Our homes, our places of work and our houses of worship are located on them. We walk them, drive them and sometimes get lost on them. These are our streets, and, as in every other city, town or village, they have names. With all the time we spend on them, do we ever wonder the origin of their names? All over Kalamazoo County, there are streets with similar or unique monikers. They may reflect a person, place, natural feature, thing or maybe nothing at all. Here are five streets whose names are some of my favorites:
George C. Winslow’s family was a part of Kalamazoo since the 1830s, when his father, George Washington Winslow, arrived from Massachusetts and eventually opened a marble works business that his son took over. Elected to both city and county positions, George C. Winslow also became Kalamazoo’s first city assessor in 1897 and held that post for the next four years. During his tenure, he discovered that a small street that runs from Crosstown Parkway to Hudson Street, just to the south of Maple Street, had no name, so he took it upon himself to name it after his dog, Peeler. Available information does not indicate that he named any more streets after his pets.
An 1834 map of the village of Bronson, Kalamazoo’s name until 1836, shows many of the city’s first streets. Three of these marked the boundaries of the community and were appropriately called South, North and West streets. The people creating these streets felt no need for an East Street since the Kalamazoo River created the village’s eastern boundary. South and North streets still exist, although they have not served as the city’s borders for many years. West Street kept its name until 1920, when the Kalamazoo Rotary Club requested that the city rename it to honor brothers Joseph and Richard Westnedge. Born and raised in Kalamazoo, both served in the military and gave their lives, Richard in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and Joseph in France near the end of World War I.
There are many streets in the Kalamazoo area named for natural features, including trees (Walnut Street), orchards (Cherry Street) or water (Spring Street). At times streets would get these names even though there were no trees, orchards or water nearby. There are two possible reasons for why Vine Street received its name. One was that a large collection of unidentified vines were located near the road. Another was in an undated Kalamazoo Gazette article, which stated that the proprietors of the village, all unidentified, wanted a fancy name and felt Vine fit the bill. Anna Balch den Bleyker, an early resident of the area, said in a December 1929 Kalamazoo Gazette article that many people thought at the time that it was a very pleasing name.
This road runs from Kalamazoo to Schoolcraft, and Asylum Avenue was the name for a small part of it when the Michigan Asylum for the Insane opened in 1859. The asylum, the first such institution in the state of Michigan, spanned 160 acres along the road, from Oliver to Howard streets. Nurseries and farms located to the south of Howard were replaced with homes and businesses by the early 1900s. The renaming of the asylum in 1911 to the Kalamazoo State Hospital led residents and property owners along this road to request that the city of Kalamazoo change the road’s name. Potential new monikers included Upland, Fairmont and Oakland, the latter being the one that city leaders chose in March of 1912, offering more of a rural sound.
Readers of the Kalamazoo Gazette on Sunday, Dec. 21, 1913, found the headline “Kalamazoo Has State Record for Inebriate Names of Its Streets.” The article described two, Alcohol Alley and Whiskey Alley, both located in the city’s downtown. Alcohol Alley ran parallel to East Ransom Street. Whiskey Alley, or Whiskey Row, first appeared in city records in 1883. It was located directly behind the buildings on the north side of East Michigan Avenue from North Burdick Street to North Edwards Street, and the article reported that several businesses could be found there. They are not listed in city directories from that time period, so it is not known if these were alcohol-related businesses or not. The article did not mention Kalamazoo’s other inebriate street names, which will remain an intriguing mystery.