Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bloomer Ski Jump History To Be Presented

The next meeting of the Rochester Avon Historical Society on Thursday, February 4 will feature Penny Frank Reddish, who will present a history of the Bloomer ski jump, in its day the highest ski jump in lower Michigan. Penny is descended from the Frank and Newberry families, pioneers of the Rochester area, and her family sold the land on Newberry Hill to the builders of the ski jump. She will share photos, family documents and ski jump memorabilia during her presentation.

Remembering Rochester featured a post about the ski jump last year, but that article only provided a brief introduction to the topic. To hear the rest of the story, be sure to attend the Rochester Avon Historical Society meeting on February 4 at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Rochester Hills Public Library, 500 Old Towne Road. The program is free and open to the public.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bygone Business: Hurley's Market

In this new occasional series, we'll take a look at advertisements for bygone Rochester area businesses. Our inaugural installment features Hurley's Market, located at 339 Wilcox St., at the corner of Fourth. This neighborhood store was a child of the Great Depression, and opened as Cook's Market on December 20, 1930. In addition to serving the grocery needs of families residing west of Main Street, the market was also heavily patronized by students attending school across the corner from the store.

In 1939, Edward W. Alward bought the store from Cook, and it was known as Alward's Market to more than two decades of students. William S. Hurley bought the market in 1962, and operated it until the mid-1970s. At that time, Central Junior High School was closed, and the last of the hungry students left the Fourth & Wilcox education complex for other, more modern campuses. Today, the former market houses a beauty salon.

Did you shop at Hurley's? Work there? Hang out there? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of Remembering Rochester. Twelve months and 103 posts later, I'm still enjoying the effort, so I'm going to continue writing this blog. I hope you have enjoyed it as well, and I appreciate all of the comments that have been posted thus far. Every extra tidbit of information that comes from readers' memories enhances the posts and makes the blog more fun for everyone who reads it.

Remembering Rochester has had 1,035 unique visitors in the past year, and they have paid a total of 3,417 visits to the site. They come from 43 different states and a couple of foreign countries. Readers with Rochester area roots are all over the map and still interested in their home town, it seems. If you know of anyone who would enjoy reading Remembering Rochester, I hope you'll pass the link along to them.

Now, I'd like to ask for some feedback from readers. If there is a story or topic having to do with the history of Rochester/Rochester Hills/Avon Township that you would like to read about on Remembering Rochester, please tell me about it! I won't promise to write on every topic suggested, but I'll cover as many as I can in the spare time that I allow myself for researching and writing for this blog. I will continue the Main Street Stories, Vanished Rochester and Subdivision Stories series, and I have a couple of new ones in mind that I may launch this year if time allows. Feel free to make suggestions for future topics by commenting on this post. If you would like to share a story idea, photo, or other suggestion with me directly, e-mail me at

Again, thanks for reading and commenting. Comments let me know that somebody is out there, reading, and as long as that is the case, I'll keep writing! I hope you continue to enjoy Remembering Rochester and share it with family and friends.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vanished Rochester: Detroit Silver Fox Farm

During the Roaring Twenties, when the economy was booming and luxury items were in demand, Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) was the home of an unusual type of agricultural operation: the Detroit Silver Fox Farm.

Located on property currently occupied by the Village of Rochester Hills shopping center at the northeast corner of Pontiac Road (later Walton Boulevard) and Dodge Road (later Adams Road), the fox farm was incorporated in May of 1923. Officers were Fred W. Craft of Detroit, president; Arthur J. Anderson of Lake Orion, vice-president and treasurer; and R.D. Colquhoun of Detroit, secretary.

The Detroit Silver Fox Farm raised pairs of the silver gray fox, an animal highly prized for its luxurious coat, in pens that were carefully shaded by trees in order to protect the valuable pelts from damage by the sun. A watch tower loomed over the pens and an armed guard surveyed the area to ward off any intruders. Silver foxes were valued, in those days, at $5,000 to $10,000 per pair.

The company was also known by the name Pontiac Strain Furs, the label under which it marketed its product. One industry publication claimed that Pontiac Strain Furs operated fifteen fox farms and processing facilities in several states and Canada, and was the one of the largest fur operations in the country.

The company's prosperity turned out to be rather short-lived, however. Bills and claims against the firm began to pile up in 1926, after only three years of operation at the Avon Township location. Among the unpaid creditors was Rochester's Dillman & Upton lumber yard, which sought to foreclose a mechanic's lien against the fox farm for more than $5,000 in building material provided to the company in 1924. Detroit Silver Fox Farm went into receivership in 1927, and abandoned the Avon Township property because it could not be sold for a price high enough to pay the claims against it.

This postcard from the collection of the Rochester Hills Public Library shows the office building of the Detroit Silver Fox Farm in Avon Township.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Abram L. Craft

In 1937, a WPA program called the Federal Art Project funded a mural to decorate the halls of Rochester High School. Painted by muralist Marvin Beerbohm and installed over a central stairway in the school, the work entitled “Industrial Environment of Rochester High School” was unveiled in 1938.

As was common with many paintings commissioned under the FAP program, Rochester's mural features subject matter that is locally significant, including scenes of the Ferry-Morse Seed Farm and the Parkedale Biological Farms. The central figure in the mural is Abram L. Craft, who served as superintendent of the Rochester school district from about 1898 to 1908.

Abram L. Craft was born in Springfield Township, Oakland County, in 1854, the son of Charles Burton Craft and Lydia Ann Lyman. He was graduated from Fenton High School, and then attended Detroit Business University and Ferris Institute. He taught in several schools in Oakland County, including those in Clyde, Highland, Rose, White Lake, Springfield, Clarkston and Rochester. He was a county school examiner for 26 years, and after leaving Rochester in 1908 he served as Oakland County School Commissioner until his retirement in 1923.

In the summer of 1937, at the age of 81, A.L. Craft was honored by the Rochester Board of Education as the only local individual to be depicted in the Beerbohm mural commissioned for the high school. The inclusion of his image in the mural was meant to be a tribute to his half-century of service to the students of Oakland County. Unfortunately, Craft died at his Pontiac home on December 17, 1937, a few months before the painting was completed.

The Beerbohm mural remained on display in the school until 1961, when it was covered with drywall and forgotten during a building renovation. The damaged art work was rediscovered during another renovation in 1990, and was recently adopted for restoration by the Rochester Avon Historical Society. It has been undergoing cleaning and restoration by professional art conservator LaVere Webster; the Society hopes to return it to public view as soon as funds to pay for its proper re-hanging can be raised.

The illustration shows the image of Abram L. Craft as it appears in the Marvin Beerbohm mural.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Avon Park Pavilion

During the Great Depression, the Rochester area benefited from a number of projects funded under agencies created by the National Recovery Act. One of these was a WPA project approved in September 1940 to built a pavilion at Avon Park (now Rochester Municipal Park, off Ludlow St.). The park itself had been created a few years earlier with workers provided by another recovery agency, the Public Works Administration (PWA). Now, federal funds would make possible a building that could be used for events and recreational activities.

The project called for a log building of 30 x 100 feet, with a field stone fireplace. According to an account in the Rochester Clarion, the field stone was offered free by Homer R. Hodges of Brewster Road, and was gathered from his 292-acre farm in section 5 of Avon Township. The estimated cost of construction of the pavilion was $12,000. The Clarion reported that construction had begun in May 1941, but now said that the pavilion would be a more manageable 30 x 60 feet. It was scheduled to be finished and open for use in June of 1941.

After the war ended, an improvement was made to the Avon Park Pavilion. In September 1947, a heating unit was installed so that the building could be made available for use year-round, weather conditions notwithstanding. In 1951, the Rochester Women's Club, in partnership with the Girl Scouts, raised $856 to equip a kitchen in the pavilion. Very little else was done to the building for decades – it remained a rustic shelter with basic amenities until the mid-1970s. The floor was poured concrete, and the seating consisted of picnic tables with plank benches.

The Avon Park Pavilion was transformed after it became the home of the Rochester Community House, which was founded in 1975. The Community House has made many additions and capital improvements to the building in the past 35 years, and as a result, the full-service facility we know today is much larger and looks vastly different than it did in 1941. The building's rustic beginnings are still visible, however, if one knows where to look. The most prominent is the field stone fireplace at the north end of the structure, built from the rock harvested from Homer Hodges' farm. The fireplace is the focal point of the Community House's Lewis Room, which comprises most of the original pavilion structure.

The Avon Park Pavilion/Rochester Community House building celebrates its 69th birthday this spring.

This postcard photo from the collection of the Rochester Hills Public Library, shows how the Avon Park Pavilion looked at the time that it was built in 1941.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Subdivision Stories: New School

In 1916, the brand-new Rochester High School building at the corner of Fifth (University Drive) & Wilcox streets was opened to students. It was the town's first school building specifically designed to house the high school students, and it was dedicated with great fanfare.

During the same time period that the new school was being planned and built, real estate developers were platting the property lying to the west of the school between Fifth Street and the southern village limits. Principal among them was the partnership of Kapp and Ritchey, whose Auburn Gardens Land Company had developed the Alhambra Gardens and Curry Hills subdivisions on the west side of the village of Rochester in 1913. Kapp and Ritchey's new subdivision, laid out and sold in 1916 and including the streets known as Helen, Taylor, Castell, Roselawn and Fairview, was named “New School” because it offered housing opportunities within easy walking distance of the new school.

The developers were Ruth Adelaide Kapp and Paul Harden Ritchey and his wife, Addie V. Ritchey. P.H. Ritchey had offices in Pontiac and Windsor and traveled extensively in his quest to locate investment properties. Ruth A. Kapp was a real estate investor based in Ann Arbor and Pontiac. Her father, John Kapp, was a physician who served at one time as mayor of Ann Arbor. Another physician, Dr. Daniel G. Castell, a prominent citizen of Pontiac, was apparently a close friend of Ruth A. Kapp; she honored him by naming a street for him in the Alhambra Gardens subdivision when it was created in 1913. The street was continued through the Curry Hills and Oakdale subdivisions, and eventually, through the New School subdivision. At the time, Ruth Kapp was living in Pontiac on Roselawn Street, and she apparently named another street in New School in honor of her Pontiac address.

The features of the New School subdivision were proudly enumerated in advertisements of the day. Lots could be had for as little as $75. A large display ad running in the Rochester Era during July of 1916 described the amenities:
The New School Subdivsion lots are large, high, dry and have nicely graded streets. During recent years it has been discovered that the English Walnut tree will thrive and bear well in Michigan. These are the thin-shelled nuts you buy from your grocer for 20c to 25c per pound. We are going to plant an English Walnut tree on the front part of every lot in the New School subdivision early next spring. We will also plant one nice Maple tree in front of every lot.
The location of the property is ideal. The main trunk line running out of the city towards the west, Fifth St., passes on the north side of the property. It is also intersected by Third and First Streets. The big schools are nearby.
There are no railroads or car tracks to cross in going to these schools, and the mothers never need to worry about the little ones going or coming. All churches are within easy walking distance of this property, and it is only a few minutes' walk into the heart of the business district.
Kapp & Ritchey must have made their case very effectively with prospective buyers, for every lot in the New School subdivision was sold during the two sale weekends. The developers, finding themselves in the desirable situation of having more buyers than available lots to sell, immediately opened another subdivision the following month.

This advertisement from the Rochester Era lists the terms of purchase for lots in the New School subdivision.

Friday, January 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

Do you refer to University Drive in Rochester as Fifth Street? If so, you are saying something about yourself! It was fifty-one years ago today, on January 1, 1959, that Fifth Street officially became known as University Drive. The village fathers changed the name of the street because they wanted to acknowledge the presence of the newly-founded Michigan State University-Oakland (later to become Oakland University), located a few miles west of town on the former Meadow Brook Stock Farm of Alfred and Matilda Dodge Wilson.

Rochester was eager in those days to become a "college town" of sorts. Although the MSUO campus lay partially in Avon Township and partially in Pontiac Township (now Auburn Hills), area leaders were successful in encouraging the school to adopt a Rochester mailing address and a Rochester identity. Renaming Fifth Street was part of their effort to ensure that Rochester would be considered the "home" of Oakland University.

This view of Fifth Street, from the collection of the Rochester Hills Public Library, was taken in the mid-1920s, when the boulevard still existed. The camera is looking west.