Sunday, July 4, 2010

At Home in Rochester: The William Deats Residence

The Eastlake Victorian house at 302 W. University Drive, on the northwest corner of Pine, is commonly referred to as the Flumerfelt residence but was actually built by Dr. William Deats and his wife, Harriet. Dr. Deats was born in Northampton County, Pennsylvania in 1847. His home town there was Lower Mt. Bethel township, in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. Deats was graduated from Lafayette College in nearby Easton in 1874, then went on to earn his M.D. degree at Jefferson Medical College and a Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania in 1877.

Following the completion of his college education, William Deats relocated to Rochester, Michigan, where he established a medical practice in the fall of 1878. His reason for choosing to move to Rochester is unknown, but several people from his home in Pennsylvania were already living in this area, included Reuben Immick, the William Fox family, and Francis Stofflet, who was teaching school in Rochester at the time.

In the fall of 1880, Dr. Deats married Harriet Ann “Hattie” Sprague, the youngest daughter of the late Dr. Rollin Sprague. He doubtless met Hattie Sprague through Francis Stofflet, who was by that time married to Hattie's older sister, Mary Sprague. The following spring, Dr. and Mrs. Deats were expecting their first child and on April 13, 1881, Hattie Sprague purchased from her mother, Adaline Sprague, lots 8 and 9 in Sprague's Addition to the village of Rochester for the sum of $400.

The Rochester Era followed the progress of construction on the Deats house throughout the summer of 1881. The newspaper reported that the $1800 contract to build a house for Dr. Deats on the lot lying west of Adaline Sprague's residence had been granted to John Ross & Co. The selection of Ross to build the Deats home is not surprising, since he was also a native of Lower Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania, and had lived near the Deats family before migrating to Michigan. Among the buildings constructed by John Ross & Co. were the Griggs Brothers Grain Elevator (now the Rochester Elevator), the Universalist Church, and the Congregational Church. (When Ross retired from the building trade, he sold his contracting business to his son-in-law, Daniel B. Kressler. Kressler, in turn, was eventually bought out by Dillman & Upton.)

The Era reported in early June of 1881 that the frame of the Deats house was being raised, and in October, made this comment:

Dr. Deats has been grading his dooryard, and will have a beautiful lawn in time. His new residence is almost ready for occupancy, and is an honor to the village.

The newspaper informed its readers two weeks later that the Deats family was in residence in the new home, and soon after reported that Dr. Deats was building a barn on the premises.

William and Harriet Deats did not stay long in Rochester, however. In May of 1884, Deats moved his family back to Easton, Pennsylvania and leased their Rochester home to E.L. Torrey. On February 2, 1885, Hattie Deats sold the house and property to William C. Flumerfelt for the sum of $2100. Flumerfelt, a retired farmer from Oakland Township, lived in the house with his wife, Elizabeth “Libbie” Axford until his death in 1906, and his widow continued to live there until her own death in 1924.

After the death of Libbie Flumerfelt, ownership of the house passed to her nephew, Henry Wood Axford. Henry Axford, an attorney, had been orphaned at the age of nine and lived with a succession of relatives before being taken in by Libbie Flumerfelt. He made his aunt's residence at 302 W. Fifth St. his home for most of the rest of his life, and was the last to use the house as a private residence. Among the occupants of the Deats house since the early 1970s have been a physician's office, the De Nike import store, the Objects & Images gallery, and the Andre & Co. salon. The carriage house was for a time the home of a paperback book store. The house is currently occupied by La Dolce Vita Spa and Salon.

The William Deats residence celebrates its 129th birthday this summer.

This 1897 view of the Deats residence was taken during the time that the house was occupied by William C. and Libbie Axford Flumerfelt.


  1. (Annonymous = John Mohr)

    In my opinion, the most tragic aspect concerning historical Rochester is the fact that the old local mentality seems to have been one of "tear-down-and-build-a-parking-lot" rather than one of historical preservation. What constituted a local gem vs. a local eyesore was (and continues to be) pretty obvious, and many of the latter category where thankfully taken down. Unfortunately, far too many of the former category have also been demolished, giving way to parking lots (old St. Andrews on Walnut comes to mind) or bland, cookie-cutter, generic-looking new constructions (I'll refrain from listing examples of these to avoid the risk of offending or hurting the feelings of a current occupant) or residential developments, It’s gotten to the point that there is very little of noteworthy left in town, unlike nearby Romeo and even Almont, both of whom have done an excellent job maintaining their historic buildings, or rebuilding anew in the historical style.

    Of the few gems that managed to survive in Rochester, many underwent various types of renovations or "updates" that much, if not all, of their original appearance has been physically obstructed or any hints of their former grounds have been bull-dozed and covered over with asphalt or concrete. This is especially painful when I remember the building in its former glory. The Deats/Flumerfelt House is an example of one of these. Granted, its appearance is much nicer than it had been in the 1970s-80s, but its all-asphalt grounds make it look so tiny and unimpressive that nowadays, I often look the other way when driving by.

    In defense of myself: I am not all negative about Rochester – hardly is that the case, otherwise I wouldn’t continue to happily live here these past 42 years! In fact, I’m pleased to say that I have noted a lot of good things over the past 2 decades: the exterior of the Chapman House on Walnut has been beautifully restored since the fire back in the early 1990s (?), and looks as though it could easily revert to a private residence. Then, there is the trend of Main Street store fronts being rebuilt or remodeled to look as though they were original structures on Main Street built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This trend seemed to begin when Crissman building on the northeast corner of Main & 5th (LOL! I mean “University”!) was built following the tragic explosion which destroyed its predecessor back in 1991. Some other new constructions on the west side of Main Street have been similarly renovated or rebuilt following fires or other events. Then, there are the brand new constructions that aren’t necessarily historic in appearance, but define a “new” style and appearance for Rochester: The Royal Park Hotel, The Library, even the two Attalla buildings, are examples that come to mind.

    Posted by John Mohr

  2. When I was a child, this building housed the salon where my Mother had her hair done. Some of my fondest memories are of my Mother and I having breakfast at the Brass Lantern, then she would have her hair done at the salon, and I, bookworm that I am; would go to the Library which was then located across Pine street, on the northeast corner of Pine and University.