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!