West Main Street Residential District
“There were a wide variety of styles including Italianate, Queen Anne, and some of Kalamazoo’s only residential examples of Chateauesque and Richardsonian Romanesque.”
—from Kalamazoo: Lost & Found, p. 96
Back when West Michigan Avenue was called West Main Street, there were so many large and impressive homes along the stretch of road west of Westnedge Avenue (then called West Street) toward Oakland Drive, the area was dubbed “Mansion Row.” All of these homes and the surrounding trees have long vanished, many of them to make way for the development of St. Augustine’s Cathedral and various 20th century commercial businesses.
These homes began to dot both the north and south sides of the 500 and 600 blocks of Main Street in the 1870s through the 1890s, material symbols of the accumulated wealth of the village’s successful, Victorian-era industrialists. These homes were offset from the street and featured sprawling yards that were uncommon for most 19th century residents. The ballrooms of these homes were often host to events attended by Kalamazoo’s social elite. But even their opulent girth could not sustain their permanence, and with ‘progress’ came erasure, and by the mid-1970s, all of the houses along what became West Michigan Avenue had been razed.
“The Gardner, Wortley, Dewing, and Israel properties have all passed to St. Augustine’s parish and will be developed by that religious society. The Israel property is now a church house, while the Dewing house is the residence of the Rev. John R. Hackett and others of the St. Augustine’s clergy.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 November 1928
Moses H. Lane House
“The fine Victorian mansion of native stone was built at the corner of Michigan and Westnedge in 1891. M. H. Lane, a well-known Kalamazoo businessman of half-century ago, spared no expense in making the house one of the show-places of the time. It’s seventeen rooms were exquisitely done in various woods, mahogany in the drawing room, white oak in the halls, cherry in the living room, birds-eye maple in upstairs rooms, sycamore in other rooms.” (KG, 2-14-43)
Mannes and Tillie Israel House
The Israel family was the first Jewish family to reside in Kalamazoo, arriving in 1844 from Pyrmont, Germany. Mannes and Tillie’s son Edward was a member of the ill-fated Greeley Expedition who tragically perished. Tillie raised the family and ran the dry good business on Rose and Main streets after the death of her husband in 1868. They were also part of the establishment of Kalamazoo’s first Jewish congregation in Kalamazoo, Temple B’nai Israel. The second occupant of the home, beginning in the early 1900s, was the Knights of Phythias, Kalamazoo Lodge No. 5.
Edward Woodbury House
“The interior of the Woodbury home was furnished in quarter-sawed oak and curly birch, the latter being an especial favorite of Mr. Woodbury’s. The mantel piece and the dining room sideboard, which was built-in, were hand carved. A stained glass window in brown and old blue gave a cathedral tone to the staircase. The ballroom, scene of many a gay social event, boasted a dumbwaiter which raised refreshments direct from the kitchen for the dancers and other guests. Three of the rooms in the house were fitted with ruby gold chandeliers.” (KG, 4-11-43)
William S. Dewing House
The Dewing family was one of Kalamazoo’s most prominent in the latter half of the 19th century, with William G. Dewing having established the Children’s Home after making his money in the lumber industry, and is son William Sheldon, for the founding of the Lake Farm for Boys School. William S. Dewing was one of several founders of the Kalamazoo Stove Company. The Dewing House was the last of the grand mansions along Main Street to be demolished by St. Augustine’s in 1975.
Alfred C. Wortley House
“Built in the 1880s by Kalamazoo jeweler A.C. Wortley, the 10-room brick structure was among a row of mansions that stood in the vicinity of today’s St. Augustine School. The house had two marble bathrooms and each of the five bedrooms on the second floor boasted marble wash basins. Wortley decorated the interior with rare paintings and statuary, according to contemporary accounts. A barn at the rear contained stables for horses and quarters for a coachman.” (KG, 7-4-82)
Ransom Gardner House
“Just east of the Allen property and facing in Main street was the square mansard-roofed home of the late Ransom Gardner family, a mansion reported to have cost $75,000. Gardner was a factor in Michigan railroad development, losing a vast fortune in the Kalamazoo division of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern (now the New York Central lines).” (KG, 11-24-24)
For more information about Oscar M. Allen, see the article about the Globe Casket Company.
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, September 2023