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!