Saturday, March 2, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Irving J. Coffin House

A stately Dutch colonial home that stands atop a bluff on the west side of North Main Street, between Ferndale and Glendale is connected to a prominent Detroit area man and a tragedy that took his life.  Irving J. "Duke" Coffin built the house in 1927, on a lot he had purchased in 1925.  Coffin was born in Rochester in 1875, and served with the Michigan Naval Brigade aboard the U.S.S. Yosemite during the Spanish-American War. Following the war, he moved to Detroit and worked for the D.U.R. for a few years. In 1910 he took a job as a process server for the Wayne County Prosecutor's office, and worked his way up to county detective. In 1918 he ran a successful campaign for Wayne County Sheriff and served in that position until 1923.

The Rochester Clarion reported in the spring of 1927 that "I. J. Coffin has broken ground for a Dutch colonial type eight-room house on his lot adjoining H.A. George's home on North Main Street." Coffin also owned a farm home two miles north of Rochester, and it is unclear whether he ever lived in the new house in town. On July 28, 1928, Coffin was driving his Lincoln sedan south on Rochester Road when a vehicle turning in front of him forced his car onto the D.U.R. tracks and directly into the path of the oncoming northbound limited interurban car, which was on its way to downtown Rochester.  In the car with Coffin were his eleven-year-old adopted daughter, Evelyn,  and two adult women passengers.  Evelyn Coffin was instantly killed and Irving J. Coffin died of his wounds - a crushed chest and fractured skull - soon after arriving by ambulance at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac.

The funeral service for Irving J. "Duke" Coffin was an impressive one, with full military honors. Fifteen Lincoln sedans were sent out from Detroit by Henry Ford to convey funeral attendees from the home to the cemetery.  Michigan Governor Fred W. Green, who made the trip to Rochester from Lansing by airplane, served as one of the pall bearers.  The Henry Ford band provided music at Mount Avon Cemetery, where Coffin and his daughter were laid to rest.

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