular building styles of the nineteenth century, It seems appropriate, therefore, to apply “architectural significance” to single out “representative” examples of those styles. For the purposes of this inventory, we will offer seven popular styles:
Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italian Revival, Octagon architecture, Mansard architecture, “Queen Anne” in the late nineteenth century, and “Tudor” or half-timber.

III. “Historical associations”

“Historical association” in site selection has been defined as involving events or individuals of national importance; on that basis, Kalamazoo commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s visit to the village with a marker in Bronson Park, and the home of Senator Charles Stuart with a marker on Stuart Avenue. On that basis, we might recognize the Ladies’ Library Association as an early woman’s organization, or the State Hospital for important work in developing the “colony” system. For the purposes of this inventory, however, it seems more useful to develop “historical associations” in two other ways. We can define this criterion first as indicating sites already popular as local landmarks. Four sites might be included on this basis: the Ladies’ Library Association, the gatehouse and the water tower on the State Hospital grounds, and the Octagon House at 925 S. Westnedge. We might also include the Indian Mound in Bronson Park. Secondly, “historical association” can involve individuals or events important to the development of the city or the region which are not now recognized by the public. One example in this second category would be the “Frank Little House”, 605 South Street. Frank Little, who occupied this home from 1853 until his death in 1903, busied himself with a wide variety of civic activities. He served as village clerk, as secretary of the school board for a number of years, as secretary of the County Agricultural Society for thirty years, as first secretary of the National Millers Association, and as frequent contributor to the Gazette and other publications. He was instrumental in calling for City Government in the 1880’s, and served as secretary of the committee which drafted the City Charter. A second example would involve the “Delos Chappell” home at 213 Elm. Chappell, who built this home in 1880, and his brother-in-law, William Coats, who occupied it during the 1880’s were both civil engineers. Chappell soon left for Trinidad, Colorado, there to become a wealthy man and a power in Western financial circles. He was President of the Capital City bank in Denver, a director of the Colorado Fuel and Iron combine, and chief stockholder of the California-Nevada Electric Corporation, capitalized at $20,000,000. Coats specialized in municipal water systems, constructing the sewer system for Kalamazoo in the 1880’s, and engineering water systems for cities as far afield as Springfield, Illinois; Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Iowa, and several cities in Michigan. In addition, he wrote frequently for the Gazette, worked actively in local politics, maintained a gentleman’s farm of 240 acres in Portage, and held at least two patents on labor-saving machinery. Both of these houses might stand in the inventory on the basis that their occupants were so closely involved in local and regional affairs.

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