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.