Monday, May 4, 2009

Main Street Stories: Detroit Edison Building

The first electric power provided to Rochester came with the streetcar lines in October 1899, but only a few weeks after, the Rochester Electric Light & Power Company was incorporated. A decade later, on May 14, 1909, the Rochester Era announced that “the Edison people are in full possession and control of the Rochester Light & Power Co.” and that they had purchased a lot at the corner of Third and Main on which a power station would immediately be built. Two weeks later, the newspaper reported that ground had been broken for the promised substation. The building plan was described as having three parts: a high tension room, a machine and switchboard room, and a front office. The $12,000 stucco-over-concrete block building went into service in October 1909.

Rochester residents visited the Detroit Edison office to pay their electric bills, to have small appliances repaired, or to exchange spent light bulbs for new ones at no charge. The light bulb service (it wasn't really free – Detroit Edison actually factored the cost of the bulb replacements into its electric rates) was ended by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1976. In Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co., a druggist who sold light bulbs in his store argued that Detroit Edison violated federal anti-trust laws and restrained his trade by its monopolization of the light bulb market. The high court found in his favor.

Detroit Edison used the building at 234 S. Main as its office until the late 1980s, after which a number of retailers occupied the space. It is currently home to The Beauty Corner, Ros's Cabinets and some professional offices. The Detroit Edison building celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

Photo: This circa 1912 postcard from Rochester Hills Public Library's online collection shows how the Edison building looked not long after it was built.

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