Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vanished Rochester: Hubbell School

Hubbell School ca. 1957 (Courtesy of Swords Family Archive)
Long vanished from the Rochester Hills landscape is the Hubbell school house, which stood on the south side of what is today known as Walton Boulevard, near the southeast corner of Walton & Adams.  In the days when Rochester Hills was the rural township of Avon, it was served by not one, but several small school districts.  The Walton & Adams area was known as Avon Township School District #8, or the Hubbell district.  The school district took its name from  pioneer settler Samuel Hubbell, who had purchased the land in that area from the government in 1824. The exact date that the Hubbell school house was built is not known, but the 1872 plat map of Avon Township shows a school house at that location, in the corner of what was by that time known as the Lomason farm.  The Hubbell district existed until 1948, at which time the property owners in the area petitioned that their rural district be dissolved and annexed to the larger Rochester school district.  The reason for their request was that few of the property owners actually resided in the district - they were mostly real estate investors and speculators - and therefore felt ill-qualified to serve as trustees of the Hubbell school. After Hubbell was consolidated with Rochester in 1948, the Rochester school district continued to operate the Hubbell school as an elementary building for a couple of years.  By 1957, Meadow Brook Elementary had been built to serve the children of the area and one room schools like Hubbell were rendered obsolete.  The photo above shows what the building looked like when it being used as a real estate office around 1957. At that time, the Howard Keating real estate company was developing the Spring Hill subdivision at the southeast corner of Walton & Adams.  Those who remember the Hubbell school tell me that it stood approximately where the McDonald's restaurant is located today.

My thanks to the custodians of the Swords Family Archive for lending me this photo of the Hubbell School.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Spiritualist Movement in Rochester

In the spring of 1905, the Detroit Free Press informed its readers that spiritualism had taken hold in the village of Rochester and that some of the most prominent citizens of the community were participating in seances and meetings that involved alleged contact with the spirit world.  The Free Press writer thought Rochester was an unlikely place for such proceedings, and introduced his report this way:
Nestling snugly down in a valley among green hills, the little village of Rochester presents such a picture of rural repose and idyllic contentment as would inspire the spring poet with a gush of rhapsody.  But the repose is only external. ... Every night the homes of the most respected citizens are the scenes of hair-raising performances. Tables dance around the rooms or are broken to pieces, windows are smashed, chairs overturned, while strange objects float through space and weird sounds fill the air.
The Free Press story went on to say that a group of Rochester citizens including Commodore George Newberry, village president;  Bert Norton, druggist; Charles S. Chapman and his brother, William C. Chapman; and jeweler and optician Louis E. Palmer, Jr. met regularly to conduct seances in an attempt to invite the presence of the spirits of the departed.  According to the newspaper, Newberry had once been the greatest of skeptics and dismissed any stories of communication with the spirits of the dead as "pure humbug," but having been converted now hosted regular meetings of  what the participants called the "Psychic Research Club" in his home.

The newspaper feature, which was headlined "Spooks Galore," recounted a story told by George Newberry of a meeting of the spiritualists conducted at his home and led by Louis E. Palmer, Jr.  "Louie" Palmer was the son of the prominent Rochester merchant Louis E. Palmer, Sr., who built several buildings on Main Street and conducted a jewelry business there for several decades.  The younger Palmer claimed newly-discovered powers as a medium for the spirit of a man named "Quick," who was supposed to have died in North Branch, Michigan in 1903.

According to the account, young Palmer invoked the spirit of "Quick," who made his presence known to the assembled club members:
Seated around a heavy mahogany table, their hands stretched over its polished surface, the "Research club"  awaited the spooks.
A violent lunge of the table announced an arrival from spiritland.
"Is that you, Quick?" asked Mr. Palmer.
Three slight tippings of the table signified "yes."
Quick's convivial nature is not ignored by his friends in the flesh, so he was asked if he wanted them to smoke. He again answered affirmatively and they all lit their cigars.
So, with the club members lighting up and puffing away on their Havanas, the seance continued:
The ponderous table began to gyrate as lightly as a French ballet girl and the chandelier was bent while Mr. Palmer's body was lifted over the table into the lap of one of his vis-a-vis.
Finally, according to the testimony of all present the medium's body was wafted to the top of a cabinet seven feet high while he cried in a dazed condition for someone to stop his uncomfortable ascent.
Once Mr. Palmer was returned to his seat by his fellow spirit-seekers, the spirit of "Quick" resumed his mischief:
Suddenly there was a loud crash of smashing glass and the helpless body of Palmer was seen sprawling limp on the window sill half through the broken pane, half dangling limply on the inner side.
That was too much for the unfortunate medium, and he has refused to call on "Quick" since.
The Spiritualist Movement in the United States emerged in upstate New York in the 1840s, and was fairly prominent through the 1920s, during which time the Ouija board became a popular method of interpreting perceived contacts from the spirit world.  Ray Henry, a local historian and direct descendant of Louis E. Palmer, Sr., gave me the back story to this interesting tale and explained how spiritualism was likely introduced to the village of Rochester.

It seems that the sons of Louis Palmer, Sr., attended a social event at the Rochester Opera House around 1905, at which they met two daughters of a medium named Sarah Barclay. The Barclay family was newly arrived in the Rochester area at the time, having come from Ontario seeking jobs at the Western Knitting Mills. One of the Barclay daughters, May Smith, eventually married Louie Palmer's brother, William. May's mother, Sarah Barclay, was a Spiritualist minister who conducted seances at the family home in Stoney Creek. It is probable that Louie Palmer was introduced to spiritualism through his connection to the Barclay family.

Ray Henry further relates that Sarah Barclay moved to Cleveland, Ohio around 1910, where she operated a tea room, gave readings and continued her work as a medium. She was also a reader in the Unity Church there. Sarah Barclay is buried at Mount Avon Cemetery in Rochester, next to her daughter, May Palmer; click here to view her photo and biography.

My thanks to Ray Henry for sharing part of his family history with me and filling in some of the background on this story.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Building Bridges (Again!)

During this past week, the Avon Road bridge at the Livernois intersection was closed to traffic so that replacement of the decaying structure could begin.  Those of us who live in the area have known this closure was coming for a long time, and we'll be taking creative routes around the construction until some time in June. A couple of years ago, we had a similar experience with the bridge over Stoney Creek on East Tienken Road.

How many readers remember the biggest bridge closure of our recent history?  It happened 23 years ago, when the South Hill bridge at the foot of Main Street in downtown Rochester was closed for replacement.  That project was precipitated by an earlier collapse of the bridge deck that occurred when a support strap failed. Emergency repairs were made, and then engineers determined that then entire bridge needed an overhaul.  Downtown Rochester suffered through the long months of road closure in 1989-1990, and celebrated the reopening of the span with a "Bridge Bash" in October 1990.  Then-governor James Blanchard cut the ribbon to open the roadway, and a parade of vintage automobiles made the first trip across the new bridge.

These photos of the South Hill bridge project and "Bridge Bash" festivities were taken by my dad in 1989 and 1990.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Subdivision Stories: Junction Land Company

Containing just one side street and only 38 lots, the Junction Land Company subdivision is one of Rochester Hills' smallest.  It was platted in April 1920 by Eva Barwise and her partners, John and Ella Peters and Arthur and Isabelle Law.  The subdivision lies east of Rochester Road and south of Tienken, on land that abuts the present City Walk shopping plaza at the southeast corner of that intersection.  For the last half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, this property was part of the Isaac and Jane Barwise farm. At its height, the Barwise farm was over 200 acres in area and was one of Avon Township's most productive.  Isaac Barwise was a native of England who came to the United States as a young man and settled in Avon in 1861. Ownership of the farm passed to his daughter, Eva, who was a well-known Rochester schoolteacher.

The Junction Land Company was doubtless named for the location of the subdivision. For many years, the Detroit United Railway had a station at the corner of Tienken and Rochester, called Lake Orion Junction. At this point, one branch of the streetcar line headed along Orion Road to Goodison, Lake Orion, Oxford and stops beyond on the Flint Division, while another branch followed Tienken Road to Stoney Creek, Washington, and Romeo. The subdivision's one and only street was aptly named Junction Boulevard, but this name was changed to Courtland in 1950 when the township renamed many of its streets at the recommendation of the county road commission.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

February 1962 was a quiet month in Rochester. Not much was happening, except that there was a lot more snow on the ground than we have today.  One thing that did make the front page of the newspaper was the school board's decision to spend $19,000 to install language labs in the high school and the two junior high schools, Central and West.  The audio equipment for the labs was purchased from the Dictaphone Corporation.  Up until the beginning of the 1961-62 school year, Rochester students were only offered two years of foreign language instruction, and they had their choice of French or German. The district added a third year of instruction to the curriculum in 1961-62, and after ordering the language labs, planned to offer a fourth year beginning in 1962-63.

I remember sitting in the language lab at Rochester High School, practicing phrases played on a state-of-the-art reel-to-reel tape deck. Anybody else?