Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Record Harvest

With all of the growth and development that has happened in our community over the past half century, it is sometimes difficult to picture the Rochester area's agricultural heritage. But it really wasn't so long ago that the farmers of Avon, Oakland and Shelby were a strong economic presence here.  Witness this check, written by the Rochester Elevator in August 1953, in payment for what was at that time the largest single wheat crop that the elevator had ever purchased.  The seller was William A. Fisher, owner of a 250-acre farm on the southwest corner of Rochester & Avon roads. Fisher had been the president and one of the founders of the Fisher Body Works, and used his Avon Township farm as a country retreat when he wanted to get away from city life.

This check represented the proceeds from the sale of 9,310 bushels of wheat and a yield per acre from the Fisher farm of 38 bushels. The Rochester Clarion, which published this check on its front page in 1953, noted that the yield would have been much higher if Fisher's wheat crop had not been seriously damaged by a tornado in mid-June of that year.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

In September 1964, Rochester saw the construction of a new church building when Ridgecrest Baptist Church broke ground for a new sanctuary at 1181 Harding Road. Built by Larry Aulgur of Utica, the facility included a 200-seat sanctuary and classrooms.  Members of the congregation did much of the finish work on the building themselves. 

Ridgecrest Baptist was started as a mission church by Columbia Avenue Baptist Church of Pontiac and first met in the old Masonic block on East Fourth in downtown Rochester.The congregation was dissolved in 1995, and the building became the home of the New Life Baptist Church, and after that the Goodnews  - Detroit Church.

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.