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Second Friday of the month (third Friday in five-week months) at 6:45 am, 8:45 am and 5:44 pm. Why's That? explores the things in Southwest Michigan – people, places, names – that spark your curiosity. We want to know what makes you wonder when you're out and about.

Why's That: How did Parker Street become Pioneer Street?

Sehvilla Mann

The street signs say Pioneer, but the stamps in the sidewalk indicate that wasn't always the street's name.

This story originally aired in November 2021.

Sharon Ferraro is the City of Kalamazoo’s historic preservation expert. She’s come to the historic Vine neighborhood to help answer a question about a name. But Sharon and I are early to this meeting with our question-asker. While we wait, Sharon looks for something in the sidewalk.

“There it is!”

Ferraro brushes some leaves away revealing a street name stamped in the concrete. This is common in older sidewalks in the City of Kalamazoo. The strange thing is, we’re on Pioneer Street, but the name in the sidewalk is Parker Street.

“Howdy!” Ferraro greets our question-asker Emily Greenman Wright as she arrives from her house down the block. Emily says she’s long wondered why the street sign and the sidewalk stamp don’t match.

“I think I probably first noticed in 1992, walking home from South Junior High,” she says.

As you may have guessed, Pioneer Street used to be called Parker Street. But Parker and dozens of other Kalamazoo city streets got new names in the 1950s, for reasons well-documented in newspaper stories and meeting notes.

We walk down the street to Emily’s house and settle into the living room, where we can review some records. Emily reads from a Kalamazoo Gazette story from February 1956.

“It says, ‘Street Name Group Chosen. A street naming committee was appointed by the city commission on Monday night. The group will work towards standardizing names of streets in the city and eliminating duplicates.’”

Ferraro explains that in the mid-50s, the city grew rapidly as it annexed surrounding neighborhoods. It ended up with a bunch of duplicate or very similar street names. Including two Parker Streets, the original one in Vine plus Parker Avenue in South Westnedge. Emily skims a Gazette article explaining how the duplicates were messing up mail and emergency service.

Close up of a doorway on a tan brick building, with ivy covering part of the wall. "Parker Booster Station, 1939" is inscribed above the door
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
A City of Kalamazoo water station still bears the street's old name.

“This was a major issue apparently enough,” she says.

Emily turns to the next article. More than a year has passed – we’re now in March 1957. The street renaming committee has sent a proposal to commissioners to rename 32 streets, including Parker Street in the Vine. It’s not clear why the original Parker street had to give up its name.

But when Emily gets to the part of the story about Parker Street, the suggested change is not Pioneer, but Low Road.

Low Road is one of two winding streets that joins the former Parker Street at its west end. The street-naming committee thought it logical to simply extend the name down the road. But residents apparently disliked this proposal. Emily turns to some city meeting minutes from later that month. They include a letter from a man named Edgar Krasts, who argued the street should not be called Low Road.

For one thing, “The present Parker Street has been called a street for many long years,” he wrote. “It is well paved, with sidewalks, and lived on like all other streets in the neighborhood.”

Autumn picture of a leafy residential street on a hill, with a couple of cars parked in the foreground
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
The former Parker Street is not a low road.

And furthermore…

“To his way of thinking a road means an open way somewhere in the country or in the suburbs of a city, but within the city we should have streets,” Emily says. "'The present Parker Street goes up a hill and therefore, highly located. It seems to me illogical to name it Low.' I agree! ‘If renaming of the present Parker Street is necessary, I suggest it be renamed to Parma Street or Peter Street.’”

Presumably those proposals were rejected. It’s not clear who finally suggested the street be called Pioneer, but a couple months later the city signed off on this change.

“Having been part of a lot of public hearings, it really does tickle me that these are exactly the same. This reads exactly the same of every citizen comment I have ever read, about anything that I’ve ever been involved in changing. So this is really sweet,” she says.  

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.
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