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.


  1. I'm impatient for another story!
    I appreciate your efforts.

    1. Don't worry, Rochester history fans, more stories are coming. Pressing family matters have not allowed me to do any research or writing for a few weeks, but I'll be back at it soon, so keeping checking in with Remembering Rochester.