Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Historic Butts Surrey

The surrey on the Butts farm, ca.1930
When Della Casey Wilson and her mother, Elizabeth Butts Casey Case, decided to close up the farm on South Hill that had been in their family since Rochester's pioneer days, they sold an old surrey in their barn to Red Knapp. That surrey remained with the Knapp family until 2009, when Red's sons donated it to the Rochester Avon Historical Society.

Elizabeth Butts Casey Case was the granddaughter of Elias Butts, a farmer who had migrated from New Jersey to settle on South Hill in Avon Township before the Civil War.  Elizabeth, or "Lizzie," as she was locally known, was also the second wife of Rochester hardware merchant Charles W. Case.

The Butts surrey has ties not only to families prominent in Rochester's history, but also to the history of the automotive industry.  The surrey was manufactured by the Dunlap Vehicle Company of Pontiac, Michigan, which was launched in August 1898 as an offshoot of the Pontiac Buggy Company.  Dunlap was meant to produce lighter-duty carriages, while Pontiac Buggy concentrated on the heavy-duty vehicles. The Dunlap company lasted only ten years; in 1908 it was merged back into the Pontiac Buggy Company.  Pontiac Buggy, in turn, was one of several concerns that were merged to form the Oakland Motor Car Company. In 1909, Oakland Motor Car became part of General Motors, and was the ancestor of the Pontiac brand.

The surrey on its way to restoration in 2014

Rochester Avon Historical Society is working to return the Butts surrey to the streets of Rochester. The surrey has been transported to northern Indiana where an Amish carriage maker will undertake the repair and restoration of the vehicle.  When it returns home in a few months, it will look much as it did when the Butts family was using it on the streets of Rochester about 115 years ago.

RAHS is currently raising funds to complete this project. If you would like to contribute to the restoration of the Butts surrey, visit and click the "Save the Surrey" link to make an online donation, or send your check to Rochester-Avon Historical Society, P.O. Box 80783, Rochester, MI 48308-0783. Please note the word "surrey" on your check or online donation.

For the complete history of the Butts surrey from the RAHS web site, click here. For more pictures of the surrey before restoration, click here.


  1. Speaking of the South Hill area, wondering if you have anything on the Busy Bee Honey Farm. I've been doing some odd jobs around there since Al can't live there full time anymore and I've talked to him a little bit about the history but its sounds like he's been there since the early 40's and this was the first season they haven't sold honey after all that time. Pull in to his hidden driveway and its like you go back in time 50 years. I don't know, there might not be much more of a story here than "they just sold honey for 70 years" but it seems like it might be interesting, especially while Al is still around to give firsthand account.

  2. Where was the Knapp Dairy Farm located? I was taken to Rochester in 1953 on a school field trip from Detroit to visit the farm and then to the Dairy Bar for lunch. Would like to see where the farm was located.