Friday, August 28, 2009

Vanished Rochester: The Charles K. Griggs Residence

The Charles Kelley Griggs residence was located at 210 West Fifth Street (now West University Drive), on the northeast corner of West University Drive and Pine Street. C.K. Griggs, a prominent Rochester businessman who owned and operated the Rochester Elevator, built the house in 1886 immediately after his marriage to Martha "Mattie" Kidder. Griggs lived in the house until his death in 1917; the house was later sold and became the home of the Avon Township Library in 1928. Terms of the sale allowed Mattie Griggs to occupy upstairs quarters until her death, which occurred in 1929.

The former Griggs residence served as the home of the Avon Township Public Library for two decades. It was razed in August 1949 as the library prepared for a new building on the same site. That building, the Woodward Memorial Library, opened in 1951 and was used by the library until 1992. Today it houses several small businesses.

Note in this 1907 picture of the Griggs residence the Camperdown elm trees which are visible in the front yard. The Camperdown elm is an unusual tree. In 1640, the Earl of Camperdown in Scotland discovered a branch growing along the ground in an elm forest. He produced the first Camperdown elm by grafting the branch to the trunk of a Scotch elm. As the tree is produced through this grafting process and cannot reproduce itself, every Camperdown elm tree in the world is part of that original tree.

The Camperdown elms on the Griggs property were spared when the house was demolished and the library was built. When the library moved to its current location on Olde Towne Road in 1992, it was hoped that the old elms could be moved there, but this was not feasible. A new Camperdown elm was donated to the library and now stands in front of the building, and the library uses a drawing of a Camperdown elm as part of its letterhead. Meanwhile, one of the two Camperdown elms that are seen on the Griggs lawn in this photo from a century ago still stands today on the lawn of the former library building at 210 West University Drive.

Next time you pass by the old library or visit the current library, be sure to take a moment to admire the Camperdown elms.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Main Street Stories: 303 S. Main

The building at 303 S. Main is one of the younger kids on the block. It was built in the spring of 1959 to house the Doris Hayes dress shop, and featured apartments on the second floor. For many years before the dress shop was built, the site had been a vacant lot where a large billboard stood.

The Doris Hayes shop gave way to Alvin's dress shop in the seventies, and the building was connected for a time to 301 S. Main during the time that Alvin's occupied both storefronts. Today, 303 is the home of Mixx Salon and Spa.

The building at 303 S. Main celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

Photo: This photo from the collection of Marjorie and the late Walter Dernier shows the building at 303 S. Main in the early 1960s, not long after it was built.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Subdivision Stories: Albertson Addition

The first twentieth-century addition to the original plat of the village of Rochester was known as the Albertson Addition, the plat of which was approved by the village council in June 1900. Located east of North Main Street and north of Paint Creek, the new subdivision was laid out on the fifty-six acre former Albertson farm. The principal investors in the development were Albert G. Griggs and his wife, Minnie, and Frank Drace and his wife, Minnie. Streets in the new subdivision were named for the Albertson family, on whose farm it was created, and for the principal investors, Griggs and Drace.

On June 30, 1900, an auction sale of available lots was held in the Rochester Opera House. Advertisements for the sale boasted the advantages of the development: large lots with a 16-foot alley in the rear that allowed one to "drive to barn or garden without passing through the front yard," and the convenience of having the brand-new interurban line passing the property. "You have only to step from your door," the flyer commented, "onto the finest electric car in the country, running to Detroit, Romeo, Orion, Oxford and in the near future to Flint and the Saginaws. The time is not far distant, when 30 to 40 trains will pass this property daily."

On the day of the sale, all 136 lots offered were snapped up, and all but one of them sold to residents of the Rochester area. Superintendent of schools Abram L. Craft bought the first lot in the Albertson Addition sale for $200.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Main Street Stories: The Reimer Building

The building at 418 S. Main is the oldest structure standing on the east side of Main in the block between Fourth Street and University Drive, and has some ties to one of Rochester's best-remembered local businesses. It was built in the summer of 1885 by Joseph Reimer, who was associated in the hardware business with his son, Cyrus Reimer. According to accounts in the Rochester Era, Joseph Reimer moved into his new store in November of 1885, but sold out to his son, Cyrus, and a partner, Alvin S. Bliss, in June of the following year. Cyrus Reimer was a traveling hardware salesman for the Detroit firm of Buhl & Sons, and because he spent so much time on the road he left the management of the store to partner Bliss. In 1888, Bliss sold his part of the business to Harvey J. Taylor, who eventually bought out Reimer and moved the hardware store to a new building on the west side of Main in 1890. Taylor subsequently sold out to Charles Case, and the company, by then located at 335 S. Main, became known as Case's Hardware.

Meanwhile, the building at 418 S. Main hosted many businesses, including the Drace & Bartholomew meat market. In 1903, it became one of the early locations of George Burr's hardware and implement business. Burr remained there until 1914 when he built a large new store on the west side of Main (the location today of Green's Art Supply). In 1923, the Buchanan & Kemler pool room occupied 418 S. Main. By 1925, it was home of the McKinney Lunch & Billiards establishment. In 1929, Bruno Perna was operating a fruit and produce market there, and in the 1940s Young's Grocery was located in the building. McCotter's Lunch and Grocery and Gerda's Restaurant were there in the 1950s, and Stapp's Shoes was the tenant in the 1960s. During the 1970s and early 1980s, 418 was the home of Trackside Hobbies, and in 1998, The Gilded Rabbit was there. The Sumo Sushi & Seafood restaurant is currently located at 418 S. Main.

The Reimer building celebrates its 124th birthday this summer.

Photo: This view of the Reimer building was taken sometime after George Burr bought it for his implement business in 1903. Over the years, the building has had a least three different brick veneers on the Main Street elevation and the second-floor windows have been completely re-worked at least twice.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fifty Years for Fifty-Nine

It was standing room only at Knapp's Dairy Bar this past Monday evening, as members of RHS Class of 1959 swelled the ranks at the annual alumni gathering. The crowd of former Falcons spilled out onto the sidewalk when the restaurant could no longer contain all of the bodies. Members of the Class of '59 were in town for their fiftieth class reunion festivities, and made merry with an entire week of activities. Welcome home, '59, and best wishes!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vanished Rochester: Walnut Boulevard

Walnut Street is still with us, of course, but the boulevard islands that once defined the roadway vanished more than half a century ago. Walnut was once a picturesque thoroughfare lined with mature trees, private homes of leading citizens, and churches - seven denominations were represented in a three-block area. The streetscape featured a boulevard down the center even before the street was paved. And when it finally was paved, in the summer of 1931, the boulevard was incorporated into the streetscape. At various times, the island held both the 1917 Harris fountain and the World War II honor roll, both of which are now located at the east end of the Rochester Municipal Building.

Automobiles were the death of the boulevard on Walnut Street. In 1951, the village of Rochester was trying to come to grips with a serious downtown parking shortage. The village council voted to install metered parking on Main Street, and to offer free parking on Walnut. For parking on Walnut to work efficiently, the boulevard had to go. Besides, both the Walnut boulevard and the one in Fifth Street (now University Drive) were taking a beating from the increasing traffic in the downtown area. Drivers were regularly crashing into, or driving over the landscaped medians. In the spring of 1951, the village began the work of reconfiguring Walnut to accommodate higher traffic and more parking. The Harris fountain was moved to the intersection of Second & Main, and the Walnut boulevard vanished from Rochester's landscape.

Photo: This 1940s postcard view from Rochester Hills Public Library's online collection shows Walnut Street looking north from the intersection of Fourth Street. The First Baptist Church of Rochester (now the Village Shoe Inn at 401 Walnut), is seen at left. Note the Harris fountain standing on the boulevard island.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

During the month of August, it is appropriate to reflect on the Rochester community's newspaper heritage. Rochester has been fortunate to have three long-running newspapers in her history, with a few short-lived upstarts sprinkled in along the way.

The first successful title was the Rochester Era, published by T.B. and W.A. Fox, which burst onto the scene with its salutatory edition on May 22, 1873. The weekly Era ran without noteworthy competition for a quarter of a century, until Charles S. Seed's Rochester Clarion launched its inaugural number on August 19, 1898. The Era and the Clarion went head-to-head for another fifty-one years, but gradually, it became clear that the Clarion was winning the competition for advertising. The Era shrank and took on an increasingly shopworn appearance until finally, on August 28, 1949, it surrendered the field and was bought out by the Clarion.

The Clarion soldiered on as a solo player with little competition for twenty-three more years. On August 3, 1972, the Observer & Eccentric chain of newspapers brought the Rochester Eccentric to town, and Rochester once again enjoyed the benefit of two weekly newspapers. Sadly, in October 1997, just a few months short of its century mark, the Rochester Clarion conceded defeat and was purchased by the Observer & Eccentric chain. For a brief time, the remaining newspaper styled itself as the Rochester Clarion-Eccentric, but the Clarion name was soon thereafter dropped and the newspaper went on as the Rochester Eccentric.

In the spring of 2009, the Observer & Eccentric chain reacted to the economic pressure that all print newspapers have been feeling in the digital age, and scaled back its print products. Among the casualties was the Rochester Eccentric, which ceased publication on May 31, 2009, in its thirty-seventh year. The community is poorer for the loss of its newspapers, but I fear historians of the future will feel the effects even more deeply than we do today.