Rufus Darling and the First Train in Kalamazoo

By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Finding stories about the lives of our ancestors is always a joy. In this story, my wife’s 2nd great aunt, Emma Darling, relates the story of the arrival of the first train to Kalamazoo.  The sound of the shrill whistle, certainly heard for the first time by many of the townspeople, created excitement that emptied the churches on a Sunday. Besides that story, more information about my wife’s 2nd great grandfather, Rufus Holton Darling and there is even a brief mention of my wife’s 3rd great grandfather, David Swayze.

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, MI) 9 July 1916, Page 6

Transcription by Don Taylor

Miss Emma Darling has invitation sent her father for Railroad banquet in 1846 

“On the Southeast corner of Main and Burdick streets was the old and well-known dry good stand of Goss and Darling (with the Gazette office upstair)” so says the late George Torrey in his history of Kalamazoo. Continuing Mr. Torrey states “next was the dry goods store of Clark and Kendal, (Foster and Underwood, tailors upstairs; father down was Farrell’s shoe store; then came Benj. M Austin’s jewelry shop; next to the Wolverine exchange kept by the indomitable Col. Hosea B. Huston with Patrick’s restaurant underneath it; next east was the “New York store,” kept by Camp and Company I think.” 

All this was in September 1844 when the Michigan Telegraph, edited and published by Henry B. Miller made its first appearance. These were early days in the history of Kalamazoo and it is only a few who now remember that the first store built in Kalamazoo was that of Goss and Darling on Main and Burdick street, built by Rufus H. Darling and David Swayze. This corner was at that time only a wooded spot.

Within a short time, this corner will meet another change when the present brick buildings will be razed that a handsome new building may be erected for the First National bank.

Miss Emma Darling, who still resides on a portion of the land purchased by her father, Rufus H. Darling, at Cedar and Rose streets has many interesting souvenirs of the early days of Kalamazoo.

Has Railroad Contract.

“My father,” said Miss Darling, “had the contract for building the Michigan Central railway from Michigan City through to Grass Lake and on its completion a banquet was given for which I have the original invitations sent to my parents. I had it framed that it might not be destroyed and it reads thus:

Kalamazoo. February 5, 1846


The Central Rail Road having been completed to Kalamazoo, and our citizens being desirous to furnish to its friends a supper. You are respectfully invited at the Kalamazoo House, on Wednesday Evening, Feb 11th.

Committee of Arrangements

      • A. Edwards             M Binsddill
      • Anthony Cooley    S. Trowbridge
      • D. S. Walbridge     Milo J. Goss
      • S. B. Davis               J Burdick
      • I. Moffatt, Jr.         Chas. E. Stuart
      • D. B. Webster         R. S. Gage

“Nearly everyone has heard the story of the arrival of the first train in Kalamazoo on a Sunday,” said Miss Darling “and of how everyone on the toot of the whistle jumped from their seat at church service and went to investigate the noise.”

First Train Arrived.

In connection it might be well to quote from the diary of Alex. J. Sheldon, many of his notes being included in the Torrey History:

Tne “St. Joseph” — First Train to travel from Detroit to Kalamazoo.

Monday, February 2, 1846 — A most lovely day. This morning the cars, which came in on Sunday (yesterday) commenced their regular trips. I forgot to mention that a car was run upon the wood to this place last Sunday week. At about half-past two o’clock p. m. on that day, just after divine service had commenced in the churches, the shrill, loud and prolonged shriek of the coming locomotive startled the congregation, producing a sensation of the liveliest character. The sanctity of the day and the place, the eloquence of the preacher, were in a moment forgotten in the excitement of the occasion and the yearn which possessed the heart of every villager to see “the cars”– and took but a short time to transfer the audience from the sanctuaries to the show-ground, where the locomotive, “St. Joseph” and a single car stood revealed to the astonished and delighted people. This afternoon and old barn near Sheldon’s bookstore was fired but Ghoh Glynn and myself put it out. Aleck Sheldon and Clem McNair went around this evening and got a call signed for a fire company.”

Feb. 11–Railroad celebration and supper at Kalamazoo House.”


  • 1845 – Rufus Darling had the contract for building the Michigan Central railway from Michigan City through to Grass Lake.
  • 5 Feb 1846 – Rufus Darling was invited to attend a railroad banquet on February 11, 1846.
  • 1844 – the Goss and Darling dry good store was the first store built in Kalamazoo.
  • 9 Jul 1916 – Emma Darling lived at Cedar and Rose streets.
  • 2 Feb 1846, the first train arrived in Kalamazoo.


Article: Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, MI) 1916-07-09, Page 6 – “Darling has Invitation sent her father for Railroad Banquet in 1946.” Accessed 18 Dec 2019 via Genealogy Bank.

Train image. “Kalamazoo Railroads, Interurbans, Buses, and Transit History,” 2019. Migenweb.Org. Accessed 19 December 2019. back of this photograph identifies the subject as a locomotive built in 1836 that was the first steam engine to run from Detroit to Kalamazoo…. Date and location of the photo not given.”

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