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.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rochester Elevator is Michigan Milestone Business

The Rochester Elevator has just been recognized by the Historical Society of Michigan with a Michigan Milestone Business award for its 132 years of continuous service to the community.  Established in 1880 by Charles K. Griggs and his brother, Albert G. Griggs, the elevator is the oldest continuously operating business within the city limits of Rochester.  Michigan Milestone award plaques are granted to businesses and organizations that have passed milestones of fifty, one hundred, or one hundred fifty years of service, and the elevator has been granted a centennial business award for having passed the century milestone. (This is not the first award for the venerable elevator, as it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2010.)  Shown here is the elevator's owner and operator, Lawrence Smith, with his Michigan Centennial Business marker.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Vanished Rochester: Abram Horn Building

Rochester is fortunate that many of the brick business blocks that were built along Main Street during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century are still standing for us to appreciate and enjoy.  One such building that has vanished from the landscape, however, is the Abram Horn Building, which stood at 426-428 S. Main Street from 1886 to 1962. The Victorian-style block was built in the summer of 1886 by merchant Abram Horn and his wife, Esther Mariah Hayes Horn, to house their respective grocery and millinery businesses.  Esther Horn was a native of Michigan, but her husband was born in Upper Mt. Bethel, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and was one of a large number of people from that area who migrated to Rochester and Avon Township in the first half of the nineteenth century. (Among the former Northampton County, Pennsylvania residents who also settled in Rochester were the Fox, Butts, Immick, Lomason and Reimer families, as well as George Horton and Dr. William Deats.) After Abram Horn died in 1912 and his wife followed him in 1914, their daughter, Belle Horn Hadley, ran a "fancy goods" shop in this location.  In the 1920s, the Horn building housed the Little Blue Style Shop and in the 1940s was the home of the Belle Greene Beauty Shoppe. In the 1950s, the Fashion Beauty Salon, Avon Taxi and the Carmichael Bus Lines were located there. The last tenant in the Horn building was Larry's Pizzeria, which suffered a serious fire in April 1961. The Horn building was torn down soon thereafter.

This photo from the collection of Marjorie and the late Walter Dernier shows the Horn building as it looked in 1961, just before it was razed.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Memory's Eye: Opera House Block

The look of Main Street is changing by the day as the reconstruction project gets underway, but some of our iconic landmarks, like the Opera House block, are recognizable no matter what is going on around them.  This photo, taken yesterday morning, is mashed up with a view of the building taken in the late 1950s, when Schoolcraft's Drug Store and Eggleston's department store occupied the building.  My thanks to the Swords Family Archive for lending the vintage photo of the building.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

This Month in Rochester History

In April 1962, the front page of the Rochester Clarion noted the passing of two prominent members of the community.  First reported on April 5 was the death of Dr. Morgan J. Smead, who had left his veterinary practice in Port Huron in 1914 to join the professional staff at the Parkedale Biological Farms east of the village of Rochester. Dr. Smead retired from Parke-Davis in 1950 and remained a resident in his adopted home town of Rochester until his death at age 78 in 1962.

Two weeks later, the Clarion reported the death of Alfred G. Wilson, husband of the former Matilda Rausch Dodge, who with his wife had built the magnificent Meadow Brook Hall on their large stock farm west of Rochester.  Alfred Wilson had made his fortune in lumber and real estate, and together with his wife, left Meadow Brook farms to the state of Michigan for the establishment of the school that is known today as Oakland University.