Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pioneer Farmsteads: William Hulsizer Farm

William Hulsizer farmhouse in 1897
One of Avon Township's early farms, settled before the Civil War, was the William Hulsizer farm on Section 24, located on the north side of today's Hamlin Road, just east of John R. William Hulsizer was born in Lebanon, New Jersey in 1818 and emigrated to Michigan with his wife and children in 1859. The couple established a farm on 86 acres of land southeast of the village of Rochester and reared twelve children there.  (One of the Hulsizer children, William H. Hulsizer, was a well-known auctioneer in the Rochester area for many years.) In September 1894 the family suffered a setback when their farmhouse was lost in a fire, but they quickly built a new house on the same foundation, finishing it in 1895.  The Hulsizers called their farm "Maple Villa," and lived there until their respective deaths in 1904 and 1905; in all, they were married for 64 years.

The William Hulsizer farm was subdivided in 1920 when the Ferryview Homelands plat was approved. Today, the Hulsizer farmhouse is 118 years old; it still stands on a small remnant of the farm at the corner of East Hamlin and Gravel Ridge roads, looking much the same as it did in this 1897 view from the booklet Beautiful Rochester.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bygone Business: A & P

A & P at 637 N. Main, decked out for its 1954 grand opening
Rochester's A & P grocery store was found in at least three different locations on Main Street before it moved out in the early 1990s.  In 1925, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company opened a store at 307 S. Main; by 1929, the store had relocated up the street at 419 S. Main. On March 10, 1954, the grocery store held a grand opening in a brand-new building at 637 N. Main, and Rochester had its first supermarket-style grocery in an impressive 11,662-square foot facility.

The new A & P store was built by local developer George Knorr and leased to the grocery company. Cy Borst was the manager at the time the new building on N. Main was opened. I grew up on the north end of town in the Albertson Addition, so the A & P at 637 N. Main was our neighborhood grocery store.  By the time I was old enough to shop there, Al Klous was the manager and our neighbor, John Parker, worked in the meat department.  The store had many long-time employees who were there from the time I was a small child until the store moved to the North Hill shopping center in the 1990s.

After the A & P moved to North Hill, the building at 637 was completely renovated for other use.  Today it is the home of the Rochester Athletic Club.  Meanwhile, the A & P in its North Hill location gave way to a Farmer Jack, and when the Farmer Jack brand went under, Hollywood Market moved into the space.

Are there any Rochester A & P alumni out there? Do you remember the Ann Page house brand?  The Jane Parker bread and the big coffee grinder to grind your Eight O'Clock coffee? If so, please share your memories through the comments.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Subdivision Stories: Wilcox Addition

In the city of Rochester, the lots lying north of West University Drive, on the west side of Madison and both sides of Wilcox Street, are part of a modern subdivision plat known as Supervisor's Plat #3, but a century ago and earlier they were part of an unrecorded plat known as the Wilcox Addition.  The Wilcox Addition lies on property that was once owned by early Rochester settler Lyman J. Wilcox and his son, Elliot R. Wilcox. (In addition to his roles of attorney, state legislator and officer of the Detroit & Bay City Railroad, Elliot R. Wilcox was a prosperous farmer who owned the entire area that we know today as Great Oaks.)

A subdivision plat must be presented to the local government authority and receive a vote of approval before being recorded as an official plat in the county register of deeds office.  The Wilcox Addition was laid out in the middle 1880s, but was never approved and recorded in the register of deeds office. Although numbered lots in the Wilcox Addition were sold, the deeds for those lots were still recorded as fractional acreage described in metes and bounds terms, rather than as lots in a plat.  This did not change until 1949, when the Supervisor of Avon Township imposed order by creating Supervisor's Plat #3, officially organizing the lots in a recorded subdivision plat.

One of the most interesting points of history in the Wilcox Addition is the Wilcox Paper Mill that was built in that area in 1873 by Elliot R. Wilcox. Here's how the Rochester Era described the building when it was under construction:
Mr. E. R. Wilcox has made arrangements for the erection of a new paper mill, a short distance north of the Eureka Mills, having let the contract for the construction of the buildings to Mr. J. W. Eastman, of this village. The main building which with the exception of a stone basement will be of brick, 32x48, and two stories high. The machine room will be 24x80, bleaching room 20x24, and engine room 12x24. The location of this mill is one of the finest in the country, while the water power, being 17 feet fall, cannot well be surpassed. The work we understand will be pushed forward to an early completion.
This mill went through several owners and was never an economic success. It was destroyed by fire in 1901.  The Wilcox Paper Mill stood approximately between the northern dead end of today's Wilcox Street and the Rochester Community House.  Traces of the mill race for the paper mill are still visible along the edge of the parking area in the Rochester Municipal Park.

The accompanying map image shows the unrecorded Wilcox Addition as it appeared on the 1908 plat of the village of Rochester.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Vanished Rochester: D.U.R. Car Barns

D.U.R. car barn fire, May 19, 1923
 It may be difficult to visualize now, but a century ago the village of Rochester was a mass trans-portation hub. On the east side of North Main Street, just south of the Paint Creek bridge, the Detroit, Rochester, Romeo and Lake Orion Railway built a powerhouse and car barns in 1899 when the company brought an interurban railway line through town.  The D.R.R. & L.O. was soon absorbed into the Detroit United Railway (D.U.R.) system, the name by which it is more commonly recognized. The Flint Division of the D.U.R.  line drew all of its electric power from the generating plant in Rochester, and rolling stock on the line was repaired in the adjacent car barn facility.

Early in the morning of May 19, 1923, the car barns were destroyed by a fire that the Rochester Clarion described as "the most disastrous and spectacular fire ever witnessed in Rochester." The Clarion's account of the event read in part:
     Fire, of unknown origin, had broken out in the vestibule of one of the six large limited cars which had been run under cover in the barns after their daily runs, and was being fought by the sweeper who was attending his duties in the barns, and for which purpose the power had been shut off -- water and electricity not mixing well together. Not being able to extinguish the blaze which was gaining great headway in the car and spread rapidly on account of the large amount of grease accumulated in the car and barns, it was then too late to turn on the power and run out the cars, which otherwise might have easily been done.
     Our local fire department soon responded and did valiant work in keeping the fire which was already beyond their control in the barns, from igniting the thousands of gallons of oil in the large transformer tanks, kept in a separate room at the rear of the burning building.
     An alarm call was sent the Pontiac fire department and a fire truck and several firemen were soon upon the ground, but only to aid in extinguishing the blaze as the building was then a complete wreck.
     The loss of the building, six cars, tools, etc. is estimated at above $200,000.
D.U.R. car barn fire, May 19, 1923
The company's intention at first was to repair the burned out car barns, as the walls appeared to remain sound. This effort soon proved unworkable and the structure was demolished, relegating it to the pages of Vanished Rochester. A short eight years later, the entire D.U.R. line through Rochester was abandoned as motor vehicles siphoned away the company's business.

The photos shown here were taken by one of the firefighters later in the morning when D.U.R. workers and bystanders moved in to survey the wreckage.  In the photo at the top of this post, notice the curved track which runs from the left side of the frame (beginning at the brick street) into the center of the car barn.  This is part of the track that was uncovered in the summer of 2012 during the Main Street reconstruction project.

To view a map of the Detroit United Railway system as it looked in 1913, click here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Happy New Year, Rochester history fans! Rolling the calendar back half a century to January 1963, we find that the big news of the day was the dedication of an addition to the Avon Township Library building. The library at the corner of West University Drive and Pine streets had been funded by a bequest of the late Eva Woodward Parker and was built in 1951; within a decade, it was already inadequate to serve the needs of the growing community.  Another bequest by the late Grace Currey provided a little over $33,000 to the library board to expand educational resources for the youth of Rochester and Avon. The funds were used to add a room to the back of the library building which was named the Currey Room in honor of Grace Currey's parents, Daniel and Mary Ellen Currey. (The Currey family is also remembered in the Golden Hills and Currey Hills subdivisions, which were also named for them).

In addition to the new library room, which was dedicated on January 20, 1963, the Currey bequest funded the acquisition of a lot adjacent to the library to the north which was converted to a badly needed off-street parking lot for the facility.