Monday, February 16, 2009

Main Street Stories: The Morse Block

A landmark building anchoring the west side of Main Street between Third and Fourth is the Morse Block, at 321-323 S. Main. Lorenzo D. Morse, a pioneer businessman and farmer in the village of Farmer's Creek, near Lapeer, relocated to Rochester after retiring from farming and built a home on Walnut Street. In the autumn of 1880, he started construction on a brick business block in the middle of Main, touching off a rebuilding of the downtown area that replaced most of the simple frame structures with more substantial commercial blocks. The Morse Block was built by the firm of Kennedy & Emmet of Lapeer, and the cost of construction was estimated to be approximately $4,000 at the time. The building opened for business in April of 1881, and the first tenant was Lemuel W. Hudson, who operated a grocery and pharmacy, along with the post office and American Express office.
The 321 side of the building housed a drug store for the first nine decades of its history. After L.W. Hudson, William S. Starring operated a drug store there for many years. He was succeeded by William Ford's drug store in 1923, and Ford was succeeded by Purdy Drugs in 1944. Purdy gave way to Hunter Drugs in 1963, the last in the line of pharmacies to occupy the space. Janet Varner's dress shop has occupied 321 since 1975.
The 323 side of the building has variously housed the A.E. Collins dry goods store, the Lou Shueller dry goods store, Selma's Smart Shoppe, the Mole Hole gift shop and, since about 1985, the Plain & Fancy gift shop.
The Morse Block is among the oldest business blocks on Main Street, and celebrates its 128th anniversary this spring.
Photo: This circa 1907 view of the Morse Block shows the William S. Starring Drug Store and the Batdorff & Shueller dry goods and grocery store.

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