Saturday, August 23, 2014

Heroes in the Stones

Rochester's historic Mount Avon Cemetery is a place of stories waiting to be told and remembered. The Rochester Avon Historical Society will present some of those stories on Saturday, September 27, 2014 in its third annual Cemetery Walk, entitled "Heroes in the Stones."

Tour guests will meet some of the people buried at Mount Avon, brought back to life through the skills of historical re-enactors dressed in period costume.  The re-enactors will tell the stories of some heroes who lie at rest in our cemetery, including a Revolutionary War patriot, a War of 1812 veteran, and a World War II defense industry worker who was killed in the line of duty.  The 1925 Mount Avon mausoleum will also be open for visits by tour guests during the event.

The cemetery walk is a major fundraising event for the Rochester Avon Historical Society and supports the organization's local history education and historic preservation initiatives.  If you appreciate the work that RAHS has done and is doing, such as the restoration of the World War II Honor Roll, the restoration of the Beerbohm mural at the RCS administration building, the restoration of the historic Butts surrey, the walking tours, the free local history programs at the library, the theatre project, and more, you can support these efforts by attending the cemetery walk.

Tours will depart by shuttle van from the municipal parking lot at Third and Walnut streets at 20 minute intervals between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.  Tickets are issued for a specific tour time, so buy your tickets early to have the best selection of tour times.  Tickets may be purchased in person at the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce office at 71 Walnut Street during weekday business hours, or online from the RAHS online store.

Please join RAHS on September 27 to celebrate our Heroes in the Stones.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

At Home in Rochester: Godfrey F. Hamlen House

Hamlen house on North Oak in 2014
 This house on the west side of North Oak Street was built around 1925 as the family residence of Dr. Godfrey F. Hamlen and his wife, Anna.  The house originally stood at 725 North Main, directly across from the old Charles S. Chapman estate (and immediately north of the location of the Rochester Athletic Club in 2014).

Godfrey F. Hamlen was a native of Canada and an 1896 graduate of the Detroit College of Medicine. He practiced for a few years in Commerce Township and Farmington before locating in Rochester in 1906, and continued his private practice here until his death in 1933. (He was not related to the pioneer Hamlin family of Avon Township, spelled with an 'i'.)

In February 1953, as preparations were being made to build a new A & P supermarket on North Main, the Hamlen house and two others near it were moved to make way for the new construction.  The three houses stood on a hill immediately north of the supermarket construction site; they were moved to allow excavators to cut down the hill and use it to fill in the low-lying parcel where the construction was taking place. The Hamlen house was moved to North Oak, and its immediate neighbors, the Albertson and Drace houses, were moved to Ferndale Avenue.
Hamlen house at original location on N. Main, date unknown

After it was relocated to North Oak, the Hamlen house was reconditioned and offered for sale for $13,000 by Max Hartwig realty.

To read more about the history of the Hamlen house and view more photos, visit the property's record in the Oakland Regional Historic Sites database.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bygone Business: Michigan Wildflower Company

If you ask most people what seed company was based in the Rochester area, they'll probably name the Ferry-Morse Seed Company that operated a large farm and experimental garden on Rochester Road between Hamlin and Auburn.  That is a correct answer to the question, but it is not the only correct answer.

Ferry is well-known locally for the operation they established in Rochester just after the turn of the 20th century; however, Rochester was also home to a plant and seed company before the turn of the century.  Wilford A. Brotherton, a botanist who was born in Oakland County of one of its pioneer families, lived on West Fifth Street (now University Drive) in Rochester and operated a mail order seed and nursery business from his home as early as 1891.  Known alternately as W. A. Brotherton & Co. or Michigan Wild Flower Company, the firm advertised in gardening and horticulture publications nationwide and shipped product all over the country.

Wilfred Brotherton was active in a number of professional organizations including the Michigan Academy of Science and the Michigan Ornithological Club. He also taught botany at Rochester High School for a time. He died in Detroit in 1914 and was buried at Mount Avon Cemetery.

Some of the Brotherton catalogs have survived the years; click here to view an example from 1891.

Friday, August 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester area residents were becoming acquainted with a brand new entertainment venue in the community: the Meadow Brook Music Festival.  The inaugural festival was held at the end of July and the beginning of August in 1964 in the brand-new Howard C. Baldwin Memorial Pavilion on the campus of Oakland University. Meadow Brook was the exclusive summer home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director Sixten Ehrling.

During that first season in 1964, Meadow Brook Music Festival was a local event, but its popularity grew quickly. So great was the interest, that after two years the university had to open a new road from the festival area to Adams Road to create an additional outlet for concert traffic.  By the time the venue reached its third summer season, it had developed a regional following.

For more information about Meadow Brook Music Festival's fiftieth anniversary, including some photographs from the early years, click here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Subdivision Stories: Twin Oaks

The Twin Oaks subdivision in the City of Rochester is bounded by Fourth, Third, Castell and Wilcox streets, with Wesley Avenue running right through the middle of it.  When the village of Rochester was first laid out by surveyors in 1826, this property was part of outlot 14 of the original plat of the village.  Over time, the village outlots were further subdivided and platted with the streets and alleys that we know today.

In 1925, this portion of outlot 14 was platted by owner Robert H. Bitters, who named the new subdivision Twin Oaks. Plat names often reflect the names of their developers, and sometimes the streets in the subdivision are named in honor of their family members. In the case of Twin Oaks, all of the streets in the plat are simply continuations of streets that had already been laid out in the older plats to the north and east.
As far as the name of the subdivision itself is concerned, no paper record exists to inform us of the reason for the name, but perhaps we need only to use our eyes.  These formidable twin oak trees stand just to the east of the intersection of Third and Wesley, like gatekeepers to the subdivision. It may well have been these trees that inspired Robert Bitters in naming his subdivision.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The Van Hoosen - Case House

This historic house at 522 Oak Street, near the Rochester Municipal Building, is 126 years old this year, and is connected to one of the most prominent families in Rochester's history.

When John Van Hoosen built the house in 1888, his property stretched over 4 lots from Oak Street all the way to Pine Street, and fronted on Paint Creek.  In the days before it was re-routed, Paint Creek ran much closer to the foot of Oak Street than it does today, meaning that the lot on which this house stands was once highly-desirable riverfront property.

John Van Hoosen and his wife Mary built the house as their family home, but the couple divorced in 1894 and sold the property to Charles Wallace Case, a young man who was working as a clerk in his uncle Harvey Taylor's hardware store on Main Street.  C. W. Case bought out his uncle a few years later and established the C. W. Case Hardware store that was a landmark on Main Street for almost seven decades.

Meanwhile, the Case family occupied this house on Oak Street until Charles Case's death in 1944.  Case raised purebred poultry on the property, for which he won many awards and medals in poultry shows nationwide.  Several additions have been made to the house over the years and it has been remodeled as a multi-family dwelling, but many of the original exterior details of the house that are visible in an 1897 photo of the building can still be seen today, well over a century later.

The Van Hoosen - Case House is one of Rochester's historic gems.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bygone Business: Nye Manufacturing Company

If you travel down Oak Street between Third and Fourth, you'll pass an ordinary-looking apartment house in the middle of the block on the west side of the street that doesn't give any outward sign of the history it harbors.  But if walls could talk, this building would definitely be a place for us to do some listening.

The Seventh Day Adventist Society of Rochester purchased this lot in 1881 from George W. Vandeventer.  Local oral history says that the Society then moved its meeting house from another location to this lot, so the actual date of construction of the building is not known.  The Adventist Society sold the property in 1893, when the congregation apparently dissolved, to a local carpenter named Merritt M. Nye.

Merritt Nye turned the building into a factory for his Nye Manufacturing Company, which produced a bean picker of Nye's own patented design.  The 1896 plat map of Rochester even shows the Nye Manufacturing Company building at this location. The implement was not an economic success, apparently, for only three years later Nye abandoned the enterprise and returned to his former occupation of carpentry.  As for the building, the Rochester Era reported on November 5, 1897: "The Nye Manufacturing Company are turning their shop into a double dwelling house, one of which will be occupied by M. M. Nye and wife."  The Rochester correspondent to the Utica Sentinel reported in early 1898 that the work on Nye's double house on Oak was almost complete.

Since 1898, the building that began its life as a church and then became a factory has been used as a multiple family dwelling, probably giving it the additional distinction of being the oldest apartment house in the City of Rochester.