John Gibbs House
Home of Gold Rush Adventurer
The John Gibbs House sits along the south side of Parkview Avenue, just east of Drake Road. The pre-Civil War-built house (1853-1854) reflects the Greek Revival style popular among early Kalamazoo County pioneers. The likely financing of the construction of the home connects Gibbs and his son William to the 1849 gold rush in California.
John Gibbs property along Parkview Avenue. Kalamazoo County Atlas, 1873.
Gibbs (1796-1881) came to Kalamazoo County in 1832 from Middlefield, NY, along with his brothers Isaac and Chester. The brothers purchased 240 acres of land in Kalamazoo Township, west of the Lakeview Neighborhood (today’s Oakwood Neighborhood). “Tradition has it that he journeyed to Oshtemo’s Genesee Prairie looking for land, was shown this parcel by the area’s first black settler, Enoch Harris, who lived nearby.” Upon settling, a log house was built, and Gibbs set about clearing the land for farming. Having learned the trade of carpentry while in New York, Gibbs’ skill as a millwright and builder kept him busy assisting with local construction projects.
“He raised the third frame house put up in Kalamazoo, and built the first three barns on Grand, Genesee and Dry prairies. He also assisted in building and equipping many of the first mills in the county, and was always called in when others failed to make a mill dam stand, and he always succeeded. When the railroad reached Kalamazoo he helped to erect the first bridge across the river, and countless other works of great utility and merit stand yet to his credit in all parts of the county.”
Compendium of History and Biography of Kalamazoo County, Mich., p.137 Heading West
John Gibbs House, c.1981
In 1850, Gibbs and his son William traveled west to partake in the national frenzy connected with the California Gold Rush of 1849. Looking to make a quick profit from their labor, both father and son successfully returned to Kalamazoo after three years in California. William stitched $3200 of gold coins into a muslin vest that he outfitted with 80 pockets. His father, soon after returning from the gold mining adventure, built the two-story home for him and his wife Miranda. He lived in the home until his death in 1881. Gibbs is buried in the nearby
Genesee Prairie Cemetery. The property was later used in the late 1880s by the Kalamazoo State Hospital for their colony farms. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The home is owned and maintained by Western Michigan University, whose Parkview Campus is located nearby.
Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, December 2023
Henehan, Brendan Walking through time: a pictorial guide to historic Kalamazoo (1981)
Call Number: H 720.9774 H498
Fisher, David, Little, Frank (editors), 1906 Compendium of history and biography of Kalamazoo County, Mich.: illustrated
Call Number: H 977.417 F53
“Miner’s secret vest connects Kalamazoo to ’49 gold rush”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 September 1996, page159