Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

This month is the forty-first anniversary of one of the most devastating fires in Rochester's downtown business district. In the early morning hours of December 12, 1968, a fire started in the Case's Hardware building at 335 S. Main Street. The blaze was first discovered at about 4:15 a.m. when a resident of one of the apartments in the National Bank of Detroit building next door was awakened by strange noises and realized that the adjacent hardware store was burning. The apartment resident called the fire department and awakened his neighbors, insuring that everyone was safely evacuated and possibly saving several lives through his actions.

According to William A. Cahill's history of the Rochester Fire Department, the Case's fire was a three-floor attack that was difficult work for the firefighters. Additional alarms were sounded and brought the Brooklands, Avondale and Lake Orion fire departments to the scene. By 5:20 a.m., the Troy fire department had responded to a fifth alarm after Rochester's veteran 1937 Seagrave truck blew a hose line. As firefighters attacked the fire from the Main Street side of the building using Troy's brand new aerial truck, others fought the fire from the alley side, elevated in the bucket of a Detroit Edison truck.

Cahill relates that the blaze was further fueled by the flammable goods and chemicals normally found in hardware stores. The intense heat of the fire also ignited the live ammunition stored there, making the firefighters feel as though they were in a war zone.

Weather conditions worked in the firefighters' favor, as the temperature was above freezing and winds were not a factor. Firefighters were able to save the surrounding buildings and there was no loss of life or serious injury.

Case's Hardware, however, was a total loss. The inferno had completely gutted the building and collapsed the storefront. My dad remembers that the huge safe in the office had fallen to the basement when the floor collapsed, and Byers' wrecker had a very difficult time pulling it out of the rubble. The losses were estimated at more than $100,000, and the cause of the fire was never precisely determined because of the utter destruction of the building. Case's Hardware, which had been a fixture at that location since horse and buggy days, never re-opened. The rubble of the old building was removed from the site and a new, one-story structure replaced it at 335 S. Main.

This photo from the collection of Marjorie and the late Walter Dernier was taken about 1960, and shows how the building appeared at the time of its destruction. The original storefront had been covered with the "modern" facade in 1955.


  1. The Case's Hardware fire was the talk of the town and it seemed as though everyone came out to see what happened. I remember that my Dad bought me a Barbie doll from Case's back when they were just over $2.00. It was a wonderful store, filled with everything you could ever want.

  2. i remember when the store burned down they sponsored my little league team mid 1960's