Today, of the twenty two established neighborhoods in the city of Kalamazoo, the Edison Neighborhood possesses the largest population, and is the most demographically mixed along socioeconomic and racial lines. Named for the famous American inventor, the neighborhood, situated southeast of the city’s downtown, has played an ample role in the development of the city’s industrial past. Not only did Edison feature a robust private sector from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s, but as with older parts of the city, so too did the evolution of the cultural and social personality of the neighborhood. Churches, schools and a branch library sprang up over time as the area’s population grew during the first three decades of the twentieth century, and with the expansion of manufacturing jobs came the subsequent growth of housing, the demarcating of public parks, the advance of entertainment and recreation offerings, and the founding of community media (
The Edison Voice) and social clubs.
Children’s bike parade, Terrace Court near Bank Street, Kalamazoo, c.1945. KPL Photo P-977
Before the rise of the paper industry around the 1890’s, Scottish entrepreneur Walter Taylor brought celery to the area a decade prior. The fertile, muck-filled land south of Collins Street and north of Stockbridge was once a large swath of celery fields. For many years into the twentieth century, residents of the neighborhood often continued to grow celery adjacent to their properties. Today this area is home to the Washington Square Branch library, a senior housing complex and a new thoroughfare called Marketplace Boulevard.
National Driving Park
One of the neighborhood’s first must-see spectacles was the horse racing competitions at the National Driving Park. See existing
Charles B. Hays
One of the city’s most active businessmen from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s was
Charles B. Hays. Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Hays graduated from Kalamazoo High School and then attended Kalamazoo College before striking out as a leading entrepreneur in the insurance and real estate industries. A prolific land developer and builder, Hays’ Southside Improvement Company played a major role in much of the growth of the southeastern portion of the city during the course of the first three decades of the twentieth century. As historian Sharon Ferraro noted, “After laying sidewalks and paving roads, Hays would build model houses, using his own construction company – typically six to 10 houses at a time, frequently of the same design, and filling an entire street from one cross street to the next. Throughout Hays’ career, his developments usually sold out within the year they were opened for sale.” ( Your Home Southwest Michigan, April 2008, p.25)
“Although Hays would develop many additions to the city, the focus of his energies was on the “south side” as the Edison Neighborhood was then known. A partial list of Hays’ developments includes the Balch and Hays Addition, Scheid and Hays Addition, Balch and Thompson Addition, Hays Addition, South Park Addition, Hays Park Plat, Prospect Park Plat, and Elmwood Plat.” (
Museography, Winter/Spring 2008, p.9)
In addition to his insurance and real estate ventures, Hays was also a major financial investor of many of the community’s important employers, including several paper companies, most notably, the Bryant Paper Company.
Looking southeast down Portage Street from the Washington Avenue intersection, c.1930 KPL Photograph Collection
When Paper Was King
Aerial View of the Bryant Paper Co. Greater Kalamazoo, dates 1904
Situated along the Portage Creek between Alcott street to the south and Reed Avenue to the north, the Bryant Paper Company (later called Allied Paper Co.) was established in 1895. It would become one of the largest and most important employers of the neighborhood, as hundreds of new homes would be built over the next three decades to house employees and their families. Bryant Mill became Michigan’s largest producer of book-quality paper. Superior Paper Company, an affiliate of Bryant Paper Company was located just south of Alcott Street, next to Bryant Pond. Also, parked next to the large Bryant mill facilities were the Milham Division and the Imperial Coating Division, both parts of Bryant.
The King Paper Company, began in 1901 by a former Bryant Paper Company employee named John King, also picked the neighborhood for its location–a large track of land east of Clarence Street, north of Lake Street and South of Vine Street.
Large industrial companies were not the only businesses offering employment opportunities during the first half of the 20th century. Dotted throughout the community were the small mom-and-pop business services that provided access to banks, groceries, medicine, newspapers, dry goods, hardware, appliances, and all the everyday amenities coveted by Kalamazoo’s mushrooming working and middle classes. Some of these independently owned and operated businesses were housed in the buildings that lined the 1300 block of Portage Street between Washington and Stockbridge avenues.
The geographic anchor of the neighborhood has always been the Washington Square business district, the curvy block of buildings along Portage Street that are bookended by Washington and Stockbridge avenues. Once the Kalamazoo Railway Company extended its line along Portage Street to Washington Avenue in 1884, this section of the Edison Neighborhood began to take shape as a vital hub for neighborhood activity and growth. Several years later, the Michigan United Railway ran a trolley line out Portage Street that turned onto Washington Avenue, running two additional blocks. Over the course of the first half of the century, a wide assortment of businesses have called the block home, some lasting only a short period, including a meat market, barbershop, banks, beauty salon, physician, dentist, chiropractor, pharmacy, restaurant, gas station, bottling company, radio sales, shoe repair, bakery, and hardware store. Howard’s Party Store remains the oldest business on the block still in existence.
Portage Road looking south from Washington Street, Kalamazoo, 1938.
Decline and Rebirth
By the early 1960’s, the damaging impact of neglect, blight, underinvestment, the outsourcing of manufacturing, and suburban retail development led to a downturn in the Edison Neighborhood. By the mid-1970’s, various stakeholders began to speak out about the emerging pornography-centric businesses that lined Washington Square. A feature article in the
Kalamazoo Review highlighted the growing discontent with the tawdry elements that thwarted business development and revitalization efforts.
“What to do about Washington Square became a hot button issue during the summer months in Kalamazoo, and it boiled over into autumn as election time drew near. The increase in so-called adult businesses has been a source of growing concern for many Kalamazoo residents, especially in neighborhoods where such businesses are located. While some officials avoided the question like the plague, others exploited it as a highly emotional campaign issue, sure to get voters excited.” (
Kalamazoo Review, November 1976, p.18)
It would take three more decades before most of the adult businesses left the area, providing community stakeholders with the opportunity to reshape the neighborhood’s future. Whether it derives from beautification projects, the growth of small businesses, the rehabbing of old homes, investment in new housing developments, large-scale art exhibits, public utility upgrades, or the renovation of the Bank Street Farmer’s Market facilities, from the early 2000’s onward, the city’s largest neighborhood has slowly regained some of its former vitality.
Washington Square Branch Library: The Kalamazoo Public Library’s oldest branch library, the Tudor Revival-style building was opened on 22 November 1927.
Interior of Washington Square Library, Kalamazoo, c.1940’s
Washington Writer’s Academy: See existing article here
Bank Street Farmers’ Market: Situated at the corner of Bank and Collins Streets is the Bank Street Farmer’s Market, an open air facility that attracts an array of food and artisanal vendors each summer. Opening at the Bank Street location in 1947, the name was originally The Municipal Market. It has been coordinated by the People’s Food Co-op since 2013. In 2022, the market facilities were upgraded to the delight of customers and vendors.
Produce stands at the Bank Street Market, c1982. KPL Photograph P-1375
The Hungarian Evangelical and Reformed Church (aka United Church of Christ): Located at 805 Mills Street, the small congregation was originally founded in 1914 by Hungarian immigrants, many of whom had settled along Mills and Fourth Streets. The first church building was built in 1920 at 610 Mills Street, but it burned down.
Hungarian Church, Kalamazoo, 1915
St. Joseph Catholic Church: Located at 936 Lake Street, the church building was dedicated in August of 1915. Today, a large number of its parishioners makeup Kalamazoo’s Latinx community, many of whom have settled in the Edison Neighborhood over the past several decades.
Kalasign Company of America: Founded in 1914 as a division of the Merchants Publishing Company, the decal and cardboard sign manufacturer built its factory facilities in 1930 at 2020 Fulford Street. By the late 1940’s, the company was bought out by the Meyercord Company, located in Chicago. The Kalamazoo division of the company was closed in 1962. “Originally most of the Kalamazoo manufacturing was devoted to the making of signs on felt by the silk screen process. A World War I shortage of felt switched the silk screen process to printing on cardboard which along with the production of decalcomanias (advertising printed on transparent sheets) became the basic product of the firm.” (KG 7-12-62)
Hays Park: Purchased from Paddy Miller in 1918 and named for businessman and former Mayor Charles B. Hays in 1981, this city park lies north of Miller Road, east of Factory Street and south of Palmer Avenue. ( City of Kalamazoo Parks, Urschel)
Washington Park: “Commonly called Reed Street Park, Washington Park was a popular venue for ice cream socials in the 1930-40’s. The granite boulder, whose plaque is missing, was dedicated to the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Civil War Veteran’s organization.” ( City of Kalamazoo Parks, Urschel)
Engine House No. 2: Built in 1900, the onetime fire station located at 1249 Portage Street has also served as a fruit market, general store, a laundromat, and a cultural and arts organization.
Portage Street Fire Station #2, 1985, prior to renovation
Race Street got its name from its close proximity to the National Driving Park
Near the corner of Race and Egleston streets, rests a plaque attached to a small boulder commemorating the 25th Michigan Infantry of the Civil War. The collection of Union soldiers congregated and trained at the location in 1862 prior to fighting in Kentucky and Georgia. The original plaque was dedicated in 1923, but later a second was placed on the rock in 2005 after the original was stolen.
Egleston, Fairbanks, Lay, and Lane Boulevards are part of the parks division of the city. “These green space boulevards are the legacy of a turn of the century City Council committee called the Park and Boulevards Committee.” (
City of Kalamazoo Parks, Urschel) The
Edison Neighborhood Association was established in 1968 The Kalamazoo Creamery Building (now demolished) at 700 Lake Street, was once the site of the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, which later changed its name to City Union Brewery in the 1890’s.
The City Union Brewery, corner of Portage and Lake, as it appeared during the 1890s. Photo courtesy of WMU Archives and Regional Collections
Reed Avenue and Clinton Street take their name from DeWitt Clinton Reed, a 19th century landowner in that part of town. Egleston Avenue was originally named DeWitt. (
Museography, Winter 2010)
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, July 2022
“Charles B. Hays: Home Builder…and More!”
Museography, Winter/Spring 2008, p.9
“The Man Who Built Kalamazoo”, Sharon Ferraro
Your Home Southwest Michigan, April 2008 (p.24)
“Tiny Plat Has Big History”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 October 2005, section 6, page 1, column 2
“Chicago Company Closing Its Kalasign Division Here”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 July 1962
“Streets of Kalamazoo: The Edison Neighborhood”
Museography, Winter 2010 (p.18)
“Pornography: Boon or Bust for Washington Square”
Kalamazoo Review, November 1976, p.17
“Edison Housing Project Gets Approval for $4.1M Plan”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 March 2011, page A2, column 5
“Edison Housing Project Revived”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 February 2011, page A1, column 4
“Portrait of a Neighborhood”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 July 2017, page A1, column 1
City of Kalamazoo Parks, John Urschel (H 977.418 U821)
Kalamazoo Lost & Found, Lynn S. Houghton and Pamela H. O’Connor (H 720. 9774 H838)
Local History Room Files
Washington Square Neighborhood
United Church of Christ
Hays, Charles B.