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.