In 1854, United States Senator Charles Stuart bought some land from Frederick Woodward and began building his impressive Italianate Villa at 427 Stuart Avenue. By 1864, only three homes were in the neighborhood; this "suburb" was too far away from downtown for all but the wealthy merchants who could afford the luxury of driving or riding to work in their own buggies. The first horse-drawn trolley cars began their rounds in the 1880s. They made Senator Stuart's urban area more accessible to middle-class families, who began to build spacious, comfortable homes in what is now known as the Stuart neighborhood.
The neighborhood borders downtown Kalamazoo, which boasts the nation's first pedestrian mall, the Civic Theatre, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Bronson Hospital, award-winning Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and civic and commercial centers. Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan University, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College are all within walking distance. Many churches and parks are located nearby. The Metro Transit bus routes provide easy access to the rest of the metropolitan area, and the major east-west routes bisect the neighborhood. The historic Woodward Elementary School (k-6) is within the neighborhood and boasts a restored clock tower and a spacious playground. The Stuart neighborhood is also home to St. Augustine Cathedral School and Comensoli's Italian Bistro & Bar. Several churches are in or near Stuart, and various amenities are close by.
The homes and residents
The Stuart neighborhood includes an impressive collection of Italianate Revival and Queen Anne residences. Many are little changed from when they were built in the 1870s and 1880s, a time generally known as the Victorian era. A variety of well-preserved homes have been frequently open to the public because of the many homeowners willing to open their doors for the Historic Homes Tour. People can stroll through the neighborhood and catch a glimpse of past achievements in fine architecture and restored interiors.
Until the 1970s, houses were gradually being converted to multi-family use. Since then, the involvement of residents, mainly through the Stuart Area Restoration Association (SARA), is helping to restore the original character of the neighborhood and encourages the preservation of these unique homes. The area was declared a local historic district in 1976 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The local historic district designation affects the exteriors of the houses. Most changes must be reviewed and approved by the Historic District Commission, which is appointed by the Kalamazoo City Commission.
Unique to Stuart is its diversity of houses and a diversity of uses, from single-family to multiple dwellings, many of which are owner-occupied. As in any typical neighborhood, there also exists a welcome variety of residents. A nurse, salesperson, or banker, taking advantage of the easy downtown commute, might share a block with students and professors wanting to live near the colleges. There are senior citizens who have lived here most of their lives; they provide a human link with the history and architectural past that is so visible. New residents find themselves welcomed by neighbors who have a strong feeling of neighborhood pride and unity.
The Stuart Area Restoration Association
The Stuart neighborhood is not just a geographic area; it is also the people who have organized themselves into the Stuart Area Restoration Association. SARA, a non-profit volunteer organization, was founded in 1973 by residents seeking to preserve the area's quality of residential life, both physically and socially. Aided by a part-time administrator, SARA publishes a newsletter; represents the interests of the neighborhood before the city and other governmental agencies; organizes social, educational, and beautification activities; serves as a clearing house for information; and manages this website. SARA's executive director can help tenants and landlords if a problem arises, find a helper for a senior citizen, locate a house to buy or rent, or find a lawn-mowing job for an enterprising youngster.
In 1995, through grants from local foundations, SARA was able to purchase and rehabilitate a house at 530 Douglas Avenue to have a permanent location and presence in the neighborhood. The upstairs is a two-bedroom rental, and the downstairs is a disability accessible neighborhood center, board room, and SARA office.
If you are new to the Stuart neighborhood, or are interested in the possibilities of becoming a homeowner or a resident, SARA can help answer your questions about living in one of Kalamazoo's finest historic neighborhoods.