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Five Faves – ‘Lost’ Houses

Stately Kalamazoo homes that have been lost

Kalamazoo is known for a lot of things, including a variety of residences found in its neighborhoods, some of which are designated historic districts. Many of these homes have been saved and maintained by owners who have been able to take advantage of various programs that have provided support and funding over the past 60 years. Some homes, however, are gone for a number of reasons, including their size, location and/or condition. Here are five of my favorite houses that no longer dot our landscape but still exist in photographs, memories and even street names.

Severens House

East side of Thompson Street, north of Academy Street

Henry Severens, an attorney and later a judge, hired architect Lemuel D. Grosvenor to design a new house for his family not far from Kalamazoo College. This Second Empire residence, completed in 1871, had a tower topped by a mansard roof, gables, tracery and decorative finials. In July of that year, the Kalamazoo Gazette gave an extensive description of the home, including a list of the five types of wood found inside. In addition, a veranda at the rear provided a wonderful view of the village. The Severens family owned the house until the 1920s, when the Scheid family purchased it. They lived there until 1961, when it came down to make way for Kalamazoo College’s Fine Arts Building.

Austin-Chapin House

Northeast corner of Oakland Drive and Austin Street

Benjamin Austin arrived here at age 14 with his father and later became a successful businessman. He built a Greek Revival house in 1846, which is still standing in downtown Kalamazoo, at 226 W. Lovell St., and known as the Austin-Sill House. His next residence was this striking Gothic Revival house, which was completed in 1853 and located on the northeast corner of Oakland Drive (originally called Asylum Avenue) and Austin Street. It had gables, arched windows and a commanding view of the village. Lebeus and Sarah Chapin purchased the house in the late 1860s, and during this time the estate became known as Mornington. It was sold to Dr. Charles Fletcher in 1894 for a sanitarium, and fire destroyed the house the next year. On the site today is Walwood Hall, part of Western Michigan University’s campus.

Merrill House

Southeast corner of West Lovell Street and South Westnedge Avenue

This house is a favorite because of what it became before it was lost. David Merrill owned four flour mills and invested in real estate. He and his family lived in an earlier house on this location before the completion around 1890 of this Queen Anne, with a side tower, gable roof and decorative front porch. Merrill’s will stipulated that when he and his wife died, the house would become a home for widows of “proven respectability,” who could live there for the rest of their lives after paying a small fee. The Senior Citizens Fund in 1955 completed the east wing of the new Merrill Residence, and the Merrill house came down in 1960 to make way for the west wing. In 2012, the building was sold and converted by the new owners into apartments and is now called Lovell Street Apartments.

Lane House

Southwest corner of West Michigan and South Westnedge avenues

“Castle” and “mansion” were two of the favorite words used to describe this Richardsonian Romanesque home completed in 1893 for Moses Henry Lane, one of the owners of the Michigan Buggy Co. The house, made of fieldstone, had a prominent tower and a porte cochere for a vehicle. No description survives of its 17 rooms except for the variety of wood used inside. There was some controversy within the company when Lane took company funds for the construction of the house. The Lanes left the home by 1926, and it became a rooming house, with a gas station and streetcar restaurant in the front and side yards. The home came down in 1936, with much of its material made available for use in other local structures.

Connable House

1422 Prospect Hill

The Henderson Castle was not the only prominent house at the top of Prospect Hill, in the West Main Hill neighborhood. Just to the west of it stood the Connable House, designed by a Chicago architect and completed in 1904 for businessman Alfred Connable, his wife, Frances, and their five children. Facing south towards Grand Avenue, the Georgian Colonial Revival sat on three acres and contained five bedrooms, along with a barn for the family cow, which, along with giving milk, also enjoyed catching tennis balls. In 1956, Kalamazoo College purchased the property for a dorm, which was not built, and the house came down three years later. The carriage house and barn survive and are now a single-family home.

Photos courtesy of WMU Archives and Regional History Collection & the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

Lynn Houghton

Lynn Houghton is the regional history curator of the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection. She leads the Gazelle Sports Historic Walks, a series of free architectural and historic walks at various locations in Kalamazoo County that happen during summer and fall, and she is the co-author of Kalamazoo Lost and Found, a book on Kalamazoo history and architecture. She also participated in the PBS documentary series 10 That Changed America, about the history of architecture and urban planning. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from WMU and a master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University.

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