Saturday, December 31, 2011

Driver Education the Old-Fashioned Way

New Year's Eve seems like an appropriate time for this post. When I was enrolled in a driver education course at Rochester High School in the mid-1970s, the instructors used a "scared straight" method of impressing upon their students the importance of safe, sober driving. Their instrument of choice was a film entitled Mechanized Death, (click the link if you remember this and would like to see it again!) which was gory enough to make some of the queasier fledgling drivers forget about wanting to get behind the wheel at all. The film hit home for a lot of students because in the community of Rochester, one had only to drive down Main Street and turn west on Second to see three-dimensional proof of the hazards of inattentive, reckless or impaired driving.

Shown in this snapshot from 1962 is part of the Byers wrecker yard, located directly behind the Byers Shell gas station that stood on the northwest corner of Main & Second.  When a Byers tow truck was called to clear up the scene of automotive mayhem, the mangled metal carcasses were usually deposited on their lot behind the gas station, along Second Street between Main and the west alley, where they were on display for all of the town to see and contemplate. In a small community such as Rochester, the details about the resulting injuries or deaths circulated quickly. I imagine that more than one Rochester parent used a cruise past the Byers lot as a teachable moment.

In this photo, the camera is looking southeasterly from the northeast corner of Second Street and the west alley.  The Texaco station and auto repair shop that is seen on the southwest corner of Main and Second is now the location of the Shehrzad restaurant.  The two houses shown in the background at left are now the location of the Quik Pik and Penn Station East Coast Subs store; the Village Cleaners building is seen in the background at center right.

Do you remember, Rochester?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Memory's Eye: Michigan Central Railroad Bridge

This bridge over Paint Creek east of the old Western Knitting Mills (now Rochester Mills Brewery) is an important local landmark. Having been in place for over a century, it is said to be one of the oldest remaining concrete arch bridges in Michigan. The Michigan Central Railroad originally built this bridge to carry its tracks across Paint Creek near the Western Knitting Mills dam and mill pond.  This view, which looks westward from the east bank of Paint Creek behind the Royal Park Hotel, shows a current view of the bridge on the left, stitched together with a circa 1907 postcard view of the same scene.  In the vintage image at right, the Western Knitting Mills dam and mill pond are visible.  The area once covered by the mill pond was filled after a devastating flood in 1946, and today is the site of the Sunrise Senior Living complex, post office, and public library. In 2008-2009, the Rochester Downtown Development Authority funded a rehabilitation project for the historic bridge, and it is now a pleasant pedestrian walkway that is part of the recreational trail system.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You Might Be From Rochester If...

With a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, here's a list of things you might remember if you grew up in Rochester.  Feel free to add your own in the comments!

You might be from Rochester if...
  • you know where Bare A-- Beach was
  • you remember when going to McDonald's meant a trip all the way to Pontiac
  • you partied at the Haven
  • you got your milk from Joe Case's dairy truck
  • you liked shopping in the D&C because the floors were squeaky
  • you distributed show bills for the Hills Theatre
  • you remember when the town bowling alley was in the basement of a building on Main Street
  • you got all of your pairs of “school shoes” from Jack Burr at B-Z Bootery
  • you remember the Slaughterhouse Five controversy
  • you wore lederhosen - or a dirndl - to dance in the Maifest
  • you made an inner-tube raft for the Floatable Boatable
  • you got kicked off the ice at the municipal pond for playing crack-the-whip
  • you were scared of the River Gang
  • you were in the River Gang
  • you ate at the Big Boy drive-in on North Main next to the Dairy Queen
  • you bought penny candy at Rochester Junction
  • you know where the Sinclair station was
  • you painted “The Rock” at least once
  • you know what business Frank St. Onge was in
  • you played the pinball machine at Cunningham's – for a dime
  • you remember when part of the South Hill bridge collapsed
  • you know why it was fun to drive really fast over the old Elizabeth St. bridge

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Main Street Stories Now Available in Book Form

If you enjoy the Main Street Stories posts on this blog, or you're searching for just the right Christmas present for someone with a Rochester connection, you'll be happy to know that a softcover book entitled Remembering Rochester: Main Street Stories is now available for only $9.  The collected stories -  with a new introduction -  have been published by the Rochester Avon Historical Society to coincide with the upcoming reconstruction of Main Street during the summer of 2012. Remembering Rochester is proud to be a part of this effort to further local history education in our community.

Copies of Remembering Rochester: Main Street Stories are available at Lytle Pharmacy in downtown Rochester and may also be purchased through the RAHS web site at  One hundred percent of the profits from the sale of the book will benefit the history education and historic preservation programs of the Rochester Avon Historical Society.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nothing Important Changes

A wise person once said, "History repeats itself because nobody was listening the first time."  In support of that thesis, I offer this item from the Rochester Clarion issue of  April 15, 1962, quoted in its entirety and without further commentary:

Avon Township Supervisor Cy Miller sharply criticized the Ways and Means Committee of the Oakland County Board of Supervisors Tuesday for the manner in which they handled an appropriation for road and bridge improvements on Avon and Livernois Rds.
Miller said Wednesday however, that he expected the money would be made available at a meeting of the board scheduled for next Monday.
According to Miller, the supervisors approved an expenditure of $364,000 to set up airport planning and improvements on a 445-acre plot in Orion Township which is proposed as the core of a 3000-acre major airport.
Because of the expenditure, the $100,000 which was to be appropriated for the Avon Township road work, plus $200,000 for the South Oakland Health Center, was unavailable. Both the road and health center appropriations had been recommended by the Oakland County Board of Auditors.
Miller said Wednesday that he expected the full board to pass a proposal for road funds for the bridge by an extra levy of  one 20th of a mill next Monday. If passed, the proposal would bring in $108,000 for the project.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Rochester was watching a house on the move fifty years ago this month.  A two-story residence containing four apartments that stood at 330 Walnut Street was relocated to the north end of town to allow for the construction of Rochester's very first drive-through banking facility. The house was moved to a new location at 313 Woodward, where it still stands today.  Officials of the National Bank of Detroit began preparing the site for the new bank building almost immediately, which was planned to be connected to the main bank building at Fourth & Main by a tunnel that crossed beneath the West Alley.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Subdivision Stories: Oakdale

The Oakdale subdivision was platted in 1915 by John William Hopkins and his wife, Elizabeth Lehner Hopkins, on a village outlot lying west of Wilcox Street and south of Fifth (now University Drive). Hopkins was a fire captain with the Detroit Fire Department, and upon his retirement in 1916, he and his wife relocated from Detroit to Rochester.  The new subdivision lay between the existing streets of Wilcox and Castell, and was bisected by a new street, named Wesley.  Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins reserved for themselves a triple lot fronting on Fifth Street and built a new bungalow-style residence on it.  That house still stands today at 623 W. University, and is still on the triple lot, which gives the property extra frontage along University Drive.

Friday, November 18, 2011

At Home in Rochester: Lorenzo D. Morse House

In the summer of 1880, a farmer and businessman named Lorenzo D. Morse came from Lapeer with a plan to build a new brick business block on Main Street in Rochester. At the same time, he contracted for a large residence on Walnut Street, next to the Congregational Church.  The house was built for Morse by contractor John Ross, who was responsible for the construction of many of Rochester's well-known 19th century structures, including the Rochester Elevator, the Universalist Church, the Congregational Church, and the William Deats house. According to a news item in the Rochester Era in June 1880, Lorenzo Morse himself was responsible for the design of his new house, which cost $2,470. The newspaper praised the building as being "first-class."

Morse and his wife lived in the home at 311 Walnut Street for just over a decade, and then moved to Detroit. Lorenzo Morse sold his house in 1892 to Joseph Partello, who was superintendent of the woolen mill at that time.  When Western Knitting Mills took over the woolen mill in 1894, Partello sold the house to William Clark Chapman, the newly-arrived secretary and treasurer of the company. The following year Chapman made several improvements to the house, including the addition of a wrap-around porch, which is visible in the 1907 view of the house that is shown here.

In 1916, Chapman and his wife decided to build a new house at their Walnut Street location, so they moved the former Morse house and relocated it on another lot that they owned at 311 Pine Street, directly behind their Walnut Street lot.  The Lorenzo D. Morse house still stands today at 311 Pine Street, and is now 131 years old.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memory's Eye: Water Street

When Western Knitting Mills was at the height of its importance as Rochester's principal employer, the company recruited workers - mostly young and female - from all over the Midwest.  To provide housing for this labor force, WKM built boarding houses along Water Street, directly south of and adjacent to the factory building.  The first one went up in 1912 and was quickly expanded to accommodate the growing workforce.  The buildings were torn down in the 1940s after McAleer Manufacturing took over the property, but here's a mashup of a current photo of the streetscape and a vintage photo of the same view, showing the boarding houses. The next time you travel down Water Street, just imagine what the scene looked like a century ago!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Main Street Stories: Lewis Ward Curtis Building

Hitching posts are long gone from Rochester's Main Street, but the town has had a western wear and tack shop at 315 S. Main for over half a century. Dr. Lewis Ward Curtis had this one-story double business block built in 1935 as an income property. Dr. Curtis was a 1902 graduate of the University of Michigan College of Dentistry, and after receiving his degree he returned to his home in Rochester to establish his dental practice. By 1907, he was successful enough to build a new brick building at 307 S. Main Street, which housed his offices on the second floor and provided retail space on the first floor. In 1927, he expanded his Main Street holdings to include the property at 315-317 S. Main.

The site had long been the location of a two-story frame building housing a variety store, originally known as the Newberry building. Anna Newberry sold the old structure to Morris M. Gardner in 1913, and he operated a store there for about a decade before selling to Harry Steinberg in 1925. Dr. Curtis bought the property from Steinberg in 1927 and eight years later razed the old building to make way for a modern, one-story structure.

In October 1935 the Rochester Clarion described the new building:
L.H. Aris, owner and manager of The Variety Store, Rochester's 5c to $5 store for a number of years, will move his entire stock of goods into new quarters in the Dr. L.W. Curtis building at 315 Main street in the next few days.
The Curtis building with the combination red brick and green and black tile front is one of the newer additions to Rochester's Main street. Under the supervision of Carl VandenBerghe, local contractor, the building was completed last weekend.
A double entrance has been made to the store. The front display windows have been partitioned off into three sections. The interior of the building has been covered with Celotex, beautifully designed on both ceiling and walls. Available floor space will accommodate space for display, tables and racks.
In the rear of the building is a large store room. The building is air conditioned, using a blower in the hot air furnace.

Aris sold his store in July 1953 to Donald Butcher, who operated it as Butcher's Variety Store. Bonnie & Charlie Becker opened the B-Bar-B Western Supply at 315 S. Main in 1957. In 1974, the Beckers sold the store to Jerry Leannais, who opened the Arizona Saddlery there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester was talking about a group of seven boys who had gone on an unusual joy ride.  Seems the seven young lads, who were between the ages of 13 and 16, decided to avail themselves of a small railroad flatcar and take a trip from Rochester to Pontiac on the Grand Trunk tracks.  According to newspaper reports, as they were pushing the car all the way to Pontiac and back, the police were notified that the boys were missing. When it was discovered what they had done (and before it was known that they had, in fact, already made their way safely back to Rochester), train traffic on the Grand Trunk line was slowed to avoid a possible collision with the intrepid band.

It was afterward learned that the idea for the jaunt had come from two boys who were facing an upcoming  hearing in juvenile court, and had talked the other five into the escapade.  The Clarion did not publish the names of the wayward ones, but it has now been half a century since the event, so if any of you are out there, you may confess!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Main Street Stories: Rochester Clarion Building

Clarion building as it appeared in the 1940s.
The front of the building at 313 S. Main is inscribed with the date 1898, but that year has no true significance in its construction history.  In 1898, Charles Sumner Seed of Cass City, Michigan, was invited to Rochester by school superintendent Abram L. Craft. Craft hoped that his acquaintance would establish a newspaper in town, and the first edition of the weekly Rochester Clarion rolled off the press in August of that year. C. S. Seed opened his newspaper office at 424 S. Main, in a building that has long since been torn down and replaced, but in September 1899 his wife, Frances, purchased the John J. Blinn harness shop on the other side of the street. The couple then moved the Clarion's office and printing plant to that location, numbered 313 S. Main.

The former Blinn building was a frame structure, and housed Blinn's harness shop from 1891 to 1899 before the Clarion moved there. In 1933, after 35 years in that location, the Seed family completely rebuilt the Clarion building in two phases.  According to Charles S. Seed's 1946 memoir, published in the Clarion:
The present building was built in two sections. Work was started in 1933 on the rear part, or printing plant, and the front section, or office, was completed in 1935. The building was the first of its kind in Rochester, and is said to be the first one in Oakland county to have a modern vitrolite glass front.
Vitrolite was an opaque glass, popular in Art Deco style buildings at the time, but it was fragile and easily broken. The Vitrolite face on the Clarion building lasted into the early 1960s, when it was replaced with brick.  The newspaper itself lasted until October 1997, when it was absorbed by its rival, the Rochester Eccentric, after 99 years of publication as an independent paper.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New History Database Has Many Stories to Tell

Have you ever passed by an old building and wondered about the history behind it? Ever thought, “Wow, if those walls could talk, what stories would they tell?” Most of our older structures do not have markers or monuments standing in front of them to place them in historical context for us. As part of its commitment to expanding local history education opportunities, Rochester Avon Historical Society has addressed this need in our area by developing and launching a brand new online database called Oakland Regional Historic Sites.

This new resource plots historic structures on a Google map, and also allows for searching by street address or property ID number. Clicking on a site pinned to the map, or clicking on a property ID in search results will open a history sheet that provides details such as who built a structure and when, its architectural features, changes made through the years, names of former occupants, references, and any historic designations the property may have received. A photo light box available on each property record includes a current view of the structure along with historic views, when available.

Currently, the Rochester Avon Historical Society, Rochester Historical Commission, and Rochester Hills Historic District Commission are collaborating to enter data for the project, but Rochester Avon Historical Society has designed the project with a regional focus in mind and is hopeful that other neighboring communities will be interested in joining the effort and listing their own historic properties in the database.

As of this writing, the new database contains only a portion of the many structures in Rochester and Rochester Hills that are eligible for inclusion. A structure must be at least 75 years old to be included, unless it is a memorial or monument, or is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, in which case it may be included even though it has not reached the age of 75 years. Members of the Rochester Avon Historical Society and its partner organizations are continuing to add records to the database, and the content will steadily increase and improve as time goes on.

This new resource is designed to answer questions for real estate professionals who might be looking for an historic property, civil engineers who need information on prior uses of a building or site, government and planning officials who rely on historical context to make sound decisions, members of the media who are seeking background information on a building or place in the community, and the just plain curious history buff who likes to know the story of the community around him. Whatever your personal interest is, I think you will enjoy browsing Oakland Regional Historic Sites. Click the link, give it a try and let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bygone Business: Rochester Bar-B-Q & Pizza

Anyone who lived at the north end of Rochester during the 1960s and early 1970s probably remembers a small take-out store called Rochester Bar-B-Q & Pizza.  James and Lorraine Schultz opened the establishment in a small, one-story building at 812 N. Main Street  (just north of the Romeo and Main intersection) under the name Bar-B-Q Kitchen, in March 1963.  The Rochester store was a franchise of a Detroit company called Bar-B-Q Kitchens, Inc. that had launched its first store in Port Austin six years earlier.

The menu at the Rochester Bar-B-Q Kitchen featured chicken, duck, turkey, ham, spare ribs, pork roll and strip  steak. Pizza was added to the bill of fare later on, and the name was changed to Rochester Bar-B-Q & Pizza.  The little store suffered a couple of fires, and was gone by the mid-1970s.  The building has long since been torn down.

My mother remembers that the Bar-B-Q Kitchen had really great cole slaw.  Anybody else remember eating here?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Emmy Night" for the Rochester Avon Historical Society

I'm told it was like Emmy Awards night for the Rochester Avon Historical Society a couple of weeks ago when the Historical Society of Michigan held its 2011 awards banquet during the 137th Annual Meeting and State History Conference held September 23-25 in Traverse City. The banquet was the venue for the presentation of the State History Awards, the highest recognition presented by the state's official historical society. Each year the Historical Society of Michigan presents a State History Award to those individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the appreciation and understanding of Michigan history. Excellence of achievement by an individual or organization in the collection, preservation and promotion of state and local history is recognized. Seventeen awards were presented this year in a variety of categories.

The 2011 Local Society Award was presented to the Rochester Avon Historical Society, in recognition of the group's overall efforts in local history education and historic preservation, but specifically for its leadership in restoring the 1938 Marvin Beerbohm mural in the Rochester Community Schools Administration building, and for successfully nominating the Rochester Elevator to the National Register of Historic Places, among other recent projects.

The 2011 Distinguished Volunteer Service Award was presented to RAHS president Rod Wilson, in recognition of his outstanding leadership, not only within the Rochester Avon Historical Society, but in the community at large.  This well-deserved award tells the entire state what we in the Rochester area already know about Rod Wilson: that he has an uncanny ability to motivate people, blend individual talents into a workable team, and push important community projects to completion, all while wearing a top hat and tails and explaining why Water Street curves as it passes in front of the Elevator!

Congratulations to Rod Wilson and to all of the hard-working members of the Rochester Avon Historical Society!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the local newspaper was reporting that the community's oldest congregation, the First Congregational Church of Rochester, was moving into its new home at 1315 N. Pine St.  Dedication services for the new campus were held on October 8, 1961, and parishioners began a new chapter in their history after worshiping in the same building at the corner of Third & Walnut streets for 107 years.

Not only is this congregation the oldest in Rochester, having been organized in 1827,  but it is also the first and oldest congregation of its denomination in Michigan. The Rev. W. Isaac Ruggles, a circuit-riding missionary in what was then the Michigan territory, started the congregation with ten members who met in a log cabin south of the village of Rochester. In 1853, the Congregationalists built on the northwest corner of Third & Walnut and continued to meet at that location for over a century.

After the new church campus opened in the fall of 1961, the old church building on Walnut Street was sold. It was the home of the Rochester Elks lodge for a short time, and then suffered the indignity of being covered with a faux-castle facade and painted purple. The exterior has now been restored and the historic building currently houses a design firm.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

At Home in Rochester: Joseph Reimer House

Rochester hardware merchant Joseph Reimer built this Italianate Victorian style house at 211 Walnut Street in the summer of 1878 as his personal family residence.  Reimer was born in Pennsylvania in 1826 and lived in Upper Mount Bethel township in Northampton County.  Several of his neighbors in that Pennsylvania community also emigrated to Rochester in the mid-19th century, including Azariah Ross, John Ross, Reuben Immick, Francis Stofflet, Dr. William Deats, and Elias Butts.

Joseph Reimer served briefly in the Civil War as the captain of a company in the 153rd Pennsylvania volunteer regiment.  When the war was over, he moved with his wife and four children to Rochester and established a hardware business. In 1878, he built this house on Walnut Street and in 1885 he built a brand-new brick building at 418 S. Main Street to house his store. (The hardware store building still stands today and is now the home of the Sumo Sushi restaurant.  Reimer sold his hardware to his son, Cyrus, and son-in-law, Alvin Bliss, in 1886; eventually, Harvey J. Taylor bought them out and moved the store to 335 S. Main.  Then, Charles W. Case bought out Taylor and the hardware firm became known as Case's Hardware.) Reimer also served the community as a member of the school board for Avon District #5, and as a justice of the peace.

Joseph Reimer died in 1896 and in 1917 his heirs sold the Walnut Street home to Elizabeth Butts Casey and her mother, Julia Bromley Butts.  The two women divided the house into apartments and used it as both a residence and an income property.  After Elizabeth Butts Casey Case died in 1973, her daughter Della Casey Wilson inherited the property, and when her heirs sold it in 1995, it had been in the Casey/Case family for 78 years, more than twice the number of years that the Reimer family owned it.  The house is currently vacant.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Memory's Eye: First Baptist Church

Today's the Memory's Eye camera looks at the former First Baptist Church building on the northwest corner of Walnut and Fourth streets, currently the home of the Village Shoe Inn. In 1855, the First Baptist Church of Rochester, which had been formed in Stoney Creek, purchased an unfinished wood frame building from the Christian Church Society and moved it to this corner in the village of Rochester. The congregation used the building, with numerous alterations and expansions over the years, until 1973, when a new campus was opened on Orion Road.  The former church building on Walnut was sold and became the home of the Village Shoe Inn.

When I was growing up, the brick veneer on this building was painted white, and a pink neon sign over the front door glowed day and night with the words "Jesus Saves."  This mashup view was composed using a recent photo as the background and a ca. 1940 postcard view of the same building displayed  on the tablet screen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Main Street Stories: Knapp's Dairy Bar

Knapp's Dairy Bar at 304 S. Main Street has been in the same business - operated by the same family - from the very first day it opened its doors to the public. Lyle "Red" Knapp started in the restaurant business in Rochester in the 1930s, in a location that is now occupied by the Kruse & Muer on Main eatery. After that business was sold, Red and his wife, Cecelia, built their new dairy bar on a vacant lot next to the Home Bakery building.  They held the grand opening of their restaurant on July 8, 1950, and announced in the newspaper that they would hand out free ice cream cones to all customers, regardless of age, for a four hour period.  "We know we have the finest ice cream that money can buy and we want every person to taste it," Red Knapp told the Rochester Clarion. The dairy bar featured ice cream made by the Mints Ice Cream Company of Birmingham, and the Knapps hoped that the grand opening giveaway would hook their new Rochester customers on the sweet treat.

Not to be outdone, the Avon Dairy announced in the following week's Clarion that it had a new, exclusive formula ice cream called "Wood's Old Fashioned," sold only at the dairy bar located at 606 Woodward Street!

Over time, of course, it was the Knapps' signature hamburger that made their little restaurant locally famous and a favorite of generations of Rochester citizens - none of whom need to consult a menu before ordering at the counter, I might add!

If you're wondering who won the ice cream wars, I'll simply point out that 61 years later, Knapp's Dairy Bar is still in the same location and going strong.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester students were heading back to school and some of them were walking into new classrooms. The newly-constructed McGregor Elementary School opened its doors to students who had formerly attended classes in the old Harrison School at the corner of Fourth & Wilcox.  The Harrison building, meanwhile, was being remodeled to provide more space for students of the Central Junior High School at that location.

The Rochester Clarion reported that the school district was expecting to enroll approximately 5,100 students for the 1961-62 school year, and increase of about 300 over the previous year. The school district workforce also expanded in 1961, rising to the level of 228 employees - up from 200 the previous year.  Fifty years later, RCS enrollment is somewhere near 15,000 and approximately 1,700 people are employed by the district.  Back in 1961 RCS had one employee for every 22 students enrolled; today, the ratio is 8.8.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bygone Business: Rochester Miniature Golf

It may be difficult to imagine today, but the village of Rochester had its very own 18-hole miniature golf course in 1930.  Built at the corner of North Main and Romeo Rd. by partners Clark Price and L.G. Lane, the 100 x 100 ft. course was illuminated by flood lights to facilitate evening play. (Lighting was a common strategy to attract players in the days of the Great Depression when miniature golf courses were all the rage as inexpensive entertainment.) An announcement of the new amusement in the Rochester Clarion reported that the course had been designed to furnish "the most difficult shots possible."  The newspaper went on to say:
A rustic fence will be constructed on three sides of the course and the whole enclosure will be made as beautiful as possible.  The contractors, Cooper and McClellan, have constructed several of these courses and they report that the golfer will find many difficult shots to improve his practice. The cost of the course is placed at around $1,200.

Perhaps the shots were a little too difficult.  The Rochester Miniature Golf Course appears to have faded away rather quickly.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Main Street Stories: James Wilson Smith Block

Postcard view of the Smith block about 1910
The business block on the southeast corner of University Drive and Main Street, with addresses 436-440 S. Main, was originally known as the James Wilson Smith block when it was built in 1901. At the time, J.W. Smith was the owner of the Hotel St. James on the southwest corner of Fifth (now University) and Main and had a barn on the southeast corner. He took advantage of an economic boom in Rochester at the turn of the twentieth century to build his new business block, and for its design he tapped the Detroit architects Frederick H. Spier and William C. Rohns, who had just drawn the plans for the Detroit Sugar Company factory in Rochester two years before.

The Rochester Era of August 23, 1901, announced the new building this way:
The building occupies the site of the old hotel barn and will be the finest building in Rochester with the possible exception of the Masonic Temple.  The building will be completed by the time the snow flies, James S. Stackhouse, the well-known contractor, is the builder and the architects are Spier & Rohns, who designed the sugar mill.

Early tenants in the Smith block were the Edwin A. Hudson grocery, the Korff meat market, and the Idle Hour theatre (before Smith built a new home for it adjoining his hotel).  The best known occupant, however, was the Crissman pharmacy, which made its home in the building until 1966.  The soda fountain at Crissman's was a popular meeting place and gossip clearinghouse in Rochester for decades.

On May 20, 1992, the northern two-thirds of the building were completely destroyed by a devastating gas explosion that resulted when a construction crew hit an illegal and unknown gas line in the area. The Crissman family, owners of the building, immediately rebuilt the destroyed portion in complete sympathy with the original design, including the ornamental stepped-out brickwork on the west elevation.

As it currently stands, the southern portion of the building (bearing the address 436 S. Main) is the original structure built in 1901; the northern portion (bearing the addresses 438-440 S. Main) is the reconstructed portion built in 1992-93.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

At Home in Rochester: The Robert Eldredge Rudd House

The Tudor revival home at 919 W. University Drive was built in 1929 as the home of Robert Eldredge Rudd and his wife, Grace Lincoln Rudd.  R.E. Rudd came to Rochester in 1926 from Richmond, Virginia, where he worked for the Standard Paper Company.  In partnership with William O. Stronach, Rudd had the job of re-organizing what had been the old Barnes Brothers Paper Company. The two men modernized and expanded the product line of the paper mill, and were credited with keeping it running and employing Rochester citizens during the Great Depression. The paper mill was the only Rochester industry to maintain steady employment during that era.

Rudd's first wife, the former Grace Lincoln, was a talented soprano who had studied with prominent voice teachers in New York, Chicago and Boston.  She was a soloist with Victor Herbert's orchestra and also toured on the Chautauqua circuit.

The Rudds lived in their stately home, which they called "Elmcrest" until 1938, when R.E. Rudd died.  The house was sold to William Hoehn, who resided there for a couple of decades; in 1975, owner Melvin Markwardt remodeled the building for office space.  It is now the home of Suburban Travel Services and other professional offices.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bygone Business: Bartholomew's Neighborhood Store

Clarion photo of Mildred Bartholomew in her store in 1975
If you grew up in the southwestern section of town before 1975, you probably remember buying yourself a cold pop at Bartholomew's store. Mildred S. Bartholomew and her husband, Lucius "Bart" Bartholomew, operated the little grocery and snack shop in a small 14 x 18 room in their home at 710 Renshaw.  They started out in 1941 with a partner, George Boyle, but bought out his widow's share of the business after his death.  The store was a popular stop for neighborhood kids, who bought cold drinks and penny candy from Mrs. Bartholomew for 34 years. Left to carry on alone after her husband's death in 1948, she made a go of the little grocery until the refrigeration unit in her cold case failed her in 1975, and she decided it was better to close the business and retire than to spend money on repairs.  Mrs. Bartholomew died in 1983.

Monday, August 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester was welcoming a new merchant to the downtown business district.  Jeweler Lee T. Lamereaux announced that he had sold his business at 409 S. Main to Ernest and Violet Heller.  Ernest Heller, a native of Vienna and World War II veteran, had operated a jewelry repair business at Selfridge Air Force Base for eleven years, and before that had been a merchant in Croswell.

The physical location of Heller's Jewelry has a long history in Rochester. Before Heller, Lee T. Lamereaux operated the business which he bought from jeweler Pauline Palmer when she retired in the late 1950s. Pauline Palmer was the daughter of longtime Rochester merchant Louis E. Palmer, who  built a two-story building to house  his jewelry business to Rochester in 1883 and over time, built the entire block of buildings from 409 through 417 S. Main.
Heller's Jewelry opened at 409 S. Main in late August 1961 and is still located there today.  Ernest Heller died in 1994 and his wife, Violet passed away in 2000; the business is now operated by their son, George Heller. Happy Birthday, Heller's!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Memory's Eye: East Fourth Street

Today's Memory's Eye photo is a look at East Fourth Street.  Earlier this week, I took this photo of my father standing on the sidewalk in front of the lot where his childhood home once stood - an apartment house at 131 E. Fourth (now a city parking lot). Sixty-three years earlier, my grandmother had taken a photo of Dad and his sister standing in almost the same spot, with the camera looking west up Fourth toward the intersection of Main. The old photo is visible in this mashup as the image on the tablet screen.  Notice that the south side of Fourth (left side of the photo) hasn't changed that much - the bank building and Opera House building are visible in both views.  The north side of the street, however, looks much different today.  The former village hall, visible in the background of the old photo, was demolished in 1962, while the old apartment house at 131 E. Fourth - just out of range of the camera - came down in the 1980s to create more parking space.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Main Street Stories: Opera House Block

Postcard view of the Opera House block about 1910
There has been a pharmacy operating in the Opera House block on the southeast corner of Main and Fourth streets ever since the building opened its doors in late 1890.  John T. Norton was the first drug store proprietor there, and his store was followed by the pharmacies of Zeno Schoolcraft, T. Kenneth Fetters, Richard J. Morley, and Robert A. Lytle.

The man behind the construction of the Opera House block was Charles A. Burr (1857-1934). Burr was one of eight sons of German immigrants Louis and Eliza Gendrick Burr, who came to America in 1850 and soon thereafter settled in Sterling Township in Macomb County.  Charles Burr was truly a "man of all trades" and had a varied career that followed several occupational paths. He started out as a school teacher, traveled to California in 1876 to mine gold for three years, then returned to the Utica area to run a hardware business. He brought his hardware business to Rochester in 1882 and also served as the town postmaster for a time. Among the other businesses he engaged in while in Rochester were undertaking, men's clothing, real estate, and fire insurance; he also served as an agent for the local express company.

C.A. Burr's diversified business interests must have served him well.  He built the substantial business block at Fourth & Main in 1890, providing retail space on the first floor and an entertainment and public meeting venue, known simply as the Opera House, on the second floor. He also founded the Bank of Rochester along with partner A.F. Newberry, and was financially interested in several other banks in the greater Detroit area.

At the same time that Charles Burr was building his new block, his brother Frank H. Burr, was building a two-store block immediately to the south of the Opera House block.  At the close of 1890, the two Burr brothers controlled the first four storefronts south of Fourth on the east side of Main.  Ten years later, in 1900, another of their brothers, George Burr, would join them as members of the merchant community in Rochester.

The Opera House block, with its signature Richardsonian arches which were restored by owner Robert A. Lytle in 1986-87, is still one of the most recognizable structures in any image of Main Street.  The building was listed on the State Register of Historic Places and received a Michigan Historical Marker in 1991. The Opera House block celebrates its 121st birthday this year.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bygone Business: Petker's Place

1975 Clarion ad for Petker's Place
This week's post is a blast from the past for those of you who grew up in the Rochester area in the 1970s and '80s. The Campus Corners shopping plaza on the southeast corner of Walton & Livernois held its grand opening on July 19, 1975, and one of the charter businesses in that shopping center was Petker's Place, a restaurant and bar owned by Steve Petker. A former teacher from Lake Orion who had also operated a restaurant in Florida, Petker debuted his restaurant several months ahead of the Campus Corners grand opening, and wasn't able to sell liquor at the beginning.  That was just fine with Steve Petker, however; he wanted his establishment to be thought of as a restaurant that also served liquor rather than a bar that also served food. He wanted it to have a reputation as a family restaurant, and boasted that a family of four could have pizza and soft drinks at Petker's for a total tab of about six bucks.

Petker's location directly across Livernois from Rochester High School made it a natural hang-out for the high school set during my teen years. As I recall, it was the bar of choice for senior class members who were of legal age (eighteen in those days) and looking for a liquid lunch. It was also the favorite after-rehearsal watering hole for a certain church choir that I know of.  If you have memories of Petker's and would like to share them, please post a comment.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bygone Business: Gebert Hardware

In the days before the big box warehouse stores, downtown Rochester had plenty of hardware merchants to serve the home repair and home improvement needs of the community.  One of these was Gebert's Hardware, located at 405 S. Main, in the building now occupied by Molnar Tuxedo. Mr. and Mrs. Walter Gebert opened the hardware business in 1948, but they were already known to area residents as the operators of the former Metz & Buchanan Coal Yard on Diversion Street.

Gebert Hardware closed in the mid-1960s, as did competitor Burr Hardware, a few doors up the block; a devastating fire did in Case's Hardware in 1968.  Hardware chains soon took over the territory once owned by these family-operated stores.

The accompanying ad for Gebert Hardware appeared in the 1957 Rochester area telephone book and is provided courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Main Street Stories: Masonic Block

Masonic Block as it looked in 1978
The building on the northeast corner of Main and Fourth Streets is known as the Masonic Block, as the second floor of the building housed, in its early years, the rooms of the local Masonic lodge. The block was built in 1899 by the Rochester Building Association on a subscription basis, and the Rochester Savings Bank was one of the early tenants on the ground floor.  Edward R. Prall (1857-1913) of Pontiac was selected as the architect for the building, which is designed in the Romanesque Revival style and features rock-faced sandstone trimmed with limestone.  Architect Prall was well-known in his day; among the buildings he designed are the Traverse City Opera House (now on the National Register of Historic Places) and some of the State Hospital buildings at Traverse City.

Not long after it was built, an addition was made to the rear of the Masonic block to house George Burr's implement warehouse; this space later became the location of the Rochester Post Office, and was used for that purpose until a new building was erected on the corner of Walnut and Fourth in 1937.  Over the years, the Masonic block has housed the Rochester Savings Bank, a Kroger grocery store, Carpenter's Men's Wear, the Lucille Shoppe, the Bright Ideas home furnishings store, and a number of boutique businesses on the first floor.  After the Masonic lodge departed the second floor it was used for professional offices (Justice of the Peace Luther Green had his law office there for many years), and the Rochester School of Ballet, among other things.

The Masonic Block was listed on the State Register of Historic Places in 1987 and has a Michigan State Historic Marker on the south wall.  The building celebrates its 112th birthday this year.

Friday, July 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester Clarion was telling its readers about the latest exploits of a Rochester resident who was a very familiar face to the community's youth.  Lt. Col. Leroy Clark Felton came to Rochester in 1948 to accept a position as industrial arts teacher at Rochester High School. Felton had enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942 and spent fifteen months in the Pacific theater flying the P-51/F-51 fighter. In 1951, he joined the 403rd Troop Carrier Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve, at Selfridge Air Force Base, where he served as the unit's Director of Operations, and he later went on to serve as commander of the 911th Military Airlift Group.  Mr. Felton retired from the Air Force Reserve at the rank of full colonel in 1979 and relocated from Rochester to Florida, where he died in 2006.  In recognition of his long military service, his ashes were inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.  If you remember Mr. Felton and would like to read more about him, click here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Vanished Rochester: Ground Observer Post GN58R

During the early Cold War era, Rochester was an outpost on the nation's civil defense early warning system. On a hill near St. Andrew's School (now Holy Family Regional School), a small building with windows on all four sides was erected for the use of the community's Ground Observer Corps volunteers. The volunteers worked in pairs around the clock, each team standing a two-hour watch to scan the sky for low-flying enemy aircraft.

The Ground Observer Corps was a U.S. Air Force initiative that began as an experimental program during the Korean War, when it was feared that gaps in American radar defenses might allow low-flying aircraft to invade U.S. air space. After the initial roll-out proved promising, the expanded program, called Operation Skywatch, was promoted nationwide.  Eventually, more than 800,000 civilian volunteers stood watches at 16,000 Ground Observer Corps posts strategically located across the country.

In Rochester, the Ground Observer Corps post designated GN58R was built in the summer of 1956.  Sarah Van Hoosen Jones and the Chamber of Commerce donated the binoculars for use of the GOC volunteer observers.  Nelda Carmichael served as chief observer.  The little building had a direct phone line to Selfridge Air Force Base to allow volunteers to report suspicious aircraft directly to military authorities.

Many ordinary Rochester citizens, my father and grandfather among them, stood their post in the tiny shack, watching and waiting to sound the alarm for the Soviet attack that never came. The GOC post in Rochester didn't last long; the entire program was dismantled by the Air Force on January 1, 1959, because advances in technology had allowed the U.S. military to close the gaps in its radar defense system electronically. The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line had been activated in 1957, as had the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Human "eyes on the sky" were no longer required, and our Ground Observer post passed into the pages of Vanished Rochester.

This image is a Rochester Clarion photo from 1956 and shows Mrs. Bruce Moore (in the doorway) and Mrs. Nelda Carmichael (inside the building).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bygone Business: Lake Jewelers

If you grew up in Rochester from the 1950s to the mid-1980s, perhaps you bought a special piece of jewelry from Lake Jewelers, located in the former Barnes building at 309 S. Main Street.  Lloyd Lake held his grand opening there in 1953 and staged a diamond and precious gem exhibit to attract customer attention to the new business. A year later, he told the Rochester Clarion that his first year had been very successful and that judging from the positive response, Lake Jewelers was "just the type of store Rochester needed."

Lake's was a fixture at the same location on Main Street for more than three decades; the store closed in May 1985.

This view of the Lake Jewelers storefront at 309 S. Main dates from 1961 and is taken from the collection of Marjorie and the late Walter Dernier.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

At Home in Rochester: The Reuben Immick Residence

Reuben Immick home in 1897 Beautiful Rochester booklet
This Folk Victorian residence on the corner of Third and Oak Streets was built by Reuben Immick as his personal family home in 1890. Immick was born in Lower Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania in 1852, the son of Aaron and Catherine Immick.  Aaron Immick was a carpenter, and Reuben learned the same trade and brought his skill to Rochester, Michigan in 1876.  He was one of a number of people to migrate from Northampton County, Pennsylvania to the Rochester area about that time; others from his old home town in Pennsylvania who also settled here were Dr. William Deats, John Ross (also a carpenter), the William Fox family and Francis Stofflet, a schoolteacher at Avon #5.

Reuben Immick married Ida Butz in 1880, and ten years after the couple built this home in the village of Rochester. The house was featured in the 1897 booklet, Beautiful Rochester, which had this to say about Reuben Immick and his new home:
Reuben Immick was born in Lower Mt. Bethel, Pa., in 1852, and came to Rochester in 1876, and for twenty-one years has been one of Rochester's best carpenters.  He has built for himself and occupies one of the handsomest residences in town.  Has served several terms on the village board and is considered a man of excellent judgment.
Immick's house is still handsome today, and fortunately for us, the delicate spindle decoration on the porches has survived the 121 years since the home's construction and may still be admired by passers-by.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Memory's Eye: Main Street Traffic

Today's Memory's Eye view shows us that traffic has certainly changed on Main Street over the last century or so. This composition was created by combining a current photo of Main looking northwest between Third and Fourth streets, with the Morse block at the center of the frame, with a circa 1890 photo of the same section of the street. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, another school year was coming to an end and Rochester was talking about the impending retirement of school district buildings superintendent Roy H. Schoof. When he was hired in 1931, Roy Schoof was one of a staff of three charged with the maintenance of the main school complex at Fourth & Wilcox streets, plus Woodward Elementary School. He took his duties very seriously and was remembered for the immaculately groomed terraced lawn he cultivated in front of the old Rochester High School. When he retired at the end of the 1960-61 school year after thirty years on the job, he was directing a maintenance staff of twenty-five in a much larger school district than the one he had started with during the Great Depression.

When interviewed on the occasion of his retirement, Mr. Schoof observed that his job had grown and the buildings had changed over the years, but the students were pretty much the same.  I wonder what he would think today.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rochester, Please Remember Memorial Day

This is a photo of my grandfather taken in 1945 in front of his home at 131 E. Fourth Street in Rochester.  As you can tell from his uniform, he was among the ten percent of all residents of Rochester and Avon Township who served in the armed forces during World War II. That wasn't ten percent of the population eligible for military service, folks - that was ten percent of the entire population.  One person in ten living in this community went to war during that conflict. If you visit the World War II honor roll  on the east lawn of the Rochester Municipal Building, you'll see their names inscribed there.

This Memorial Day, please take time out from whatever else you are doing to reflect on the sacrifices of members of our greater Rochester community throughout all of our nation's conflicts. Tend a grave, take part in the services at Mount Avon Cemetery and Veterans Memorial Pointe, or read the names on the World War II Honor Roll.  Some of those names have a gold star next to them.

I recently found a wonderful short video on the meaning of Memorial Day. It was created by a group of students and it offers a great way to pause and reflect upon the importance of the day.  If you'd like to view it, click here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vanished Rochester: Rochester Paper Mill

On the banks of the Clinton River, at the southern edge of the emerging village of Rochester, Colonel Stephen Mack built a flouring mill in 1824.  The settlement of Rochester was only seven years old at the time. Mack, a native of Connecticut and veteran of the Revolutionary war, had migrated to the territory of Michigan in 1810 and lived in Detroit for a time before leading a group of investors who purchased land to plat the future city of Pontiac.  After making his permanent home in Pontiac, he established the aforementioned flouring mill in Rochester.

In 1857, Mack's old mill was converted to paper making,  and seven years after that it was purchased by William H. Barnes. Barnes had been born in Connecticut and had worked in paper mills across New England and the mid-Atlantic before coming to Michigan in 1863. With his brothers, Cyrus and Charles, he operated a paper wholesale business in Detroit. In 1864, William H. Barnes moved to Rochester to operate the paper mill on behalf of the Barnes Brothers firm. The Barnes mill was very successful and was an important employer in Rochester for more than a century.  The company took a hit in 1875, however, when a local woman named Ann Strong who had a grudge against William Barnes set fire to the mill early on a Sunday morning.  The building burned to the ground and Barnes suffered a loss of approximately $32,000. He immediately rebuilt upon the old foundation a mill of brick and slate, and it is this building that is shown in the accompanying photograph.

After the death of William Barnes in 1903, the paper mill operated under several different names and owners.  It was for a time known as the Peninsular Paper Company, the Rochester Paper Company, and the James River Company. The paper mill is remembered as the only Rochester industry to operate continuously throughout the years of the Great Depression, offering much-needed jobs for local residents when other factories were shuttered.

In April 2002, the paper company ceased operations, ending a 127-year run of paper making at the site. The property was sold for redevelopment, and in 2005 the old mill was razed; 161 years after Stephen Mack established the first mill at that location, the paper mill passed into the pages of Vanished Rochester.

This postcard view from the collection of the Rochester Hills Public Library shows the paper mill as it looked about 1907.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bygone Business: L.L. Ball Confectionery

You've probably got a favorite ice cream store or dessert spot that you enjoy in the Rochester area, but if the magic time machine dropped you into Main Street, Rochester in 1902, where would you go for a sweet treat? One of your options in those days would have been the L.L. Ball confectionery store, located in the - you guessed it - L.L. Ball building. Photographer Lyman L. Ball built a new store at 308 S. Main (the building we know today as Holland's Floral and Gifts) in 1900, with space for his photography studio on the second floor, while the first floor was leased to a bakery. The bakery didn't last long, and Ball needed another business on the street level, so he opened a confectionery store there in 1902. The confectionery store also met a quick demise - despite the claim in this ad that it offered the BEST ice cream soda in the city. Ball sold his building in 1904 to Lafayette Mead for use as a steam laundry.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pioneer Farmsteads: The John Fairchild Hamlin Residence

For at least 165 years, the home at 1812 South Rochester Road (west side, just north of Hamlin) has stood on a rise of ground like a sentinel guarding the southerly approach to the town of Rochester. Likely built in the early 1840s by pioneer Avon farmer and contractor John Fairchild Hamlin (1799-1863), the residence was well-appointed for its day, as befitted the home of a man as successful as its owner. J.F. Hamlin was born in 1799 in the state of New York and migrated to Michigan during territorial days. He married Laura Andrus of neighboring Washington Township in 1831 and the couple settled in Avon Township. Hamlin amassed significant real estate holdings; by 1857, he owned more than half of section 22 and part of section 23, totaling 545 acres, as well as lots in the village of Rochester and acreage in other sections. According to his probate file, when John Fairchild Hamlin died in 1863, the land in his estate was valued at more than $30,000.

Part of J.F. Hamlin's fortune came from farming, but some of it came from contracting work for transportation infrastructure in the new state of Michigan. Hamlin was one of the contractors for the section of the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal running from Utica to Rochester, and after the project was bankrupted, he spent the next decade - along with others - petitioning the state legislature to pay him for his work. Hamlin was also a commissioner of the Rochester and Royal Oak Plank Road Company, chartered by the state of Michigan in 1847.

John's widow, Laura Andrus Hamlin, died in 1883 and ownership of the Hamlin farm, known as Oldhome, passed to John and Laura's daughter, Belle. Belle was married to Marsden C. Burch, who had a long and noteworthy career in law and government service. Burch had begun his law career at the age of 21, as the first clerk and attorney for the newly-minted village of Rochester in 1869; two years later he was appointed probate judge of Osceola County. He also served as a federal district attorney in Grand Rapids before moving on to Washington, D.C. where he joined the Department of Justice. Since the Burches resided for much of their married life in Washington, D.C., they used the old Hamlin homestead as a summer and vacation residence, visiting the Rochester area for a few weeks each year. Judge Burch continued the farm as a going concern by hiring a superintendent to operate it in his absence. In October 1903, the Rochester Era informed its readers about recent activity at the old Hamlin place:
Judge Burch has returned to Washington D.C. and his duties in the department of justice. During the summer the Judge has built over the old Hamlin home, two miles south of Rochester, until it is now one of the finest country residences in Avon township. Always a stately mansion, it has been added to and overhauled until now it is a most desirable home. Robert Featherstone, a good farmer and citizen, occupies the house and works the farm.
In 1916, the Burches sold part of the Hamlin farm holdings for subdivision, but retained the house and other buildings and a generous section of the property for themselves. In announcing the partial sale of the farm, the Era said:
It will be gratifying to the people of this region that Mrs. Burch holds onto the place where she was born [in 1846] and lived until her marriage, and that not one of the buildings is to be parted with, and Oldhome will remain as it is, and has been. It has been known far and wide as the Hamlin Place practically as long as Rochester itself, the mansion and many of the other buildings dating back to the early part of the last century.
A few weeks later, while reporting that some of the outlying farm buildings were being moved from the sold parcels to the property being retained by the Burches, the paper made this comment about their effort:
Their [the Burches'] anxiety to preserve these reminders of the past should be regarded as an example worthy of invitation [one assumes the editor meant to say 'imitation' here] by those who have and can retain the works of their ancestors.

Fortunately for the Hamlin house, it survived when it passed out of Hamlin family ownership in the 1930s. In 1993, the owners of the property were presented with the Earl Borden Award for Historic Preservation for their sympathetic additions to the building which preserved the original house. Today the building houses medical office suites.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

This month in Rochester history, we mark a musical milestone in the golden anniversary of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra. On May 11, 1961, the Rochester Clarion announced to its readers that the organizational meeting of the new Rochester Civic Orchestra had taken place. The fledgling orchestra, thirty-eight members strong, offered its first public concert at Rochester High School on May 18 of that year, under the baton of Frederic Johnson. An enthusiastic audience of 150 turned out to hear the inaugural program, which featured, among other pieces, Praise Ye the Lord of Hosts by Saint-Saens, the finale from Handel's Water Music and Mozart's German Dance, K.605 no.1.

The orchestra soon changed its name to the Rochester Symphony Orchestra, and quickly grew to be a treasured cultural institution in the community. You may follow the RSO's activities and concert schedule by visiting the orchestra's web page. Happy birthday, RSO!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Learn More About Mail-Order Houses

Most people have heard of the mail-order kit homes sold by Sears & Roebuck in the early part of the twentieth century. A prospective homeowner could shop for a home design in the Sears catalog and then order the pre-cut building materials and instructions shipped to him at the nearest railroad station. The home kits were designed so that a homeowner and a few family members or friends with basic building skills could assemble the house quickly and easily and save money on construction costs.

Sears houses can be identified in towns across the United States. But did you know that there were other very successful kit home companies, some of them based right here in Michigan? Aladdin Homes in Bay City was another well-known provider of mail-order homes, as was the Togan-Stiles company in Grand Rapids. Togan-Stiles started out marketing kits for garages, outbuildings and summer cottages, then branched out to offer small bungalow homes. The advertisement shown here from the Rochester Era edition of August 6, 1920, tells us that the Rochester Realty Company was an agent for the Togan-Stiles kits homes, so we may have some of these right here in Rochester.

The Rochester Avon Historical Society will offer a program on kit homes at its meeting on Thursday, May 5 at 7:00 p.m. at the Rochester Hills Public Library. Michael W.R. Davis, co-author of the book America's Favorite Homes, will present "Kit Homes in America." The program is free and open to the public, and everyone is welcome.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Memory's Eye: 543 North Main

Today the Memory's Eye camera points at 543 North Main Street, long the location of the Dillman & Upton lumber yard. The Dillman & Upton company dates to 1910, but even before that the Daniel Kressler lumber and planing mill stood on this site. This location was an ideal spot for a lumber business in the days when the Michigan Central Railroad tracks ran along the northern edge of the property. In 1987, Dillman & Upton relocated to a former industrial property on Woodward Street - where the business is still found today - and the old building on Main Street was razed to make way for new development.

Even though the old Dillman & Upton building has been gone for a quarter of a century now, when I travel past the site my memory's eye still sees this old view. The image shown here is created from a current photo of the site taken a few days ago, and a vintage view of the site taken by my father in the early 1980s.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bygone Business: Wallace Cleaners

The building at 621-623 North Main Street was built just before the U.S. entered World War II as the new home of Wallace Cleaners. Proprietor "Skinny" Wallace moved his business into the new structure in August of 1940. Wallace Cleaners was located there for about ten years, and was followed by ArtCraft Cleaners and the Day and Night Laundromat. In the 1970s, Anderson Sewing & Vacuum Service occupied the 623 address, while Lipuma's Coney Island moved into the 621 address.

Currently Lipuma's Coney Island occupies 621 N. Main and the Soy Valley Candle Company occupies 623 N. Main.

This newspaper advertisement boasts a three-piece suit and three ties cleaned for one dollar - such a deal!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Vanished Rochester: Swayze Livery Stable

For about a century, Rochester had a fine livery stable on West Fifth Street (now University Drive), just west of Main Street. The brick livery barn was built by William Swayze, a New Jersey transplant, most likely around 1872 or 1873, right after the first railroad line came to town. It was situated on the north side of the street, directly behind Swayze's residence, which stood on the northwest corner of Main and Fifth (where the gas station is today), and directly across Fifth Street from the rear of the Lambertson House hotel (later Hotel St. James, and now site of the Bean & Leaf Cafe). The livery stood approximately where the Morton Pharmacy/Rochester Apothecary building is now located.

In 1874, the Rochester Era ran a lengthy description of Swayze's livery business, which said in part:
The building is a fine modern brick structure 32x60 feet on the ground and two stories in height, located on Fifth street near Main. His live stock consists of fourteen horses, always kept up in fine order and ready at any time for the road. His "rolling stock" embraces six top buggies, two open carriages, one double platform spring vehicle, and one stage coach. His "sliding stock" consists of six single cutters, and one double seated cutter. The aggregate amount of capital invested in the concern figures up $10,000, while the business of the house annually runs up to not less than $7,000.
William Swayze died in 1887 and his livery business was continued for a couple of decades by the Hadden family. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the old brick barn was a livery of a different sort, when it served as home of the Carmichael Bus Lines operated by Earl and Nelda Carmichael. (I remember sitting in the drafty - and, as I recall, smelly - old building a time or two in the early 1960s, waiting while my father did some freelance maintenance work on Nelda Carmichael's buses.) After Carmichael Bus Lines departed, the building housed Houghten's Power Center for a time, and it was finally demolished around 1971, not long after the Butts-Swayze house on the corner of University and Main was razed to make room for the gas station.

This photo shows the former Swayze livery and Butts-Swayze residence around 1970, just before both buildings were razed. The camera is looking east-northeast along University Drive toward the intersection of Main. (Photo courtesy of Clarence and Dorene Whitbey)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Memory's Eye: 501 West University

My father, who attended Rochester High School in the 1950s, tells me that during his school days there was a wooden fence along the Wilcox side of the campus. Dad recalls that students without cars sat on the fence during lunch hour, while students with cars slowly cruised past to impress the "have-nots" with their custom rides.

Today's Memory's Eye post is created from a recent color photo of the Wilcox side of the Rochester Community Schools administration building at 501 W. University (formerly Rochester High School), with a black-and-white 1950s view of the building laid over it. Notice the group of students gathered at the wooden fence.

Friday, April 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago, in April 1961, citizens of Rochester were approving plans for a second junior high school facility in the Rochester Community School District. Up to that point, the district had been served by a single junior high school located in the main school complex on University Drive, which today houses the district's administration building.

A post-war population explosion in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) saw hundreds of acres of farmland turned into new subdivisions, bringing new families and many new students to the district. The new junior high school was planned for a site on Old Perch Road, and was originally designed to have 22 classrooms, a gymnasium and a library. The new school was named West Junior High School, presumably because of its geographic location in the western portion of the district, while the old junior high school on University Drive was renamed Central Junior High School.

When West Junior High School opened in the fall of 1962, it was already operating at its 600-student capacity. It has since undergone additions and renovations and is known today as West Middle School; it now serves more than 800 students and is one of four middle schools in the Rochester district.

The accompanying photo of West Middle School was contributed by Alexander, a Remembering Rochester reader. Thank you for sharing!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Subdivision Stories: Oakland View

The Oakland View subdivision was laid out at the southeast corner of Rochester and Avon Roads in March, 1920. The developer was Detroit's largest bank at the time, the Union Trust Company, represented by vice-president John N. Stalker and secretary Merrill C. Adams. The property had been owned by Mrs. Olive Bromley Fisher Adams and before that was part of the William Fisher farm. The north/south side streets in the subdivision were originally named Wood Avenue (presumably for Walter C. Wood, the civil engineer who laid out the development), Adams Avenue, and Wayne Avenue. The original plat contains a notation that Adams Avenue was changed to Pleasant Street by resolution of the Avon Township Board in 1941, probably to avoid confusion with Adams Road on the west side of the township. The subdivision's east/west street was named Overlook Boulevard, honoring J.J. Snook's Overlook Farm, which was located directly across Rochester Road to the immediate west of the new plat.

None of the street names in the Oakland View subdivision remain today as they were originally platted. In 1950, the Avon Township Board accepted recommendations of the Oakland County Road Commission to change Wood Avenue to Rainier, Pleasant Street (formerly Adams Avenue) to Princeton, Wayne Avenue to Thames, and Overlook Boulevard to Avon Road.

The Oakland View subdivision celebrates its 91st birthday this year.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Memory's Eye: 129 East University

If you're like me, and you've lived in the community long enough to have observed many changes to the local landscape, there is sometimes a big difference between what your eye sees and what your mind's eye, or memory shows you. As I look around Rochester, I find myself "seeing" things that aren't really there any longer. The image shown here is a digital attempt to show you what I see when I look at the building at 129 East University. I created it from a contemporary photo, snapped yesterday, and a vintage shot taken in the early 1980s. I hope you enjoy this "memory eye" look at Rochester's past.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

At Home in Rochester: The Marcus E. Carlton Residence

The handsome residence at 428 East Street, on the east side near the corner of University, was built in the summer of 1884 for Marcus Eugene Carlton and his wife, the former Lydia E. Shoup. Lydia's parents, Lemuel W. and Laura Shoup, were pioneer settlers of Oakland Township who lived on East Street in Rochester after they retired from farming. Lydia Shoup married M. Eugene Carlton in 1881, and three years later her parents sold a lot on East Street to the young couple so that they could build a home.

In May 1884, the Rochester Era announced that "M.E. Carlton will soon commence the erection of a beautiful Swiss cottage on the lot just north of his father-in-law L.W. Shoup's residence." A few weeks later, the newspaper's readers learned that the house would be a substantial one, designed by a prominent architect who was well-known in Rochester. The Era reported on June 19, 1884:
M.E. Carlton has let the contract for building his residence on North Oliver st., to Arkin & Jones, for $2,000. The design is Swiss cottage, with all the modern attachments, combinations and improvements. According to the plans and specifications, which were executed by John Scott, of Detroit, "Gene" will have, when completed, one of the handsomest and best appointed residences in this section of country.
(In the late decades of the 19th century, East Street was referred to as Oliver Street and is even so labeled on some maps, even though it was named East Street on the original plat of Rochester and is so named today.)

John Scott, architect of the Carlton house, was not only becoming a prominent Detroit architect at the time, he was also the son-in-law of Lysander Woodward of Rochester. John Scott designed a number of buildings of note, some of which are now on the National Register of Historic Places, including the 1902 Wayne County Courthouse, the 1888 Gogebic County Courthouse, and his personal residence on East Ferry Street in Detroit. In Rochester, John Scott was also the architect of the old Congregational parsonage house on Third and Pine.

The Carltons had lived in their beautiful new home on East Street for only a few years when they relocated to Flint and established the M.E. Carlton book and stationery store. The business prospered and was a major office supply outlet in Flint for decades during the first half of the twentieth century.

Today, the John Scott-designed Carlton residence serves as an apartment house. The building celebrates its 127th birthday this spring.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bygone Business: Nowels Lumber

Nowels Lumber Yard was located at 412 Water Street, just south of the Rochester Elevator. Owner and operator Russell W. Nowels first came to Rochester in 1920, just after he had been released from the army at the end of World War I. He was an investor with a group of business men who were operating several lumber yards, and the investor group hired Nowels to manage their Rochester yard. He was successful in building up the business and was able to buy it in 1932, when he changed the name to Nowels Lumber & Coal. The Nowels family business grew and eventually included three lumber yards in the area.

Russ Nowels told a Clarion interviewer in the mid-1950s that the Federal Housing Act of 1936 had transformed his industry by popularizing the "do-it-yourself" movement among homeowners. Nowels tried to stay out front of this development with a training program that equipped his employees to instruct homeowners in selection and use of building materials and tools, and he credited this program with the success of his lumber business in the post-WWII era.

The Nowels lumber yard closed in October 1966, and Houghton Power Center took over the building at 412 Water St. Russell W. Nowels died in 1976.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Rochester's B.P.O.E. Lodge No. 2225, popularly known as the Rochester Elks. A group of interested men gathered at Knapp's Restaurant on Main Street in late February of 1961 to discuss the formation of a Rochester lodge, and at the end of March, they were granted a charter.

The Elks met for a time in the old Congregational church building at the corner of Third and Walnut, which had just been vacated when the congregation moved to its new, larger campus on North Pine. Eventually, the lodge was able to build its own club building on East University, on land that had been reclaimed from the old Chapman Pond lake bed. That building was torn down to make way for the development of the Sunrise Senior Living facility, and the Elks moved to the corner of North Main and Lysander, to the building that had once been Davey's Market.

Happy Birthday, Rochester Elks!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ora Foster's Fifteen Minutes

Once upon a time, there was a young man from the Rochester-Pontiac area named Ora Archie Foster. When he was 21 years old, he left his work as a welder and enlisted in the U.S. Army just a couple of weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ora advanced quickly from private to corporal, and was sent to England, where he would serve as a member of the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

On a September day in 1942, Ora Foster found himself traveling on foot through the countryside in Gloucestershire, England, when he decided to hitch a ride from a passing automobile. Apparently he did not consider, as any of us would today, that such an act might get him into considerable trouble or danger. Instead, he accepted a ride from two pleasant ladies in a large automobile and spent about forty-five minutes in their company, entertaining them with a constant stream of chatter, and commenting about his host country that "there's no place like home, but this is a nice place for a vacation." When he reached the end of his journey and thanked his hostess for the ride, she said to him,"You don't know who I am, do you?"

Cpl. Foster recalled that he could have been "knocked over with a feather" when his traveling companion identified herself as the Queen Mother, Mary, widow of the late King George V and mother of the reigning monarch, King George VI. Ora Foster's story made international news a few days later. His encounter was reported in the New York Times under the headline "The Private and the Queen," and he rated a mention in the "People" column of Time Magazine in the September 14, 1942 issue.

The New York Times account claimed that Foster was from Rochester, Michigan, but other accounts identified his home as Pontiac. I don't know which is accurate, but Ora Foster lived in Lake Orion after the war and was employed by Fisher Body for 30 years. He died in 1998 and is buried in Ottawa Park Cemetery in Waterford Township. His obituary mentioned his military service in World War II but omits any mention of his friendly chat with the Queen Mother.

A photo of Ora Foster is included in this news story from the St. Petersburg Times.