Local History and Genealogy
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Over the course of the last year, my position as local history intern has afforded me numerous opportunities to engage in a variety of projects, most of which have allowed me to pursue my own personal local history interests while contributing to the body of material available to the public for use in their own historical inquiries. When the weather has been appropriate, these projects have often taken me outdoors, camera in hand, and onto the streets of Kalamazoo. Last summer, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting and photographing the various historic districts of Kalamazoo County in order to compile information from the National Register of Historic Places and the State Historic Preservation Office in a series of web pages. When appropriate, I would always opt to walk to these destinations. In my pedestrian travels throughout Kalamazoo, I was frequently impressed by the quality and quantity of public memorials, monuments, sculptures, murals, and other works of art. When discussion regarding updates to the library’s online photo gallery of local public sculpture occurred last winter, I immediately became interested in contributing to this effort.
As soon as the last of the significant quantities of snow had melted, and the weather had begun to turn more hospitable, I was ready to take new photographs of the works previously included, and quickly decided to expand the collection. From nine, the gallery has grown to thirty-nine with plans to include approximately two dozen additional sculptures. The sheer number of works of public sculpture found in Kalamazoo renders even this list incomplete, and it is my hope that if you are aware of a work that has been currently overlooked, you will inform me in order to help create the most comprehensive list possible.
These sculptures are, and have been, sources of civic pride for the residents of Kalamazoo, and we are lucky to conduct our lives amidst an atmosphere that encourages and appreciates the creation of works of artistic expression. While I am continuing to expand the gallery devoted to public sculpture in Kalamazoo, I am also currently engaged in creating a similar gallery focusing on public murals. It is my hope to have a version available by the end of spring.
Kalamazoo Ruby Light Chandelier
Some things just get better with age; a vintage wine, a hand crafted musical instrument, or perhaps a lifelong relationship with a significant other. On the other hand, some things need a little help if they are expected to survive.
During the 1970s, the water tower at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital nearly met its demise before a public effort succeeded in raising the necessary funds to save it. Countless other structures around the city—the GR&I Depot, the Michigan Central Railroad Station, Henderson Castle, and more recently, the historic Michigan Avenue business district—can all lay claim to similar stories. Others—the original Kalamazoo Public Library building comes immediately to mind—weren’t so fortunate.
There’s a new movement afoot to save the aging smokestack next to the old Gibson guitar factory (now home to Heritage Guitar Inc., and others) at 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo. The factory was built in 1917 and its smokestack, emblazoned with the vertical letters G-I-B-S-O-N, has since stood as a proud monument to the iconic company that once occupied the property. Sadly, time has begun to take its toll on this historic landmark. The aging structure is in desperate need of repair or it will eventually have to face the inevitable.
Local supporters have started a “Save the Stack” campaign to raise awareness and hopefully save the Gibson smokestack. Visit the group’s new Facebook page, share photos and stories, “Like” what they are doing, and join the effort!
The Historic Gibson Smokestack