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.