Much of what is known about Kalamazoo’s outward appearance during the mid to late nineteenth century—its buildings, its citizens, and its events—can be attributed to the Local History Room’s impressive collection of historic photographs.
Thousands of images dating from the 1860s and before provide invaluable insight into life and living during Kalamazoo’s formative years. The man behind the camera for many of these (often stellar) images was Wallace S. White, one of Kalamazoo’s most noteworthy early photographers.
During the 1850s and 1860s, Kalamazoo became home to several prominent photographers and daguerreotypists. Among these early photographic pioneers were Schuyler C. Baldwin, who is perhaps best known for his stunning stereo images of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Cullen C. Packard, a well known portrait photographer, and many others. By the late 1860s, a second wave of local image-makers had begun to document the region and its citizenry. A leader among this group was Wallace S. White.
Born in Chicago in 1842 and raised in Otsego, Michigan (Allegan County), Wallace S. White came to Kalamazoo in 1868 and began his career as a partner in the photographic supply firm of White & Lindsey at 103 Main Street.
In 1873, White purchased Schuyler Baldwin’s old gallery at 116-118 Main Street, and opened his own photo studio, where he actively began capturing images of local citizens, and “gained a high reputation for superior productions [as] a leading artist” (Gazette).
On 17 May 1878, White unveiled his newly remodeled studios at 148 & 150 West Main Street, which occupied the entire third floor above F. S. Stone & Son’s Grocery at the corner of Main and Rose. His new studio boasted a large double parlor, new portrait studio with a large skylight, and a new camera.
Images of Kalamazoo
Much like his predecessor, Schuyler Baldwin, it was White’s ability to capture images of the Kalamazoo community itself that continues to provide us with a highly accurate view of what the young village truly looked like. From its busy dirt streets and plank sidewalks, to attractive storefronts, local scenery and interesting social animation, White’s images provide an outstanding visual record of the community’s early architecture and a compelling glance at everyday local life. Cigar dealers, clothiers, grocers, and other merchants greet their customers with product-filled storefronts. Marching bands perform during festive parades; horses, wagons, carriages, parks, and buildings all lend valuable clues about life as it once was nearly a century-and-a-half ago.
In addition to his life as a career photographer, Wallace White also had an active interest in music. Military bands were exceedingly popular throughout America during this time period, and White enjoyed being part of the movement, both as a performer and a band leader. By 1877, White was offering second hand musical instruments for sale at his photo studios. Violins, an alto horn, a baritone horn and a guitar were all advertised to be “good as new.” A year later, White’s Full Quadrille Band was furnishing music for dancing parties and social occasions.
Balcom & White
In January 1885, White went into partnership with George B. Balcom, a local violinist and director of the orchestra at the Academy of Music. The pair bought out the remaining stock of sheet music and books from Col. Delos Phillips’ Music Store on Main Street and quickly set up shop in the First National Bank block. By September, Balcom & White had added a large case to their store filled with musical instruments for sale, “from a violin and cornet down to a harmonica.” The partnership didn’t last long, however. In November, White sold his interest in the music store and continued photography.
White’s Military Band
In the absence of a proper local community band during the summer of 1888, White formed his own 17-piece military band and began participating in parades and other social events in Kalamazoo and other nearby communities. First directed by White himself, then by Chester Z. Bronson, and later by Derance “Deal” Richards, White’s Military Band (also called “White’s Light Guard Band,” “White’s Light Infantry Band,” or most commonly just “White’s Band”) eventually developed an enthusiastic local following.
“As the procession ended at the park, a concourse of several thousand people were present...
At 3 o’clock, White’s military band struck up a lively medley piece, closing with the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’”
–Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 May 1891
By 1891, White’s band had improved significantly. His outfit was featured prominently during lavish Memorial Day ceremonies on May 30th, and the group took its place among the dozen or more marching bands that participated in the day-long independence Day celebration in downtown Kalamazoo. The Fourth of July festivities included a morning parade down Main Street (now Michigan Avenue), plus band concerts and other activities in Bronson Park during the afternoon and evening. (Fireworks were held that night at the corner of Main and Portage!)
During the summer of 1893, White’s band became the primary attraction for the opening of the community’s first amusement resort at the end of the new electric streetcar line near Woods Lake, drawing as many as four thousand or more for each concert performance.
Second Regiment Band
White and his band performed locally and throughout West Michigan for many years, and the popularity of the outfit continued to grow. White’s band was at its peak in July 1893, when it was inducted into active duty as the Michigan National Guard’s “Second Infantry Band,” known more commonly as the “Second Regiment Band.”
(Additional local musical affiliations in parentheses.)
- Derance “Deal” Richards, leader
- F. M. Richardson, solo cornet
- Peter Closterman, first cornet
- Otto Schultz, piccolo
- Fred Brown, second clarinet
- Robert Kinsel, first clarinet
- W. H. Cook, third clarinet
- Will F. Shonk, solo alto
- Fred Redmond, second alto
- Wallace S. White, third alto
- Hardy Hardella, first trombone
- John Henson “Heinz” Everard, trombone
- Frank A. Newell, baritone
- William B. McLachlan, tuba
- Nick Hogeboom, tuba
- Joseph Wilbur, snare drum
- Robert Simmons, bass drum
White & Edwards
White continued to operate his photographic studio on Main Street until 1893 when H.A. Brown took over the location, allowing White to more closely follow his continuing interest in music. He formed a partnership with J. H. Edwards and opened White & Edwards, a second hand furniture and household goods store at 312 West Main, where he sold second hand musical instruments. Later in the year, the two bought out W. H. Edwards & Co. and consolidated to a larger location at 112 Portage Street.
White dissolved his partnership with Edwards in February 1894, but continued selling second hand instruments through Edwards’ store until summer. As the Second Regiment Band (with Deal Richards now its active leader) began to take on a more rigorous touring schedule, White opted out of the band and assumed ownership of Solomon Dill’s Music House, a long-standing local music store in downtown Kalamazoo.
White’s Music House opened in August 1894 at the old Dill location, 123 South Burdick Street, where he continued to sell sheet music, pianos, and other instruments. White also tried his hand at music publishing during this time, by producing sheet music for local composers like Will Marchant. White even added a “wheel” (bicycle) department in 1899 to capitalize on the popular bicycle frenzy.
White’s Music House moved several times; first to 127 South Burdick in 1895, then to the Auditorium building (AUV Hall) on Portage Street in 1899, and later to 206 West Main, opposite the courthouse. White’s store remained in business until 1901, when it was sold to another local musician, Banks Baird.
White’s (new) Military Band
With the Second Regiment Band still performing as an active unit and continuing to see National Guard duty during summer encampments near Battle Creek, White formed a new band during the summer of 1896. White’s (new) Military Band included longtime bandmate Frank Newell, local Philharmonic Orchestra leader O. G. Clement, Academy of Music director E. C. McElhany, and Symphony Orchestra drummer Carl Catherman.
The band performed often for local events and parades, and continued to make occasional special appearances at Lake View Park during the 1896 season. White’s Military Band (Wallace S. White, Director and Manager) remained active locally in one form or another until about 1909. By then, White had become associated with the Kalamazoo Loose Leaf Binder Company, where he remained until shortly before his death in 1921 at the age of 79.
The library’s extensive collection of Wallace White’s photographs, including White’s original glass negatives, remains an essential part of the KPL’s Local History collection.
Related reading from Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History essays.