Saturday, December 31, 2011

Driver Education the Old-Fashioned Way

New Year's Eve seems like an appropriate time for this post. When I was enrolled in a driver education course at Rochester High School in the mid-1970s, the instructors used a "scared straight" method of impressing upon their students the importance of safe, sober driving. Their instrument of choice was a film entitled Mechanized Death, (click the link if you remember this and would like to see it again!) which was gory enough to make some of the queasier fledgling drivers forget about wanting to get behind the wheel at all. The film hit home for a lot of students because in the community of Rochester, one had only to drive down Main Street and turn west on Second to see three-dimensional proof of the hazards of inattentive, reckless or impaired driving.

Shown in this snapshot from 1962 is part of the Byers wrecker yard, located directly behind the Byers Shell gas station that stood on the northwest corner of Main & Second.  When a Byers tow truck was called to clear up the scene of automotive mayhem, the mangled metal carcasses were usually deposited on their lot behind the gas station, along Second Street between Main and the west alley, where they were on display for all of the town to see and contemplate. In a small community such as Rochester, the details about the resulting injuries or deaths circulated quickly. I imagine that more than one Rochester parent used a cruise past the Byers lot as a teachable moment.

In this photo, the camera is looking southeasterly from the northeast corner of Second Street and the west alley.  The Texaco station and auto repair shop that is seen on the southwest corner of Main and Second is now the location of the Shehrzad restaurant.  The two houses shown in the background at left are now the location of the Quik Pik and Penn Station East Coast Subs store; the Village Cleaners building is seen in the background at center right.

Do you remember, Rochester?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Memory's Eye: Michigan Central Railroad Bridge

This bridge over Paint Creek east of the old Western Knitting Mills (now Rochester Mills Brewery) is an important local landmark. Having been in place for over a century, it is said to be one of the oldest remaining concrete arch bridges in Michigan. The Michigan Central Railroad originally built this bridge to carry its tracks across Paint Creek near the Western Knitting Mills dam and mill pond.  This view, which looks westward from the east bank of Paint Creek behind the Royal Park Hotel, shows a current view of the bridge on the left, stitched together with a circa 1907 postcard view of the same scene.  In the vintage image at right, the Western Knitting Mills dam and mill pond are visible.  The area once covered by the mill pond was filled after a devastating flood in 1946, and today is the site of the Sunrise Senior Living complex, post office, and public library. In 2008-2009, the Rochester Downtown Development Authority funded a rehabilitation project for the historic bridge, and it is now a pleasant pedestrian walkway that is part of the recreational trail system.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You Might Be From Rochester If...

With a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, here's a list of things you might remember if you grew up in Rochester.  Feel free to add your own in the comments!

You might be from Rochester if...
  • you know where Bare A-- Beach was
  • you remember when going to McDonald's meant a trip all the way to Pontiac
  • you partied at the Haven
  • you got your milk from Joe Case's dairy truck
  • you liked shopping in the D&C because the floors were squeaky
  • you distributed show bills for the Hills Theatre
  • you remember when the town bowling alley was in the basement of a building on Main Street
  • you got all of your pairs of “school shoes” from Jack Burr at B-Z Bootery
  • you remember the Slaughterhouse Five controversy
  • you wore lederhosen - or a dirndl - to dance in the Maifest
  • you made an inner-tube raft for the Floatable Boatable
  • you got kicked off the ice at the municipal pond for playing crack-the-whip
  • you were scared of the River Gang
  • you were in the River Gang
  • you ate at the Big Boy drive-in on North Main next to the Dairy Queen
  • you bought penny candy at Rochester Junction
  • you know where the Sinclair station was
  • you painted “The Rock” at least once
  • you know what business Frank St. Onge was in
  • you played the pinball machine at Cunningham's – for a dime
  • you remember when part of the South Hill bridge collapsed
  • you know why it was fun to drive really fast over the old Elizabeth St. bridge

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Main Street Stories Now Available in Book Form

If you enjoy the Main Street Stories posts on this blog, or you're searching for just the right Christmas present for someone with a Rochester connection, you'll be happy to know that a softcover book entitled Remembering Rochester: Main Street Stories is now available for only $9.  The collected stories -  with a new introduction -  have been published by the Rochester Avon Historical Society to coincide with the upcoming reconstruction of Main Street during the summer of 2012. Remembering Rochester is proud to be a part of this effort to further local history education in our community.

Copies of Remembering Rochester: Main Street Stories are available at Lytle Pharmacy in downtown Rochester and may also be purchased through the RAHS web site at  One hundred percent of the profits from the sale of the book will benefit the history education and historic preservation programs of the Rochester Avon Historical Society.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nothing Important Changes

A wise person once said, "History repeats itself because nobody was listening the first time."  In support of that thesis, I offer this item from the Rochester Clarion issue of  April 15, 1962, quoted in its entirety and without further commentary:

Avon Township Supervisor Cy Miller sharply criticized the Ways and Means Committee of the Oakland County Board of Supervisors Tuesday for the manner in which they handled an appropriation for road and bridge improvements on Avon and Livernois Rds.
Miller said Wednesday however, that he expected the money would be made available at a meeting of the board scheduled for next Monday.
According to Miller, the supervisors approved an expenditure of $364,000 to set up airport planning and improvements on a 445-acre plot in Orion Township which is proposed as the core of a 3000-acre major airport.
Because of the expenditure, the $100,000 which was to be appropriated for the Avon Township road work, plus $200,000 for the South Oakland Health Center, was unavailable. Both the road and health center appropriations had been recommended by the Oakland County Board of Auditors.
Miller said Wednesday that he expected the full board to pass a proposal for road funds for the bridge by an extra levy of  one 20th of a mill next Monday. If passed, the proposal would bring in $108,000 for the project.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Rochester was watching a house on the move fifty years ago this month.  A two-story residence containing four apartments that stood at 330 Walnut Street was relocated to the north end of town to allow for the construction of Rochester's very first drive-through banking facility. The house was moved to a new location at 313 Woodward, where it still stands today.  Officials of the National Bank of Detroit began preparing the site for the new bank building almost immediately, which was planned to be connected to the main bank building at Fourth & Main by a tunnel that crossed beneath the West Alley.