Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bygone Business: Davey's Market

In the days before supermarkets, Rochester had small grocery stores scattered all over town. One of these was Davey's Market, located at 1012 North Main St., corner of Lysander. The 60x90 foot store was built during the fall of 1945 and winter of 1946, and held its grand opening celebration in February 1946. Proprietor Thomas E. Davey offered a food locker department with a meat processing section that included a rendering room, smokehouse, and a room for picking and dressing of fowl. There were 624 frozen food lockers available for rent by customers.

Davey and his wife had bought out the former George Cook market in early 1945 and immediately began plans to build a modern store. The Daveys eventually sold the store and retired from business, but the new owner decided to retain the Davey name because it was by then well known in Rochester. Davey's operated until the mid-1960s, by which time the supermarkets had sounded the death knell for small town grocery stores. A furniture store succeeded Davey's in the building at 1012 N. Main, and a variety of other businesses followed after that. The structure was most recently the home of the Rochester Elks Club.

I grew up in the neighborhood near Davey's Market, and my clearest memory of the store is the small freezer case just inside the front door which held the "push-up" freezer pops. I remember being treated to the freezer pops on a number of occasions as a small child. I have no idea what else the store might have sold!

This advertisement for Davey's Market is from a March 1946 newspaper.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Main Street Stories: Paint Creek Tavern

The Paint Creek Tavern at 613 N. Main St. is known with affection among long-time Rochester residents as the PCYC, or Paint Creek Yacht Club (it's located on a waterway, after all!). Today it is a treasured local watering hole and gathering place, the quintessential neighborhood tavern, but it has its roots in the days of the interurban streetcar.

Walter W. Brown and James Dungerow established their lunch stand on the location of today's PCYC in 1919. The location was a strategic one, being directly across Main St. from the Detroit United Railway's powerhouse and car barns. The Brown & Dungerow stand was patronized by the DUR workers and streetcar riders alike, who purchased popcorn, beverages and sandwiches from the business.

No alcohol was being sold in those days – Michigan had gone dry on May 1, 1918, and Oakland County had been dry under a local option vote since 1916. Nationwide prohibition followed the state vote and lasted until 1933. As soon as it was once again legal to sell beer in Michigan – in June of 1933 - village officials granted a liquor license to Brown & Dungerow's tavern, and about 1934, as the country struggled upward from the depths of the Great Depression, the partners built the current structure at Main St. and Paint Creek. When James Dungerow later bowed out of the business, Walter Brown continued to operate it under the name Brownie's Tavern.

In December of 1947, Walter Brown retired from business after 28 years and sold the bar to Harold and Frank Snover. Snover's Tavern became the Paint Creek Tavern in the mid-1950s, and has carried that name for the past half century, through a succession of owners following the Snovers. A group of regular patrons of the bar bestowed the nickname “Paint Creek Yacht Club” or PCYC for short, going so far as to adopt an official logo and print up membership cards.

The streetcars no longer rumble past on Main Street, but Paint Creek Tavern continues to offer food and refreshment on the banks of Paint Creek, just as Brown & Dungerow set out to do 91 years ago.

I have a feeling that there are more stories about the PCYC out there waiting to be told. Readers?

This view of the Paint Creek Tavern from the collection of Rod and Susan Wilson shows what the building looked like before its 1997 renovation.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grave Robbery

GRAVE ROBBERS CAUGHT - Two Resurrectionists Arrested at Rochester With Three Dead Bodies Stolen At Oxford Thursday Night. That was the headline in the Detroit Free Press of December 13, 1879, alerting local officials to a heinous crime being committed in the Rochester area.

The story unfolded at the old Pavilion Hotel in Rochester, by this time also known as the Comstock House, which was located on the southwest corner of Third and Main streets. In 1879 the proprietor of the house was Oscar F. Comstock, who was also a deputy sheriff and local constable. The Free Press tells us what happened:
About three weeks since, two men put up at the Pavilion for a short time. They talked but little, made few acquaintences, and in various ways became an object of suspicion by the landlord. After they left Comstock recalled several minor matters, and on comparing notes with his clerk, concluded to watch the individuals should the opportunity present itself. On Wednesday evening of the present week their opportunity arrived.
Two men, aged apparently about 28 years, drove up to the Pavilion in a light spring wagon drawn by one horse, and said they were going to stop over night. Their horse was cared for, and the men registered themselves as Thomas Wilson and James Jamison, both of Pontiac. The clerk, in Mr. Comstock's absence, recognized them as the two individuals who had aroused some suspicion a few weeks previous, and he determined on an investigation. In the wagon-box were two large trunks, and the clerk, watching his opportunity, opened one of them. He found it to contain a short bar, a stout rope, a spade, a pick-ax and such like paraphernalia. He also noticed some clots of blood and hair adhering to some of the tools. Before any definite plan of action could be decided on the men next morning ordered their horse, paid their bill and went away.
About 8 o'clock Friday morning the same men and their conveyance put in another appearance at the Pavilion and were provided with accommodation. The proprietor slipped into the barn, opened one of the trunks, which was not so securely fastened as the other, and brought to view the dead body of a man in grave habiliments. Then the truth occurred to him. Watching his guests until they were close together Landlord Comstock confronted them with a revolver and ordered them to throw up their hands. They complied, and in an instant were secured. Finding no key on their persons Comstock pried open the other trunk and found two more bodies packed therein -- one of a man about 7o years of age and one of a woman perhaps five years younger. In a very short time the hotel was the scene of considerable excitement. Apparently the whole village congregated to view the three bodies, which had been removed from the trunks and carefully laid out on blankets. In a little while two bodies were recognized as those of James Dove and Robert Einslee, who had only two or three days since been buried in the Oxford Cemetery -- fourteen miles distant. The body of the woman, who had evidently been buried longer, was not recognized at last accounts, but is believed to have been "snatched" from the same cemetery. Telegrams of inquiry were sent to Oxford.
Mr. Comstock loaded up a wagon with his prisoners, including a tramp who had been picked up the night previous for robbing Harrison's shoe shop, and, assisted by Messrs. Bennett and Hadley, brought them to Pontiac.
This report in the Detroit Free Press reminded me of a 1975 oral history interview with George Saam (1898-1983) of Rochester, who recalled that his father, acting as town constable, also fought against grave robbers at Mount Avon Cemetery. Saam disclosed that the body snatchers would
...come up and open your grave up, put a hook put around your head, they'd yank you up, take you over to the university down in Ann Arbor, and get about fifty bucks for you. That would have to be done in about the first ten days you was in there, 'cause embalming wasn't as good them days as it is now. You'd get people to watch your grave. People that had money would have my dad or somebody go up there and watch their graves. They'd know about when these guys were coming, and get in there and open the graves up. I bet in the old cemetery, there's a third of the people went in there aren't in there anymore, because they went to the university. If you'd happen to get into somebody's grave that was being watched, the judge would probably fine the dickens out of you for that, but it wasn't against the law to open a grave up – didn't seem to be, anyway – to open a grave up and steal that person out of there.

By the late 1870s, some states were beginning to pass laws against this kind of grisly activity, but up until that time, grave robbery was commonplace in all communities that were within one night's wagon ride of a medical school. The medical department of the University of Michigan was known to pay in the neighborhood of $30-50 dollars for "fresh" cadavers, and in those days, competition for cadavers among the nation's medical school was keen enough to keep these ghoulish entrepreneurs in business.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

At Home in Rochester: The William Deats Residence

The Eastlake Victorian house at 302 W. University Drive, on the northwest corner of Pine, is commonly referred to as the Flumerfelt residence but was actually built by Dr. William Deats and his wife, Harriet. Dr. Deats was born in Northampton County, Pennsylvania in 1847. His home town there was Lower Mt. Bethel township, in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. Deats was graduated from Lafayette College in nearby Easton in 1874, then went on to earn his M.D. degree at Jefferson Medical College and a Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania in 1877.

Following the completion of his college education, William Deats relocated to Rochester, Michigan, where he established a medical practice in the fall of 1878. His reason for choosing to move to Rochester is unknown, but several people from his home in Pennsylvania were already living in this area, included Reuben Immick, the William Fox family, and Francis Stofflet, who was teaching school in Rochester at the time.

In the fall of 1880, Dr. Deats married Harriet Ann “Hattie” Sprague, the youngest daughter of the late Dr. Rollin Sprague. He doubtless met Hattie Sprague through Francis Stofflet, who was by that time married to Hattie's older sister, Mary Sprague. The following spring, Dr. and Mrs. Deats were expecting their first child and on April 13, 1881, Hattie Sprague purchased from her mother, Adaline Sprague, lots 8 and 9 in Sprague's Addition to the village of Rochester for the sum of $400.

The Rochester Era followed the progress of construction on the Deats house throughout the summer of 1881. The newspaper reported that the $1800 contract to build a house for Dr. Deats on the lot lying west of Adaline Sprague's residence had been granted to John Ross & Co. The selection of Ross to build the Deats home is not surprising, since he was also a native of Lower Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania, and had lived near the Deats family before migrating to Michigan. Among the buildings constructed by John Ross & Co. were the Griggs Brothers Grain Elevator (now the Rochester Elevator), the Universalist Church, and the Congregational Church. (When Ross retired from the building trade, he sold his contracting business to his son-in-law, Daniel B. Kressler. Kressler, in turn, was eventually bought out by Dillman & Upton.)

The Era reported in early June of 1881 that the frame of the Deats house was being raised, and in October, made this comment:

Dr. Deats has been grading his dooryard, and will have a beautiful lawn in time. His new residence is almost ready for occupancy, and is an honor to the village.

The newspaper informed its readers two weeks later that the Deats family was in residence in the new home, and soon after reported that Dr. Deats was building a barn on the premises.

William and Harriet Deats did not stay long in Rochester, however. In May of 1884, Deats moved his family back to Easton, Pennsylvania and leased their Rochester home to E.L. Torrey. On February 2, 1885, Hattie Deats sold the house and property to William C. Flumerfelt for the sum of $2100. Flumerfelt, a retired farmer from Oakland Township, lived in the house with his wife, Elizabeth “Libbie” Axford until his death in 1906, and his widow continued to live there until her own death in 1924.

After the death of Libbie Flumerfelt, ownership of the house passed to her nephew, Henry Wood Axford. Henry Axford, an attorney, had been orphaned at the age of nine and lived with a succession of relatives before being taken in by Libbie Flumerfelt. He made his aunt's residence at 302 W. Fifth St. his home for most of the rest of his life, and was the last to use the house as a private residence. Among the occupants of the Deats house since the early 1970s have been a physician's office, the De Nike import store, the Objects & Images gallery, and the Andre & Co. salon. The carriage house was for a time the home of a paperback book store. The house is currently occupied by La Dolce Vita Spa and Salon.

The William Deats residence celebrates its 129th birthday this summer.

This 1897 view of the Deats residence was taken during the time that the house was occupied by William C. and Libbie Axford Flumerfelt.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

This month we observe the 115th anniversary of the founding of the Rochester Fire Department. When Rochester was incorporated as a village in 1869, no fire department was established. In those days, fires were fought by friends and neighbors with an old-fashioned bucket brigade when the need arose. As the village grew, this approach became inadequate to protect life and property.

The village was prompted to take action after a devastating fire destroyed the former Pavilion Hotel at Third and Main streets on April 16, 1880. Newspaper accounts of the time note that only the favorable direction of the wind prevented the entire downtown from being engulfed. After the fire, the village council voted to purchase some ladders, buckets, pike poles and ropes, and a fire warden was appointed to take charge of the equipment. However, without an organized fire department, response to fires in the village was still somewhat haphazard.

After the village constructed a waterworks and laid water mains within the village in 1894, serious talk about establishing a proper fire department began in earnest. On July 1, 1895, the Rochester Village Council adopted a resolution created two hose companies, a hook and ladder company, and the office of chief engineer. The charter fire department was led by chief engineer James W. Smith of the Hotel St. James, and hose company captains J.W. Horn and H. J. Peters.

For over a century, the Rochester Fire Department has defended life and property, and on more than one occasion has saved the downtown business district from devastation. The department is governed by time-honored tradition established in 1895 and has been a family institution, with multiple sets of fathers, sons and brothers on its historical roster.

For anyone interested in a complete history of the department, I highly recommend William A. Cahill's The Rochester Fire Department: A Centennial History, 1895-1995. If you encounter one of our dedicated Rochester fire fighters this month, be sure to extend happy birthday greetings!

This 1895 photo of the charter Rochester Fire Department is one of my favorites. Notice the young boy peering beneath the wagon in the center background.