Friday, June 28, 2013

Bygone Business: Burr's B-Z Bootery

B-Z Bootery grand opening ad, May 1957
Burr's Bootery was located at 433 S. Main and was owned and operated by Rochester native Jack C. Burr. The shoe store held its grand opening in May 1957, and was the direct successor of the Adolph Zimmerman store than had been established a quarter of a century earlier and had moved to 433 S. Main in 1930.

After completing his service in the U.S. Air Force, during which he flew the F-86 Sabre in the Korean War, Jack Burr returned to Rochester and bought the Zimmerman shoe store. At first the new business was advertised as the Zimmerman B-Z Bootery, as seen in the grand opening advertisement shown here, but eventually the name changed to Burr's B-Z Bootery.

Jack Burr operated this store at 433 S. Main until 1992. He must have outfitted thousands of Rochester kids with their "school shoes" over his three-and-a-half decades in the business.  He died in 2003.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Whims Insurance is a Michigan Milestone Business

(Photo courtesy of Connie Klix-Mercer)
Whims Insurance Agency of Rochester has just been recognized by the Historical Society of Michigan with a Michigan Milestone Business award for 96 years of continuous service to the community.  The company's history stretches back to April 1917, when Rochester automobile dealer Leslie L. Whims was approached by the Auto-Owners Insurance Company to act as a local agent for its products.  Whims became an Auto-Owners representative, and nearly a century later, the agency that still bears his name continues that relationship and owns the distinction of being the third-oldest Auto-Owners agency in the nation.

(Leslie Whims is also remembered for the commercial building he erected at 430 S. Main in 1926, where a couple of generations of Rochester's youth enjoyed bowling in the building's basement alleys.)

Congratulations to Whims Insurance Agency, a Michigan Milestone business and a valued Rochester institution!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rochester on the Road: Yawkey Hall

If you own property in the Yawkey and Chapman subdivision on South Hill, the name shown in this photo may look familiar to you. This town hall  is located in the small village of Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, lying just northwest of the larger town of Rhinelander. Standing on Yawkey Street in Hazelhurst, Yawkey Hall is named in honor of William Clyman Yawkey and his nephew, Cyrus C. Yawkey, Michiganders who founded the Yawkey Lumber Company there in 1893. The Yawkey company owned and processed three hundred million feet of standing timber in the Hazelhurst area during the heyday of the lumber industry.

 William C. Yawkey was also heavily invested in Michigan timber stands and in several Detroit businesses; at one point he was considered to be the richest man in Michigan. In 1891 he had become president of the Western Knitting Mills and moved the company to Rochester, taking over the old Rochester Woolen Mill property.  His partners in that concern were Charles S. and William C. Chapman, who had also worked for him in his Wisconsin lumber business; the partners built a new, state-of-the-art woolen mill on the Rochester site in 1896.

In Rochester, William C. Chapman moved into the real estate development business at the turn of the twentieth century, as the community saw a boom after the arrival of the interurban line and the sugar beet factory.  Chapman and Yawkey invested together in property on the southern edge of the village of Rochester, and there platted the Yawkey and Chapman subdivision.

The Yawkey name is also associated with sports history, as William C. Yawkey's son, William Hoover Yawkey, was the sole owner of the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise from 1903 to 1908, and part owner with Frank Navin from 1908 to 1919.

If you ever find yourself in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, be sure to stop by and visit this connection to Rochester history.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Vanished Rochester: David Wagner Butts Farmhouse

(Photo courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson)
For half a century, the David Wagner Butts farmhouse stood atop South Hill at the location where the Bill Fox dealership is today.  The Rochester Era noted in February 1906 that: "D. W. Butts is getting material on the ground for a new brick residence on his farm just south of Rochester, in the spring." Although the house wasn't built until the first decade of the 20th century, the property on which it stood had been in the Butts family since 1855. In that year, Elias and Catherine Butts (also sometimes spelled Butz) migrated west to Michigan from New Jersey. Their son, David, was nine years old at the time the Butts family established their farm in Avon Township.

David took over the farm from his father and built this home for his own family, including his wife Juliet Bromley Butts, and daughters Elizabeth and Laura.  In addition to crops, David Butts raised Belgian and Clydesdale horses, and sold two to three teams a year, according to an interview given by his daughter, Elizabeth, in 1944.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Butts Case and her sister Laura Butts Cross eventually inherited the South Hill property, but nobody lived in the house after 1964 and it fell victim to vandals. Laura Cross and her niece, Della Wilson (Elizabeth Case's daughter), decided to have the house razed in 1976 and it fell to a wrecker's ball on August 12 of that year.

In an interview with the Rochester Clarion given at the time the house was slated for demolition, Della Wilson remembered that her grandfather, David Butts, maintained an athletic field for the community on part of his farmland that lay between the house and South Street. She recalled:
The park was like an amphitheater - it was beautiful. My grandfather would mow it and fix the neighbors' fences when the kids broke them down every year.
Mrs. Wilson recalled that her grandfather's ballpark was used for three generations, until Halbach Field was opened in the village in the mid-1920s.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, citizens of Rochester were learning a new number - right along with everyone else in the United States. In June 1963 the United States Postal Service began to roll out its new Zone Improvement Program, which sorted mail by five-digit numbers popularly known as zip codes.  Rochester residents were assigned the zip code 48063.

The challenge for the postal service was to encourage public cooperation with the new plan.  A cartoon character named Mr. Zip showed up in advertising media to cajole postal customers into learning and using their new zip codes.  There was even a zip code song - click this link if you'd like to hear it.

In the late 1980s, population shifts in southeastern lower Michigan necessitated a revised zip code map, and the Rochester area received new zip codes of 48306, 48307 and 48309, while our old zip code of 48063 was reassigned to Columbus Township in St. Clair County.