Posts Tagged ‘Normal Railroad’

In the beautiful scrapbook that belonged to one of the Culver sisters, I discovered a postcard of Western State Normal School (Western Michigan University now) in Kalamazoo. I’ve never seen this view of the campus before. More of my relatives (and moi) have attended Western than any other school. I need to start a list of all the ancestors and relatives who are Western alumni.

I’m not sure of the year the postcard was published because the  back of the postcard indicates it cost 1 cent. Postcards cost that amount over a very large period of time. All it means is that it was not printed during WWI when the price went up to 2 cents. After the war, they went back down to 1 cent.

Because my business school classes were on what eventually became known as “East Campus” (the original site of the school), I remember the long walk up the hill, but it sure didn’t look like this. Neither did the buildings.

I searched online and found a postcard from 1910. If you click through the postcard you will go to site where I found it. It belongs to WMU.

Why do the red brick buildings look white in my postcard? Notice the tennis courts seen from this view. Now I can see that Oakland Drive is not down there. So maybe this is on the other side of Oakland? Apparently not. (Confusing!)

Here is a 1925 map of the campus, and on here it is easy to see where Oakland Drive is. If you want verification click through and go to the WMU website. When you put your mouse over the street it will show up as Oakland Drive.


Why is the same bus or trolley at the bottom of the drive in both photos?

Well, what do you know? That little trolley has its own Wikipedia page!

From Wikipedia:

The Western State Normal Railroad, also known as the Normal Railroad or Western Trolley, was a funicular [a cliff railway] which operated on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the United States from 1908–1949. It is the only known example of a private railroad operated by a university.

In the early 1900s the primary campus of Western Michigan University, then known as Western State Normal School, was located on Prospect Hill (this area is now known as East Campus). To reach the buildings students and faculty faced a forbidding 150 step-climb, often in inclement weather. In an effort to address this problem, the school constructed a funicular along the northeast corner of the hill. The base of the line was at Davis Street, while the summit lay between East Hall and North Hall. There were two tracks, each with a cable-hauled car.

At its peak the railroad carried 2,280 passengers daily, but rising maintenance costs combined with the growing popularity of the automobile hastened its demise, and it carried its last passenger in 1949.In 2002 four senior engineering majors at WMU embarked on a project to build a replica of one of the trolleys. This proved no easy task: following the closure of the railroad in 1949, no effort was made to preserve the cars. The only physical remnant was a bench saved by a faculty member; while there were sketches and photographs for reference, no actual blueprints had survived. Commenting on the situation a WMU official remarked that “back then was a period in history so intent on the future, that everyone started forgetting about the past.”

Despite these challenges, the students successfully completed their project, which was unveiled April 8, 2003, and currently occupies a prominent place in front of the Bernhard Center on Western’s primary campus. Local residents and Western alumni who had ridden the trolley testified to the authenticity of the restoration.

Because I often get sidetracked in too many directions and because my time has been so limited, I need to make a list of all the projects to tackle in the future. Figuring out “who all” has gone to Western needs to top the list!


Originally I thought all the Culver photos were from after they moved to Seattle from Kalamazoo. Then it was discovered that some of the photos were from Kalamazoo. This postcard was in a stack with travel postcards and photos within the scrapbook.

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