Kalamazoo City
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train-croppedInterstate 94, the State's major east-west artery, bisects the City, providing direct access to Battle Creek, Jackson and Detroit to the east, and St. Joseph and Chicago to the west. U.S. 131 is the City's principal north-south highway, providing direct access to Grand Rapids. Other major highways providing access across the City and the County include M-89, M-43, and M-96.

Two major airlines provide daily air service from Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport to major hubs with worldwide connections. Amtrak provides passenger rail service, while Norfolk Southern and CN North America provides freight service to the area.

Intra-city bus transportation is provided by the City's Metro Transit system while Greyhound and Indian Trails bus lines provide transportation for the area. In 2006, the City officially opened the new Kalamazoo Downtown Transportation Station, which houses all ground transportation for the area.

Metro Transit ridership trends have fluctuated since 2001. According to the 2003 Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study, 38.35% of Metro Transit passengers are considered "captive" riders versus "choice" riders. Captive riders are those passengers who have no driver's license, no automobile available in their household or no other alternative means of personal transportation.

In November, 2006 citizens passed a millage that would support the expansion of the City's transportation system to include the County. The Kalamazoo County Transportation Authority (KCTA) was created in January 2006 by the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners with purpose of integrating public transportation services into a county-wide system. Governed by a nine-member Board and managed by an Executive Director, the KCTA works collaboratively with the City of Kalamazoo's Metro Transit to provide quality transportation on a county-wide level. 


Kalamazoo Public Schools boasts one of the lowest pupil-teacher ratio among urban schools. With over 10,000 students enrolled in the district, there are currently 16 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools and eight alternative/ adult education schools. At present, the student to teacher ratio is 15:1. KPS graduates about 85% of its students.

There are also private, public and charter schools in the surrounding area. Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (K-RESA) provides quality educational support services and programs to public and private school districts as well as non-public charter schools throughout Kalamazoo County.

Many organizations support the Kalamazoo Public Schools such as the Kalamazoo Communities in Schools (KCIS), which brings together major service providers, school officials, community volunteers, business leaders and other concerned citizens to focus on the needs of K-12 schools and students. Through its network of community partners, KCIS strives to help children and youth successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life. KCIS also teams up with the largest national "stay-in-school" organization, which has been selected by "Worth Magazine" as one of the Nation's best charities for return on investment two years in a row.

The Kalamazoo Promise is a program designed to guarantee educational opportunities for students in Kalamazoo Public School. All students who graduate from KPS, have continuous residency and enrollment in the district and have been KPS students four years or more are eligible for the program. Anonymous donors fund up to 100% tuition for eligible KPS graduates. Tuition is only guaranteed at public colleges and universities in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Promise was featured on a February 2007 broadcast of the CBS news. Read the transcript.

kcentral hsStatewide, over 80% of the students taking the third and fourth grade MEAP mathematics assessment and third, fourth, and fifth grade reading assessment met or exceeded expectations. Over 70% met or exceeded expectations in the fifth grade mathematics test; the fifth and eighth grade science tests; the sixth grade social studies tests; and the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade reading tests. Likewise, over 79% of the students taking the third through eighth grade mathematics and English language arts MI-Access assessments reached the Attained or Surpassed levels.

In 2006, all students in grades three through eight were assessed in Mathematics and English Language Arts, in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which doubled the number of Michigan students tested to nearly one million.

Find out more about Kalamazoo Higher Education Opportunities.

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 Higher Education

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Davenport University

Davenport University, headquartered in Grand Rapids, has a very active campus for non-traditional students in Kalamazoo. Davenport University offers four-year and two-year degrees as well as certificates in various subject areas. Currently, there are more than 1,200 students enrolled in the Kalamazoo campus.
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Kalamazoo College

Kalamazoo College, a private, nationally ranked, four-year liberal arts college, has an enrollment of over 1,200 students and has been ranked among the nation's top 100 best liberal arts colleges by US News and World Report. Kalamazoo College is known for its international education focus and the K-Plan, which allows students to customize a number of outstanding educational options to produce a unique collegiate experience.


kvcc logo new transKalamazoo Valley Community College

Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC), a two-year public institution, has a total enrollment of more than 10,000 students and boasts small class sizes.  KVCC offers associate degree programs and a variety of certificate programs.


BroncoLogo transWestern Michigan University

Western Michigan University (WMU), which now boasts an enrollment over 26,000 students is now the 4th largest university in the State and is one of the 50 largest universities in the country.  WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences building opened adjacent to the Business and Technology Research (BTR) Park which houses other technology-based companies such as Stryker, Tekna, Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, Richard Allan Scientific and Nasco Technology Corporation. Additionally, new buildings include the College of Health and Human Services as well as the new constructions of the 83,000 square-foot chemistry building and the 45,000 square foot Richmond Center for Visual Arts facility. 

WMU outlines its Kalamazoo Promise offer here.


Other institutions with satellite campuses in Kalamazoo include Spring Arbor UniversityCornerstone UniversityUniversity of Phoenix.


Awards & Recognition

The City of Kalamazoo has received many awards and honors. Some include:


Exemplary Source Water Protection Award (Large Groundwater Systems), American Water Works Association

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association


Exemplary Wellhead Protection Program Award (Large Groundwater Systems), American Water Works Association (Michigan Section)

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association


Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association

View Archive of Awards & Honors

Vision & Values

Arcadia in winter

Based on the pdf Blueprint for Action , by 2015, Kalamazoo will be a city where residents move easily, by motorized or non-motorized means, between vibrant neighborhoods, including an active downtown that is the focus of important community activities. It will be the regional center of cultural, educational, and economic activity and health care services. And it will have well-established, well-preserved and well-used greenways and open spaces, including neighborhood and community parks that are effectively interconnected by bikeways, pedestrian paths and roads. Diversity will be a virtue and Kalamazoo's vitality will be sustainable with balance among the needs of the environment, the economy and the social needs of its residents.

The City of Kalamazoo established a value system that substantiates its foundation through community interconnectedness. These values include:

  • Belonging - inclusive community building
  • Economic Opportunity & Stability - creating a stable local economy
  • Equity - equal treatment and access to community systems
  • Safety & Security - feeling safe and secure
  • Sense of Community - open communication between government and citizens
  • Shared Leadership - citizen, corporate citizen and government cooperation
  • Striking A Balance - creating a livable and sustainable community

Kalamazoo strives to be the place of abundant opportunity for all its citizens. Our community's vision and values help make Kalamazoo a great place to live and work. We offer reputable schools, colleges and universities, two nationally recognized healthcare systems, diverse housing stock, well-maintained roadways, award winning wastewater treatment plant, safe and secure neighborhoods, accessible parks, lakes and golf courses. The City of Kalamazoo also offers many of the cultural attractions that you would find in larger metropolitan areas, including art, theatre, dance, music, restaurants and much more.



During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, European fur traders made their way to the area now known as Kalamazoo County and set up trading posts. At the time, members of the Pottawatomie inhabited the area, but by the 1820s pioneers began making permanent settlements in the vicinity.

Titus Bronson, the first non-indigenous settler in Kalamazoo, arrived in June 1829 and purchased a large tract of land. By March 1831 the first plat was recorded for the Village of Bronson, which included Jail and Academy Squares, parcels of land that would eventually become Bronson Park.

The Michigan and Huron Institute (renamed Kalamazoo College in 1855) was granted a charter in 1833, while The Michigan Statesman, a weekly newspaper, which would become The Kalamazoo Gazette, was founded in 1835.

Perhaps the biggest change for the Village of Bronson happened in 1836 when the name was changed to Kalamazoo, a word derived from the Algonquin language but its true meaning is still debated.

hist2-hoseahuttonAlthough Kalamazoo's beginnings involved a peaceful relationship between the settlers and Pottawatomie, it drastically changed when the Pottawatomie were forcibly removed from the area in 1840. Kalamazoo was incorporated as a village in 1843 and trustees were elected to approve the charter. Hosea Huston, a local merchant, was elected as the first President of Trustees.

Following incorporation, Kalamazoo experienced a boom in industry thanks in part to being connected to the Michigan Central Railroad in 1846. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Kalamazoo was a leader in celery cultivation and marketing due to an influx of immigrants from Holland, while the paper industry took off as well. Kalamazoo was the site of the Michigan Asylum for the Insane, which opened in 1859 and was the first of its kind in the State of Michigan.

From 1861 to 1865, the nation was embroiled in the Civil War, and over 3,000 men represented Kalamazoo County during the conflict. During the late 1860s and 1870s Kalamazoo was connected to the Kalamazoo, Allegan, and Grand Rapids Railroad; The Grand Trunk Railroad; and The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. Kalamazoo also made public welfare improvements by creating a municipal well and waterworks. In 1874, the "Kalamazoo School Case" allowed school boards to levy taxes, which led to free high schools in Michigan.

hist3-cityThe late 1870s and early 1880s saw more improvements for Kalamazoo. The first telephone line connected the Merrill and McCourtie Mill to its downtown offices in 1878. When sanitary and storm sewers were constructed during the early 1880s, the City Engineers had the foresight not to merge the two. In April 1884, the villagers of Kalamazoo voted to become a City. The largest village (16,500 citizens) in the United States became the City of Kalamazoo. Banker and entrepreneur Allen Potter was elected the City's first Mayor.

The industrial age was upon America and Kalamazoo was in the thick of it. Up to the turn of the century, Kalamazoo was known world-wide for the production of wind engines, carriages, pharmaceuticals, corsets, musical instruments, fishing reels, stoves, mint oils, cigars, playing cards, regalia, paper products, celery, beer and coffins.

The captains of industry also filled City Hall as Mayors and Aldermen. The electric light plant opened in 1886. Also that year Michigan's first Savings and Loan was created in Kalamazoo. The Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw Railroad came to Kalamazoo in 1888. Borgess Hospital was founded in 1889.

Street cars, first horse-drawn and then electric, allowed workers to live farther from their jobs and urban sprawl was born along with some of Kalamazoo's finest neighborhoods. Kalamazoo boomed at the turn of the century with population growing an impressive 62% from 1900 to 1910.

Several local automobile manufacturers tried their luck at capturing the driving public's fancy, with none succeeding. Even the well-regarded Roamer, a luxury car, was defunct by 1928. As the carriage makers, cigar manufacturers, and celery growers declined, new industries were born. The paper industry reigned supreme with numerous mills turning out a variety of products.

Flinch, manufactured in Kalamazoo, was the world's favorite card game. The interurbans provided quick, cheap inter-city transportation. In 1903, Western Michigan University opened as the Western State Normal School educating future teachers. Bronson Hospital was founded in 1904. The Bijou motion picture theater debuted in 1906. Caroline Bartlett Crane advocated cleaner streets and more importantly hygiene for the meat packing industry.

Prohibition came to Kalamazoo in 1915 and the saloons and breweries closed. Baseball, cycling, Grand Circuit horse racing, and an amusement park at Oakwood Beach entertained the City. New City parks created during this time were Milham, Crane, West Main, Muffley, Sherwood, the Waterworks park and Henderson Park. The United States entered World War I in 1917 and the 126th Infantry from Kalamazoo commanded by Colonel Milham Park Joseph Westnedge took heavy casualties. Col. Westnedge was one of those casualties. His brother Richard preceded him in death in the Spanish American War. The City honored the two brothers by renaming West Street Westnedge Avenue and renaming the old cemetery on West Street Joseph B. Westnedge Park in 1920.

Many reforms were sweeping the nation after the turn of the century: prohibition, women's suffrage, recreation for the masses, hygiene, and new types of local government. Kalamazoo set up a Charter Commission in 1917 led by pharmaceutical innovator Dr. William E. Upjohn. The proposed charter followed the Dayton (Ohio) Plan which called for a City Manager-Commission form of government. The new charter passed and a new City Commission was elected on April 1, 1918. For a few years afterward, the City's politics convulsed over the new government. Opponents' attempts to overturn the new charter succeeded, then failed at replacing it. Finally, the City accepted the Manager-Commission and it remains the City's form of government today.

In the same postwar period, Spanish Influenza or Swine Flu decimated populations all over the world. Kalamazoo 'fared better than most' according to the City Health hist4-milham parkOfficer. From September 1918 to April 1919, 4,064 cases of influenza were reported including 125 deaths. The national death rate from the flu was 4 per 1,000 population. Kalamazoo's rate was 2.5 per 1,000. On October 17, 1918 the City Commission, by resolution, prohibited public gatherings, specifically at churches, theaters, movies, pool rooms, dance halls etc. The quarantining of flu patients was instituted by the Board of Health on December 9, 1918. On December 17, public gatherings were again allowed as the number of new influenza cases declined.

The roaring twenties also roared in Kalamazoo. Buoyed by a burgeoning economy, the City's pay-as-you-go plan resulted in a new City Hall in 1931, financed without bonded indebtedness or increase in property tax. Kalamazoo's first municipal golf course, Gateway, was developed in 1924 south of Michigan Avenue where WMU now stands. The flapper lifestyle doomed one Kalamazoo industry, however, the corset manufacturers. Celery was now sharing the fields with pansy cultivation and the fresh flower industry took off. Checker Cab became the only lasting Kalamazoo automobile manufacturer. Michigan's first municipal airport, Lindbergh Field, was the precursor of the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting depression doomed those companies teetering on the brink of insolvency. The City's relief programs provided assistance to the City's unemployed until 1933 when the federal WPA programs took over. In spite of the depression, the City paid off its last bond in 1938 becoming America's only debt-free city over 50,000 people.

WKZO, Kalamazoo's first radio station, began broadcasting in 1931. Milham Park Golf Course opened the same year. Western State Normal School President Dwight Waldo's forceful personality saved the school from permanent closure proposed by State budget cuts. World War II reversed the City's problems. The Depression left the City low on income but with lots of labor. WWII production eased the monetary restraints but severely limited manpower. One third of the workforce and 11% of City employees were in the armed forces according to Willis Dunbar. The City lengthened airport runways, set up Victory gardens on City property and built a canning plant to preserve the food grown.

By the end of WWII, the City's infrastructure was suffering from four years of neglect. With thousands of men and women from Kalamazoo County returning from World War II, and the subsequent baby-boom, a rapid expansion of the community began. The roads, water and sewer lines struggled to keep up with the demand, particularly in the outlying areas and a subsequent series of annexations by the City more than doubled its geographic size by the end of the 1950s. Leading to an increased investment in infrastructure, the expanding City eschewed the pay-as-you-go model and undertook an impressive number of public work projects including road widening and paving and leading eventually to a new Wastewater treatment facility.

In 1959, the City of Kalamazoo adopted part of plan from Victor Gruen & Associates to close sections of Burdick Street and create the nation's first open-air pedestrian shopping mall. As Burdick Street closed to automobile traffic, the nation's new interstate highway system opened the area to further economic growth. By 1963 both I-94 and US-131 were completed, connecting Kalamazoo to Detroit, Chicago and Grand Rapids with four-lane divided expressways.


Runway expansion and a new terminal also brought increased traffic to Kalamazoo's airport. Along side these public improvements, businesses in Kalamazoo expanded rapidly, particularly manufacturing industries. Post war economic growth lead to expansion or increased production at Checker Cab Co., Upjohn, Kalamazoo Vegetable Paper Company and the Sutherland Paper Company among others.

In 1966, General Motors opened its 2,000,000 square foot Fisher body plant along I-94. Demand on the educational infrastructure surged as well, and new public and catholic high schools, Loy Norrix and Hackett, were constructed along with many other new or expanded facilities. These soaring student populations were not reserved for grade schools. The Western State Normal School had been renamed a college and by 1957 was Western Michigan University. The enrollment had far more than doubled between the end of the war and 1960, and had doubled again by 1968. To meet this demand, the University expanded to a new West campus included in the City's annexations.

In 1950, the first local television station, John Fetzer's WKZO, began transmitting into homes. The area also shared in the nation's 'cold war' fears, and the city built or designated fallout shelters, installed warning sirens and organized rehearsed disasters to prepare for possible emergencies. In 1957 and 1958 Kalamazoo was chosen as 'typical' of American cities and represented the nation in exhibits in both Great Britain and Germany, recognizing its similarities with other communities across the United States.

hist6-burdickstKalamazoo also shared with the nation a growing racial unrest through the 1960s. Discontented with economic and social inequality, Kalamazoo's African-American leaders organized boycotts of Northside retailers over hiring practices and thousands marched downtown in the summer of 1963 protesting poverty and access to equal employment and housing. On December 19th of that year, Martin Luther King spoke at WMU's Read Fieldhouse urging a spirit of brotherhood between black and white, but by 1967 civil disobedience turned to rioting and hostility. In separate incidents in Kalamazoo's Northside and Downtown areas mob violence broke out, as well as at Central High School which housed the majority of the school district's black students compared to the predominately white Loy Norrix facility.

Meanwhile, peaceful upheaval was occurring in local government. Kalamazoo's first black City Commissioner, Arthur Washington Jr., was elected in 1959. A former head of the Kalamazoo NAACP, Washington served until 1966. Gilbert Bradley was elected the City's first black mayor in 1971 and in 1976 Robert Bobb was appointed the first black City Manager. The parallel drive for gender equality helped pave the way for Kalamazoo's first female Mayor, Caroline Ham, in 1981 and City Manager, Sheryl Sculley, in 1984.

hist7-tvOn May 13, 1980 a tornado swept through downtown Kalamazoo damaging much in its path. Economic decline had already begun to ravage the community. Like many Midwestern cities so dependent on the post-war manufacturing boom, Kalamazoo struggled with the effects of increased unemployment combined with decreased revenue for both businesses and governments. As plant after plant boarded up or relocated, the City of Kalamazoo struggled to cope. In particular, the paper industry once prevalent along Portage Creek and the Kalamazoo River, all but disappeared from the area.

Globalization forced 'downsizing' and job losses at Upjohn, which had become the area's largest employer. The company started in Kalamazoo would eventually merge with Pfizer, then the world's largest pharmaceutical company. First of America bank was purchased by National City, an Ohio-based company. Global competition also caused great losses in the automotive industry, a bedrock of Michigan's economy. Like many others across the Midwest, the Fisher body Plant closed in 1992.

hist10-raddisonTo operate more efficiently, the City of Kalamazoo's Fire and Police departments were consolidated into the Department of Public Safety in 1982 and officers were cross-trained for better and quicker response.

Economic development within the City looked for creative ways to counter this trend. Investment in downtown became a priority, led by the City's Downtown Development Authority. Projects included the redevelopment of the Arcadia Commons area featuring a new home for the Kalamazoo Valley museum and an outdoor festival site to draw citizens downtown. The Kalamazoo Center, a hotel/convention facility opened by the City in 1975, was sold and eventually renovated extensively as a Radisson hotel.

Automobile traffic was reintroduced on the downtown mall. A third campus for Western Michigan was built in the southwest corner of the City, and this new Business and Technology Research Park was a joint effort of the state and local governments.

Kalamazoo also looked to reuse the sites of its abandoned factories. Brownfield sites utilized federal and state dollars to clean up highly polluted areas creating attractive packages of incentives for new businesses to reinvest in the area. Several of these sites were located in the downtown districts.

In 2005, Kalamazoo Public Schools drew national attention by announcing the Kalamazoo Promise. This philanthropically funded program promises college tuition, up to 100%, to graduates of the district's high schools with appropriate grades.



About Kalamazoo

About Kalamazoo


The City of Kalamazoo was founded in 1831, when Titus Bronson (1778-1853) recorded the original plat for the Village of Bronson at the County Register of Deeds Office. Shortly thereafter, Governor Lewis Cass selected the village as the site of the county seat, which spurred the rapid development of the community. Bronson, an eccentric and argumentative man, often found himself at odds with his fellow settlers. After a series of incidents, including being fined for stealing a cherry tree from another settler, his enemies successfully changed the name of the town to Kalamazoo in 1836. 

Today Kalamazoo hosts the Kalamazoo Promise, three higher learning institutions, two nationally recognized healthcare systems, diverse and affordable housing, award winning water and water reclamation systems, and many parks, lakes, and golf courses. A wide variety of industries and businesses call Kalamazoo home, including major players in the pharmaceutical, medical science, and craft beer industries. The City also offers a many cultural attractions that you might only expect to find in larger metropolitan areas including music, visual art, dance, theatre, and more! 

Kalamazoo is located in southwestern Michigan approximately 136 miles west of Detroit, 73 miles southwest of Lansing, and 145 miles east of Chicago. The City, also the county seat, is easily accessible from both I-94 and U.S. 131, which cross the State from east to west and north to south, respectively. 

The true meaning of the name Kalamazoo remains uncertain. The most widely accepted explanation comes from a Potawatomi legend. Fleet Foot, in order to win his bride, had to run from the settlement down the river and back again before a pot of water could boil away. The translations "boiling pot," "boiling water," and "where the water boils" originate from this legend. Others have said the name translates to "mirage," "reflecting river," or even "smothered." 


Census Reporter Data on the City of Kalamazoo

Census Reporter Data on Kalamazoo County

U.S. Census Quick Facts


Best College Cities & Towns in America, December 2015

Top Ten Cities for Creatives, smartasset.com, July 2015

You're going where? Kalamazoo is tired of your Creedence Clearwater jokes, the Washington Post, June 2015

29 Cities all Twentysomethings Should Pick Up And Move To, buzzfeed.com, March 2015

Best Cities for Work Life Balance, nerdwallet.com, August 2014

Exemplary Source Water Protection Award (Large Groundwater Systems), American Water Works Association, 2014

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association, 2014, and each of the previous 20 years

Exemplary Wellhead Protection Program Award (Large Groundwater Systems), American Water Works Association (Michigan Section), 2013