Kalamazoo's Unique Neighborhoods
The history of the Eastside Neighborhood is one inextricably linked to its distinctive location. Sitting atop the rolling, wooded land east of the Kalamazoo River, west of Eastwood, southeast of Gull Road, and north of the Edison Neighborhood, it remains both part of, and separate from the wider city and its downtown. Known throughout its time primarily as a residential area that slowly grew from its 19th century agrarian roots, the Eastside’s rich past includes a mixture of small businesses, school buildings, a branch library, several parks, an active neighborhood association, houses of worship, and an assortment of racial and cultural groups. Nearby factories connected to the paper industry would play a vital role in helping to grow the neighborhood throughout the first two decades of the 20th century.
The 1873 county atlas shows that most of the Eastside was sparsely populated farmland with a handful of property owners. One of the more notable persons to purchase land was Henry Gilbert, who was the owner and publisher of the Kalamazoo Gazette. Other early land owners associated with the area include hotelier Fred Hotop, Elijah O. Humphrey, Daniel Fairbanks, and Thomas R. Sherwood. Sherwood was an associate justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Another Thomas Sherwood, unrelated to the judge, owned property east of Wallace Avenue, that includes the area where Sherwood Park is located. Humphrey was a farmer and the president of the Citizens Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Riverside Cemetery and Borgess Hospital rest on land that was part of Humphrey’s Addition.
The one building that stands out on the map is the Michigan Female Seminary, which was established in 1856 as part of the Presbyterian Synod of Michigan. The preparatory school for young women operated until 1907. The building was torn down in 1935, with many of the bricks reused in the construction of St. Mary Catholic Church.
A firehouse at Charlotte Avenue and Sherwood Avenue was added to the neighborhood around 1909, and over the course of the next two decades, much of what was once farmland was sold off to developers. The early additions (parcels of property units within a neighborhood) and the homes and streets that begin to take shape during the early part of the 20th century can be found in Kalamazoo County Chad Maps. Two prominent businessman who had large additions were Horace Phelps and Melville J. Bigelow, both of whom were successful businessmen involved with the windmill industry.
Phelps Addition, 1884
Union Addition, 1885
Hazard’s Addition, 1892
Seminary Plat, 1901
Sherwood Park, 1904
Bigelow Addition, 1905
East Park Heights, 1919
The addition of streetcar lines that traveled up East Avenue (Main) and East Michigan (Lincoln Avenue), increased access to and from homes and workplaces.
“Most of the people living on the east side within the city limits worked in factories–or managed them. A streetcar line ran out East Avenue, as East Main was known back then, to the city limits at Wallace Avenue. On East Michigan, then called Lincoln Avenue, a streetcar ran conveniently out to factories, ending at Schippers Crossing adjacent to the Kalamazoo Paper Company, within a short walk of two other factories.”–Sharon Ferraro (Your Home, August 2008, p.17)
Today, only the nearby Northeastern Elementary School resides within the eastern portion of the city, but that wasn’t always so. The first school to call the Eastside home was located at the corner of East Main Street and Gilbert. Named the East Avenue School, it was built around 1883, and was later turned into the Eastside Branch Library between 1910 and 1940. The second ‘East Avenue School’ to be built in the area was erected in 1909, just up the hill along Charlotte Avenue and East Main. Renamed Roosevelt School in 1926, the building was demolished in 1988. Today, the Eastside Neighborhood Association office and the Roosevelt Hills apartment complex occupy the land where the school once stood. As the neighborhood grew during the first half of the 20th century, the Woodrow Wilson School and the Brucker School, both of which were once located in the nearby Eastwood Neighborhood, were also important educational sites that provided Eastside children a place to learn and grow.
Sludge Pit Controversy
In 1967, a group of residents of the Eastside and Eastwood Neighborhoods protested the city’s location of “sludge pits” to an area north of East Michigan Avenue and west of Nazareth Road. The sewage disposal facility produced an intense odor that angered nearby residents. After the city failed to find an effective solution to the emanating odor, the facility was shut down in large part because of the efforts of citizens who banded together in opposition.
There have been many churches representing various sects sprinkled throughout the neighborhood over the years, including:
Landmarks and Small Businesses
As the neighborhood grew in population, small businesses emerged to meet the purchasing needs of its residents. Drugstores, meat markets, restaurants, chiropractors, dry cleaners, beauty supply shops, laundries, furniture stores, barbers, and grocers dotted E. Main Street, Riverview Drive, and parts of E. Michigan throughout the first half of the 20th century. Over time, city parks were established to offer residents a natural place to gather.
- Triestram’s City Drug Store Longtime pharmacy and convenience store was located next to the second Eastside Branch Library at 1727 E. Main St.
- Hearty Hamburgers The beloved restaurant sat at 1122 E. Michigan Avenue
- Doorn’s Department Store Located at 1620 E. Main St.
- The Pacific Club Established by Council Hawes Jr., this private club was racially integrated. Hawes Jr. required members to sign an oath to treat everyone fairly.
- Carver Welding Located on East Michigan Avenue and Phelps Avenue, the business was run by an African American named Fred Carver Sr., who was only one of two black welders in the city at the time.
- Rockwell Park Rockwell is a five-acre park split into two sections by Trimble Avenue. it was named for Ethel Rockwell, who, until her death in 1936, was the supervisor of physical education for Kalamazoo Public Schools and was recognized for developing one of the most outstanding departments of physical education in the country.
- Sherwood Park Resides at 300 Wallace Avenue
- Riverside Cemetery, Founded in the 1860’s at 1015 Gull Road, Riverside is the larger of the two city-operated cemeteries in Kalamazoo. “It covers a diverse landscape, with areas that are shady, open, rolling, and flat. From parts of Riverside Cemetery, you can see downtown Kalamazoo and Spring Valley Park. When the sun is in the western sky it radiantly lights up the west-most landscape. There is a view to enjoy at almost every angle.” (City of Kalamazoo)
- Street names Oak Openings, Cooper, Fenimore, The Dells, and Oonah Place were taken from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel Oak Openings. Wallace Street likely takes its name from Thomas Sherwood’s wife, Annie Wallace.
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, February 2023