Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bygone Business: Bebout's Restaurant

For nearly four decades, Rochester residents who wanted to "dine out" likely bought their meals from one of the Bebout brothers, Harold, Clare and Leonard.  Harold Bebout started his career cooking in the town's pool hall, while in 1927 Clare took over the Merchant's Restaurant located in a newly-constructed building at 406 S. Main.  Those were heady days in Rochester - the South Hill bridge had just opened, bringing more automobile traffic into town, and business was booming. Not long after came the stock market crash and the Great Depression, and the restaurant closed, a casualty of hard times.

Harold Bebout rebounded in 1933 and opened a new restaurant, this time located in what was then the Nichols building (known today as O'Connor's Public House). During World War II, he also operated the employee cafeteria at McAleer Manufacturing on Water Street (now Rochester Mills Beer Company) and offered catering services.  Harold Bebout retired in 1947 and sold Bebout's Restaurant to his younger brother, Leonard, who had been cooking in the establishment since he was in high school. In 1952, Leonard moved the restaurant once again, back to 406 S. Main, where his brother had started out back in 1927.

One local resident recalled that a menu wasn't really necessary at Bebout's. A guest simply ate whatever Mr. Bebout, in his signature chef's hat and apron, happened to have on the grill that day, and paid whatever the waitress said was owed.  In May 1967, Leonard Bebout decided to hang up his hat and apron and go fishing, and that was the end of Bebout's Restaurant in Rochester. He's miss his friends, Bebout told the Rochester Clarion, but he was "just tired of cooking."

This 1961 photo of Bebout's Restaurant at 406 S. Main is from the Walter and Marjorie Dernier collection.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

At Home in Rochester: the Harry Bigger House

This house on the corner of West University Drive (formerly West Fifth Street) and Wesley Street was built in 1921 as the residence of Rochester clothing merchant Harry Bigger and his wife, Hazel. It was built in what was considered to be a prime location, situated along a stretch of West Fifth Street upon which many of Rochester's leading businessmen built their residences in the 1910s and 1920s.

Harry Bigger grew up in Rochester and joined clothier Louis Finsterwald as a partner in his store, located in the Masonic block at Fourth & Main streets.  Eventually, Finsterwald decided to return to Detroit and in 1921 Harry Bigger bought him out of the Rochester store, becoming sole proprietor of the business then named Harry Bigger Men's and Boys' Wear.

The new house on the corner of West Fifth & Wesley was built in the autumn of 1921, and the Biggers occupied it for a little over a decade. In 1933, they decided to move to Detroit and they rented the Rochester house for a few years, until finally selling it in 1941.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bygone Business: Case's Hardware

C. W. Case (right) in front of his store about 1905 (Rochester Hills Public Library)
A Main Street fixture for well over three quarters of a century, Case's Hardware stood at 335 S. Main from 1890-1968, but the company's roots in Rochester go back even further.  The business that most twentieth century residents of Rochester knew as Case's began in 1872 when a Civil War veteran named Joseph Reimer opened a hardware store on the east side of Main. In 1885, Reimer built a brand-new brick building to house his store at 418 S. Main (the location of today's Sumo Sushi restaurant), and shortly thereafter retired and sold the hardware to his son, Cyrus. Cyrus ran the store with the help of his partner and brother-in-law for a while, but was busy working out of town as a traveling representative for an implement manufacturer, so he sold his Rochester hardware to Harvey J. Taylor in 1888.

Taylor, who quickly decided that he did not want to continue paying rent in the Reimer building, began to scout around for a new location and settled upon a lot across the street and down a block, at 335 S. Main. Here he built a two-story brick structure in 1890, with a salesroom on the first floor and warehouse space and a tin shop on the second floor.  For the next half-century, the second-floor metal shop would be the domain of tinsmith Alexander Rose.

In 1889, just before the construction of his new building, Taylor had hired his sister Charlotte's young son, Charles Wallace Case, to work in the hardware store. Fresh off the farm and nineteen years old,  C. W. Case learned his uncle's business and ten years later, in 1899, formed a partnership with H. Frank Stone to purchase the Taylor store.  At that time, the business became known as Stone and Case, but after only a few months Stone sold his interest in the store to William Tienken, and the firm changed its name to Tienken and Case.  When William Tienken decided to go into the plumbing and heating business on his own in 1915, Case bought him out and the store became known as the C. W. Case Hardware. Meanwhile, William Tienken built a new store right next door at 333 S. Main to house his plumbing and heating business.

C. W. Case was a civic-minded merchant who served as Rochester village president and held a number of other political offices.  He was also well known for one of his best-loved hobbies, that of raising purebred poultry.  In 1912, he received international attention when his pair of purebred Buff Cochins won a championship for pairs held at Madison Square Garden in New York.  He proudly displayed a picture of this winning pair of chickens on the wall of the hardware store for many years.

Case operated the store until his death in 1944, but by that time his son, Mason, had taken over as manager because of the elder Case's declining health.  Mason Case succeeded his father as owner of the hardware store and the business remained in family hands until the building was destroyed by fire on December 12, 1968.

In its day, Case's filled important needs for the citizens of the Rochester area. The service provided was personal; my father recalls that if he needed three nails, he could go to Case's and they would happily sell him three nails, not a box of 100. Case's Hardware belonged to an era when merchants concentrated on serving customers more than on moving merchandise, and for that it is ever fondly remembered.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester was mourning the death of Rochester native Sgt. William Eugene Jackson, who died from wounds suffered while serving in Vietnam on February 5, 1964.  The first Rochester resident to lose his life in the Vietnam War, Sgt. Jackson was the son of John W. and Elizabeth A. Jackson. He had deep roots in Rochester; his great-grandfather was William H. Jackson, who had established the Jackson Foundry at the south end of town in 1877.  William Eugene Jackson was a 1946 graduate of Rochester High School and had been a member of the United States Army since shortly after completing high school. He had also served as a radio instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Sgt. Jackson was in Vietnam as a Special Forces senior military advisor to Vietnamese soldiers at a mountain camp north of Saigon. When the camp was attacked by an enemy patrol, Jackson ran out to investigate and someone threw a flare to illuminate the area. The Vietnamese soldiers in Jackson's camp,  apparently confused by the attack and the sudden light from the flare, shot him in a tragic friendly fire accident. Jackson was evacuated to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, where he died after a series of surgeries and blood transfusions failed to stabilize his condition.

Sgt. William E. Jackson of Rochester, first local fatality in the Vietnam War, was laid to rest with honor in Arlington National Cemetery.  May he rest in peace.

Thanks to Rod and Susan Wilson for providing the copy of William Jackson's RHS high school graduation photo that accompanies this post.