Saturday, December 7, 2013

At Home in Rochester: John B. Oliver House

Available evidence suggests that the brick Victorian house at 324 East Street was built about 1865 for a man named John B. Oliver. Oliver was born in France in 1794 as Jean Baptiste Olivier, and sailed with his family to America in 1828 aboard the ship La Leonarde. He settled in Rochester before the Civil War and owned a number of parcels of land on the east side of Main Street; in fact, on some early maps of the village, that which we know as East Street is marked as Oliver Street.

John Oliver was a cabinetmaker by trade, but the most interesting fact about his life comes from the 1877 History of Oakland County, Michigan, which tells us that he was one of only two veterans of the Napoleonic Wars living in the county at that time.

Oliver's house and lot on East Street was sold to Nehemiah and Mary Ralston, emigrants from Northampton County, Pennsylvania, in 1866. The Ralstons remained in Rochester only a few years and sold the house to local merchant Abram Horn in 1872. Horn, in turn, sold the house to James and Catherine Riggs, and following the Riggs family, the house was owned by Orestes Millerd.  For most of the early part of the twentieth century, however, 324 East was owned by the Hadden family, who purchased it in 1904. In 1944 the house was converted to a nursery school, thus ending its service as a private residence.

Oscar Sorenson bought the house in 1969, painted it blue, and operated it as a private museum and antique gallery called "Wedgewood Hall." Sorenson also built an addition on the back of the house to replace an old summer kitchen.  In the years since, the house has been the location of several small businesses, and is now the headquarters of Kosch Catering.

The John B. Oliver House is approximately 148 years old this year. More details about the history of the property are available on the Oakland Regional Historic Sites web site, here.

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