Additional information about the
Once known collectively as "The University Farm", the University properties just east of Michigan 131 and south of Stadium Drive include the Colony Farm Orchard, the Asylum Lake property, and the Lee Baker Farm.
In 1887 the State of Michigan acquired McMartin Lake and adjacent property to serve as the farmstead for the Michigan Asylum for the Insane, already established in Kalamazoo on Asylum Avenue (now called Oakland Drive). The adjacent Colony Farm was later added to the farmstead. The farmstead was called Asylum Farm and Lake.
Large 'cottages' were constructed on the Asylum Farm for patients, doctors and nurses. Paved walkways and sometimes underground tunnels connected the buildings. The Farm had its own power plant and sewer system as well.
At its peak the Asylum Farm cultivated vegetable gardens and orchards, and raised hundreds of dairy cows, pigs, and poultry.
The State gradually closed down the Farm in the 1960's. The property was deeded to WMU in 1975. Since then University faculty and students have made valuable use of the land and resources for scientific research, while the walkways and paths are open to the community for recreation.
In the early 1990's WMU President Diether Haenicke and other community and University leaders proposed developing the University Farms as a research and technology park. The park would be an economic engine for the region as well as an opportunity for the University to cultivate research and economic ties with business and industry. This proposal was soon dropped. The local neighborhood associations and others argued that the need to preserve the undeveloped land outweighed the benefits of development. There was also strong support for returning the land to its pre-farming vegetation, with large stands of oaks and fields of prairie grasses.
In 1998 WMU President Elson S. Floyd made the decision to develop the Lee Baker Farm for a new College of Engineering building and for a business, technology and research park. An agreement with the City of Kalamazoo allowed part of the Lee Baker Farm to be rezoned for business and light industry, while the University agreed to set the Asylum Lake property aside for passive recreation, leaving it undeveloped.
The Asylum Lake Focus Group was organized by Vice President Robert Beam in 1999 to create the goals, operating parameters, and documentation for the new Asylum Lake Preserve. The Focus Group, chaired by Fred Sitkins, Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, represented local environmental and conservancy groups, WMU faculty and researchers, neighborhood groups, and the City of Kalamazoo.
A Positions Statement was drafted and approved in 1999 and later presented to the WMU Board of Trustees. Early in 2004 the final documents, The Asylum Lake Preserve Management Framework and the Declaration of Conservation Restrictions, were presented to the WMU Board of Trustess. In the fall of 2004 the Asylum Lake Management Committee was formed, to be administered through the WMU Landscape Services.