Why's That: Does Arcadia Creek Run Under Waldo Stadium?

Nov 12, 2015

If you’ve followed the path of Arcadia Creek, you know it disappears for a while near Western Michigan University’s campus. You might have also noticed that Waldo Stadium is near the point where the creek moves underground. Listener Carl Doubleday wondered: does the creek run under Waldo Stadium?

Doubleday has had some years to watch Western Michigan University’s campus change. He came to Western “almost a half century ago” in 1962, stayed for graduate school, and then was hired by the university.

“I never left,” he says of Kalamazoo.

One building that he says has changed “a lot” in that time is Waldo Stadium. For one thing, it has more seats, and more people sitting in them.

“Used to be people everywhere except in seats. On the sides of hills - that was back in the days when you could ride a bicycle without a helmet. Now they’re too worried about liability with people sitting on those hills,” he says.

And it looks from the surface like Arcadia Creek could pass underneath, for the stretch where it’s underground.

“There’s water retention areas,” above ground, Doubleday says. “But I don’t see any moving water there. So, it’s going somewhere. There’s that missing link to the eye,” he says.

We took Carl’s question to Western Associate Vice President of Facilities Pete Strazdas. [An earlier version of this article stated Strazdas' title incorrectly. He is the Associate Vice President of Facilities, not the Vice President of Facilities.]

“I read like in the Western News or the Herald or something that one of problems was that Arcadia Creek still ran under playing field,” Carl says.

“Not true,” Strazdas says.

“Never?” Carl says.

“Never did. The creek does not flow under the stadium,” Strazdas says.

Instead, it runs nearby. But as Carl and I soon discover, Arcadia Creek has been through a lot in the last hundred years. In that simple answer – ‘no the creek does not run under the stadium’ – there’s a wrinkle.

Before the campus and four-lane Stadium Drive, Arcadia Creek ran through what one article describes as a “vast extent of low land.” Strazdas says that along with the stream,

“There were two or three ponds depending upon which writing that you read or which map you’ve looked at because they all vary a little bit back in the 1800s,” he says.

One of those ponds is still there, by Western’s power plant. A brewery stood near the creek by the end of the Civil War. It burned down in 1867 but a replacement went up. Strazdas says the successor was the Kalamazoo Steam Brewery.

“I suspect that they probably used the water for their processing and perhaps they discharged something from the plant,” he says.

Eventually Western’s campus would transform the area. But in 1903 when the Western State Normal School was established, it hardly dominated Arcadia Creek. Western director of archives Sharon Carlson says the school took a first step in 1912, when it bought a pasture to turn into a playing field.

“This is from 1915, an article, they need to change the course of Arcadia Creek because they are having problems with the creek flooding the athletic field,” she says.

Following some back-and-forth with neighbors and the city, the Normal School had the creek bed shifted to the west.

But Arcadia Creek was still a landmark. For a while, it even had a namesake on a piece of the future campus, on the wedge of land between Michigan Avenue and what’s now Stadium Drive. Carlson says by 1928, that land had become a golf course.

“They take the name of Arcadia and they call it the Arcadia Brook Golf and Country Club,” she explains.

For the creek, the biggest transformation came at the end of the 1930s. That’s when planners laid the road that’s now Stadium Drive. At the time it was also part of US Highway 12.

In January 1939 in the alumni magazine there’s an article called Goodbye to Arcadia Creek. And they’re talking about a 60 inch cement tile…

That was one of the pipes that would carry the creek under the new road. As it went under the surface, Western opened Waldo Stadium – on the site of the old playing field, the one that the creek used to run through.

Strazdas says Waldo Stadium has been associated with water in the past – because it used to flood.

“I recall being there and I saw one of our maintenance technicians, he was in at least a foot, foot and a half of storm water at the 50 yard line and he saw a fish, it was about a foot long,” he says.

Strazdas says the situation is better since the university added more retention basins. For Carl, that’s an ‘aha’ moment.
“Clearly what I remembered was ‘flooding of Waldo Stadium,’ ‘Arcadia Creek’ and ‘underground,’" he says. "But not necessarily in the context that it managed to record in my brain."

What in Southwest Michigan makes you curious?