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Five Faves

History maven names favorite old buildings in Kalamazoo
Encore-Magazine-Upfront-Five-Faves-Kalamazoo-501-elm-street-October-2017
501 Elm St., Kalamazoo

Eighty percent of Kalamazoo is old buildings — how could I pick only five favorites? It took talking to myself as I drove to and from work and visiting and revisiting several buildings and houses to come up with these five, my favorite historic structures in Kalamazoo.

501 Elm St

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You can’t miss this little purple Italianate where West Willard Street intersects Elm Street. Built in 1885 or earlier, it won my heart in September 2010 when lightning struck it and a fire raged for hours. The house almost completely lost its roof and was saved by the sheathing on the inside of the stud walls and the brick floor in the basement that allowed thousands of gallons of water to drain away. Over the next four years, the house passed through the hands of as many owners, finally ending up with Max Tibbitts and Jeff Siuda. In the spring of 2014, a team of 20 friends and neighbors stripped Transite siding off the house to reveal its original wooden clapboard. By the end of this year, the “Little House That Could” will be completely rehabilitated.

Appeldoorn House,
532 Village St.

The “A” in V&A Bootery is for Appeldoorn, and I grew up next door to Peter “Grandpa” Appeldoorn on Oak Street. This whimsical little house was built for Peter Appeldoorn in 1895, and his family continued to live there until the end of World War II. Built from catalog plans and costing $900—$1,000 to build, the house is perfectly showcased with a deep setting on its lot and the lush plantings of the current owners. The house's open porches beckon passersby to imagine the inside.

Receiving Vault,
Mountain Home Cemetery

A little past the stone Sexton’s Lodge in Mountain Home Cemetery sits the marble and concrete receiving vault with its spear-point windows, vents and front door. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before powered excavating equipment was available, winter burials were nearly impossible because of the frozen earth. The receiving vault, built in 1878, would hold coffins until the spring thaw, when they could be interred. Carved lilies adorn the gable, and angels flank the front door. Inside the vault, the black and white diamond-patterned floor of stained concrete is almost identical to the front porch floor at the Ladies' Library, built in the same year.

State Hospital Water Tower,
Oakland Drive

No list of favorite Kalamazoo historic sites would be complete without including the highest point in the city and the visible pivot point that the city seems to revolve around. When I see the water tower from the highway, train or air, I know I am home. Built in 1895, the water tower saved downtown Kalamazoo by supplying extra water to fight the disastrous 1909 Burdick Hotel fire. The state planned to demolish the tower in 1976, but a campaign raised more than $200,000 to save it. A 2007 assessment showed that the tower will remain in excellent condition as long as its roof is intact and the lightning rods are working.

Chappell-Stewart House,
213 Elm St.

Sharon Ferraro is a lifelong resident of Kalamazoo and works at her dream job, as the historic preservation coordinator for the city. She enjoys historical research, working with the Old House Network and reading history and science fiction.Every time I see this unique house and matching barn, it enchants me. In 1963, my best friend’s family bought the house, which was originally built in 1880, and I loved it the minute I walked through the front door. Although the house was empty and echoing on our first visit, my family brought our little portable black and white TV so both families could watch John Kennedy’s funeral while we sat in the front parlor. Regular visits allowed me to explore its attic, carriage barn and multiple rooms in the basement. The house's grand front staircase, illuminated by stained glass windows, rear staircase for the servants, call buttons, gas lights, fireplaces and a butler’s pantry all inspired my vocation in historic preservation.

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About our Author: Sharon Ferraro

Sharon Ferraro is a lifelong resident of Kalamazoo and works at her dream job, as the historic preservation coordinator for the city. She enjoys historical research, working with the Old House Network and reading history and science fiction.