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!