Saturday, January 11, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The William Henry Ducharme House

This Dutch colonial on Crooks Road, just north of Hamlin, has ties to the history of the American automotive industry. According to WPA rural property inventory records, the house may have been built about 1899, but the exact date is currently unknown. The house stands on the remnant of what was once a large farm parcel straddling Crooks Road and consisting, at times, of more than 200 acres.

The most interesting part of the property's history began in 1916, when it was purchased by William Henry Ducharme of Detroit. Ducharme was the son of Detroit hardware merchant Charles A. Ducharme, who was a partner in the Buhl & Ducharme hardware business and was also president of the Michigan Stove Company. William Ducharme was a talented amateur athlete and active member of the Detroit Athletic Club; he played first base for the D.A.C.'s baseball club, known as the Deltas. He was a member of that team when they won the national amateur championships in 1890 and 1892.

In business, William Ducharme had started out in the hardware trade, like his father, but in 1909 he became one of the three organizers of the Kelsey Wheel Company and was elected treasurer of the new firm. Kelsey Wheel got its start from Henry Ford, who purchased more than three-quarters of the company's wheel production in the first year. The company later expanded sales to other automakers and to the federal government during World War I, and by 1919 was producing two million wheels a year.  In 1927, Kelsey merged with the Hayes Wheel Company and formed what became the Kelsey-Hayes Corporation, a major supplier of wheels and brakes to the Big Three automakers.

With Kelsey Wheel making great strides in the industry, William Ducharme decided to invest in real estate. He purchased the Crooks Road property in 1916 from William McKinstrey and apparently used the house as a country escape.  The 1922 Detroit Social Secretary lists Ducharme and his wife, Frances, as residents of Jefferson Avenue in Detroit but notes that they maintained a "country home" in what they referred to as "Avon Hills."

Ducharme owned the Crooks Road property until 1943, a year before his death, but by 1939 he was apparently leasing the house for use as a convalescent home.  The Rochester Clarion reported on May 19, 1939, that the house was damaged by fire while so occupied:
The River View Rest Home, operated by Jerry Cummins and Robert W. Brennan at 1921 Crooks road, about 3 miles west and two miles south of Rochester, was badly damaged by fire, Monday afternoon, about 2:45 p.m., when a fire started in the attic of the house and before Rochester firemen could get it under control had burned the top floor of the sanitorium.
It is believed the fire was caused by sparks from a hole in the chimney. Firemen were handicapped in fighting the blaze for lack of water. The well on the property had gone dry and was being repaired by John Boldt, who gave assistance in getting the patients from the Home before help arrived. Firemen exhausted the chemicals in attempting to extinguish the blaze and a hose line was run 800 feet to the Clinton River and pumped to supply water.
At the time of the fire, nine patients were registered at the Rest Home. One of the women patients had suffered a stroke two days previous and had to be carried from the home. She was transferred in the A.C. Hobart ambulance to the Woodruff-Geiger Hospital. The other patients were taken to The Haven, another private sanitorium west of the village, and to the home of Mrs. Leila Mitchell on East Fifth street. Mrs. Mitchell is a nurse at the River View Rest Home.
The property is owned by William DuCharme, of Detroit. He will repair the home immediately for its continued use as a convalescent home.
 Another newspaper article a few months later reported that the house had been repaired and the rest home was back in operation, but after Ducharme sold it in 1943 it returned to service as a private residence.  Most of  the surrounding farm land was sold for development following World War II.


  1. Do you have any more information about the home post-1943? I'd love to know more if possible. Thanks!

    1. Visit the Oakland Regional Historic Sites web site for further information about this and many other local properties. The direct link for the record on this property is

    2. Thank you for the link. We hope to be the 8th owner of this home soon. Such a great surprise to know how significant the home is to the history of Rochester.

    3. You are welcome, and good luck! It is always gratifying to connect with people who have an appreciation for the historic features of their property.