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Historic Houses

The Potter Octagon House, 925 S. Westnedge Ave. © 2021 Encore Publications/Brian Powers
Opening the door on favorite historic houses

Kalamazoo has an abundance of many things, including older homes, which are seen by many to be an asset of our community. To be designated “historic,” a residential structure must be at least 50 years old. We are fortunate to have quite a collection of such structures all over the community, especially in our national and local historic districts. These houses present a cornucopia of colors and architectural styles, along with connections to the region’s history. Choosing my top five is a challenge, since my list of historic houses has many favorites, including my own house in the Westnedge Hill neighborhood. My choices change, daily, but here are my current favorites.

The Boudeman House

515 W. South St.

Not long after coming to Western Michigan University, I drove down South Street, saw this house and was captivated. Built in 1905 by Dallas Boudeman for his son Donald and his new wife, this Neo-Classical Georgian-Colonial Revival house has an imposing front portico with a triangular pediment and massive columns. The symmetrical house has pilasters at the corners and dentil molding and porte cochere on the side. Donald Boudeman later built an addition to the rear of the house for his and his second wife’s collections, which included a suit of armor and an Egyptian mummy that both resided at the house before moving to the former location of what is now the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research has owned this house for a number of years.

The Johnson House

211 Woodward Ave.

This house, designed by Jackson architect Lemuel D. Grosvenor, was completed in 1864, during the Civil War, and became the home of William and Louise Johnson and Louise’s daughter, Madeleon Stockwell. This brick Italianate house is a classic example of this style, with its cubic shape, long, narrow windows, paired brackets below the roof and a side bay window, in addition to a cupola at the top. In 1870, Madeleon became the first woman to enter the University of Michigan. She returned to live here with her husband, Charles Turner, a fellow U of M student. Through its long life, the house has been divided into apartments and been a home for both a sorority and fraternity. It now is a single-family residence.

The Potter Octagon House

925 S. Westnedge Ave.

Not only was Allen Potter a Kalamazoo businessman, banker and politician, he also could be called a trendsetter for his taste in architecture. When he decided to build a house in 1855, rather than choosing a square or rectangular structure he went with an octagon, popularized by national author and lecturer Orson Fowler, who maintained that these houses were cheaper to build, provided more natural light and were easier to heat and cool. Situated on five acres at the edge of what was then the village of Bronson (now the city of Kalamazoo) and in the middle of a burr oak grove, this brick, eight-sided house was set back from the street and topped with a cupola, which lets light into the central living space. A second octagon house, built by James Clapham in 1856, is only a few blocks away, on Rose Street, also in the Vine neighborhood.

The Prouty House

302 Elm St.

It’s hard to envision this house, which sits on the northeast corner of Elm and Eleanor streets, in a more rural setting. But before being moved to this site, this Gothic Revival, built by Amariah Prouty for his family and completed in 1852, could be found not far from its current location and in the midst of spruce trees and the first nursery of the village, where Prouty sold evergreens, fruit and flowers. This house, which was home for him, his wife and six of their 13 children, has a front gable roof decorated with gingerbread or tracery, dormers at the roofline, and an expansive porch with Gothic arches. This style became less popular for houses and more popular for churches for many years. At some point, and it’s not clear when or why, the house was moved from its original location on a triangular piece of land bordered by Kalamazoo Avenue, Elm Street and the railroad tracks. There are some Kalamazoo Gazette articles that appeared in the summer of 1880 discussing an extension of Willard Street that went through the Prouty property, so the move may have been to allow expansion of the village.

The Crane House

2125 Crane Ave.

The first time I saw this house I fell in love with its wide, wrap-around front porch. Little did I know that I would eventually move to the Westnedge Hill neighborhood and have a chance to see the porch daily. This Queen Anne house, completed in 1895, was built for Edgar and Nancy Crane. It has a rounded side tower, and that spectacular porch must have provided the Cranes with wonderful views of the city. Edgar also donated 15 adjacent acres for a park that now bears his surname. In 1914, three years after the house was sold, a fire nearly destroyed it. The tower is gone, but three new dormers were added, giving the house a distinctive Colonial Revival feature. The house and porch have survived more than 125 years.

Historic images courtesy of the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections.

Encore Magazine

Encore Magazine is Southwest Michigan’s Magazine, bringing readers intriguing images and stories of the good things, good works and great people of our corner of the mitten. Published 12 times a year, Encore in its fifth decade of serving Southwest Michigan, carrying on a historic tradition of being the premier lifestyle publication of the greater Kalamazoo area.

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