Saturday, December 29, 2012

At Home in Rochester: William E. Rice House

Current view of 120 E. University Drive
If you travel on East University Drive in downtown Rochester, you have passed the William E. Rice house, but you may not have realized it. This house has stood at 120 East University since 1906, but the structure is hidden from view today because it has been sandwiched between two modern-style additions which make it appear, from street view, to be a contemporary commercial building.  Step across the street or walk down the East Alley, however, and you will notice the architectural features of the American foursquare-style house peeking out from between the additions.

William E. Rice was a carriage mechanic and blacksmith who had a shop on the East Alley at the south end of his lot on what was then known as East Fifth Street. In 1906, he and his son, Lee, manufactured concrete bricks for the construction of a new home on the north end of the lot. The 1907 booklet  Beautiful Rochester tells us this about Rice and his house:
1907 view of 120 E. Fifth (now E. University Drive)
William E. Rice is engaged in the wagon and carriage repair and blacksmith business in his own shop on East Fifth street. Mr. Rice is a good workman and has an extensive business in his lines, always aiming to give satifaction to his customers. Last year he completed a fine cement brick residence on East Fifth street, every brick of which was made by himself and son.
The concrete house was very popular during the first decade of the twentieth century, as mail order catalogs sold hand-operated brick and block forming machines that the typical homeowner could operate to manufacture his own building materials.  Concrete homes were widely advertised as durable, fireproof, and maintenance free, and many of the kit and mail order house catalogs of the time offered multiple plans for such structures.  There are examples of these houses dotted throughout Rochester's older neighborhoods, and a collection of several of them can be found on the first block of Griggs Street.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ben Jones

There are many organizations throughout our community that solicit donations during the holiday season to provide assistance to the needy among us.  There was a time in Rochester's history when that effort was managed by one man - Ben Jones.  Jones came to Rochester in 1914 from his native Cincinnati, Ohio, and found a job at Parkedale Biological Farm.  Three years later, he established the Ben Jones Welfare Fund to provide clothes and Christmas gifts to needy children in the area.  He sold newspapers on the street and solicited donations of food and clothing for his annual holiday distributions.  Upon his death in 1956, the Rochester Clarion described Jones' efforts:
For years he carried on this Christmas solicitation for money practically alone, doing acts of charity constantly and making sure no child lacked clothes or food.  At Christmas time he was assisted by committees from local churches in his fundraising newspaper sale to bring a merry Christmas to even the most humble home.
He always said that he was only repaying the kindness that was shown him as a boy in Cincinnati by local charities.

In 1948, the Metropolitan Club joined Jones and established a Goodfellows newspaper sale to boost his charitable fund.  Jones sold papers with the Goodfellows until just before his death, when his health prohibited his participation. Over half a century later, he is still remembered in Rochester for he joy he brought to needy homes for over four decades.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Subdivision Stories: Parker Addition

In 1902 the Detroit Sugar Company, which operated a large sugar beet processing mill on Woodward Street in Rochester, deeded a parcel of its land to Edward Horatio Parker, who was the secretary of the company at the time.  Parker and his wife, Eleanor Carroll Parker, were very prominent residents of Detroit. Edward Parker had attended Yale University before taking a job as the assistant manager of the Diamond Match Company's Detroit factory. He later became an officer of the Detroit Sugar Company, and after its demise, went into the real estate and insurance business. He was also appointed a fire commissioner for the city of Detroit by Hazen S. Pingree.

The Parkers subdivided the land that they acquired from the Detroit Sugar Company and platted it as the Parker Addition to the Village of Rochester, placing the lots on the market in late 1902.  Since the plat lay immediately to the north of the W. C. Chapman and Ludlow additions, Ludlow Street was extended through the Parker addition all the way to Paint Creek.  The Parkers were never residents of Rochester, and lived their entire lives in Detroit. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rochester on the Road: William C. Chapman Grave Site

There is a small town in south central Vermont called Ludlow, after which our Ludlow Street in Rochester is named. It is the home town of the wife of William Clark Chapman, who was a Rochester industrialist and real estate developer from 1891 until his death in 1946. Chapman, who came to Michigan from a smaller town near Ludlow with his parents and brother, never lost his ties to his Vermont home after settling in Rochester to help run the Western Knitting Mills. Chapman and his wife, the former Ada Barney, regularly made trips back to their native state to visit family there.

Although William and Ada Chapman stayed in Rochester, reared a family, built a magnificent house on Walnut Street, and eventually died here, their remains were returned to their native Ludlow, Vermont for burial.  If you are ever in the vicinity of Ludlow, Vermont, you will find the final resting place of William and Ada Chapman in the town's Pleasant View Cemetery, where this monument reminds visitors of their life in Rochester, Michigan.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month the citizens of the village of Rochester were debating the subject of cityhood. A community forum was held at the old Central Junior High School (now Rochester Community Schools administration building) to discuss a proposal to incorporate Rochester as a city and extend its borders northward to Tienken Road and eastward to Dequindre Road.  The resulting city would have covered an area of 4.8 square miles.

The Avon Township Board of Trustees opposed the plan because it annexed the land of its third-largest taxpayer, the Parkdale Farms campus of Parke-Davis and Company.  Parke-Davis officials announced that they, too, were "violently opposed" to being part of the new proposed city of Rochester, because the plan would hamper the company's plans to expand at Parkdale.

The Rochester Clarion reported that the community debate was very civil in tone, despite high emotions on both sides of the question.  When voters went to the polls a few weeks later, they defeated the cityhood proposal by a 4 to 1 margin.  Only three years later, a cityhood proposal which preserved the existing village boundaries passed successfully, and Rochester became a city in February 1967.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Subdivision Stories: Charles O. Renshaw Subdivision

The Charles O. Renshaw subdivision on the south side of the Village of Rochester was platted in 1896 and was the fourth addition made to the original village plat during the nineteenth century.  Streets were laid out on the former farm land of Charles O. Renshaw and his wife Harriet Castleman Renshaw, who were both born in England and had emigrated to the United States just before the Civil War.

The Renshaw addition lay south of First Street and included the streets named Renshaw, Quarter, Peach, West, Hacker and Helmond Streets. Helmond was originally named Harrison on the subdivision plat, but was renamed in 1950 to avoid confusion with another Harrison Street in the village.

Charles and Harriet Renshaw reared a family of nine children in Rochester. Harriet Renshaw died in 1904, and Charles Renshaw died in 1909.  Both are buried at Mount Avon Cemetery.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

At Home in Rochester: Thomas Jefferson Jones House

The house at 302 Walnut Street currently occupied by the Peppertree clothing boutique has stood at the corner of Third and Walnut for approximately 144 years. Tax and deed records indicate that the house was likely built in 1868 as the family residence of a carpenter named Thomas Jefferson Jones, who had purchased the lot from the heirs of the late John F. Hamlin. Jones was born in New York state in 1828, and came to Oakland County with his family when he was about seven years old. He married Phoebe Delight Collins in 1854 and the couple had three children, the youngest of whom, Anna, may have been born in the Walnut Street house in 1868. (Anna later became the wife of Commodore George Newberry).

The Jones family lived in the house until 1873, and then it was purchased by Henry Marshall Look. H. M. Look was a deacon of the Congregational church, and had served as probate judge of Oakland County under territorial government, as justice of the peace of Avon Township, and very briefly, as president of the Village of Rochester. He lived at 302 Walnut until just before his death in 1887, and his heirs sold then sold the house to John Mackey Axford, who owned it until 1903.  In the first half of the twentieth century, the house was the residence of Eva Banghart Gunn and her family, from about 1920 until 1954.  After the death of Eva Gunn, 302 Walnut Street made the transition from a private residence to an office building, as by that time there was already development pressure on Walnut Street to expand the downtown business district.

In the early 1960s, 302 Walnut was the home of the Rochester X-Ray Center, operated by Dr. Otis W. Schorling. A medical lab business also occupied part of the space.  In those days, Crittenton Hospital had not been built yet;  Rochester was being served only by a tiny osteopathic clinic on South Hill, so before the Rochester X-Ray Center opened, most citizens had to travel to Pontiac for diagnostic testing.

The X-Ray Center closed in early 1964, and the house eventually became a retail location. Since 1984, the Thomas Jefferson Jones house has been the home of the Peppertree women's clothing boutique.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Old News That's New Again: Oil Drilling

(Clarion photo by Leslie Palmitier, 1976)
Recent news that the Jordan Development Company of Traverse City is seeking leases in Rochester Hills to conduct exploratory drilling for oil reserves has caught the attention of our citizens, but as one Remembering Rochester reader reminded me, this topic is really old news.

Back in 1976-1978, as a reaction to the 1973 oil crisis, independent drilling companies stepped up their efforts to locate fossil fuel resources in Michigan, and Avon and Oakland Townships were included in their explorations.  In April 1976, Reef Petroleum Corporation of Traverse City drilled a test well at the corner of Rochester and Gunn roads in Oakland Township; they were issued a permit to drill as far as 4,050 feet into a pinnacle reef formation known as the Niagaran reef (see the Clarion photo from 1976, at left).  The well, designated Axford 1-22, quickly proved to be a dry hole and was immediately plugged. Two years later, Reef Petroleum was granted another permit to drill a gas well designated Dillman 3-1 in section 1 of Avon Township (now Rochester Hills), at a location about 400 feet west of Winkler Mill Road. Dillman 3-1 was drilled to a depth of about 3,600 feet and was eventually designated a dry hole after producing very little gas; it was plugged in 1979. Although Reef Petroleum was not successful with these two wells, they did drill a group of wells in nearby Addison Township that produced both gas and oil. Overall, in the 1970s Michigan oil companies drilled a total of 4,935 holes resulting in 1,174 oil wells, 475 natural gas wells, 2,610 dry holes and 676 service wells.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality produced a map that shows the location of all of the active and inactive well units lying within Oakland County. This maps shows a cluster of well units in the northeast corner of Rochester Hills (look at T3N,11E).

If you are interested in the topic of oil and gas wells in Michigan, there is a wealth of information available from the web site of the Clarke Historical Library, as well as from the Department of Environmental Quality's GeoWebFace site.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vanished Rochester Stories Now Available

Remembering Rochester is pleased to announce that the "Vanished Rochester" series of stories from this blog have just been collected and published in a new softcover book by the Rochester-Avon Historical Society. Entitled Remembering Rochester: Vanished Rochester, the new book includes our favorite stories of buildings and structures that have disappeared from the community's landscape, including places like The Haven, Whitey's Restaurant, Woodward School, the Detroit Sugar Company, Rochester Junction and many others (click here to see the table of contents).

Copies of Vanished Rochester sell for $9 and are available locally at Lytle Pharmacy, Holland's Floral & Gifts and in the gift shop at the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm.  If you are not in the Rochester area but would like to purchase a copy, the book will be available soon in the online store section of the RAHS web site.  While you are in the online store, be sure to check out the nice variety of other Rochester-themed merchandise that would make a great holiday gift for family or friends, including a new 2013 wall calendar illustrated with stunning historical photographs of Rochester, and a mousepad featuring a picture of the South Hill interurban trestle.  The online store also carries copies of Remembering Rochester's previous collection, entitled Main Street Stories.

One important note: purchase of any of this merchandise does not benefit the author of this blog. All proceeds from the sale of these items benefit the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, a private, 501(3)(c) non-profit organization dedicated to local history education and historic preservation initiatives in our community.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

 (Courtesy of Marjorie and the late Walter Dernier)
Half a century ago this month, the eyes of Rochester's citizens were focused on Main Street - specifically upon the southwest corner of Main and University Drive, where stood the aging and forlorn St. James Hotel. After months of legal wrangling with the heirs of Lottie Smith, the widow of hotel proprietor James W. Smith, a consent agreement was reached to allow the village to raze the building.  The struggle had taken up much of the village council members' time, as they contemplated initiating condemnation proceedings in order to see the old building removed.  With the matter settled in court on November 29, 1962, the village was able to proceed with demolition of the hotel in early December 1962. The accompanying photo shows how the building looked just before it was torn down.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

At Home in Rochester: Cyrus and Laura Reimer House

Reimer/Fisher house ca.1957 (Swords Family Archive)
This grand house was built at 1690 S. Rochester Road (west side of the road, south of Avon) in 1922 for Cyrus Reimer and his second wife, Laura Clough Reimer. Cyrus Reimer, who was born in 1854 in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, had been a hardware merchant in Rochester, operating the store founded by his father, Joseph Reimer, which he later sold to Harvey J. Taylor. (Taylor, in turn, sold the store to Charles W. Case and it later became known as Case's Hardware). Cyrus Reimer became a traveling hardware salesmen for the Buhl company of Detroit, and also operated a hardware store in Owosso, Michigan, before settling in Cleveland, where he was sales manager for the American Fork and Hoe Company. 

In retirement, Cyrus decided to return to the Rochester area. The Pontiac Daily Press reported in March 1922:
The contract has been let for a fine residence for Cyrus Reimer, to be built on his farm, one and one half miles south of Rochester. Mr. Reimer was formerly a Rochester resident, but has made his home in Cleveland for the last 15 years.
Unfortunately, Cyrus Reimer died just over a year after this announcement was published, so he probably spent very little time enjoying his new house south of Rochester.  Two years later his widow sold the property, as revealed by this item from the Rochester Clarion of April 17, 1925:
William A. Fisher, president of the Fisher Body Works, of Detroit, has purchased the palatial farm home of Mrs. Laura Reimer, one and one-fourth miles south of Rochester on the Rochester pavement. Ward Carey has been engaged as overseer of the farm and will occupy the house, while George Stewart will occupy the tenant house vacated by George Ahrens.
Fisher's name is the one that is most associated with this house, as he owned it for a much longer span of time that the Reimers.  One of the famed brothers who founded the Fisher Body Company that later became a division of General Motors, William A. Fisher used his Avon Township home as a summer getaway and weekend retreat, while living the rest of the time at his primary residence in the Boston-Edison district of Detroit. His Avon Township property was a large parcel in section 22, and he employed local people to farm it for him.

The Fisher property was sold to the Mount Elliott Cemetery Association in 1951, but plans to develop a cemetery on the property never left the drawing board. Instead, the property was sold for development to the Winchester Association in 1969.  About that time, the Reimer/Fisher house was moved west across the fields to a lot on Crestline Street, in the Bogart's Place subdivision plat, which is where it stands today.

To learn more about the Cyrus Reimer house, visit the Oakland Regional Historic Sites record for this property.

Thanks to Melanie and Janet Swords for sharing this image from the Swords Family Archive.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Romney in Rochester Revisited

(Courtesy of Steve Cypher)
After reading my earlier blog post about George Romney's campaign visit to Rochester fifty years ago this month, Remembering Rochester reader Steve Cypher contacted me to share this image from his personal family photo archive.  The photo was taken with gubernatorial candidate George Romney on Main Street, Rochester, on October 11, 1962. Pictured from left to right are Larry Foss, George Romney, John Cypher, Steve Cypher and Ginny Foss. Betty Slazinski is driving the car (for the auto fans, Steve says that's a Fiat 1200 Sport Spyder).  Mitzelfeld's and Holland Florist can be seen in the background of the photo.

My thanks to Steve Cypher for sharing this bit of Rochester history.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rochester on the Road: Photoflash Flares

If you ever find yourself visiting the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, you'll find a connection to Rochester, Michigan in this exhibit from the museum's World War II gallery.  Here is displayed an example of the AN-M26 photoflash flare, which was dropped from airplanes to provide illumination for nighttime bombing missions, or to aid aerial photography.

These flares descended toward their targets on a parachute, which allowed them to burn for about three minutes over the area to be illuminated. They produced about 800,000 candlepower.  The AN-M26 device was 50 inches long and about eight inches in diameter, weighing 52 pounds. Fourteen pounds of that weight was flare charge.

McAleer Manufacturing Company, located  at the time in Rochester at Fourth and Water streets in the building we know today as the Rochester Mills Beer Company, had government defense contracts to build these flares. Thousands of the devices were built, tested and shipped from Rochester to aid the war effort. Mixing and testing of the explosive powders used in these and other McAleer munitions resulted in the injury or death of several McAleer employees.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vanished Rochester: Winkler Mill

Winkler Mill, August 1923
In 1825, pioneer settler John Hersey built a grist mill northeast of the emerging settlement of Stoney Creek, establishing one of the earliest industries in what would become Avon Township.  Captain William Price, a pioneer of Washington Township in adjacent Macomb County, bought the Hersey property, including the mill, in 1837. As proprietor of the former Hersey mill, Capt. Price was credited with grinding the first barrel of superfine flour in Oakland County.

William Price died in 1857, and his heirs eventually sold the mill near Stoney Creek to a German immigrant named Joseph Winkler, Winkler operated the mill for half a century, from 1870 until 1920, and it is by his name that the mill property has been known ever since.

A succession of owners followed Joseph Winkler, but the building had by then seen its last days as a working grist mill.  In 1968, a Michigan historical marker was placed at the mill, recognizing it as a relic of Avon Township's era of exploration and settlement.  To the sadness of the community, the historic structure was completely destroyed by fire in the summer of 1985. The Michigan historical marker that once stood at the site was removed to the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm.

Monday, October 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

Campaign season was in full swing in Rochester fifty years ago this month. On October 11, 1962, the Romney campaign swept into town for a hand-shaking stop.  Republican gubernatorial candidate George W. Romney stood outside the gate of National Twist Drill at Tienken and Rochester at the 3:30 p.m. quitting time, asking workers departing the plant at the close of their shift to support him in his race against incumbent governor John B. Swainson.  After leaving Twist Drill, Romney visited downtown Rochester and walked through Mitzelfeld's and most of the other Main Street businesses, greeting customers and clerks and asking them for their votes in the upcoming November election.

Romney defeated Swainson in the 1962 general election and served as Michigan's governor from 1963 to 1969. (For those of you who are students of American political history, click here to view a film clip of George Romney's announcement of his candidacy for Michigan governor.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Horvitz Connection

Horvitz building renovation (David Gifford)
Recently, as the Horvitz building at 301 S. Main has been stripped of its faux front, interest in the structure's history has been renewed.  We know that a dry goods merchant named Burnett A. Horvitz built the store in late 1888, but this week I decided to find out what I could about Mr. Horvitz and his personal story. An 1891 biography reveals that B. A. Horvitz was born in Russia in 1859 and that he and his family fled to America in 1869 to escape the persecution of Jews that was occurring at the time. Burnett "Barney" Horvitz then became a traveling salesman, and during a stop in Rochester in 1880 he decided to make his home here. He built his new store on Main Street in 1888 and in 1893 he married Gertrude C. Straus of Detroit.  The couple had two children, both born in Rochester: a son, Gerald Joseph Horvitz, and a daughter, Florence M. Horvitz.  The Horvitz children were reared in Rochester until about 1907, at which time B. A. Horvitz moved his family to Detroit.

Gerald Horvitz went on to attend the University of Michigan and was graduated with the class of 1916. He moved to New York and became a scientist and researcher of some note, specializing in chemistry and metallurgical engineering. Horvitz served as president of the New York Testing Laboratories and was engaged in highly classified research during the early 1940s.  His daughter, Betty Slegman, herself a U of M graduate and one of the first women journalists to work for United Press,  recalled that her father would never talk about his work, but expressed irritation at the number of security people who were hanging around his laboratory.  It was only after the surrender of Japan ended World War II that Betty found out that her father had been one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project, and that his specific role had been to develop a key component of the trigger mechanism of the atomic bomb.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rochester's History Comes Alive at Cemetery Walk

Rochester Avon Historical Society offers a first-person, interactive way to learn more about our community's history in the upcoming Mount Avon cemetery walk entitled Stories in the Stones.  Historical re-enactors, wearing period costume, will greet tour guests and present first-person narratives of their lives and experiences in Rochester. Among the characters that tour guests will meet are pioneers, shopkeepers, a justice of the peace, and someone involved in Rochester's most notorious nineteenth-century scandal. The tour is a family-friendly event suitable for all ages, and combines local history with community theater in an educational and entertaining way.

The cemetery walk will be held on Saturday, September 29, with timed tours departing at intervals between 1 and 5 p.m. from the municipal parking lot located at Walnut and Third streets. Tour participants will be transported to the cemetery by shuttle van at their appointed tour time and will be returned to the municipal parking lot at the conclusion of the tour.  The tour will be held rain or shine and will be canceled only in the event of severe weather.

Stories in the Stones is a fund-raising event to support the local history education and historic preservation initiatives of the Rochester Avon Historical Society. The event is generously sponsored by Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge, Pixley Funeral Home, and Potere-Modetz Funeral Home.  Tickets are $15 each and are non-refundable.  Tickets may be purchased during the week at the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce office, 71 Walnut St. This weekend only, September 22-23, tickets will be available at temporary sales booths  at Yates Cider Mill from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or behind the Rochester Municipal Building, 400 Sixth St.,  from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Any unsold tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served walk-up basis on the day of the event from the tour departure point at Third and Walnut streets.

For more information about the cemetery walk, contact Rochester Avon Historical Society at, or phone 248-266-5440.  To view a video trailer about the cemetery walk, click here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Main Street Stories: 327 S. Main

Around 1900, Rochester jeweler Theodor Dahlmann built a store to house his business at 327 S. Main. This property remained in the Dahlman family until 1936, when Theo Dahlmann's heirs sold it to Lyle "Red" Knapp. Knapp opened a restaurant and bar there, known simply as "Knapp's" (and not to be confused with Knapp's Dairy Bar, another of his businesses which opened on the opposite side of the street in 1950). Knapp's restaurant and bar was a Main Street landmark until 1976, when the property was sold to Clarence Kavan of Grosse Pointe.  Kavan, having an entirely different restaurant in mind, had the existing building razed completely, and planned a brand-new building to be constructed atop the old foundation.

As construction on the restaurant continued, Rochester residents were introduced in December 1976 to a new feature on Main Street.  The front of the new Kavan's Colony East restaurant was decorated with two large figures sculpted of wood, leaning on a table over the doorway that was the main entrance to the eatery.  The larger-than-life oak carving was familiar to Detroiters, as it had graced the front of the old Brass Rail bar on Grand Circus Park for many years. After the demise of the Brass Rail, the carving lay in storage until Clarence Kavan acquired it for his new restaurant in Rochester.

The carving is the design of Joseph Freedman, who was one of the partners in the Brass Rail bar. It was executed by the firm of noted Detroit sculptor Joachim Jungwirth, whose company of architectural modelers and wood carvers was very prominent in Detroit. Jungwirth was a talented Austrian wood carver and was the father of sculptor Leonard D. Jungwirth, who created the famous "Sparty" statue at Michigan State University, and also created a bas relief mural at Rochester High School (now hanging in the Harrison Room of the school administration building).  Joseph Freedman patented his design for the sculpture to adorn the bar's entrance in 1940.  The drawing filed with his patent application is shown here.

Kavan's Colony East opened its doors to Rochester patrons in February 1977, and lasted until about 1980, when the restaurant's name was briefly changed to Main Street bar and grille.  The Kruse and Muer organization bought it in 1989.  Names and owners may have changed in the 35 years since the carving was installed, but it has now become an immovable fixture and a noted Rochester landmark. The next time you visit Kruse and Muer on Main, note the initials "BR"  (for Brass Rail) carved in the boot heel of one of the men.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vanished Rochester: Neely Roller Mill

The Neely mill on Paint Creek in 1907
The Neely Roller Mill stood on the banks of Paint Creek at the north end of Main Street, near the site of today's Rochester Athletic Club.  According to a Detroit Free Press account, the mill was built in the fall of 1868. Doctors Jesse and Jeremiah Wilson were the proprietors for the first eight years, during which the enterprise was known as the Eureka Mills.  The Wilsons then sold the mill, and it was acquired in 1896 by Thomas Edward Neely, who improved the machinery and produced the Vigilant brand of flour there.

Trouble erupted after the Detroit Sugar Company built a large sugar beet processing plant upstream on Paint Creek in 1899. In 1903, Neely sued Detroit Sugar for damages, claiming that the beet pulp discharged by the plant impeded the supply of water to his mill. The Free Press reported on May 17, 1903:
Neeley asks $15,000 alleging that the sugar company has thrown lime, dirt, sand, refuse, beets and beet tops into Paint Creek until his mill pond is diminished in size fully one-half and his race is filled from three to five feet deep.  Neeley sets up that his loss has been from $3,000 to $5,000 per year since the sugar factory was erected and says the value of the flour mill is $10,000.

Neely was awarded slightly more than $2,000 in damages, and Detroit Sugar soon thereafter closed its Rochester facility due to a perfect storm of economic woes.  A few years later, in 1908, there was more litigation revolving around water rights on Paint Creek. This time, Neely sued Western Knitting Mills, claiming that when WKM built its new dam, the water level in Neely's tail race had been raised, destroying his water power.  Neely was awarded $2,800 by the jury, but WKM appealed. In 1909, the appeals court required WKM to accept a lower award of $1,800 or opt for a new trial, but by that time Neely had already sold the property and moved to Armada in northern Macomb County. The mill building and equipment was sold to Lapeer men, who dismantled the mill in late 1908. Neely continued in the milling business in Armada and died there in 1931.

In 1997, when construction crews were working on the pedestrian walk along Paint Creek, they discovered remnants of the Neely mill, including some of the wood from the foundation of the water wheel.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

This month in 1962, the citizens of Rochester were marking the retirement of Fire Chief George J. Ross, Sr. Chief Ross had come to the close of a 39-year career with the department; the last 28 of those years were served as chief.  When Ross joined the RFD in 1923, it was an all-volunteer force, but in 1951, the Village Council made the fire chief a full-time employee of the village.  Upon Chief Ross's retirement, assistant chief Lyle O. Buchanan was named fire chief, and served in that capacity for the next 20 years.  Chief Ross told the Rochester Clarion that he planned to spend his retirement relaxing around the house, but didn't rule out the possibility that when he heard the siren blowing, he might just go out to "take a look" at the fire.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Day the World Came to Rochester

Early 20th century view of a track gang at work on the MCRR
Yesterday, August 24, was the 140th anniversary of the day that the world came to Rochester. For it was on that very date in the year 1872 that the first locomotive rolled into town on the newly laid tracks of the Detroit and Bay City Railway.

Before the D. & B.C. (later Michigan Central - or M.C.R.R.) came to town, the village of Rochester was isolated from the outside world. No telephone or telegraph lines existed to link the town to other communities. There was no local newspaper. The mail came by stage or horse and rider. Travel to any outside destination was accomplished on foot or by horse-drawn vehicle over plank roads or dirt wagon traces and was usually a multi-day excursion.  The arrival of the first railroad to serve the village and surrounding township was, therefore, a game-changer. Citizens of Rochester and Avon could now travel easily to major transportation hubs, ship farm products to market, and receive the world's news in a timely fashion.  They were no longer residents of an isolated outpost.

The excitement of the townspeople as the locomotive approached was palpable. We know this because we are fortunate to have preserved in our history an eyewitness account of the event.  The story was related by Olive Hamlin Burbank, a pioneer resident of Avon Township, whose recollections were recorded for us by Fidelia Wooley Gillette, a well-known Universalist minister and prolific writer.  From Fidelia Gillette's pen, we have this account of the watershed day as told by Olive Burbank just days before her death:

On the 24th of August, 1872, there sounded through Olive Burbank's house a strange unknown cry, - the voice of one of her children calling, "Mother, Father, the locomotive will soon be here," and then the aged couple hurried out with their children, and sitting side by side in the pleasant yard, kept watch amid the ringing of bells and the roar of cannon, and the shouts of the rejoicing villagers; for the first train of cars on the Detroit & Bay City railroad, down the hill and beyond the creek, slowly, slowly up the glen, and on the border of what was once to have been  "the great raging canal," slowly along the valley and between the hills came the new engine, drawing after it the construction train; slowly, slowly over the new track, and the yet unballasted road, where once this aged pair had seen only the unbroken forest, with its Indian trail. And now, at the last Olive Burbank knew that the home of her adoption, the little wild-wood village, dear to her heart for fifty years, was linked to the great, surging outside world.

Imagine the wonder of the aged Olive Burbank, who had come to the Rochester area with the earliest settlers and carved a home out of the wilderness, to see that locomotive engine coming through town!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rochester On The Road: Bockscar

(National Museum of the Air Force, Dayton OH)
This installment of Rochester on the Road takes us to the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  One of the historic aircraft on display there is this B-29 Superfortress, nicknamed Bockscar. The airplane is well known as the one used in the atomic bomb strike on Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945, and it has a connection to Rochester, Michigan through one of its crew members.

In August of 1945, a Rochester man named Roderick F. Arnold was serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a B-29 flight engineer, and was stationed on the Pacific island of Tinian where preparations were underway for the atomic strikes against Japan. Rod Arnold was assigned as a crew member aboard this aircraft, which had been named Bockscar for its pilot, Capt. Fred Bock. When the Hiroshima raid failed to force the immediate surrender of Japan and a second raid was ordered a few days later, it was determined that the Great Artiste, the airplane normally assigned to the second strike commander, Maj. Charles Sweeney, could not be made ready to carry a weapon in time for the second mission because the bomber was still fitted out with the scientific monitoring instruments it had carried on the Hiroshima mission.  The problem was solved by switching aircraft: Maj. Sweeney and his crew would fly Bockscar as the bomber and Capt. Bock and his crew would fly the Great Artiste with the monitoring instrumentation.  That decision placed Rod Arnold on the Great Artiste, flying a chase mission behind Bockscar as the other airplane dropped the Nagasaki bomb.

Mercifully, the Nagasaki mission was the last atomic bomb strike by Allied forces; only a handful of men were eyewitnesses to this terrifying moment in history, and Rochester's Rod Arnold was one of them.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bygone Business: Schoolcraft Drug Store

Photo courtesy of Swords Family Archive
A pharmacy business has been located in the Opera House block on the southeast corner of Fourth and Main streets continuously since the building was opened in 1890. One of those pharmacies was the Schoolcraft Drug Store, operated by Zeno Schoolcraft from 1928 to 1948.  The photo shown here was taken in 1947, just a year before Schoolcraft sold the business to T. Kenneth Fetters.

The Schoolcraft Drug Store featured a soda fountain, as was common at the time.  A story in the Rochester Clarion from the issue of June 1, 1928 tells us that Schoolcraft's fountain offered a superior malted milk concoction that was far better than what could be had elsewhere; the newspaper reported that visitors from across the region were stopping in at the Rochester store in hopes of discovering the secret recipe of Zeno Schoolcraft's malted milk beverage.

In addition to developing a popular malted milk recipe, Zeno Schoolcraft invented two devices that were granted United States patents. Both item were designed to be of interest to merchants: one was a shelf label holder, and the other was a display box for confectionary products.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Rochester On The Road: Deats Gravesite

Deats monument in Church Hill Cemetery, PA
This new occasional series, Rochester On The Road, will look at connections to the history of the Rochester area that may be found in other cities and states across the country.  Today's inaugural post in the series is a visit to the gravesite of Harriet "Hattie" Sprague and her husband, Dr. William Deats.

William and Hattie Deats are buried in Church Hill Cemetery in Martin's Creek, Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Deats was born in Northampton County in 1847 and earned degrees from nearby Lafayette College and Jefferson Medical College before coming to Rochester in 1878 to establish a medical practice. While in Rochester, he married Harriet "Hattie" Sprague, the daughter of Rollin Sprague, who built the Home Bakery building.  Dr. Deats then built the beautiful Eastlake Victorian house at 302 W. University as the couple's marital home.  Only a few years later, Dr. Deats decided to move back to his native Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine for the remainder of his life.  Hattie Deats died of typhoid fever in 1889, not long after the Deats family returned to Northampton County.  Dr. Deats himself died of kidney disease in 1891, leaving the couple's only daughter, Grace, an orphan.  Grace Deats then returned to Michigan to live with family members.

Church Hill Cemetery in Northampton County has other associations to Rochester history as well.  A number of families from the Northampton area migrated to Rochester in the mid-19th century, so other Rochester surnames are represented in the cemetery, including the Butz/Butts, Fangboner and Ross families.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, a party in the Brooklands area of Avon Township made the pages of the local newspaper. Esther and Abel Jablway, fondly known to their customers as "Mom and Pop," invited all of their customers to a party at their neighborhood grocery store at 1744 East Auburn in the Brooklands subdivision. Grateful for the warm reception they had received when they had relocated from Detroit four years earlier, the couple wanted to do something to thank their customers, so they gave away 2,500 hot dogs and almost 3,000 bottles of pop to all of the neighborhood kids and their families and friends. So many people came out to celebrate with the Jablways that the firefighters from the Brooklands fire station across the street helped with the hot dogs and the Oakland County Sheriff's Department was needed to direct traffic in the area.

The Jablway neighborhood store was an institution in Brooklands for a generation.  Abel Jablway died in 1971 and his wife, Esther, died a decade later in 1981.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Subdivision Stories: Campbell Addition

The Campbell Addition to the village of Rochester was platted in the spring of 1900 on land formerly owned by Alexander F. Campbell, lying south of First Street and north of the Clinton River. His apparent widow, Esther J. Atkinson Campbell, who had married William J. Fraser in 1897, divided the seven-acre parcel into lots and placed them on the market through the local real estate office of E. R. Frank.  The streets in the Campbell addition all bear family names connected to Esther J. Campbell-Fraser; they are Campbell, after her first husband; Fraser, after her second husband; and Hiel, after her son born during her first marriage, whose name was Hiel R. Campbell.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bygone Business: Selma's Smart Shoppe

Fifty years ago, the "go-to" place for exclusive ladies' fashions was Selma's Smart Shoppe, located in the Morse  Block at 323 S. Main. Selma's opened in the fall of 1956, after Earl and Selma Atkinson, formerly of Pontiac, purchased Shueller's store from Robert Shueller, the son of store founder and long-time Rochester merchant Louis S. Shueller.  Earl Atkinson was an employee of the Borden Dairy, and took a leave of absence from his job to help his wife launch the new business that would bear her name.  Selma's was a retail mainstay in Rochester for almost three decades; it closed in the early 1970s, and the Mole Hole gift shop succeeded Selma's at the 323 S. Main location in 1973.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bygone Business: Yates Machine Shop

A business that anchored the foot of Main Street, Rochester for more than three decades was the Yates Machine Shop. The advertisement shown here ran in the Rochester Era on June 4, 1920 announcing that A. W. Yates had purchased the former Jackson Foundry on South Main Street and planned to expand the business. The Jackson Foundry had been operated by John F. and Samuel B. Jackson and originated with the brothers' father, W.H. Jackson, who had come to Rochester in 1877 and purchased the old Jennings Foundry. The Jennings Foundry, in turn, had been one of Rochester's pioneer industries.

The original foundry building had burned in 1884 while being operated by the Jacksons, and had been immediately rebuilt. It was substantially rebuilt yet again by A. W. Yates in the 1920s and was expanded more than once over the decades of Yates ownership.  Yates Machine Shop was a defense contractor during World War II and won the coveted Army-Navy E Award for excellence in production of war equipment.  The business closed in the late 1950s.

After the machine shop closed, several small industrial concerns occupied the former Yates building at 115 S. Main.  In 1970, the building was remodeled and redeveloped as the Gateway Center, and now houses a mixture of retailers, restaurants and professional offices.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Appreciating Rochester and Rochester Hills

From time to time it is a good idea to stop, take a breath, and appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.  Those of us who live in the greater Rochester area are richly blessed; our natural environment is lush and welcoming.  I recently ran across a poem published in the Rochester Clarion on February 23, 1934, in which a former Rochester resident named David Reid took the time to admire what he saw around him.  I'll let the poem speak for itself:

by David Reid
I've seen the Blue Ridge Mountains
And the Rockies in the west
But when compared for beauty
The Rochester Hills are best.

We seldom if ever realize
And we sometimes have to roam
Before we can fully appreciate
The beauties we have at home.

I've stood on the bridge in summer
Where many hills are seen
And admired the beautiful scenery
When most everything was green.

I've seen their hills in winter
All covered with ice and snow
I stood in admiration
Till my face was all aglow.

I've watched the sun shining
Many times during the day
On these hills so brightly
That it drove all cares away.

I've seen the sun go down
Behind these hills at night
With colors so impressive
It sure was a beautiful sight.

To Rochester, Nature has been good
And as kind as it could be
It made these hills with beauty
So all that would, could see.
I don't have any further information about the poet, but he did publish several other pieces in the Rochester Clarion around the same time period.  Whoever he was, he clearly appreciated where he lived; 78 years later, his words still ring true.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester area residents were talking about traffic problems. Sound familiar? In July 1962, the issue at hand was congestion in the area of the Tienken and Rochester Road intersection, caused during the afternoon shift change at National Twist Drill.  At the time, Twist Drill was the community's major employer, and the outflow of employee vehicles from its parking lots between 3:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon each weekday caused tremendous traffic backups in the area.

In response to the problem, local official petitioned the state highway department to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Tienken and Rochester, but the state's traffic study revealed that the intersection was only handling 11,855 vehicles in a 24-hour period, which was not enough traffic to qualify for a traffic light. The state suggested that Twist Drill rearrange its parking lots so that employees living north of town parked in the north lot, those living east parked in the east lot, and so forth. Twist Drill responded that 90 percent of its employees lived south of the plant, so such a scheme would have little, if any, effect in remediating the problem.  Instead, the company deployed plant protection personnel equipped with pylons to direct traffic around the plant during the afternoon shift change.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Main Street Stories: Simon Grube Cigar Factory

331 S. Main in 2008 (Photo by Eric Bothwell)
A recently published encyclopedia of Michigan history and culture entitled The Michigan Companion (Detroit: OmniGraphics, 2011). tells us that Detroit was once known for cigar manufacturing. In that narrative we find this information:
During the last half of the 19th century, Detroit became a center for the tobacco industry in the United States and by the 1890s was one of the largest centers of cigar manufacturing in as well. ... At its height [in the late nineteenth century], the cigar industry employed about 12,000 workers who produced 205 million cigars a year.
Not far from Detroit, the village of Rochester had its own cigar factory right here on Main Street. The small, one-story building at 331 S. Main was built by Simon Grube in the fall of 1891 to house his cigar factory and tobacconist business, as noted by the Rochester correspondent to the Utica Sentinel on October 10, 1891, when the paper told its readers: "'Sim' Grube broke ground today for his new brick cigar factory. The new building is to be situated on the west side of Main street, between Harrison's shoe shop and the Barger lot,  Mr. Grube having purchased the site from Ben Harrison."

331 S. Main in 1961 (Photo by the late Walter Dernier)
Although Grube operated his tobacco business in the building until 1920, it is his successor who is better known  and associated with that location.  Grube, who was born in Northampton County, Pennsylvania in 1845 and emigrated to Rochester along with a large number of other families from his native county, sold the business to Frank Butts, who continued in the cigar and tobacco business there for another two decades.  Butts was also a native of Northampton County, Pennsylvania.

After Frank Butts retired from business, the building which had served as a cigar factory and tobacco shop for the first half-century of its existence became the home of Avon Cleaners. In the 1960s and 1970s it was the home of Cam and Phyllis Soule's appliance store, and in recent years has housed a number of specialty shops including the Cose di Lusso wine shoppe and the Simply the Best $10 Boutique.

The Simon Grube cigar factory celebrates its 121st birthday this fall.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

At Home in Rochester: Hiram L. Lintz/A.R. Dillman Residence

The large home now serving as an apartment house on the southeast corner of Second and Walnut streets has a historical association with several well-known names from Rochester history.  The house was built as a private home by Hiram L. Lintz in 1901, and the details of its construction were noted by the Rochester Era during the summer of that year. Lintz was a well-known farmer in Shelby Township before he came to Rochester in 1892 to join P. M. Woodworth in a furniture and undertaking business. The firm of Woodworth & Lintz was located in the store at 311 S. Main, where Haig's Jewelry is today.  P. M. Woodworth died in 1896, and Hiram Lintz continued the business in partnership with Woodworth's widow until 1899, when the two sold the business to Thomas C. Severance.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the funeral portion of this business has survived to this day. It was originally established in 1882 by W. Harvey Greene, who sold it to P. M. Woodworth in 1886. Woodworth, in turn, took Hiram L. Lintz as a partner, and Woodworth & Lintz was sold to Thomas C. Severance in 1899.  Edward R. Metcalf bought the business from Severance in 1903 and sold it around 1911, to Vernor Spaulding.  Spaulding moved it to a location off Main Street and sold it to Alanson  C. Hobart. In 1950, Hobart sold it to Potere & Winkel, and not long after that William R. Potere became the sole proprietor.  In 1986, Potere sold to John Modetz, and today we know the business that was started by W. Harvey Greene in 1882 as Potere-Modetz Funeral Home.

Returning to the subject of the Lintz home on Walnut Street, it was sold to Rochester lumber dealer Arthur R. Dillman (of Dillman and Upton), who occupied it as his family home until about 1927, at which time the Dillmans built a new home on North Main. Silas B. Wattles bought the house from the Dillmans at that time and sold it to Elizabeth Butts Casey Case in 1939. In 1940, Case had the house partitioned into four apartments and operated it as an income property for a number of years, as she did with several other large houses in Rochester.

The Lintz house celebrates its 111th birthday this summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Main Street Stories: Amariah Trowbridge/Julian S. Peters House

Trowbridge/Peters house ca. 1904 (before addition)
Earlier in Rochester's history, their were numerous dwellings interspersed among the commercial buildings in Main Street's business district.  In 2012, only one of those houses remains standing, and that is the Amariah Trowbridge/Julian S. Peters house at 200 S. Main, occupied today by the Chomp Deli & Grille.

The exact date that Amariah Trowbridge built his house at the south end of Main Street is not known, and deeds for the property are somewhat murky, but we do know that the first year that Trowbridge appears on the tax rolls as owner of this property is 1864. Trowbridge was born in Steuben County, New York in 1830, and came to Oakland County with his parents. When the Civil War erupted, he enlisted in Company G, 22nd Michigan Infantry, and was later transferred to Company G, 29th Michigan Infantry.  He lived in Rochester from his return from the Civil War until his death in 1886, and was an employee of the Barnes Brothers Paper Mill during that entire time.

After Trowbridge died, one of his comrades in arms purchased a portion of the property - not including the house -  from his estate. Julian S. Peters,  who had served with Trowbridge in Company G, 22nd Michigan Infantry and later with Company G, 29th Michigan Infantry, bought the north half of the lot on which the house stood and conducted a carriage painting business there. The south half of the lot, on which the house stood (corner of Second Street) was originally sold to other parties, but in 1904, Julian Peters bought that as well.
On November 18, 1904, the Rochester Era carried this item about the house:
J.S. Peters is overhauling the old Trowbridge house. He will raise the roof three feet, drop the building and place a good cellar under it, making a neat tenement house of it.
Later, Peters also built a one-and-a-half story addition to the north side of the house.

Julian Peters served as Avon Township Clerk in 1874-75 and also served 21 years as Justice of the Peace in Rochester. Peters was proud that during his years as Justice of the Peace, not one of the thousands of cases he tried was ever reversed on appeal. After retiring from public service, he conducted a real estate and insurance business. He owned the property at 200 S. Main St. until his death in 1931, when it was sold by his heirs.

In 1945, Rochester automobile dealer C. Lawrence Jerome bought the property and converted the house to office space for the Jerome Insurance Agency. That business was known as the Jerome-Hill Insurance agency in the 1950s, and later as the Hudson G. Hill Agency until the late 1970s. The house has also been occupied, at various times, by Teague Finance, GAC Finance, H&R Block, and Rochester Accounting and Tax Service. The Chomp Deli & Grille opened there in May 2010, following the Beyond Juice restaurant at the location.

The Trowbridge/Peters house is significant as the only remaining example of a mid-19th century dwelling remaining in the business district of Main Street. It serves to remind us what the village's Main Street looked like in those days.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Main Street Stories: Leslie L. Whims Building

(Marjorie and the late Walter Dernier Collection, ca.1961)
Do you know where the bowling alley was on Main Street in downtown Rochester? If you were in town between 1926 and the early 1970s, you may have visited Rochester Lanes at 430-432 S. Main.  The building at 430 S. Main was constructed in 1926 for Rochester businessman Leslie L. Whims, and while the street level of the structure housed an auto garage and showroom, it was the basement that drew the attention of the town as the building neared completion.  The Rochester Clarion told its readers on November 5, 1926:
After this week Rochester can well boast of having one of the finest bowling alleys to be found in the state, the entire basement of the new Whims block, from the main street to alley, a depth of 150 feet, to house four alleys all of the most modern equipment and furnished in keeping with the fine place it now gives promise of being.
(Rod and Susan Wilson Collection, 1960)
Rochester Motor Sales, operated by George Ross, occupied the main floor of Whims building for many years, along with Leslie Whims' insurance office (Whims Insurance, founded in 1917, is still a family business and is now our community's oldest insurance agency). The main action, however, must have been in the basement, because in 1945, Whims added a building next door to the north and doubled the size of his bowling alley from four to eight lanes. War time shortages slowed progress on the building, but the Rochester Era shared the good news of the expanded bowling alley's completion with the town on September 5, 1946:
After bucking a year of shortages of materials and all the other things which go to make a post-war building project a real headache, the new alleys are completed in an excellent manner and the facilities are double the size of the old alleys, there being eight Brunswick Lanes with the maples standing at the other end inviting the hundreds of bowling enthusiasts.
Did you learn to bowl at Rochester Lanes? Did you set pins there?  Tell us in the comments.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Vanished Rochester: The John H. Hawken Residence

John H. Hawken House, 131 E. Fourth St., in 1977
John H. Hawken House, 131 E. Fourth St., in 1897
This large Victorian home stood on the northwest corner of Fourth and East streets, where a municipal parking lot is located today.  It was built in 1895 by John H. Hawken II, as his family residence.  According to the pamphlet Beautiful Rochester, which was published in 1897 and carried an item about Mr. Hawken along with a photograph of his home, Hawken was born in Ontario in 1871. He came to Rochester with his father's family in 1880 and went to work in the woolen mill, rising quickly to the position of assistant superintendent of the Western Knitting Mills after that company moved to Rochester from Detroit.  Beautiful Rochester described John H. Hawken as "one of the rising young men of the village," and that certainly appears to have been an accurate assessment.  Hawken was only 24 years old when he built this house, which he shared with his widowed mother and siblings until 1900, when he married Catherine "Kittie" Cullen. The couple had one child, William Cullen Hawken, who later became a physician in Detroit.  Tragically, John H. Hawken did not live to see his only son; he died of tuberculosis in April 1902 at the age of 31, a few months before the birth of his child.  According to his death certificate, Hawken was superintendent of the Western Knitting Mills at the time of his demise.

Following the death of John Hawken, the house on East Fourth Street was purchased by William O. Brewster;  in the 1930s, Elizabeth Butts Casey (later Case) bought it and converted it to an apartment house. The Hawken house served as an apartment building to the end of its days, which came in late 1977, when it was razed to make way for a municipal parking lot and thus passed into the pages of Vanished Rochester.

Friday, June 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

In July 1962, Rochester was observing another fascinating construction project that was underway downtown, and like the Main Street Makeover that we've been watching recently, this one also involved a lot of digging. Ground was broken on June 6, 1962 for a 200-foot tunnel that would connect the National Bank of Detroit building at the corner of Fourth & Main (now Chase Bank) to a brand-new drive-in bank facility that was going up on the east side of Walnut near Fourth.   A tube seven feet in diameter was buried in an excavated trench that ran beneath the West Alley to the site of the new building, located just to the north of the former Methodist church (now Masonic Temple). The underground passageway allowed bank employees to move easily between the two structures without going outside. The new drive-in bank was designed by architect Clarence E. Noetzel (1924-1994) and built by P.H. Williams & Son, contractors. It opened for service in October 1962.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

More Musings on the D & C Building Ghost

During a recent historical walking tour conducted by the Rochester Avon Historical Society, the subject of the D & C building's ghost was mentioned.  Over the years, many people have reported encountering evidence of a ghost in the building -  now occupied by the Rojo Mexican Bistro -  and have speculated about the identity of the restless spirit or how it might be connected to the history of the beloved dime store. As the property's history was discussed during the tour, it occurred to me that most of the speculation about the ghost has centered around the D & C building - which was constructed in 1940. But what if the ghost predates the D & C and is connected to an earlier event that took place at the corner of Fourth and Main?

The Lambertson block stood on the location where the D &C (now Rojo) building is today.  Built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it housed George C. Dennis's drug store for nearly three decades, and Dennis, a bachelor who lived alone, occupied the rooms above the business, as was common for merchants in those days.  In 1911, with his business failing and about to be seized by his creditors, George C. Dennis committed suicide by swallowing poison.  The shocking news was carried in newspapers around the state, and the Flint Journal reported the sad story on August 25, 1911:
Facing financial ruin after a lifetime of toil proved too much for George C. Dennis, Rochester's pioneer business man, and rather than confront the creditors who were to meet yesterday morning to take over his drug business, he ended his life in the rooms over the store where for 25 years he had lived alone.

Mr. Dennis swallowed a large amount of opium and corrosive sublimate and slashed his left wrist repeatedly with a razor.

The owner of the store building heard moaning in the druggist's apartments when he opened his place of business. On investigation he found Mr. Dennis unconscious but writhing on the floor of his room. Physicians were called, but the man died at 9:30.

The Journal's reporter went on to speculate that times had passed George Dennis by, and that he had become marginalized as a business man:
For many years the drug business was profitable, but of late the old methods employed by Mr. Dennis proved too slow. Little by little, business dropped off until only a few of the older residents and close friends patronized the quiet old man. He became more deeply involved financially each year, and finally yesterday was set for a meeting of the creditors to take over the stock and fixtures in an effort to satisfy their claims. Mr. Dennis had provised to attend the meeting, but evidently during the night decided he could not face the ordeal.

Perhaps it is the tortured spirit of the late Rochester druggist that still haunts the corner of Fourth and Main, where he worked for so many years and tragically died. Is George C. Dennis the D & C ghost?

This portrait of George C. Dennis is from an 1907 promotional booklet entitled Rochester: A Sketch of One of the Best Towns on the Map.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

At Home in Rochester: Louis Stanley Shueller Residence

This beautiful Tudor revival home on the corner of University Drive and Castell was built in 1926 for Rochester merchant Louis S. Shueller and his wife, Laura Stadelman Shueller. The Shuellers purchased the lot in the Oakdale subdivision from Robert H. and Mary Wilson in 1921, but did not build on the property until 1926. The Rochester Clarion announced in July 1926 that the Shuellers were preparing to build a residence on their lot, and on November 19, 1926,  told its readers that "L.S. Shueller and family will move into their beautiful new house on West Fifth street the coming week, vacating the G. S. Axford house on South Walnut street." Then, on December 10, the Clarion remarked: "L. S. Shueller and family on Wednesday moved into their new home on West Fifth st."

Louis Shueller had come to Rochester in 1910 when, in partnership with a man named Batdorff, he had started the Batdorff & Shueller dry goods store in the Morse Block on Main Street. Not long after, Shueller became the sole proprietor and the business name was changed to Shueller's. In 1926, the same year in which he built this house as his personal residence, Shueller also bought the Morse Block building and remodeled it. Shueller's store closed in 1956 after 46 years in the same location on Main Street.

Louis Stanley Shueller was born April 20, 1877 in Clinton County, Michigan, the son of German immigrants Michael Shueller and Rosalia George. He died in Detroit, Michigan on November 5, 1953. He married Laura R. Stadelman on September 5, 1910 in Monroe County, Michigan.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bygone Business: E. R. Metcalf Ford Agency

If you were in the market for a new automobile in Rochester in 1910, you could order one from the local Ford agent, Edward R. Metcalf, who was located in the building at 311 S. Main St. Metcalf operated a furniture and undertaking parlor in the store, which he had purchased from Mrs. Thomas C. Severance in 1903. Customers interested in the newfangled horseless carriage could call upon Mr. Metcalf at his store and arrange a demonstration of a new Ford vehicle.

Metcalf was Rochester's Ford dealer until 1911, when he sold his business and moved to California.  The advertisement shown here ran in the local newspapers in April, 1910.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

At Home in Rochester: Edward S. Barnes Residence

Edward S. Barnes built this house at the corner of Second and Pine streets as his personal residence in 1906.  Oral history says that this house, along with the Clinton G. Griffey house on University Drive and the Burton McCafferty house on Fourth Street, were all constructed with brick reclaimed from the demolition of the Detroit Sugar Company mill. The mill was dismantled in the spring and summer of 1906, and brick were salvaged and sold locally. The Barnes house, as well as the Griffey and McCafferty houses, were all built during this time.

Ed Barnes at Rochester Junction (Courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson)
Edward S. Barnes was born in Hope, New Jersey in 1857 and migrated to Avon Township with his parents. In his youth, he was employed in the old Barnes Brothers paper mill, and then spent two decades as station agent and telegrapher at Rochester Junction on the Michigan Central Railroad line. During this time, he built a steam inspection car of his own design and used it as a personal vehicle to travel up and down the railroad line. The little car drew considerable attention, and a story about it was featured in several national magazines (click here to read one of them).

In 1903, Barnes decided to retire from the railroad and enter the jewelry business in Rochester. He built a store at 309 S. Main street, and three years later, built this house at Second and Pine. He sold his business around 1925 and died in his home in Rochester in 1931, at the age of 74.

This view of the Edward S. Barnes house was published in the 1907 Rochester directory.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

In May 1962, Rochester area residents were looking forward to checking out the community's newest recreation venue - the North Hill Lanes bowling center, located at 150 W. Tienken. Lou Koprince was the proprietor of the brand-new, 32-lane facility, which is still operating in the same building today.  Grand opening festivities for North Hill Lanes were held on May 17, 1962, and in honor of the event, family bowling passes were offered allowing 40 lines of bowling for four dollars.

Known today as Avon North Hill Lanes, the bowling center deserves hearty golden anniversary congratulations!

The newspaper advertisement seen here is from May 1962. Notice that the telephone number is still the same.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Main Street Stories: Palmer's Rink

The buildings at 409, 411 and 413 South Main Street are part of a structure built in 1884 that was originally known as Palmer's Palace Rink.  Rochester merchant Louis Eugene Palmer broke ground for a roller skating rink on this site in November 1884.  The Rochester Era described the project:
L.E. Palmer has broken ground for a brick skating rink on Main st. adjoining his new store on the north [his new store was the building at 405-407 S. Main, which he had built in 1883]. The skating floor will be 45x110 ft. in the clear, with truss-roof, so that nothing will interfere with the skaters. In addition there will be an office and spectators gallery 15x50 ft. and a barber shop of the same dimensions.
The grand opening of Palmer's Palace Rink was held in February 1885, with the eighteen-piece Rochester Cornet Band providing the music.  Palmer had caught the tail-end of the the roller skating craze that was sweeping the nation at the time, however; within five years he was using the rink as a dance hall instead, and had partitioned the front part of the building, along Main Street, into storefronts. According to newspaper accounts in the Rochester Era, Palmer enclosed the southeast corner of the rink for his jewelry store in 1886, and the northeast corner was enclosed for a barber shop in 1887.  The center section, on the Main Street side, had been a barber shop from the beginning.  By 1919, the rear portion of the rink building was gone, and the only part that remained of Palmer's Palace Rink was the three small, one-story storefronts along Main Street, which we know today as 409, 411 and 413 S. Main.

Over the years, 409 S. Main was occupied by jewelry stores for much of the time. Louis Palmer had his jewelry business there in 1886, and his daughter, Pauline Palmer, had her own jewelry there in the 1950s.  In the late 1950s, Lamoreaux Jewelry was there, and Lamoreaux was followed by Heller's Jewelry in 1961. The center section of the rink, known today as 411 S. Main and currently occupied by the Spy Shop, was originally John Hartwell's barber shop. Around 1900 it was George Axford's tobacco shop, then Miller's Bakery in the 1920s and 1930s. It was Rochester Refrigeration and Clarence's Appliances in the 1950s and early 1960s, and Symar Locksmiths from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. The north section of the building, at 413 S. Main, has housed the Arnold & Schultz meat market around 1900, the LeBlond & Tietz Butcher Shop in 1915, Stackhouse Brothers meats in the 1920s and 1930s, Fred S. Palmer Jewelry and Optometry in the 1950s, and Marvin Weisman Optometry from the late 1950s to the late 1980s.

The photo shown here was taken in front of a portion of the Palmer's Palace Rink building some time after the three storefronts had been enclosed. It is used here with permission from Dorene Dobat Whitbey and is part of her family photo collection. The man shown with the cow in the foreground is Christopher Dobat.  Notice the condition of the Main Street road bed at the time, as well as the reflection of the Masonic Block building, which stood across the street from this location, seen in the store windows.

My thanks to Dorene Dobat Whitbey for permission to publish this historic photograph.