why's that

Western Michigan University/Zhang Legacy Collections

Some terms cannot help but evoke the past. Think "orphanage" or "asylum," or perhaps "poor house." If that sounds like something you would find in nineteenth-century England, you don’t have to go that far. Many Michigan counties once had some kind of government-run residence for people in need. Kalamazoo had not just a poor house, but a “poor farm” on land that is now a county park.


The 32nd Division in the World War, 1917-1919 / Courtesy of Tom George

The Red Arrow Highway runs east from New Buffalo across Berrien and Van Buren Counties. Cross into Kalamazoo, and suddenly the road is called Stadium Drive. A listener asks: why? The road is named after a storied Division of the US Army. Wouldn’t the name “Red Arrow” pay better tribute to veterans?


Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

You don’t need a green thumb to notice that Kalamazoo is full of greenhouses.

“And they aren’t small ones. They’re very, very large,” says listener Barbara Bott.

They grow bedding plants – flowers and vegetables for home gardens. Barbara wants to know: why so many? Why here?


Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Two and a half stories underground at First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo, in a room filled with the din of air handlers, Pastor Nathan Dannison points into a recess in the wall.

“On the shelf up here you can still see some resources and materials from the Office of Civil Defense. Those are water canisters that store fresh drinking water,” he says.

That’s because, while it now serves as utility space, fifty years ago this room was intended to shelter people from the fallout of a nuclear attack.


John Todd / John Todd Collection, Portage District Library

Rosamond Robbert lived in Dublin and London, then moved to the US in the 1970s. When she got to Southwest Michigan, she wondered: why are Kalamazoo and Portage separate cities?

“Both with own taxes as far as I knew, both with their own rules, both with a board of governors and everything. And why’s that? They’re so teeny-weeny,” she says.


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