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.