The following material is from the 1973 Initial Inventory of Historic Sites and Buildings in Kalamazoo and was made available for use here by the Historic Preservation Coordinator of the City of Kalamazoo. See Introduction to an Initial Inventory for details about how the survey was conducted.
The Federal Census-taker walked down Elm Street one summer day in 1880, asking his questions of the merchants and professional people who made their homes in this fashionable district. He called on lawyer Nathaniel Stewart's family at number 10 Elm, then passed by the unfinished house at 13 Elm to continue on his way. 13 Elm was a latecomer to the neighborhood. Next door lived local jeweler William Snow's family, whose great square Greek Revival home was a quarter of a century old. Down the street were other homes in the stately Italian manner of mid-century. In a "bird's-eye" view of Kalamazoo published in 1883, Number 13 stood out against the dignified homes of the neighborhood. Nothing else looked quite like it, save perhaps, William S. Dewing's new mansion on West Main (now 542 W. Michigan). As the decade continued, however, similar homes went up along nearby Stuart and Woodward Avenue.
13 Elm was modern architecture in the 1880s: an exercise in what was coming to be called the "Queen Anne" style. Popularized first in England, this fashion seemed particularly attractive to middle-class Americans in the Gilded Age. Its origins lay in the manor houses of Tudor England--rambling piles beloved of Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving and other romantic writers. In this country it met a need for "roots" in the fluid society of the 1880s. 13 Elm seemed to have stood on its site for hundreds of years as the carpenters finished their work. Washington Irving described the sensation created by this kind of architecture in his Sketch-Book:
"His family mansion is an old castellated manor-house, gray with age, and of a most venerable, though weather-beaten, appearance. It has been built upon no regular plan, but is a vast accumulation of parts, erected in various tastes and ages .... Additions have been made to the original edifice from time to time, and great alterations have taken place; towers and battlements have been erected during wars and tumults; wings built in time of peace; and out-houses, lodges, and offices, run up according to the whim or convenience of different generations, until it has become one of the most spacious, rambling tenements imaginable."
By the 1890s, when Frank Henderson built his "Castle" on West Main hill, variations on the Queen Anne style were commonplace in all the newer parts of Kalamazoo. Still, this home, now numbered 213 Elm, summed up in itself the elements that distinguished the Queen Anne from earlier suburban fashions. Most Queen Anne homes offered simple floor plans; in this case an "L-shape" with a stair tower in the angle. Yet to this simple plan could be added a number of features which would distinguish this particular home from every other in the village. Elements of the style show strong traces of English influence, as in the treatment of the gable ends, the tudor chimney stack, the gothic balconies and pointed window, etc. Various combinations of these elements gave unique expression to almost every Queen Anne home in this age of "Rugged Individualism". Championed by such social reformers as England's Charles Eastlake, this style offered both a sense of individualism and a feeling of permanence in an increasingly complicated society. In finishing Number 13 Elm, local carpenters mastered a particularly complex framing problem to produce the sagging entranceway. They applied the final sheathing boards in a dozen different patterns to achieve a sense of random additions over many years. In these and other ways they worked to build a home that looked already centuries old.
When the Census-taker knocked at Number 25 Elm, he found a sixty-nine year-old retired farmer, Allen Chappel, and his wife, Lydia, as boarders. Chappell watched over the building of Number 13 for his son, Delos. In the fall, the two families would both move into the new home, to be joined in April, 1881, by Chappell's daughter and her husband, William R. Coats. For the next decade this home was a beehive of social and professional activity. The elder Chappell would list himself in the village directory as a contractor; Delos and William Coats were both nationally-known hydraulic engineers with thriving interests in water and sewer systems around the country.
Back in 1852, Allen Chappell brought his wife and son and daughter from Vermont to Cooper Township. There he took up farmland which he held for the next several years. The Census-taker found him in 1860 with an estate of $14,000. His son, Delos, was then fourteen and "attending school". Delos went on to Olivet College and then took up engineering at the University of Michigan, studying there until 1866, when an accident to his father brought him back to the family farm. By 1870, Allen Chappell had moved to Kalamazoo to live with his daughter's family in a fine Greek Revival home on Elm. Delos, married now, and Cooper Township clerk at twenty-four, ran the family farm and listed his worth at $22,000. In 1872, he was made Cooper School Inspector and appeared to be well-established in the neighborhood. The next year he left the farm, moved to Chicago and established himself as a civil engineer and contractor. In 1875, Allen Chappell and W. R. Coats formed a partnership on a gentleman's farm of two hundred and forty acres in Portage township. There the two families ran the farm with hired hands until 1881.
Delos Chappell specialized in municipal water systems in Chicago. Trinidad, Colorado, heard of his work and asked him to install the water system there in 1879. When he finished, he came back to Kalamazoo, bought a lot on Elm Street and continued his engineering work from the village, joining, and other things, in planning the new opera house. His wife died suddenly in the summer of 1881, and some months later, Delos moved permanently to Trinidad where he remarried in 1883. His father and mother spent a great deal of time in Colorado during the 1880's.
William Coats stayed on with his family until 1893 or 1894. Coats' background is vague. He may have been born on a farm settled in the 1830s by James Coats in Prairie Ronde Township, or he may have come from Ohio. Still in his twenties, he lived in a spacious home on Elm Street as a contractor in the 1860s. In 1868, he directed the development of Kalamazoo's municipal water well, and later made the system nationally known as support for a "Pure Water and Pure Air" campaign which he waged in the 1880s. Though he listed himself as a farmer in the 1880 Census, he continued to promote the startling idea that wells were healthier than rivers for city water systems. Among other commissions, he engineered the water systems for Springfield and Bloomington, Illinois, for Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, for Des Moines, Iowa, and many other towns in the Midwest. In addition, he held the major contract for Kalamazoo's municipal sewer system in the early 1880s, A versatile man, Coats earned two patents from the Elm Street house--one for a grain harvesting device, the other for a bracing screw used in heavy construction. A staunch Democrat and a good writer, he contributed regularly to the Gazette on political and economic issues, on his travels to the West, and on a variety of engineering problems. In turn, the Gazette regularly noticed his business travels in its local column and pointed with local pride to any national notice Coats received. About 1892, Coats left the Elm Street house, lived at the Burdick Hotel for a time, then went west to join Delos Chappell in Colorado.
Chappell had gone to Trinidad as owner-operator of the water works for the city. He soon moved into local banking and into the growing coal and coke industry in the state. At one point, his company controlled some thirty thousand acres of coal lands. In 1898, he went to Denver where he increased his financial empire, among other things organizing the Capital National Bank of that city, By 1907, he held chief control of the sprawling Nevada California Power Company (capitalized at $20,000,000) and served as a director of the giant Colorado Fuel and Iron. He lived in sumptuous magnificence in Denver until his death in 1909 (noticed by the New York Times). In 1922, the Chappell family gave their red stone Normandy Castle, then a local landmark, to the Denver Art Association for a museum.
The house on Elm Street passed into other hands. Then, in 1896, Nathaniel Stewart, an old family friend of the Chappells, moved his family across the street and took up a residence that would place them in the home for more than half a century. Stewart came to Kalamazoo in 1868 when he was twenty-one, He began to read law with Charles Stuart's firm and was admitted to practice in 1872. He was later elevated to the bench. When Delos Chappell died in 1909, Stewart arranged for the burial at Mountain Home Cemetery. A local biographer said of him, "with all his positiveness and force in leadership, he has a vein of gentleness and innate culture that is shown most beautifully in his everyday family life". This particular writer thought of him as "a splendid example of a self-made man of the highest honor and integrity". Stewart's son Gordon studied law at the University of Chicago and came back to join his father's practice in July of 1909. When the elder Stewart passed away, Gordon Stewart occupied the home on into the 1960s.
Washington Irving would have heartily applauded a Gazette account in 1926 that described the home as almost half a century old, but "still in the finest state of preservation and apparently good for generations".
This report was converted from a typewritten document to a digital text document in September 2004. Other than punctuation and spelling corrections, and the addition of BOLD type site address and names, no changes were made. Minor formatting changes were made for use on this website, but the text was not altered. Original survey dated 1973.