Saturday, January 14, 2012

At Home in Rochester: Oscar F. Comstock House

For more than a half century, the house at 203 Walnut Street has been a dental office, but before it was converted to professional office use, it served as the private residence of some of Rochester's prominent citizens. Oscar F. Comstock, a local carpenter, bought the property in the spring of 1874 and started building his house in September of that year. When it was finished, Comstock sold the house to Lorenzo D. Morse, a businessman and developer who later built the 1881 Morse Block on Main Street. (Not long after, Morse built another home for himself nearby at 311 Walnut, which was later purchased by William Clark Chapman and moved to 311 Pine Street when Chapman decided to build a new home in 1916.)

Meanwhile, the house at 203 Walnut was sold to Arthur E. Collins, a merchant and banker whose business was located in the Morse Block. Collins was well-known in Rochester and had the misfortune of becoming somewhat unpopular for a time. Born in Malta because his father had been a British military officer, Collins himself served in the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. He was wounded at Chickamauga, taken prisoner, and sent to the infamous Andersonville prison.  After the war, he was a grocery and dry goods merchant in Rochester and also operated a private bank from his store. Managing a bank was apparently not in Collins' skill set, however; in 1908, the newspapers were full of stories about the padlocking of the bank after it was found that liabilities exceeded assets by greater than $8,000, and Collins lacked even enough funds to pay the filing fee on his bankruptcy petition.

A few months after his banking disaster, Collins sold his home at 203 Walnut to another prominent Rochester man and fellow Civil War veteran, John J. Snook. Snook was ready to retire to the village of Rochester from his vast Overlook farm at the corner of Rochester and Avon roads, where he had been known as "Snook of Overlook." He also bore the title of "Poet Laureate of Rochester" and had published several volumes of his verse (click here if you'd like to read some).

The house at 203 Walnut remained in the hands of the Snook family until 1954, when it was sold to Dr. John S. Terry. Dr. Terry converted the house to dental offices, and practiced there until he retired. He was succeeded at the location by Dr. Walter J. Kubinski, whose offices are currently in the house that Comstock built.

You may read about the historic Comstock house in the Oakland Regional Historic Sites database by clicking here.

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