Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kalamazoo Nee Bronson

First, I would like to thank Titus Bronson for visiting the place now called Kalamazoo and deciding that it should become a city. Second, I would like to thank him for leaving so that it could be re-named. Somehow, I don't think a song with the lyrics “I've got a gal in Bronson” would have captured nearly as much attention. But I digress. I came across this description of Bronson's first look at the valley in the Kalamazoo Telegraph.

“Half a Century.
Kalamazoo is now forty-six years old. It is nearly half a century since Titus Bronson passed his first night, his head pillowed upon the village mound, a lonely sleeper in all this valley – if we are to believe the chronicles which record the incident. About this time in June, 1829, that adventurous spirit, following the pathway from Ann Arbor westward known as the St. Joseph trail, worn only by the foot of the Indian and his pony, reached the summit of the hills now embraced in the Riverside Cemetery a little before sundown. Below him nestling on a shelving nook on the hill side, was the trading post even then gray with age, but silent as the woods, for the trader was away at some other point. Halting for a few moments, Bronson looked over the wide valley and took in the magnificent panorama presented to him, and his practical mind recognized this as the proper site for a town. 'Here is the place to build a city.'
Descending the hill to the Indian fording place he waded the river and followed the trail still onward, far into the bur oak plain, till he came to a large mound about which were many ancient and grass-covered garden beds. Here he rested for the night, resolving to explore the valley next morning. His carpet bag was stored with such sustaining comforts as a pioneer needed, and breakfast taken after a sound sleep, he proceeded to look over the land. It proved no mirage, but his favorable views were more than once confirmed.
He examined the place on all sides and was entirely satisfied with it and set himself at work to obtain a proper right to the ground, within a few weeks he had erected a rude cabin and took the proper steps to secure his claim. This cabin was built at a point on what is now Kalamazoo Avenue, a little west of West street not far from where Arcadia creek flowed through the meadow. It was of logs, roofed with rails and covered with grass; and, in dimensions, was about 12 feet wide by 14 feet long and one story high.
Mr. Bronson did not live here during the ensuing winter, but sojourned at the Prairie Ronde Settlement, what time he was not looking out land for himself or others. As soon as the land-office was opened at White Pigeon he obtained a patent of the Government for the land he selected here, viz: The east half of the southwest quarter of section fifteen, in town two south of range eleven west; and Stephen Richardson, who was interested with Bronson in the proposed village, took the west half of the southwest quarter of the same section.
Such was the beginning of Kalamazoo. What it has since become is it not recorded in the history of the old settlers, and the inhabitants of to-day – in its splendid history – in its present beauty and importance – in its splendid blocks and handsome houses – its institutions of learning – its admirable civilizing influences, and all that makes her the loveliest, the most delightful and the greatest village in the world?” [1]

While the above appeared in the Kalamazoo Telegraph, its information was taken liberally from the account presented in the 1869 Kalamazoo county directory (available for free from While the above account does allude to the spare nature of Bronson's abode, the 1869 directory provides additional details which I feel add to our understanding of what living in “Kalamazoo” was like for Bronson's family.

The cabin “was built of small logs one upon another grooved at the ends so as to fit all around closely, the chinks being stopped with wood and filled with mud – with small oblong apertures for windows on the side, another and larger in front for a doorway, and still another in the roof for the chimney – made of sticks and clay (but often there was only a hole in the roof through which the smoke, after lingering with the family and the household goods till 'all was blue,' would wander out at its own sweet will).
“The roof flat, but sloping, was composed of poles and thatched with straw. When the weather was inclement blankets would be put up at the windows, or the head of the family found it a convenient place to stretch a coon-skin to dry, with “the wooly side out and the fleshy side in.” At night a blanket or sheet would serve as a door, and often the house-dog, watching at the threshold would arouse his master when the saucy wolves, whose howl made darkness hideous, approached too near.
“Within the hut comforts seemed entirely wanting. There was no floor, the furniture comprised a camp-kettle, frying-pan, knives and forks, and some tin plates, two stools, and a bedstead made by inserting two poles into the side of the house, and supporting the other ends, (kept apart by a cross-piece) from the ground, by wooden legs – bark of the elm or basswood being used in place of bed-cord. Beds were made upon the ground for the children; the cooking was performed outside when the weather would permit, the fire-place inside being a mere space of ground in the corner set apart for that purpose under the hole in the roof.
“A little patch of ground had been planted, near the house, to corn and potatoes – but in many respects the life of the pioneer was, for some time, but a little above that of the Indian; he relied more upon his rifle than his harvest. In this dwelling was a family of five, the father, mother and three children.” [2]

This was the humble beginning of our city. How did Bronson become Kalamazoo? Apparently, Bronson had a falling out with other early landowners and moved away in 1836. For a little more of that interesting story I refer you to a one-page article in the Fall 2011 issue of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum's publication, Museography (just re-named MuseON). The Bronson article can be viewed on page five at:

  1. Kalamazoo Telegraph, 1877-6-28, P4, Col3
  2. Kalamazoo County Directory With a History of the County From its Earliest Settlement. 1869. James M. Thomas, compiler and publisher. Stone Brothers, Book and Job Printers. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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