Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vanished Rochester: The Charles Chapman Estate

After the Western Knitting Mills moved into its new, state-of-the-art factory in Rochester in 1896, the company's president and general manager, Charles Sherwin Chapman (1864-1912), decided to relocate his family from Detroit to Rochester as well. On April 28, 1899, the Rochester Era reported that “ground was broken last Monday for C.S. Chapman's new residence on the bluff north of the village.” The house, overlooking Paint Creek on the east side of North Main Street, was one of the few residential designs created by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn. Chapman named the estate “Oak Bluff” for its obvious natural attributes and enjoyed the fact that he could commute from his home to his office at the Western Knitting Mills by taking a small motorboat across the mill pond that stretched between the two locations.

Chapman, his wife Minerva Robbins, and his children Frank and Doris made their home in the stately shingle-style mansion. After the deaths of the senior Chapmans, the house passed to the ownership of Frank Chapman (1901-1977) and his sister Doris Chapman Blackwood (1896-1989). Frank's wife, Lou Blackwood Chapman (1900-1992), told me in an 1980 interview that she remembered fondly the hand-carved staircase and fireplace mantels, heavy stone walls, and music room. She also recalled that the bathroom was “enormous,” with decorative cupids painted on the large tub and on the ceiling as well. A billiard room was located on the third floor. The Era reported that the estimated cost of construction of the house was $20,000.

Neither Frank nor Doris Chapman chose to live in their childhood home after the death of their mother, and leased the house for use as the Stoney Croft rest home, a nursing home for women. According to Lou Chapman, that arrangement ended after authorities determined that the house lacked sufficient stairways and other safety features for use as a residence for the infirm. After Stoney Croft moved out, the house was closed up, but was often visited by squatters and vandals. Concerned about liability, the Chapman family placed the property on the market and sold it for redevelopment. On February 13, 1968, the community was shocked by the sudden destruction of the house and the mature oak trees that surrounded it when the developer abruptly bulldozed the property. There was considerable public outcry over the loss of the once-elegant landmark, but lacking any viable alternative for the property, the owners had considered themselves out of options. The unfortunate loss of the C.S. Chapman house was one of the events that served as catalyst for the formation of the Rochester-Avon Historical Society in the year that followed.

Photo: View of the Charles S. Chapman estate formerly located at 714 N. Main. Today, the Rochester Square Apartments occupy the site


  1. A pillar to a stone wall surrounding the property is still standing next the sidewalk, with a plaque informing pedestrians that this is all that remains of the Charles Chapman estate.

  2. My wife's grandmother was the lady who rented the house for aged ladies. She has fond memories of dressing up and playing in the music room and the stairway and we still have hand made lace from one of the ladies.