Historical Report

Title: Report on the historic use of the property commonly known as the Kalamazoo State Hospital Colony Farm, the Michigan State University Agricultural Experiment Orchard and the Lee Baker Farm.

Written by: Larry B. Massie, 9 February 1991

Summary: Larry B. Massie, a well known local historian, was hired by Western Michigan University to conduct a historical study of land uses of the Colony Farm Orchard, Asylum Lake property and the Lee Baker Farm (now known as the Gibbs House property)

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Click on the following headings to take you to that section of the report:

Kalamazoo State Hospital Colony Farm
Table of Agricultural Products
Colony Farm Orchard
Lee Baker Farm

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Kalamazoo State Hospital Colony Farm

The approximately 324 acre tract which would become the Kalamazoo Asylum for the Insane (hereafter referred to as the Kalamazoo State Hospital to simplify its several name changes) Colony Farm was originally purchased from the government in 1831 by Phineas Hunt. In 1835, Niel Hindes, a pioneer from New York state acquired the land from Hunt. At the time of his acquisition "the farm was partly timbered land and but little of it improved, with no buildings save a log house." (1) By the time of Hindes' death on August 22, 1874, "the farm had become a beautiful one, with a fine house, outbuildings, orchards, etc."(2)

In the summer of 1887, the Kalamazoo State Hospital purchased the "Hindes Farm" from Margaret S. Smith, one of Hindes' daughters, for the sum of $10,000. Over the next few months the State Hospital also purchased several smaller parcels on the northern periphery of the Hindes Farm, most notably the D.D. McMartin farm (Asylum Lake had originally been known as McMartin Lake because of his association with it).

The State Hospital trustee's report for 1890 documents the rationale for, use of, description of and early history of the Colony Farm also referred to as "Fair Oaks":

After witnessing the practical workings of the colony idea at Brook Farm, (which was at first looked on somewhat in the light of an experiment), its adaptability and many apparent advantages, both to the patient and the state, the trustees recommended its adoption as the most feasible plan of increasing at Kalamazoo accommodations for the insane; asked authority of the legislature to purchase 600 acres, and to put up buildings thereon to meet the existing necessities. The plan was indorsed, two colony houses were authorized, but the amount of land was reduced. That restriction was a matter of no little regret. In obedience to the act, the "Hind's Farm" was secured, containing 320 acres, located about three miles from the asylum, on an elevated plateau, all under good cultivation, excepting a small portion of low land skirting lakes, included in the purchase, and about 40 acres covered with large native oaks, which has given rise to the name "Fair Oaks."

The site selected for the cottages is on the high banks south of the main lake, undulating and sloping towards the shore. With a grove forming the background, the lake in front and the Michigan Central Rail Road beyond with its many passing trains, ever objects of interest and wonder to patients, this spot affords the necessary seclusion without solitude and contains a combination of desirable features seldom equaled.

On taking possession of the farm, the old dwelling house was found to be in a fair state of preservation and, although not arranged for the purpose, it was enlarged and fitted up for the accommodation of 20 patients and their attendants. It is now occupied by male patients who assist in the house and farm work as required. No patient is permitted to engage in any occupation unless his strength will permit and he is likely to be benefited by the exercise. A few of those occupying the house are old men who find much comfort in living in the country with the liberty given them.

Van Deusen Cottage

Van Deusen Cottage

The transfer of the property to the state was effected in June, 1887, too late to accomplish much in the way of building during the season. The site for one house was, however, cleared of trees, excavations made and the necessary material collected by the first of September. Notwithstanding the embarrassments encountered, the walls of the "Van Deusen Cottage" were put up and enclosed before winter. The following year the building was completed and occupied with female patients. The Van Deusen Cottage is built of brick with partition walls of the same material, containing the heating and ventilating flues.

On the first floor are the sitting rooms, hall, stairway and room for one attendant; in the rear, the dining-room, kitchen, pantry, laundry and lavatory, bath, clothes-room and water-closet. On the second floor are the dormitories for patients, attendant's room, clothes-room and water-closet.

The building is heated by steam, by indirect radiation. Fire places are provided for day rooms and dormitories. The basement is high and dry, paved with cement and contains boiler and radiating surface. Cold air is admitted through windows into the basement, which is entirely devoted to heating purposes.

The "Palmer Cottage" was commenced in 1888, completed and occupied in November, 1889. This cottage is also built of brick, with partition walls of the same material, containing the heating and ventilating flues. It is arranged to accommodate 80 patients. This cottage contains on the first floor, two day rooms, hall and stairway, attendant's room, dining-room with china closet, the old ladies' dormitory, kitchen, pantry, store-room, laundry, clothes-room, bath-room and water-closet; on the second and third stories, attendant's rooms and dormitories for patients, which are all associated, excepting of a few rooms at the south end of the building, designed for the sick and those requiring such accommodations. This building is also heated by steam, boiler and radiating surface located in the basement. Fire on the hearth is used for heating and ventilating purposes and for the cheer and comfort it imparts.