CHAPTER IB - INTRODUCTION
B. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE REGIONAL SETTING
The City of Kalamazoo is located on the Business Loop of I-94 near the crossroads of I-94 and U.S. 131 (Figures I-1 and I-2). In terms of proximity to other major US cities, Kalamazoo lies midway between Detroit and Chicago. The City is approximately 25 square miles in area and is the largest city in Kalamazoo County.
Kalamazoo's rolling hills, prairies and lush river valley were the former waterways and hunting grounds of the Pottawatomi Indians. The name Kalamazoo comes from an Indian expression, "Kikalamazoo", meaning "the rapids at the river crossing", or "boiling water".
Kalamazoo served as a fur-trading post in the late 1700's. It was set aside as a reservation by the Indian Treaty of 1795. It was later deeded to the U.S. by the Pottawatomi in 1827. Two years later, the first permanent settlers arrived, led by Titus Bronson. Bronson built the first cabin on the site that is now Bronson Park.
The town was platted in 1831 and was named "Bronson" after its founder and leader. Two years later Bronson, an eccentric man, was convicted of stealing a cherry tree. Residents then petitioned for a name change and the area was once again known as Kalamazoo. By 1836, approximately 1,000 people had settled in the area. They came mainly from New York and New England. Settlers during the mid-19th century included immigrants from Holland, Germany, Ireland, and runaway slaves arriving via the "Underground Railroad".
Kalamazoo owes much of its early development to its geographic location, midway between Chicago and Detroit. In addition, the Kalamazoo River which connects to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes, made the City an important location relative to transportation and commerce.
Kalamazoo's fertile soil located in the muck fields north, south, and east of town were once the location of celery fields. This earned Kalamazoo the name of the "Celery City". In addition, the Arcadia and Portage Creeks provided water power for early industry including many paper and cardboard mills and was once also known as the "Paper City". Over the years Kalamazoo has been the home of many manufacturing enterprises including Checker Cab, Gibson Guitars, Kalamazoo stoves, Shakespeare fishing rods and reels, and the Roamer automobile. The City's most prominent industrial enterprise is the Upjohn Company, a Fortune 500 company considered a worldwide leader in pharmaceuticals. Today, Kalamazoo is also home to the largest bedding plant cooperative in the U.S.
Kalamazoo is also the location of the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the U.S. It was initiated in 1959 with the closing of Burdick Street to automobile traffic. The four-block long mall still exists today, stretching from Lovell to Eleanor Streets.
Other notable features of Kalamazoo are its numerous designated historic districts. Preserved in these districts are examples of distinctive architectural styles including Gothic, Italianate, Greek Revival, Sullivanesque, Queen Anne, Art Deco and Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian style of homes.
The City of Kalamazoo has a relatively long history of planning. The first city plan was completed in 1929 by consultant Jacob L. Crane, Jr. Mr. Crane took care to note that "these plans should not be considered fixed and final" and "it is anticipated that as new tendencies and new considerations arise the plans will necessarily have to be modified." Prior to this current plan update, Kalamazoo adopted a comprehensive plan in 1977.