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Finding Kimball Homes

Image of likely Donald Kimball home from Saginaw GIS

Architect Donald Kimball was born in Saginaw in 1907, and he graduated from the University of Michigan's School of Architecture in 1929. He returned to Saginaw and worked in the Great Lakes Bay Region until he relocated to California in the mid-1950s. Over the course of two and half decades, he left his mark on the Saginaw Valley.

The archive at the Clarke Historical Library on the campus of Central Michigan University currently houses 6 cubic feet worth of his architectural drawings for Saginaw, Midland, Bay City, and more. He crafted churches, stores, office buildings, and schools, but houses remained the core of his portfolio.

Very few of Kimball’s drawings included the addresses for his projects, so tracking whether they were completed is a multi-step process. Taking note of the name of the commissioner and the date of the commission, we cross-reference Saginaw city directories for where the homeowner lived in the years before and after the commission. If the city directory indicates the person moved, we might guess that the person moved into a newly built home, so the new address is plugged into the Saginaw GIS website.

The Saginaw Area GIS is an interactive map of property information for the city collected from various government agencies. Using the map to search for a specific address presents a front and aerial view of the lot in question.

We compared the images from the GIS to the elevations drawn by Kimball. Do they match? If not, then it’s the wrong address and the search continues, but if so, then it’s a Don Kimball home! Do this enough times and you will notice Kimball’s reliance on a traditional style of architecture – and his fondness for exterior window shutters.

Soon we will have a more complete record of Donald Kimball designed homes with drawings matched to addresses. Saginaw residents will be able to learn more about who might have designed their home.

This post was written by El Webb, an intern from Central Michigan University who works partly on-site at the Castle and partly at the Clarke Library researching Donald Kimball’s architectural drawings. El Webb is a Public History major and Museum Studies minor planning to graduate this May with a Bachelor’s of the Arts.


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