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.