Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

An important community institution was born fifty years ago this month.  On July 11, 1965, a group of 400 people assembled on some pasture land recently owned by Howard L. McGregor, Jr.  The property was just west of St. John Lutheran School, and the crowd watched as Ormond S. Wessels pushed a shovel into the ground to mark the beginning of construction for Crittenton Hospital.

Two years later, Rochester's first full-service general hospital would open its doors to patients.  Before that day, the community had been served by small hospitals or clinics such as Avon Center and Woodruff-Geiger; residents had been accustomed to traveling to Pontiac, Mount Clemens or Detroit for anything the local clinics couldn't handle. Building a fully-equipped hospital and emergency room was a huge step forward for the community and its health care needs.

View Crittenton Hospital Medical Center's video, above, to see how the facility and campus have grown and changed since 1965.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Parallel Lives: The Hamlins and the Woodwards - Now Online

If you missed the Rochester Avon Historical Society's February program on the lives of the Hamlin and Woodward families, here's some good news!  The program, entitled Parallel Lives: the Hamlins and the Woodwards, is now available online in its entirety on the RAHS Youtube channel.  If you're interested in the stories of two of Rochester's prominent pioneer families, take a look at this program.

Monday, June 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester residents learned that they would soon be saying goodbye to a treasured local business that had been a Main Street fixture for 65 years.  The owners of Burr's Hardware announced that they were selling out and retiring, ending their long run as hardware merchants that had started in 1899.

In that year, a young Macomb County entrepreneur named George Burr had established a hardware and farm implement store on Main Street.  His store was located for several years on the east side of Main, in the former Joseph Reimer building at 418 S. Main.  Having outgrown that location after his first decade in business, he built a brand new brick block across the street at 429 S. Main  and moved his store there in late 1914.

In 1922, George Burr retired from the business he had founded and passed the management of the store to his daughter, Neva, and her husband, Ward Crissman.  Burr died in 1934 and Ward Crissman died suddenly in 1935; at that time, Neva Crissman brought her own daughter, Arlene, and son-in-law Leon Robertson into the business, and they continued to manage it until they decided to close the hardware store and sell the building in June 1965.

Green's Artist Supply opened at 429 S. Main in late summer 1965, and celebrates its 50th anniversary in that location this year.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Remembering Blodwen Morris Falconer

In a couple of weeks, the world will observe the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. Code-named Operation Dynamo, the evacuation was carried out between May 27 and June 4, 1940.  A large number of British, French and Belgian troops had been cut off and stranded on the northern coast of France by a Nazi Panzer offensive.  A hastily-assembled fleet of privately owned boats of all sizes and purposes was successful in rescuing more than 338,000 troops from the beaches and ferrying them to larger naval vessels, or in some cases taking them all the way across the English Channel.  As they conducted the evacuation, these boats had to navigate heavily-mined waters and endure bombardment by German shore batteries.

The men who volunteered their services and their boats to evacuate Dunkirk were rightly hailed as heroes.  However, they were not the only heroes of Operation Dynamo. Though the evacuation was a huge success and dubbed a miracle, it was not without cost.  Over 200 ships were sunk during the operation and 126 merchant seamen were killed.  Many others were wounded or had been wounded during the fighting that led up to the evacuation.  These men were tended by the nurses who stayed with them throughout the treacherous journey across the English Channel -  through the mine-filled waters and under constant bombardment.

What does this have to do with Rochester?  In a quiet corner of Mount Avon Cemetery lies a hero of the Dunkirk evacuation.  Her name is Blodwen Morris Falconer, and she was a Canadian citizen and registered nurse who served with the English Civil Defense Corps during the war.  She was present at the Dunkirk evacuation to tend to the wounded and was decorated for her service.  After the war, she and her husband came to Michigan, and eventually to Rochester, where she died in 1953.  Her obituary in the Rochester Clarion said in part:

World War II Dunkirk Heroine is Dead; Received Bronze Medal
One of the highly honored veterans of World War II passed away last Wednesday afternoon when Blodwen Faulconer [sic], 3380 John R., died at Pontiac General Hospital shortly after admittance.
Mrs. Faulconer, born at Edmonton, Ontario [sic], was a member of the first contingent of nurses on hand to give aid to the wounded survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II. She was a graduate of Grey's Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital of its kind in the world.
Wearing the cap of a registered nurse, and as a member of the English Civil Defense during the Dunkirk evacuation, she was awarded a Bronze Medal for her heroic and outstanding services at that time.
Born on April 1, 1915, Mrs. Faulconer moved to Detroit from Toronto in June 1949. She came to Rochester in 1950.
This Memorial Day, when I visit Mount Avon Cemetery, I think I'll leave some flowers at the grave of Blodwen Morris Falconer, to remember her service. I invite you to do the same.

In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the evacuation of Dunkirk, watch this British Pathé newsreel footage:




Friday, May 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

A half century ago this month, Rochester residents were talking about a new state law that would require photos to appear on driver's licenses beginning on July 1, 1965.  The law was a potential problem for the village of Rochester, which at the time issued driver's licenses at the police department.

My father remembers that when he applied for his first license in the early 1950s, his father took him to the police station in the old municipal building at Fourth & East Alley.  There was no written or road test. Sam Howlett, chief of police, pointed to my father and asked my grandfather, "Can he drive?"  My grandfather replied, "As well as I can, I guess."  That was good enough, and Chief Howlett issued the license.

With the new law requiring photos on licenses, the village had to decide whether to invest money in camera equipment and time in training to produce the new cards. Another option was to give up the license business altogether, which would require Rochester residents to travel to Pontiac to the Secretary of State branch office to conduct such business.  In May 1965, the village fathers decided to keep the license service, at least for a while.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester area residents were thinking about traffic. Specifically, they were concerned about the intersection of Rochester and Avon roads, which only had a blinker as a traffic control device - not a stop-and-go signal.  Leader Dogs for the Blind, located on a corner at that intersection, expressed concern for pedestrian safety and asked for a regular traffic light to be installed.

The state highway department initiated a study of traffic passing through the Rochester/Avon intersection and issued a report a few weeks later. According to state officials, a blinker light was all that was required, as the intersection had insufficient traffic to warrant the installation of a regular signal.

Local residents persevered, however; four months later, the highway department reversed its earlier decision and ordered a stop-and-go traffic signal installed at Rochester and Avon.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

At Home in Rochester: Samuel Baldrie Jackson House

This house on the north side of Seventh Street, east of Wilcox, was built in the fall of 1891 and is celebrating its 124th birthday in 2015.  Local carpenter and contractor Abram F. Burd built the house as a residence for his daughter, Maretta, and her husband, Samuel Baldrie Jackson, who had been married two years before, in 1889.

At the time, the Wilcox Paper Mill stood at the northern terminus of Wilcox Street, on the edge of today's Rochester Municipal Park. The Wilcox family was selling residential lots in the vicinity of the paper mill, and a number of new houses were being built in the area.
Jackson house as depicted in the 1897 publication Beautiful Rochester.
 The Rochester Era reported on September 18, 1891: "A. F. Bird [sic] is breaking ground for a new residence near the Rochester paper mill, between his home and that of W. H. LeRoy. It will be modern in all its appointments, and when completed will be occupied by Sam Jackson and family." About three weeks later, the Era further reported: "Sam Jackson's new home near the Rochester paper mill was raised last Tuesday by A. F. Bird." A photograph of the house appeared on page 17 of the promotional booklet Beautiful Rochester, published in 1897, and was captioned "residence of S. B. Jackson."

Samuel Jackson was associated with his brother, John F. Jackson, in the Jackson Foundry in Rochester. His father, William H. Jackson, had bought out the old Jennings Foundry in 1877, a business which had been located in Rochester since before the Civil War. Samuel Jackson attended school in Rochester and had the distinction of being the only boy in the Rochester High School graduating class of 1882.