Kalamazoo Township's Nod to Back Bay, Boston

Dec 10, 2015

Mark Kole was traveling a few years ago when he noticed something strange. “I went on vacation to Boston," he says. "And looking at the map I see alphabetical streets and I’m thinking, okay, I know these streets." He knew them because they had the same names, and ran in the same order, as four streets in Kalamazoo Township.


The first is Arlington, followed by Berkeley (Berkley in Kalamazoo Township), Clarendon and Dartmouth. Kole used to live on Kalamazoo’s Arlington Street, near the City of Kalamazoo’s West Main Hill neighborhood.

In Back Bay, Boston, the streets are part of an alphabet that runs through letter H. In Boston and Kalamazoo Township, they’re crossed by a Commonwealth Avenue.

“I assume that as the city expanded and they started adding streets, somebody with a connection to Boston must have decided to go ahead and those name streets like they did, on purpose,” Kole says.

WMUK’s “Why’s That?” looked into how five streets in Kalamazoo Township ended up with the same names as streets in Boston. The first step: to find out who developed that part of town – who bought a piece of land, carved it up into lots and put streets between them.

For these blocks, it happened in 1901. The developers called the area Summit Park. Berkley Street lost its middle E at some point; on the original plat record, it's spelled Berkeley.

“You see around this time period all this growth in the area around the perimeter of the city,” says Western Michigan University Archivist Lynn Houghton.

Houghton says between 1900 and 1910, Kalamazoo’s population grew about 60 percent. In 1901 Summit Park would have been in the suburbs. Ads and articles in the Kalamazoo Gazette extolled the view from West Main Hill. Houghton says developers promised that streetcar service was soon to come.

“The other thing that they talked about with this area which I thought was a little humorous is that somehow the water was so much better there than in other areas of Kalamazoo. They don’t go into any detail but they just say that the water is better,” she says.

Houghton says Summit Park came with an unusual amount of hype for a new subdivision, including a lengthy ad campaign. Promoters offered free carriage rides to the site. And they held special events.

“They even had a contest, where they were giving free land to cutest baby and the most beautiful woman in the Kalamazoo area,” she says.

The Kalamazoo Gazette covered the contest, in an article whose style shows its age.

“The babies were all pretty - at least their mothers said they were – and so to avoid having his hair pulled by disappointed mothers the judge allowed several of the most prepossessing to draw lots, the winner being Aletta L. Bauman of Kalamazoo,” says an article from the next day, May 26, 1901.

As for the “prettiest woman” contest, it continues, “When it came to dividing the question of beauty among the many attractive ladies present, the judge was at first completely at sea, and wished that someone who had more experience with the fair sex were in his place.

“But just as his courage was at its lowest ebb, Miss Alice M. St. John joined the group. And the question was settled. He immediately awarded her the lot.”
 
But how did Kalamazoo’s Summit Park end up with Bostonian street names? One clue is that the plat record was notarized in Massachusetts. And it names the owners: a married couple, Alice Ames and James Sumner Draper.

“He graduated from MIT in 1889 and became a very successful real estate developer,” says Dabney Draper, the great-granddaughter of James Sumner and Alice Ames Draper.

Dabney says James Sumner, born in 1868, lived in Massachusetts all his life. At the height of his career, Draper owned lots of property in Boston – including many homes in Boston’s Back Bay, home of the ABC streets repeated in Kalamazoo Township.

“And then he lost his money in the Depression. But he paid off all his debts,” she says.

James Draper died in 1936. His wife Alice lived another three decades.

Dabney says she doesn’t know how her great-grandfather, living in Massachusetts, would have thought to buy land in Kalamazoo. She says it’s possible it had to do with horses.

“He was an international horseman and world champion for his harness racing horses,” she says.

Dabney says perhaps James Sumner came here for a show and saw the booming real estate market. She says it’s also possible he had some relatives here. Western archivist Lynn Houghton says she thinks there must have been a family connection.

“We had Drapers that lived in this area and we also had Sumners that lived in this area,” she says.

Mark Kole, who discovered Draper’s nod to Boston in Kalamazoo, says it makes sense that if Kalamazoo was booming, Draper would have looked to buy land here.

“And maybe he did that in other cities too. I’m kind of wondering if he had other business ventures like this going on in other parts of the country,” he says.

“Why’s That?” answers your questions about the things that make you curious in Southwest Michigan. Tell us what in the region has always made you wonder.
 

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