A Naturalistic Subdivision
The Rise of the Suburb
If you begin your travels from Bronson Park and head about a half mile to the west, you will find yourself atop the West Main Hill Neighborhood, one of the city’s most attractive suburbs. The neighborhood’s boundaries extend north to West Main Street, south to Michigan Avenue, west to Nelson Avenue, and eastward to the meeting of West Main and Michigan Avenue. A smaller portion of West Main Hill that centers the larger area is the circular Henderson Park plat, a late 19th century subdivision that includes Grand Avenue, Monroe Street, Arbor Street, Henderson Drive, Henderson Court, Prairie Avenue, Prospect Street, and Academy Street.
It was conceived as the city’s first “naturalistic” or “landscaped” subdivision by developer and businessman Frank Henderson (see: The Henderson Castle). The idea was that streets and lots were to conform to the landscape’s topographical contours. The result can be seen in the meandering nature of the plat, its inclined yards, large lots, and upscale homes. Helping Henderson achieve his unique vision, was surveyor Frank Hodgson and engineer George Pierson. Architectural styles found within the neighborhood include a blend of English Tudor, Colonial Revival, Prairie Style, Craftsman, and Queen Anne.
In 1882, Henderson’s wife Mary inherited her father James Taylor’s property rights to the land that would make up the plat. Unfortunately, Henderson wouldn’t live long enough to experience much of his vision for the new subdivision, dying in January of 1899, a mere five years after his grandiose ‘castle’ had been built.
Before its conversion into a residential area, the hilly setting had been farmland for Taylor, a prominent pioneer who had been a village trustee in 1847, and was involved in the founding of the Michigan Female Seminary in 1856. Before the Scottish Taylor bought the land for farming in 1842, the area had been set aside by the township for the use and benefit of the public schools. Before Michigan’s statehood was established in 1837, a federal law dictated that all Northwest Territories set aside land for this purpose, but since statehood modified the way the state funded schools, the township chose to sell off the land.
By the late 19th century, as the city grew more prosperous on the strength of its various industries, with the population continuing to expand, residents who could afford to do so, sought out the more pastoral setting of the city’s early subdivisions. The ‘work in the city and live in the country’ ethos embodied the spirit of the late 19th and early 20th century bourgeoisie, and mirrored the national trend toward moving one’s family outward, beyond the primary urban center.
It was during this period that the advance of the horse-drawn and electric streetcar also provided citizens better transportation access throughout the city, including a line that ran up a portion of West Main, ending near Mount Home Cemetery. As developers looked toward the more wooded, rural portions of the area beyond the city limits for land to acquire, neighborhoods such as West Main Hill, Westnedge Hill and Winchell began to expand. Henderson Park plat was recorded in 1889, then revised seven years later. There were 66 lots established around the snaking streets and wooded hills just west of the city limits.
A Sluggish Start
The growth of the new plat languished during the last decade of the century, with most of the lots left unoccupied until the 1910’s and 1920’s. Various factors may have been at play as to why the plat underperformed for over a decade. The expansion of the fashionable Stuart Neighborhood may have drawn attention away from Henderson Park, or it’s possible that the limited streetcar line simply failed to expose the neighborhood to potential homeowners. An economic downturn in the early 1890’s likely contributed to a slowing down of home building, and without the prominent Henderson and his resources to champion the area, Henderson Park failed to attract would-be buyers. At one point in the early part of the century, a nine-hole golf course was situated on the land (Wanikin Golf Club). Golfers used a cottage-style home at 144 Monroe Street as the course club house.
Despite its sluggish start, by 1930, most of the lots had been filled with the handsome homes one can view today. Robust municipal utilities, the rise of the automobile, and the extension of the West Main street-car line to the city limits also played a part in the neighborhood’s evolution. It was during this last decade of development that saw the stucco-clad Arts and Crafts homes and lower pitched bungalows populate the neighborhood’s sloping lots. By the time the Depression had hit Kalamazoo, those who called Henderson Park home were far more likely to weather the economic downturn of the 1930’s. In 2007, the West Main Hill Neighborhood became a local historic district.
James J. Murray House, 1531 Academy
“James and Mary Murray built this Tudor-style house in 1926 using the local architectural firm of Billingham and Cobb. Later a carriage house was added on the back of the Murray’s property facing South Street. This was used for servant’s quarters. The beautifully landscaped lot included a large rock garden, a summer pool and grape arbor which was maintained by a full-time gardener. James Murray, a native of Kalamazoo, was president of Kalamazoo Label Company.”–Historic Homes Tour Booklet (1981)
Weimer-Sutherland House, 155 Monroe Street
Style: Georgian Colonial Revival
“A two-story face brick and cut stone house and garage, designed by Howard F. Young architect of Kalamazoo., and built in 1929-1930 by Moore McQuigg of Kalamazoo., for circuit court Judge George V. Weimer and his wife Helen.”–Norman L. Hamann (2003)
Harvey-Macleod House, 204 Monroe Street
Style: Dutch Colonial Revival
“Dr. Leroy H. Harvey came to Kalamazoo in 1908 to chair the Biology Department at Western State Normal School, now Western Michigan University. Three years later his new house, designed by local architect Forrest Van Volkenberg, was completed. Many Western professors lived in this area which was not far from the campus. In 1926, Marvin Schaberg, a lawyer and one-time city attorney, moved into the house. He sold the home in 1945 to Dr. A. Garrard Macleod, who worked at Upjohn for twenty-five years as a senior staff physician. Dr. Macleod came to Upjohn in 1939, eventually becoming the editor of in-house publications and Scope, a journal for physicians that contained articles on topics of interest written by medical experts of the day.”–Home Tour Booklet (1986)
Pagenstecher House, 1219 Grand Avenue
Style: English Tudor
“The first occupant of this house was Charles W. Carpenter, who was a manager at Gilmore Brothers’ Department Store. He only lived there for five years, and Felix Pagenstecher and his family moved in. Felix came to Kalamazoo in 1902 to work at the Riverview Coated Paper Company which recently had moved to the area. He later worked at the Bryant Paper Mill and became president of the company. He left Kalamazoo in 1932 to work at a paper mill in Oregon. There have been many other residents of this home including Hubert L. North, a lumber dealer who lived in the home for eleven years. This is a typical English Tudor style home with the presence of both stucco and half-timbers on the exterior.”–Historic Homes Tour Booklet (1983)
Ihling-Burdick House, 1403 Grand Avenue
Style: Colonial Revival
“One of the first residents of the Henderson Park Addition, Carl W. Ihling built this home in 1905. Ihling was a member of an important local family and the son of Reinhold Ihling of the Ihling and Everard Company. As a young man, Carl was engaged in the furniture business but joined the family firm upon his father’s death in 1919. Records show that Ihling only lived in this house a short time. In 1915, Willis J. Burdick, a banker, purchased the residence and lived here until the late fifties. A fine composition in the Neo-Georgian/Colonial style, the house features oversized colonial motifs in the window hoods, gables and front porch. It is characteristic of the many fine homes built in the Grand Avenue area in the early years of this century.”–Walking Through Time: A Pictorial Guide to Historic Kalamazoo, p.96
Carl Zwermann House, 1411 Grand Avenue
Style: Queen Anne
“Carl H. Zwermann and his wife, Helene, built this cottage style Queen Anne house on North Grand Avenue in 1905. Mr. Zwermann was president and general manager of Michigan Enameling Works which later became Enameled Tank Company. Historic Homes Booklet (c.1980’s)
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, February 2022