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 Honorable Allen Potter, first Mayor of Kalamazoo, is probably better-known than any pioneer other than Titus Bronson. Churches all over the city memorialized him at his death in 1885; business came to a standstill during his funeral. "Such a universal mark of respect has never before been awarded to a citizen of this place," said the Gazette. At the Unitarian Church he was "Kalamazoo's best, most generous and most public spirited citizen." The Presbyterian minister found "not a dirty dollar among all that he accumulated," and added, "young men, if you would follow a rich man, follow him." Even a quarter of a century later, the Rev. Joseph P. MacCarthy could write more than a hundred pages in a Tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Allen Potter.
Potter guided many commercial and political developments in Kalamazoo. He came here a tinsmith in 1845, then opened a little hardware store. Successful from the start, he moved in 1850 to acquire the bankrupt blast furnace north of town. With his young partner, Jeremiah Woodbury, he turned bog iron on the riverbank into pig iron and used that in an adjoining stove factory for several years. Potter left the hardware business in 1858 and concentrated his holdings in the village gas works which had opened the year before. He put the rest of his capital into a private banking firm with Woodbury and William Wood. Later he would become a director in the Michigan National Bank and an active investor in the fledgling paper industry.
During the 1860s, Potter reorganized his financial structure - transferring his holdings from personal to real property and emerging in 1870 with an estate of $60,000. He became president of the local Kalamazoo and South Haven railroad in that year, and he also built a new home for his family, moving from South Westnedge to 718 South Street.
His stately Italian villa there would serve the family's needs for the next half-century. Its rounded arches, its great double doorway, and bracketed eaves place this in the fashion that Currier and Ives was calling "The American Style." Rooted in the architecture of Renaissance country houses, this "Italian Revival" seemed the perfect complement to sophisticated suburban living and well suited to a successful banker in Kalamazoo.
Even before he moved up to South Street, Potter had taken an active role in the politics of the village. Now, in 1870 and again in 1872, he served as President of the village board of trustees, as well as continuing as Treasurer of the Asylum. Later in the 1870's, he served a term in Congress, and in 1882 he joined with other leading citizens on the commission responsible for installing the local sewer system. He took an active interest in the debates of those years as Kalamazoo decided to become a city and served as first Mayor in 1884.
Potter died suddenly of pneumonia in May 1885. His wife, Charity, lived on at the South Street address, a respected member of the community, active in church work and in the Ladies Library Association. In 1910, a local clergyman brought together a tribute to her and to the family which demonstrated the central role which the Potters had played in bringing Kalamazoo into the twentieth century. The city directory for 1919 last listed Mrs. Charity P. Potter. Other directories in the 1920's gave Mrs. May P. Knight [their daughter].
1861 - nothing
1873 - shows
Kalamazoo County Tax Rolls:
1869 Allen Potter Homestead next to old cemetery [on Westnedge]
1870 same Lot I, sec. 16 & homestead 4400
1871 same Lot I, sec. 16 & Homestead 4400
Kalamazoo City Directory:
d. May 8, 1885 March 25, 1945
U.S. Population Census Rolls:
1860 Allen Potter, 40, Banker, 15000 real, 40000 pers., b. NY., Charity, 34, b. NY; Mary, 10, b. Mich.; Lilla, 6, b. Mich.; Allen, 3, b. Mich.
1870 Allen Potter, 51, Banker, 50000 real, 10000 pers., b. NY; Charity, 44, keeping house, b. NY: May 20; Lillie, 16; Allen 12.
1870 Census shows Potter living on S. Westnedge in June
1880 Allen Potter, 62, Banker, b. NY; Charity, 54, wife; Lillie Gardner, daughter, 25, visiting; Clare, 6, grandson, at home; Allen, 1, grandson, at home, b. Kansas
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.