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Milwood Neighborhood

Kalamazoo's Unique Neighborhoods


Of the 22 city neighborhoods in Kalamazoo, Milwood has the second largest number of residents (Edison is the most populous), but it lays claim to being the largest in square miles (4.8). Situated in the southeast portion of the city, and extending southward farther than any other neighborhood, Milwood began to mature as a suburban township neighborhood in the early 1920s when farm land was sold off and platted to developers. A second housing boom developed in the post-WWII years, a time period when the neighborhood became part of the city of Kalamazoo. Fifty eight percent of the housing stock in Milwood was built after 1950. Home to many businesses, schools, clubs, churches, and parks over the years, the charming, treelined neighborhood continues to evolve while maintaining its quasi-suburban comforts. The Milwood Neighborhood Association describes their community:

“We are home to four area schools, the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, various company headquarters such as Fabri-Kal, Schupan & Sons, Imperial Beverage and Continental Linen Supply.  Also, home to MDOT SW Michigan Regional offices, Consumers Energy Regional Operations facility, Wings Event Center, Kalamazoo County Road Commission, Pepsi Regional Bottling & Operations, and a Division of Zoetis.  Also, home to the original strip mall in Kalamazoo the Cork Lane Shopping Center, as well as, the busiest brew pub in Southwest Michigan in One Well Brewing, along with many independently owned small businesses.”–Milwood Neighborhood Association

Early Pioneers: John Milham and William H. Woodhams

‘Milwood’ takes its name from the combining of the last names of John Milham and William H. Woodhams, two 19th century settlers in the area. Exactly when the use of the name took hold is not certain, but references to the ‘Milwood School’ go back to 1901. John Milham arrived in Kalamazoo from New York state in 1845 and purchased a tract of wild land two and a half miles south of the village. Only three years later he had improved that land so much that he was awarded a prize by the Kalamazoo County Agricultural Society for having the best farm in the county. Clearly an energetic man, he still found time to participate in business, political and religious affairs in town, and had 16 children by three of his four wives. By the time of his death in 1885, his farm had grown to more than 400 acres. A large tract of Milham’s farmland was sold to the city in 1910 by John’s son (also named John) for the creation of Milham Park.

Kalamazoo Township, WM. C. Sauer, C. E.’s 1890 Kalamazoo County Atlas

William H. Woodham’s farm was located along what once was a plank road (later, Lovers Lane) just east of the Monarch Mill Pond. There were also the 40-acre Pomeroy tract, just north of Cork Street and east of Portage Street and the Preserved S. Waite farm located east of Milham’s property.

The Kalamazoo Paper Company
Kalamazoo Paper Company Mill, 1873 Kalamazoo County Atlas, F.W. Beers & Co.

The area’s first large-scale industrial endeavor came with the establishment of the township’s first paper mill. Decades before adopting the moniker Paper City, the Kalamazoo Paper Company had built the area’s first paper mill in the neighborhood in 1867, just southeast of the intersection of S. Burdick and E. Cork Street.

Platted Additions

The northern parts of the neighborhood, mostly undeveloped farmland, were carved up through several additions during the first two decades of the 20th century, with much of the area closer to Kilgore Rd. developed after World War II. Milwood became a popular area to reside for those employed by the nearby Upjohn Company, which had relocated its factories along Portage Road, just a few minutes south of Milwood. The lots tended to be deeper than those in the more concentrated parts of the city. The architectural styles of homes are varied, but mostly Cape Cods, Colonials and mid-century Ranches. The following are plat names associated with the Milwood area, the years they were registered, and how many lots were included.

Howard’s Addition: 1892, 58 Lots

Lakeway Park: 1923-24, 479 Lots

Milwood Park: 1925, 95 Lots

Westnedge Manor: 1925 9 Lots

Howland’s Plat: 1934, 69 Lots

Smart’s Addition: 1946, 38 Lots

Bloomfield: 1950-53, 413 Lots

Pleasant Ridge Terrace: 1952-54, 111 Lots

Royce Acres: 1959, 14 Lots

“Milwood, originally part of Kalamazoo Township, was a growing Kalamazoo suburb through most of the early 20th century. Its development began in earnest in the early 1920’s when a new house on Lakeway Avenue was raffled off. A building boom followed through the 1930s, 40s and 50s.”–Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 June 1997

Cork Lane Shopping Center

Since 1953, the commercial heart of Milwood has been the Cork Lane Shopping Center, the city’s first ‘strip mall’. Located at the intersection of Cork Street and Lovers Lane, many small businesses have provided an assortment of products and services over the years, especially the Kroger’s and Harding’s grocery stores.

Cork Lane Shopping Center, c.1956. MD-1358

Milham Park

see article

Public Schools
Milwood Elementary School, Fifth Grade Class, 1934

The neighborhood features four public schools whose buildings have been modified over the years: Milwood Elementary (built in 1921), Milwood Magnet School (1959), Greenwood Elementary (built in 1954), and Loy Norrix High School (built in 1960). An early rural, township school, called the Milwood School, was situated along Portage Street in the late 19th century, roughly where Vanderberg Field is today.


“Milwood at one time had its own school system for grades one through eight, but residents had to pay tuition to send students to Kalamazoo high schools. Voters approved its annexation to the city in 1955 in great measure because of rising tuition costs, which Milwood residents no longer had to pay after annexation.”–Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 June 1997


Social Life
Milwood Methodist Church, 3919 Portage Road

Baseball and softball have been popular family activities of residents since the mid 1950s, when the Milwood Little League was established. The league allowed girls to participate in 1974. In 1980, the Little League Softball World Series came to the neighborhood, and was hosted there for many years after. The area has been home to several churches, including Milwood Christian Reformed, Greenwood Reformed, Covenant United Reformed, Bethlehem Baptist, Damon Methodist Church (later Milwood United Methodist), and Milwood Church of God. The Milwood Community Library was initially established in 1938 as a WPA project. By the early 1940s, a library board and constitution had been created. The small library collection was housed on the grounds of the Milwood Elementary School. Other social clubs have included the Boy and Girl Scouts, Milwood Dance Club, Milwood PTA, Milwood Mother’s Club, Milwood Athletic Association, and the Damon’s Men’s Club.

Looking east down Homecrest Avenue from Portage Street, 1946. Photo: John Marsh

Neighborhood Landmarks
  • Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport, see previous article
  • Vanderberg Park, named for longtime Little League coordinator Harold ‘Bud’ Vanderberg, and located just south of Milwood Elementary School
  • Milham Park Golf Course, opened in 1931 after John A. Milham and Dr. W. E. Upjohn helped to facilitate the purchasing of the land in 1929.

 

Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, April 2023

Sources

Books

Another View of Milwood School
Marsh, John R.
H 371.8976 M6624M


Articles

“Suburb in the city”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 April 1989, page C1, column 1

“Marvelous Milwood”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 June 1997, page G1, column 1

“Kalamazoo’s Milwood Neighborhood: everything you could want without leaving the neighborhood”
Second Wave Media, 22 September 2020

“Looking Back”
Southwest Michigan Spark, October 2017, page 9


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Milwood Neighborhood

Subject File: Kalamazoo Public Schools – Milwood Elementary School

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