Friday, May 28, 2010

Greater Rochester Heritage Days

The Greater Rochester Heritage Days festival will be held this Saturday and Sunday, May 29 & 30, in the Rochester Municipal Park. Festival hours will be 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and there will be plenty to see and do on both days. You'll see a classic car and hot rod show, Civil War and World War II re-enactors, an arts and crafts show, pony rides, antique fire trucks and tractors, historical demonstrations, kids' games, and plenty of food.

If you're in the Rochester area this holiday weekend, be sure to stop by the park and enjoy a good, old-fashioned community festival with friends and family. I'll be at the Rochester Avon Historical Society booth on Sunday, so if you're in the park, please visit the RAHS booth and say hello.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Memorial Day Parade

It's hard for me to believe, but the photo accompanying this post was taken 29 years ago, on Memorial Day 1981. At that time, the annual Memorial Day parade departed from the Rochester Municipal Building after a wreath-laying ceremony, and made its way to Mount Avon Cemetery, where a program was held. I remember listening to the RHS Falcon Marching Band (Rochester's First and Finest) as they entered the cemetery gate, stepping to a hushed cadence that was solemnly tapped out on the rims of their drums.

We'll have a Memorial Day parade this year, on Monday, May 31. The parade will depart from Mount Avon Cemetery at 10:00 a.m. and proceed down Harding Road to Livernois, ending at Veterans' Memorial Pointe, where a program will be held to remember the nation's honored dead. Please take time out of your holiday weekend to participate in this important community observance.

This photo shows the RHS precision drill team, the Rochester Falconettes, marching down University Drive in the parade. Any former Falconettes out there?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Main Street Stories: Thomas W. Hacker block

Thomas W. Hacker built a new brick building at 330 S. Main St. in the summer of 1886, to house his meat market. A description in the Rochester Era gives us a glimpse of what a state-of-the-art meat market looked like 124 years ago:
The new building is 20x70 ft., two stories high, with a fine cellar under all. The salesroom is 20x30 ft., with full plate glass front, and furnished with a marble-top counter. Just back of this room is the ice-box eleven feet square, where the meats for immediate use are kept, the contents being plainly visible through a plate glass front running the width of the box.
The business was known as the Palace Meat Market, and in an ad for the grand opening of the new store, sirloin steaks were offered for twelve cents a pound.
Four years later, there was major activity on the east side of Main, between Third and Fourth, where the Palace Meat Market was located. Charles A. Burr was building the Opera House block, and his brother Frank Burr was building a two-store block adjacent to the Opera House on the south. One lot stood between Frank Burr's new block and the Palace Meat Market, so Thomas W. Hacker tore down the small building that stood there and built another new brick store to fill in the block. The Era reported:
The Hacker brick building adjoining his meat market has been torn down to make room for a new one, which will be erected in connection with the Burr stores. When this full block is completed it will be an ornament and the pride of the village. Work on it is steadily being pushed forward, a full corps of workmen being employed thereon.
The new building bore the address of 332 S. Main. Over the years, occupants of the two Hacker buildings included Wiley & Bitters, the T.E. Nichols Furniture and Undertaking business, Bebout's restaurant, and Mitzelfeld's at 330, and Nichols Furniture, Pixley Furniture and Mitzelfeld's at 332. Once the Mitzelfeld block expanded to absorb the buildings at 330 and 332 S. Main, the storefronts became part of the Mitzelfeld facade and used the Mitzelfeld address number. After Mitzelfeld's closed, the buildings formerly known as 330-332 became 324 S. Main. O'Connor's Public House is currently located there.

This postcard view of the Hacker block from the collection of the Rochester Hills Public Library shows the buildings as they looked around 1912.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vanished Rochester: Wood Dawn

Area residents are probably familiar with the Loren Andrus Octagon House in nearby Washington Township, but may not be aware that the Rochester area once had its very own octagon house, named Wood Dawn. The house disappeared from our local landscape decades before I was born, but fortunately one of the nineteenth-century pamphlets promoting Rochester carried this picture of it, so we have some idea what it looked like.

Wood Dawn stood on a farm just west of the village of Rochester, in the area that we know today as Great Oaks. According to a 1909 memoir by Samuel Harris that was published in the Rochester Era, the octagon house was built by Lyman Wilcox, who owned the property for a large part of the nineteenth century, and stood on the property during the tenure of subsequent owners including Rufus Schermerhorn and dairy farm operator John C. Day. Octagon architecture had become something of a minor sensation in the United States after an amateur architect named Orson Squire Fowler published a book in 1848 touting the benefits of the octagon house. Fowler claimed, among other things, that octagon homes were cheaper to build and heat, afforded more natural light, and provided healthier ventilation.

Rochester's octagon house was described in the Rochester Clarion in the spring of 1939, as it was being razed after Howard McGregor bought the property on which it stood for his Great Oaks Stock Farm. The Clarion said, in part:
One of the many improvements being made on the old J.C. Day farm, west of town, is the razing of the once beautiful stone mansion occupied by its former owner in days gone by.
The structure, octagon shaped, is over 100 years old, three stories high and had 42 rooms. There was a beautiful spiral stairway in the very center of the house leading from the basement direct to the glass enclosed turret three floors above, with two landings between each floor. Every piece of lumber used in the construction of the house was oak.
Wood Dawn was probably not quite 100 years old when it was torn down in 1939, despite the Clarion's claim, but it was definitely an interesting piece of Rochester's early history, now consigned to the pages of vanished Rochester.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bygone Business: Rochester Packing

The building at 301 Hacker St., along the Clinton River, that housed the Rochester Packing Company was built in the summer of 1947 by Roy Mason. Mason slaughtered and butchered locally-raised cattle and hogs at his processing plant, and sold his meat at Mason's Market, his retail store at Fourth and West Alley, at the back of the D&C building.

Rochester Packing was later owned by Art and Al Gruener, who sold meat and meat products from a retail counter right at the plant on Hacker. The Grueners closed the business on May 3, 1988.

Anybody else remember taking a grade school field trip tour of the packing house and finding out how sausage is made, up close?

This ad for the Rochester Packing Company ran in the Clarion in 1964.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

During the month of May, we look back at a milestone event in the history of the Rochester Hills Public Library. The library's roots as a public institution go back to 1924, when it was established as the Avon Township Free Public Library, and was housed in a couple of different locations on Main Street before moving into the former Charles K. Griggs home at 210 W. Fifth Street (northeast corner of Pine) in 1928.

One of the library's principal supporters in those days was Eva Woodward Parker, the daughter of Rochester's pioneer farmer and former legislator, Lysander Woodward. When Eva Woodward Parker died in 1933, she left money to the library to be used for the construction of a new building. This project was started in 1949, and on May 30, 1951, fifty-nine years ago this month, dedication ceremonies were held for the new building on the former site of the Griggs residence at Fifth & Pine.

The new building was christened Woodward Memorial Library in honor of Eva Woodward Parker's family name. It was built by Frank Rewold and was designed by a prominent Detroit architect, William Edward Kapp. Kapp had worked for many years with the firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (the former incarnation of today's SmithGroup, which is the longest continuously operating architectural firm in the United States). While working for Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, Kapp designed Meadow Brook Hall for Alfred and Matilda Wilson, and also designed the Wilson Theatre (known today as the Music Hall) in Detroit. Both of these structures are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Kapp-designed library building in Rochester was expanded twice to accommodate the ever-growing collections and increasing demand for services. In 1992, the Rochester Hills Public Library moved to its current location on Old Towne Road and the Kapp building at 210 W. University was remodeled into boutique business suites.

This photo of the William E. Kapp-designed library building at 210 W. University was taken in 1985.