There will be a Board of Trustees Meeting on Monday, February 13, 6–7 pm in Oshtemo Branch Community Room. The agenda and minutes will be available on our website

Nazareth Academy Bus Line

Kalamazoo’s First Auto Bus


Hungering for mobility, Kalamazooans cheered when the first horse-drawn streetcars appeared on city streets in 1884. Again they cheered when the modern new electric streetcars replaced the horses a decade later. Both made getting around easier but in most cases the streetcar lines only went as far as the city limits. Those who wished to travel beyond those points were on their own.

Nazareth Community

nazareth-bus-postcard-002-400
Nazareth Bus, postcard c.1905. (author’s collection)

In 1897, the Nazareth Academy boarding school for girls was established on the old Humphrey farm along Gull Street, three miles northeast of the city. To reach the academy one could take the East Main streetcar to the city limit, then proceed on foot or by carriage for the remaining mile or so. Even with the establishment of its own post office and the founding of the Barbour Hall school for boys in 1902, the Nazareth community was not considered populous enough to support a streetcar line to that locale.

Events at the academy often drew sizeable crowds, so private horse-drawn buses were brought in for special occasions. Still, transportation to and from Nazareth was inconvenient at best. With hopes of improving the situation investors formed the Nazareth Academy Bus Line in April 1905 and contracted with the Olds Motor Works of Detroit to provide a new motorized bus that would serve the Nazareth community.

Oldsmobile Wagonette

The $2,500 Nazareth “automobile bus” was a 1905 Oldsmobile 10-passenger “Wagonette.” With a two-cylinder sixteen-horsepower water-cooled engine, the vehicle could shuttle up to ten passengers plus the operator back and forth between the Nazareth station and several stops downtown at a top speed of five or six miles per hour.

Nazareth Bus 1905
Nazareth Bus, The Horseless Age, 5 July 1905

The Nazareth bus was not only the first of its kind in Kalamazoo (indeed, it was one of the town’s first “horseless carriages”), but the Twelve Passenger Wagonette was a unique new undertaking for the Oldsmobile Company. Olds featured the Kalamazoo vehicle in its nationwide advertising, describing it as “an attractive investment for street service in small towns, for stage line work, for depot service and for resort service.”

An extra acre of land was purchased at the southwest corner of Gull Street and Nazareth Road where a waiting station was erected, along with an ice cream stand and a shed where the vehicle would be stored. Before beginning its first public route on April 15, 1905, Nazareth students and boys from Barbour Hall were given exciting “test tours” in the new machine.

The Nazareth bus was a success for the most part, although it was not without certain difficulties. The fully loaded vehicle often struggled to make it up the Gull Street hill, and it broke down frequently. An accidental collision with a freight train on Ransom Street left several riders injured and the vehicle severely damaged. A “horse bus” was brought in as a substitute whenever the auto bus was in the shop.

After two years of service a more powerful vehicle was brought in, and the original bus was put up for sale. In 1912 the Nazareth Bus Line was sold to the Fred J. Waud & Co. Hack & Livery Service, which continued to provide bus service to the Nazareth community into the 1920s. Such buses (often called “jitneys”) helped bring about the demise of the streetcar lines.


Continuing Research

Like many of our Local History articles, this is by no means a definitive study. If you have new information, corrections, or items to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, February 2021. Updated January 2023.

Sources

Articles

“Deeded to the Nazareth Academy”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 February 1897, p.1.

“Corner Stone Laid”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 April 1897, p.7.

“Will Erect An Addition”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 31 March 1904, p.10.

“Nazareth Bus Line”

The Augustinian. 1 April 1905, p.4.

“Auto To Nazareth”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 2 April 1905, p.6.

“The Nazareth Bus Line”

The Augustinian. 15 April 1905, p.4.

“Nazareth Bus Line”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 April 1905, p.15.

“Michigan Corporations”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 April 1905, p.5.

“Auto Bus Coming”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 April 1905, p.2.

“First Auto Bus In Kalamazoo”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 April 1905, p.4.

“The Nazareth Bus Line”

The Augustinian. 22 April 1905, p.5.

“The Nazareth Bus Co.”

The Augustinian. 29 April 1905, p.5.

“Nazareth Bus”

The Augustinian. 13 May 1905, p.4.

“Nazareth Bus Line”

The Augustinian. 13 May 1905, p.8.

“Will Build Station House”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 May 1905, p.2.

“Nazareth Bus Line”

The Augustinian. 20 May 1905, p.5.

“Notes From the Augustonian”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 May 1905, p.9.

“The Oldsmobile Business Wagons”

The Horseless Age. 5 July 1905, Vol. 16, No.1. p.42-43.

“Nazareth Bus Line”

The Augustinian. 2 September 1905, p.5.

“Annual Meeting Held”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 February 1906, p.2.

“Annual Meeting Held”

The Augustinian. 3 February 1906, p.5.

“Nazareth Bus Is Struck By Train”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 June 1906, p.2.

“Trainmen Blame The Auto Driver”

Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 June 1906, p.7.

“Nazareth Bus”

The Augustinian. 20 April 1912, p.5.

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