Sunday, September 27, 2009

Selfridge Airplane Crashes in Avon Township

On a Thursday afternoon in March 1940, residents of Avon Township and the village of Rochester were looking up to watch two pursuit aircraft from Selfridge Field practicing dog-fighting maneuvers in the skies over town. The pilots of the two airplanes were assigned to the 39th Pursuit Squadron based at Selfridge, and they had been performing pursuit tactics in the area all afternoon when, at about 4:30 p.m., the P-35 airplane piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Wilmer W. Munzenmayer went into a stall. Having lost control of the craft, Lt. Munzenmayer bailed out, but plummeted to the ground when his parachute failed to open. His P-35 exploded upon impact and was destroyed by fire. The accident occurred over the Ferry-Morse Seed Farm in the area of Rochester & Auburn roads, and the wreckage was scattered over the entire seed farm area, the largest intact piece being the landing gear. Lt. Munzenmayer, age 23, was killed in the mishap and his body was removed to Selfridge Field by military ambulance. His remains were returned to his home in Kent, Ohio, for burial.

If you are interested in the history of Selfridge Field and the base's impact upon the history of southeastern Michigan, you are invited to attend the regular meeting of the Rochester Avon Historical Society on Thursday, October 1 at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Rochester Hills Public Library. Deborah Larsen, co-author of the book Images of Aviation: Selfridge Field, will present the program on the history of Selfridge, illustrated with photographs and newsreel footage of the historic airfield. The program is free and open to the public. Please join us.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Subdivision Stories: Woodward Addition


The second-oldest addition to the original plat of Rochester is the Woodward Addition, platted on April 20, 1874 on part of the farm of Lysander and Peninah Simpson Woodward. Lysander Woodward was born in Connecticut in 1817, the same year in which the village of Rochester was first settled, and arrived in Rochester with his wife in 1843. He was a prosperous farmer and one of the most influential men in Oakland County. He served variously as Avon Township supervisor, justice of the peace, state representative, Oakland County treasurer, and president of the Detroit & Bay City Railroad. He was chiefly responsible for bringing the first railroad line to Rochester. Lysander Street in the Woodward Addition is named for him.

This map of the Woodward Addition from 1896 shows the streets as they were laid out in the official plat that was approved in 1874, but this is not how the subdivision was eventually built out. High Street does not go through from Romeo Road to Terry Street, as shown on the map; it dead ends at the top of the bluff overlooking Lysander Street. Likewise, Short Street, living up to its name, runs only from Romeo to Lysander and not beyond. After the original plat was made, a large 10-acre plot of land in the middle of the subdivision was sold to August Thoel, and was not replatted until 1915, when the Avondale Park subdivision plat was created to the north of the Woodward Addition. The new plat, developed by Thoel along with Isaac Terry and J.B. Mahaffy, created the street configuration that we know today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Unsung Hero

During World War II, industries across the United States converted to war work, and the factories of Rochester, Michigan were included in their number. National Twist Drill and McAleer Manufacturing were two of the larger companies in the area holding critical defense contracts. The civilian men and women employed in these factories were called “soldiers without guns,” and their collective workplaces were dubbed the “arsenal of democracy” because the products that they built were crucial to the overall war effort.

Often overlooked is the fact that a large number of civilian defense workers also gave their lives for that war effort. A March, 1944 article in Popular Mechanics magazine, entitled “More Deadly Than War,” reported National Safety Council statistics on industrial casualties for the first sixteen months of American involvement in World War II. The numbers were startling: 64,500 Americans were killed on the home front in industrial accidents, the count actually outstripping the number of U.S. military deaths during the same time period. (Although the total number of Americans working in home front industries was far greater than the total number serving in uniform, the civilian death count is still shocking.)

At McAleer Manufacturing in Rochester, Michigan (the site of today's Rochester Mills Beer Company), dangerous but necessary war work was underway. McAleer produced military flares and the M46 Photoflash bomb, and industrial accidents involving the mixing of explosive metals in its bunkers on the east side of town resulted in injury and death for several McAleer workers.

One of those workers was Virginia Ann MacLeod. Virginia was born on November 17, 1920, one of four children of Alexander and Edna Parmenter MacLeod, residents of Willard Street in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills). She attended Rochester High School and was graduated with the class of 1938. A member of the National Honor Society, Virginia was labeled by her classmates as “honest, upright and dependable.”

After McAleer Manufacturing opened its doors in Rochester in 1941, Virginia got a job there. She and two other workers were seriously injured in an explosion at one of the bunkers on December 19, 1942. Virginia suffered second- and third-degree burns and died from her injuries at Pontiac General Hospital on December 24, 1942. She was 22 years old.

Virginia's brother, Kenneth W. MacLeod, was serving with the United States Army at the time of her death. If you visit the World War II Honor Roll located at the east end of the Rochester Municipal Building, you will find Kenneth MacLeod's name listed there. But don't forget his sister, Virginia, who was also a patriot and gave her life in the service of her country, even though she didn't wear a uniform.

Photo: This portrait of Virginia Ann MacLeod is her senior class picture from the 1938 RHS yearbook, courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Main Street Stories: Tienken Building

The building at 333 S. Main was built in the summer of 1916 by William Tienken. Born in 1869 in Avon Township, Tienken was the son of pioneer Henry Tienken, Sr., whose large farm in Avon fronted what is known today as Tienken Road. As a young man, Will Tienken gained business experience by working in New York City and Detroit, then returned to Rochester in 1899 to form a partnership with Charles W. Case in the hardware business.

The hardware firm of Tienken & Case was dissolved in 1915, and the former partners continued in business separately. C.W. Case became sole proprietor of the hardware store that would bear his name until it was destroyed by fire in 1968. As for William Tienken, the Rochester Era reported in March of 1916 that
Will Tienken builds a new store this season, adjoining the Case block on the south.
The new store was the home of Tienken Plumbing & Heating until 1932, when Henry Feet's Red & White Grocery Store moved into the building. The Red & White store changed hands and was renamed Sisson Market in January 1942; it moved to another space on the block and a Western Auto store moved into the Tienken building. Western Auto continued at that location throughout the 1950s. From the 1960s until the mid-1980s, 333 S. Main was the home of the Rochester Optical Center, and after that, the Rochester Vision Center. Today it is the home of a women's clothing store called Boutique Angelique.

The Tienken building at 333 S. Main celebrates its 93rd birthday this year.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vanished Rochester: Dr. Rollin Sprague Residence

The Dr. Rollin Sprague residence formerly stood at 134 West Fifth Street (now W. University Drive). The exact date of its construction is unknown, but a 1923 Rochester Clarion article estimated that it had been built around 1849, the same year in which Dr. Sprague built his stone store on the northeast corner of Third & Main (now known as the Home Bakery building at 300 S. Main). Dr. Sprague was a prominent pioneer businessman and physician in Rochester, and was also active in township politics.

Dr. Sprague died in 1872, and his widow, Adeline, sold the house about 1884. After passing from the ownership of the Sprague family, the building served as the residence of the Daniel Curry family. Fred M. Shinnick owned the house in the 1920s, and donated it to the village for use as a community house. The community house operated for only a few years before the house was sold to St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church, which intended to use the building for a school until Depression-era economics forestalled the plan. Dr. Robert A. Woodruff operated a hospital in the house from 1933 until 1946, when the Homer Wing Post of the American Legion purchased the building.

The handsome residence may have been of timber frame construction, judging by a comment made by Wilson B. Severance in 1964. Severance, who had handled the purchase of the building for the Legion post, wrote of the house:
“I would say the building, particularly the framework, is the same as when originally built … the fact that it is the old time barn type of support. The lumber is thick sold oak. It is almost impossible to drive a nail into it.”
In 1966, the Rollin Sprague house was razed to make way for construction of the office and retail building that currently occupies the site at 134 W. University Drive. At that time, the American Legion moved its post headquarters to the former Michigan Bell office building on the southeast corner of Walnut and Third streets.

Images: The first image is a drawing of the Rollin Sprague residence which appears in the 1877 Durant history of Oakland County. The second image is from a postcard view of the house taken in the late 1920s, when it was serving as the Rochester Community House. Notice that the foundation of the house is of the same coursed cobblestone construction that was used to build Dr. Sprague's store at Third and Main (now the Home Bakery).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vanished Rochester: Western Knitting Mills Boarding House

We can still see a portion of the former Western Knitting Mills building at Fourth & Water streets if we visit the Rochester Mills Beer Company, but in its early twentieth-century heyday, the WKM complex was much larger than the surviving building indicates. A now-vanished part of that industrial site is the boarding house area. Western Knitting Mills was a major employer in its day, and advertised for workers far beyond Rochester. Women came from all over to take jobs in the knitting mills, and in 1912 the company began building dormitories to house them. The Rochester Era described the first boarding house as follows:
The building is 80 feet long and 28 feet wide, is of cement blocks and is situated just south of the mills, enabling both heating and lighting to be furnished by the machinery in the mills. Fifty girls can easily be accommodated there.
The newspaper went on to say that the kitchen was furnished with a "large automatic dishwasher, the pride of the building." Quite a luxurious feature, for 1912!

Photo: This postcard photo from the collection of Rochester Hills Public Library shows the first boarding house, located along Water Street on the south side of the knitting mills building, just after it was built in the summer of 1912.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

Forty years ago this month, Rochester was gearing up for the biggest party in her history as the Rochester Centennial celebration culminated in a week of festivities during the second week of September, 1969. The centennial commemorated the 100th anniversary of Rochester's incorporation as a village, and was kicked off on Memorial Day weekend of 1969 with a regatta on Paint Creek known as the Floatable Boatable. The next month, to encourage the men of the town to grow beards and mustaches, a funeral was held for a giant straight razor. The Razor lay in state in a wicker coffin in the lobby of the National Bank of Detroit branch (now Chase) at the corner of Fourth and Main until the appointed day of the burial, when a funeral procession made its way through town. I was only nine years old at the time, and I remember thinking the whole thing was pretty bizarre!

The centennial also featured a huge pageant called "Hills-A-Poppin!" on the Rochester High School football field. The festivities wound up in September of 1969 with a parade that included well over 100 units. It seemed as though everybody in town participated in some way, and it was not uncommon to see folks on the street during that summer wearing their costumes - including hoop skirts for the women and beards and mustaches for the men.

If you remember the Rochester Centennial, you are invited to join the Rochester Avon Historical Society for their regular meeting on Thursday, September 3 at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Rochester Hills Public Library. The free program will feature slides, pictures, stories and artifacts recalling the 1969 centennial celebration, and everyone is invited to come and share memories. This meeting will also mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Rochester Avon Historical Society, which was organized during the centennial year. See you there!

Photo: My dad took this photo during the 1969 Rochester Centennial Parade. Notice the parade spectators in costume. The building in the background, located on North Main at the foot of Drace, was a furniture store at the time, and had previously been the home of Davey's Market. Today it is the Rochester Elks Club.