Robert Burns House

Left: Picturesque Kalamazoo, 1909, p. 60
Right: Photo by Alex Forist April 2006
  • Location: 705 West South Street, Kalamazoo
  • Survey ID: R-15
  • Designation: Robert Burns House
  • Date: 1884
  • Style: Queen Anne

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.

Robert Burns graduated from Geneva College in New York as a civil engineer in 1851. After a period supervising railroad and canal construction in New York, Canada and Michigan, he turned to reading law. He was admitted to the bar in 1859, then volunteered in 1862 for service with the Union Army. As a result of his service with the Fourth Michigan Cavalry, he came to be known as "Colonel". After the War, he came to Kalamazoo and joined with his brother in establishing a prosperous law firm through which he maintained a considerable interest in land transfers. He and his wife Annie moved early to South Street. In 1884, they decided to build a new home for themselves next door. The next year, the city directory showed them living at the new address. Their old home would be razed a few years later to make way for Edmond Rankin's house. 

The new home showed distinct influences of the "Colonial" style popularized at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. Regular in appearance and presenting its long face to the street, the building had the outline of one of the many late Georgian or Federal homes on the East coast. The "tudor" chimneys, the geometrically ornamented verge boards at the central and end gables, and the ornamented veranda across the front of the house suggested the popular "Queen Anne" fashion which had so appealed to men like William Dewing, who had just finished his elaborate home at 547 W. Michigan. 

Burns passed away in 1891. In 1894, the Michigan census taker noted that Anna Burns had borne seven children, only three of whom were still living. Two, Janet, twenty, and seven-year-old Robert were still at home and made up the household along with servants Jennie Van He and Fannie Allyn. The Burns remained in the big house until the end of the century. A number of families occupied it in the next thirty years, including A. Earl Kettle, Business Manager of the Gazette (1909-1919), and John Byrne, General Manager of the Standard Paper Company during the 1920's. By 1937, according to the city directory, the home had been converted to apartment use,


1883 Shows old hse.  
1890 Shows new hse.  

Kalamazoo County Tax Rolls:  

1881 Robert Burns  N 5/8 of lot B  $2800
1882 same 2800
1883 same 2800

Kalamazoo City Directory:

1878  Robert Burns 703 W. South (old hse) Attorney, R. & J.D. Burns

1881  same

1883  same

1885-86  707 W. South (other hses. stay same) same

1887-88  same 

1891  Col. Robert Burns  same      

1893   Mrs. Robert (wid) Burns 707 W. South

1895 same

1897-99  Annie Burns, (wid) same address Miss Jeannette Burns

1904-1906 Eleanor J. Brewster (wid., John); Della Sprague; Elizabeth Brewster

1907-08  George E. Howe (Georgia), condr.; Daisy Howe, Techr. Manual Training School

1909-17  A. Earl Kettle (Emily) Sec'y Edwards & Chamberlin Rose A. Howe, Hardware; Business Mgr. Gazette

1919 same, but cross out and add 616 W. South (J.M. Edwards house)

1921-1929  John Byrne (Elizabeth), General. Mgr. Standard Paper Co.

1931 vacant

1934-35  Theta Chi Delta Frat.

1937  listed as "Apartments"

U.S. Population Census Rolls:

1894 (State) Anna H. Burns, 53, widow; bore 7 children, 3 living b. NY; Janet M., 20 daughter, student, b. Mich.; Robert A., 7, son, in school, b. Mich.; Jennie Van He, 28, servant, b. Holland; Fannie Allyn, 37, servant, b. England

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.