Tuesday, December 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

The Avon Playhouse celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this month.  It was on December 3, 1965, that the brand-new theatre on Washington Road opened its doors to audiences for the first time. The inaugural play for the new facility was the Avon Players' production of Inherit the Wind.

The Avon Players were organized in 1947, but had no permanent home for the first 18 years of their history.  The members rehearsed in the American Legion hall and in private homes, and gave performances in various venues such as school auditoriums.  After saving $30,000, funding another $30,000 through bonds and raising another like amount through a fundraising drive, they were finally ready to build a stage of their own.

Member Ted Stratton designed the new playhouse, with the assistance of architect Bob Edge.  A local builder donated his services as general contractor, and much of the manual labor on the building project was done by volunteer members of the Avon Players.

Much more about the history of Avon Players and the Avon Playhouse may be found on the organization's web site.  Happy birthday, Avon Playhouse!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester area was preparing to welcome a new industry to the community.  Holley Computer Products Company moved into a brand-new facility on the southeast corner of Tienken and Rochester roads.  Holley Computer was a manufacturer of computer printers and had been founded in 1962 by Control Data Corporation and Holley Carburetor.  By 1965, the company had already outgrown its original plant in Warren, Michigan and began looking for a new location for expansion.

A 13-acre site in Avon Township was chosen for a new 60,000 square foot plant that was expected to employ 350 people immediately and eventually employ as many as 800.  The Rochester facility was later renamed Computer Peripherals, but was still a subsidiary of Control Data Corporation.

The company later closed the Rochester plant and the building was razed in 2004 to make way for the City Walk lifestyle shopping development that now occupies the site.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Memory's Eye: Northwest corner of Main and University


video
This photo of the north side of West University, looking east toward Main Street, was taken by Clarence Whitbey about 1967.  The Houghton Power Center, located in the old Swayze Livery building, and the Rosier-Butts-Swayze house, located on the corner, were torn down about 1970.  The Standard gas station seen in the background stood across Main on the northeast corner, where Knapp's Donut Shoppe stands today.  After the old livery and the house were torn down, the gas station moved across Main to the northwest corner, where it is located today, and the donut shoppe was built on its former location.  Some years later, the Rochester Apothecary building, somewhat reminiscent in style of the old livery, was built along the alley. The only building that appears in both the 1967 and current photos is the Peter Lomason house, which still stands at 113-115 East University and can be seen in the far right background of the frame.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

In October 1965, Matilda Dodge Wilson laid the cornerstone for a new building on the campus of Oakland University, the school to which she and her late husband, Alfred G. Wilson, had donated their 1,500-acre estate.  Mrs. Wilson participated in the ceremony during her 82nd birthday celebration on October 19, 1965, as university officials christened the new building Wilson Hall in her honor.

Wilson Hall was designed by the Detroit architecture firm of O'Dell, Hewlett & Luckenbach, which was best-known for the design of Ford Auditorium.  Wilson Hall opened to students in 1966, and is the home of Meadow Brook Theatre.

To watch a short video on Matilda Dodge Wilson and her legacy at Oakland University, click here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

September 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Rochester's Art & Apples Festival.  The very first Art  & Apples Festival (or Art 'N' Apples, as it was known then) was opened for a four-day run on September 16, 1965 with a parade down Main Street, led by Rochester's First and Finest, the Falcon Marching Band. The Rochester Arts Commission, under the general chairmanship of Dr. John Solverson,  developed the plan for Art 'N' Apples and brought the first event to fruition with the assistance of several civic organizations. The festival drew an estimated 20,000 visitors in its inaugural year; Paint Creek Center for the Arts, which now sponsors the festival, estimates that more than 200,000 art enthusiasts will visit during the 2015 event.

Artists participating in the 2015 festival will come from all over the United States and Canada, but the first festival in 1965 had a distinctly local flavor.  A large tent featured the classroom art of students from the Rochester Community Schools. Children eagerly pulled their parents by the hand to show them the projects they and their classmates had been working on.  Adult artists from the community were able to showcase their efforts in the "Sunday Painters" tent, where friends and neighbors could stop by to admire their work.

More information about the 50th anniversary Art & Apples Festival may be found here.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Michigan Christian College (now Rochester College) began a 54-acre expansion of its campus on West Avon Road.  In 1957, the North Central Christian College Association had acquired the former Maxon estate on Avon as the location of a new school.  North Central Christian College welcomed its first students in 1959, and changed its name to Michigan Christian College in 1961.  It became Rochester College in 1997.

Back in August of 1965, college leaders were planning for an expected student enrollment of 250 to 275 students by starting construction of a new classroom and office building, as well as a student center and library facility.  Today, Rochester College has an enrollment well over 1,000 students and offers bachelor's and master's degree programs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

An important community institution was born fifty years ago this month.  On July 11, 1965, a group of 400 people assembled on some pasture land recently owned by Howard L. McGregor, Jr.  The property was just west of St. John Lutheran School, and the crowd watched as Ormond S. Wessels pushed a shovel into the ground to mark the beginning of construction for Crittenton Hospital.

Two years later, Rochester's first full-service general hospital would open its doors to patients.  Before that day, the community had been served by small hospitals or clinics such as Avon Center and Woodruff-Geiger; residents had been accustomed to traveling to Pontiac, Mount Clemens or Detroit for anything the local clinics couldn't handle. Building a fully-equipped hospital and emergency room was a huge step forward for the community and its health care needs.

View Crittenton Hospital Medical Center's video, above, to see how the facility and campus have grown and changed since 1965.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Parallel Lives: The Hamlins and the Woodwards - Now Online

If you missed the Rochester Avon Historical Society's February program on the lives of the Hamlin and Woodward families, here's some good news!  The program, entitled Parallel Lives: the Hamlins and the Woodwards, is now available online in its entirety on the RAHS Youtube channel.  If you're interested in the stories of two of Rochester's prominent pioneer families, take a look at this program.

Monday, June 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester residents learned that they would soon be saying goodbye to a treasured local business that had been a Main Street fixture for 65 years.  The owners of Burr's Hardware announced that they were selling out and retiring, ending their long run as hardware merchants that had started in 1899.

In that year, a young Macomb County entrepreneur named George Burr had established a hardware and farm implement store on Main Street.  His store was located for several years on the east side of Main, in the former Joseph Reimer building at 418 S. Main.  Having outgrown that location after his first decade in business, he built a brand new brick block across the street at 429 S. Main  and moved his store there in late 1914.

In 1922, George Burr retired from the business he had founded and passed the management of the store to his daughter, Neva, and her husband, Ward Crissman.  Burr died in 1934 and Ward Crissman died suddenly in 1935; at that time, Neva Crissman brought her own daughter, Arlene, and son-in-law Leon Robertson into the business, and they continued to manage it until they decided to close the hardware store and sell the building in June 1965.

Green's Artist Supply opened at 429 S. Main in late summer 1965, and celebrates its 50th anniversary in that location this year.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Remembering Blodwen Morris Falconer

In a couple of weeks, the world will observe the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. Code-named Operation Dynamo, the evacuation was carried out between May 27 and June 4, 1940.  A large number of British, French and Belgian troops had been cut off and stranded on the northern coast of France by a Nazi Panzer offensive.  A hastily-assembled fleet of privately owned boats of all sizes and purposes was successful in rescuing more than 338,000 troops from the beaches and ferrying them to larger naval vessels, or in some cases taking them all the way across the English Channel.  As they conducted the evacuation, these boats had to navigate heavily-mined waters and endure bombardment by German shore batteries.

The men who volunteered their services and their boats to evacuate Dunkirk were rightly hailed as heroes.  However, they were not the only heroes of Operation Dynamo. Though the evacuation was a huge success and dubbed a miracle, it was not without cost.  Over 200 ships were sunk during the operation and 126 merchant seamen were killed.  Many others were wounded or had been wounded during the fighting that led up to the evacuation.  These men were tended by the nurses who stayed with them throughout the treacherous journey across the English Channel -  through the mine-filled waters and under constant bombardment.

What does this have to do with Rochester?  In a quiet corner of Mount Avon Cemetery lies a hero of the Dunkirk evacuation.  Her name is Blodwen Morris Falconer, and she was a Canadian citizen and registered nurse who served with the English Civil Defense Corps during the war.  She was present at the Dunkirk evacuation to tend to the wounded and was decorated for her service.  After the war, she and her husband came to Michigan, and eventually to Rochester, where she died in 1953.  Her obituary in the Rochester Clarion said in part:

World War II Dunkirk Heroine is Dead; Received Bronze Medal
One of the highly honored veterans of World War II passed away last Wednesday afternoon when Blodwen Faulconer [sic], 3380 John R., died at Pontiac General Hospital shortly after admittance.
Mrs. Faulconer, born at Edmonton, Ontario [sic], was a member of the first contingent of nurses on hand to give aid to the wounded survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II. She was a graduate of Grey's Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital of its kind in the world.
Wearing the cap of a registered nurse, and as a member of the English Civil Defense during the Dunkirk evacuation, she was awarded a Bronze Medal for her heroic and outstanding services at that time.
Born on April 1, 1915, Mrs. Faulconer moved to Detroit from Toronto in June 1949. She came to Rochester in 1950.
This Memorial Day, when I visit Mount Avon Cemetery, I think I'll leave some flowers at the grave of Blodwen Morris Falconer, to remember her service. I invite you to do the same.

In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the evacuation of Dunkirk, watch this British Pathé newsreel footage:




Friday, May 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

A half century ago this month, Rochester residents were talking about a new state law that would require photos to appear on driver's licenses beginning on July 1, 1965.  The law was a potential problem for the village of Rochester, which at the time issued driver's licenses at the police department.

My father remembers that when he applied for his first license in the early 1950s, his father took him to the police station in the old municipal building at Fourth & East Alley.  There was no written or road test. Sam Howlett, chief of police, pointed to my father and asked my grandfather, "Can he drive?"  My grandfather replied, "As well as I can, I guess."  That was good enough, and Chief Howlett issued the license.

With the new law requiring photos on licenses, the village had to decide whether to invest money in camera equipment and time in training to produce the new cards. Another option was to give up the license business altogether, which would require Rochester residents to travel to Pontiac to the Secretary of State branch office to conduct such business.  In May 1965, the village fathers decided to keep the license service, at least for a while.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester area residents were thinking about traffic. Specifically, they were concerned about the intersection of Rochester and Avon roads, which only had a blinker as a traffic control device - not a stop-and-go signal.  Leader Dogs for the Blind, located on a corner at that intersection, expressed concern for pedestrian safety and asked for a regular traffic light to be installed.

The state highway department initiated a study of traffic passing through the Rochester/Avon intersection and issued a report a few weeks later. According to state officials, a blinker light was all that was required, as the intersection had insufficient traffic to warrant the installation of a regular signal.

Local residents persevered, however; four months later, the highway department reversed its earlier decision and ordered a stop-and-go traffic signal installed at Rochester and Avon.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

At Home in Rochester: Samuel Baldrie Jackson House

This house on the north side of Seventh Street, east of Wilcox, was built in the fall of 1891 and is celebrating its 124th birthday in 2015.  Local carpenter and contractor Abram F. Burd built the house as a residence for his daughter, Maretta, and her husband, Samuel Baldrie Jackson, who had been married two years before, in 1889.

At the time, the Wilcox Paper Mill stood at the northern terminus of Wilcox Street, on the edge of today's Rochester Municipal Park. The Wilcox family was selling residential lots in the vicinity of the paper mill, and a number of new houses were being built in the area.
Jackson house as depicted in the 1897 publication Beautiful Rochester.
 The Rochester Era reported on September 18, 1891: "A. F. Bird [sic] is breaking ground for a new residence near the Rochester paper mill, between his home and that of W. H. LeRoy. It will be modern in all its appointments, and when completed will be occupied by Sam Jackson and family." About three weeks later, the Era further reported: "Sam Jackson's new home near the Rochester paper mill was raised last Tuesday by A. F. Bird." A photograph of the house appeared on page 17 of the promotional booklet Beautiful Rochester, published in 1897, and was captioned "residence of S. B. Jackson."

Samuel Jackson was associated with his brother, John F. Jackson, in the Jackson Foundry in Rochester. His father, William H. Jackson, had bought out the old Jennings Foundry in 1877, a business which had been located in Rochester since before the Civil War. Samuel Jackson attended school in Rochester and had the distinction of being the only boy in the Rochester High School graduating class of 1882.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rochester Relics: John H. Jones Diary

John H. Jones 1917 diary page (Courtesy of Mike Antoniou)
Rochester Hills restaurateur Mike Antoniou made an interesting discovery at an estate sale not long ago.  He picked up this small pocket diary for the year 1917, the cover stamp identifying it as a promotional gift of the Randolph Hotel and Restaurant in Detroit.   Inside, the diary was identified as the property of "J. H. Jones, Rochester, Michigan."

The diary's new owner was intrigued and wanted to find out more about Mr. Jones, who had used the pocket diary to make notes about his daily life in Rochester nearly 100 years ago.

It turns out that John H. Jones was connected to a couple of prominent Rochester families.  John was born in 1870, the son of Harvey F. Jones and Belle Perry.  His father, Harvey, was the son of Burgoyne [sometimes Burgoine] Jones and Mary Ann Morgan, and he was the brother of Mary Ellen Jones Currey, the wife of attorney Daniel R. Currey.  The Curreys and their daughters, Grace and May (who were John's cousins), left their names behind in Rochester - the daughters donated funds for a children's room in the old Avon Township Library. The Currey sisters also platted the Golden Hills subdivision off of Harding Road, in which the streets Burgoyne and Mary Ellen were named for their mother and grandfather.

On Christmas Day 1894, John H. Jones married Matilda "Tillie" George, part of a family that operated farms north of the village of Rochester. In the early 20th century, Matilda's brother, Henry, owned a large part of what had been the Lysander Woodward farm before it was sold for subdivision.

John and Matilda had one son, Edward Leslie Jones, who was called by his middle name.

In the 1917 diary, John H. Jones makes notes about his daily life - where and for whom he worked as a day laborer, what the weather conditions were like, people he visited, and so forth.  The 1920 census tells us that John was retired from farming and living in town, and he notes in the front of the diary that his address is 1015 North Main, so we assume that he was retired in 1917 and was hiring himself out by the day for various jobs.  He mentions Dr. Robert Cassels, a local veterinarian, for whom he may have worked or with whom he may have had contact as a farm laborer.  He also notes that he works 10-hour days for Frank Gehrke, who owned a 71-acre farm on Sheldon Road adjoining one of the George farms.

Later in the year, John notes that he is working at Dodge Bros. for a wage of $3.50 per day.  At this time, the Dodge factory was located in Hamtramck (the plant that was locally known as "Dodge Main"), and John would have been able to commute there on the D.U.R.

In addition to the details of his work life, John Jones also noted a few local events.  On March 4, 1917, John notes “Griggs hit by car at 10:10.” This is a reference to Charles K. Griggs, the former owner of the Rochester Elevator, who was struck and fatally injured by an interurban car near the corner of Main and Fifth (now University Drive), as he was crossing Main street from his office in the Smith building (known today as the Crissman building) to go to the St. James Hotel on the opposite corner. After being struck by the car, Griggs was carried to his home, where he was attended by Dr. Strain, but died of his injuries four days later, on March 8, 1917.

On March 12, 1917, John notes “party for Leslie.” This would refer to the birthday of his son, E.  Leslie Jones, who was born on March 12, 1901, and would have been celebrating his 16th birthday on this date.

One of the last entries in the diary, made on December 15, notes the funeral of George Flumerfelt. This refers to George M. Flumerfelt, who lived in the house at 339 Walnut (now the Potere-Modetz Funeral Home). He had died on December 12 and his funeral was, as noted in the diary, held on December 15.

Thanks to Mike Antoniou for sharing this local history treasure and giving us a glimpse into Rochester life in 1917.  If you're interested in seeing the diary in person, stop in at Antoniou's Towne Square Pizza on South Hill and ask for Mike.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Clarion photo of the school bus yard after the big snow of '65
Not to jinx us, but this month's post is about a weather event.  Fifty years ago this month, Rochester residents were busy digging out from the Blizzard of 1965.  A foot of snow was dropped on the area, carried by 50-mile-an-hour winds.  According to the Rochester Clarion's report, schools, factories and most downtown businesses were closed for two days.  The snow removal cost the village of Rochester $4455 and 742 man hours.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Movers and Shakers: The Journey of John Fairchild Hamlin

Hamlin Road, Hamlin School, Hamlin Pub - the Hamlin name has high visibility in the greater Rochester area more than 150 years after the death of John Fairchild Hamlin, a pioneer settler of the Township of Avon.  So who was John F. Hamlin, and why do we remember him today?

Hamlin was born in 1799  in the Finger Lakes region of western New York state, in the town of East Bloomfield in Ontario County. He was one of 11 children of Elijah Hamlin and Lydia Pope, and his family line can be traced back to Hamlin immigrants who came to America from England in colonial times.  Some of John Fairchild Hamlin's cousins settled in the Buffalo, New York area and were prominent in business there. Cicero J. Hamlin was a successful industrialist and breeder of trotting horses whose home is a landmark in Buffalo today, and Cicero's great-great-grandson  is actor Harry Hamlin of L.A. Law fame. Another Buffalo cousin, Emmons Hamlin, was a founding partner in the firm of Mason & Hamlin, manufacturers of fine musical instruments.

In the year 1820, when John F. Hamlin was 21 years old, he set out on a westward journey in the company of his older brother, Adolphus, his sister Olive, and her husband, William Burbank.  The travelers embarked on a river journey at Olean, New York, where they picked up a keel-boat on the Allegheny River. The group followed the Allegheny for 325 miles to the Ohio, and then traveled the Ohio for 981 miles to its mouth at Cairo, Illinois. At Cairo, they continued on the Mississippi River and then to the Missouri, until they reached St. Charles, Missouri, where they had been enticed by friends to settle.

For reasons that are not recorded in history, the Hamlins and Burbanks were dissatisfied with life in St. Charles and decided to move on within a year of their arrival in Missouri.  Adolphus Hamlin decided to settle in Galena, Illinois, and John F. Hamlin decided to go to Detroit to seek his fortune.  The Burbanks stopped briefly in Sandusky, Ohio, where Olive Burbank decided to return home to western New York to visit her family while her husband, William, traveled on to Detroit to meet John Hamlin so that the two of them could look for homestead land north of Detroit.

John Hamlin and William Burbank decided to settle in Oakland County in what would later become the Township of Avon.  John Hamlin bought land in section 22, at the corner of today's Rochester and Hamlin roads, and established a large and prosperous farm where he raised sheep.  The family home that he built for his wife, Laura, and their six children, has been a landmark in the Rochester area for more than a century and a half and still stands at 1812 S. Rochester Road.

As a farmer of some means, John F. Hamlin had a keen interest in improving transportation infrastructure in an area that was basically a wilderness when he arrived.  Access to city markets was important for farmers, and Oakland County had no travel routes except rivers and wagon trails.  When the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal project was launched in 1837, Hamlin signed on as a contractor to build part of the canal route.  After the canal project failed a few years later, he turned his attention to railroads and was one of several Avon men who applied for legislative approval  in 1844 to organized the Troy and Rochester Railroad.  Unfortunately, the scheme was not economically viable and the rails were never laid; instead, Hamlin and some of the others in the railroad venture organized the Rochester and Royal Oak Plank Road Company, an improved road that was financed through tolls and followed the route of what is known today as Rochester Road.

By the time that John Fairchild Hamlin died in 1863 at the age of 64, his holdings were worth about $5.2 million in terms of today's dollars. He had a résumé of public service that included terms as supervisor, justice of the peace and collector of Avon Township, and his name was forever associated with the founding of the community.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester Board of Education asked voters in the school district to consider a special bond election to fund construction of a swimming pool and auditorium at Rochester High School. The proposed project was expected to cost $1.1 million, and school officials pointed out that adding a 600-seat auditorium to the high school would provide a much-needed performance space that the community was lacking at the time.

The new Rochester High School at Livernois & Walton had opened to students in the fall of 1956, replacing the old high school building on the corner of  West Fifth (later West University) & Wilcox.  It was the only high school serving the district at that time, as Rochester Adams High School would not be opened until 1970.  The bond issue to add a swimming pool and auditorium was defeated by a 106-vote margin in the spring of 1965, but was re-submitted and passed in 1966.  The new sections, including a bridge to connect the physical education and music wings at the east end of the high school, opened in 1968.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Parallel Lives: The Hamlins and the Woodwards


If you live in the greater Rochester area, you are invited to the next public meeting of the Rochester Avon Historical Society on Thursday, February 5 at 7:00 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Rochester Hills Public Library.  Your blog author will present "Parallel Lives: the Hamlins and the Woodwards," an illustrated program that will examine the lives and legacies of two of the Rochester area's pioneer families.  The program is free and open to the public and anyone interested in the topic is welcome to attend.

Be sure to check out the RAHS Facebook page for announcements of other programs of interest, including Tuesday Brown-Bag lunch meetings and our Appraisal Day, coming on Sunday, March 1 at noon.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bygone Business: Potere Super Service

In the summer of 1931, Leo Hartwig opened a Super Service station and tire service center in a brand-new building at 917 North Main, on the corner of Drace.  Hartwig operated the business for nine years, and in February 1940, leased it to William Potere.   This announcement in the Rochester Clarion advised local residents that Potere Super Service would continue to offer the Hi-Speed product line.  The station became Johnson's Super Service in the early 1950s.  About that time, William Potere went into a different line of business.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Subdivision Stories: Howarth and Hammond



One of the smallest subdivisions in the City of Rochester consists of only 13 lots. The Howarth & Hammond Addition lies on the south side of Albertson Street, and comprises the 13 lots east of the old railroad right-of-way (now the Paint Creek Trail).

This subdivision was platted in October 1913, and adjoined the larger Albertson Addition to the north, which had been laid out on the former Albertson farm in 1900.  The partners in this development were Elijah Bailey Howarth, Jr. and his wife Laura, and Laura M. George Hammond.  Elijah Howarth was a prominent Oakland County attorney and descendants of the Howarths who had settled in the Silverbell  and Lapeer roads area of Orion Township. The historic Howarth School is named after this family.

Elijah B. Howarth received his law degree in 1910 and began his private practice in Rochester. In 1913, the same year in which this subdivision was platted, he moved his practice to Royal Oak.  He later went on to serve as a state senator from Oakland County.  The Howarths' partner in their Rochester subdivision was Laura M. Hammond, the widow of  George A. Hammond, and a member of the George family of Rochester.  Laura's sister, Grace, was married to Carroll B. Chapman, the son of William C. Chapman, one of Rochester's biggest real estate developers in the early 20th century.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

1945 U.S. topographical map of downtown Rochester, before the flood
2011 U.S. topographical map of downtown Rochester

The year 1965 ushered in a number of changes to the landscape in the village of Rochester.  In January 1965, the village council took up the long-overdue development of the old mill pond, which had been destroyed by a storm and flood in June 1946.  The area had been essentially a wasteland ever since,  and finally a development plan for the 27-acre site lying east of Water Street was brought forth.  The proposal included the extension of East University Drive through the area from its terminus at Water Street all the way to Elizabeth Street with a new bridge across Paint Creek, and a 7-acre parcel for a brand-new clubhouse and banquet center for the Rochester Elks.  Developers also planned an all-electric apartment complex (known today as the Paint Creek Condominiums).