Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bygone Business: Pierson's Floor Covering

The storefront at 410 S. Main Street received a new tenant in the spring of 1964, after having served more than three decades as the home of a shoe store (first Hale's, then Leinenger's). The new store was Pierson's Floor Covering, and it held a grand opening on April 3 and 4, 1964. Operated by Arthur C. Pierson, who had been in the floor covering business in Detroit, the shop sold duPont paint, Armstrong linoleum and carpeting.  To introduce his store to Rochester residents, Pierson offered a child's fishing pole and reel to the first one hundred customers to visit the shop on opening weekend. Pierson's closed around 1971, and the Rochester Eccentric newspaper offices replaced it at 410 S. Main in 1972.

The ad shown here ran in the Rochester Clarion in April 1964 to announce Pierson's grand opening. Do any of you have one of those kiddie rod and reel outfits stuffed in a closet somewhere?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Subidvision Stories: Rochester Heights

The Rochester Heights subdivision was platted on former farmland northeast of the village of Rochester in 1956.  Since 1913, the 30-acre parcel that was subdivided had been part of the William Korff farm, and for most of the 19th century it was part of the large holdings of the Lysander Woodward family. Rochester Heights was part of a post-war building boom in the area that sought to meet overwhelming demand for housing as World War II vets who had finished their college degrees on the GI Bill looked to move into the northern suburbs. The Rochester Clarion announced the new subdivision in August 1956, reporting that the ranch homes in the development would be built by the Jack Hyman Building Company of Detroit, while sales would be handled by White Brothers of Waterford.

The opening of the home sales was done in a spectacular way. When the model homes were ready for public inspection, free helicopter rides were offered to show off the new development. The Clarion reported than more than 1,500 people turned out for the grand opening and about 150 took the aerial view:
About 150 persons took helicopter rides and there were rides on giant earth movers for the youngsters and refreshments for all.
Clarence Burr, village president, cut the ribbon at the door of one of the models to formally open the affair Saturday and for two days a steady stream of people moved though the models. Comment was high favorable and several homes were sold on the spot by White Brothers, of Waterford, who are handling sales.

Streets in the Rochester Heights subdivision are all named for trees. In 1957, an addition to the subdivision was made on the north end, connecting it to the existing North Hill Gardens subdivision via Red Oak Lane.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bygone Business: Buzzell Shop

It's hard to visualize today, but the former D & C building on the corner of Fourth and Main (occupied today by the Rojo Mexican restaurant) used to house more than one business in the space.  Tucked in to the back end of the building near the alley was The Buzzell Shop, a ladies' dress store located with the address of 113 W. Fourth Street. The business opened in August 1940 and operated for twenty years, closing in January 1960. It was operated by Neil D. Buzzell and his wife, Pearl, who lived in Bruce Township, near Romeo.

Here's a local newspaper ad from a 1951 issue of the Rochester Clarion, featuring a dress that was "big fashion news" for $14.95.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

At Home in Rochester: John B. Oliver House

Available evidence suggests that the brick Victorian house at 324 East Street was built about 1865 for a man named John B. Oliver. Oliver was born in France in 1794 as Jean Baptiste Olivier, and sailed with his family to America in 1828 aboard the ship La Leonarde. He settled in Rochester before the Civil War and owned a number of parcels of land on the east side of Main Street; in fact, on some early maps of the village, that which we know as East Street is marked as Oliver Street.

John Oliver was a cabinetmaker by trade, but the most interesting fact about his life comes from the 1877 History of Oakland County, Michigan, which tells us that he was one of only two veterans of the Napoleonic Wars living in the county at that time.

Oliver's house and lot on East Street was sold to Nehemiah and Mary Ralston, emigrants from Northampton County, Pennsylvania, in 1866. The Ralstons remained in Rochester only a few years and sold the house to local merchant Abram Horn in 1872. Horn, in turn, sold the house to James and Catherine Riggs, and following the Riggs family, the house was owned by Orestes Millerd.  For most of the early part of the twentieth century, however, 324 East was owned by the Hadden family, who purchased it in 1904. In 1944 the house was converted to a nursery school, thus ending its service as a private residence.

Oscar Sorenson bought the house in 1969, painted it blue, and operated it as a private museum and antique gallery called "Wedgewood Hall." Sorenson also built an addition on the back of the house to replace an old summer kitchen.  In the years since, the house has been the location of several small businesses, and is now the headquarters of Kosch Catering.

The John B. Oliver House is approximately 148 years old this year. More details about the history of the property are available on the Oakland Regional Historic Sites web site, here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Rochester Falconettes Parents' Club float, 1981 parade (courtesy of Clarence and Dorene Whitbey)
Fifty years ago this month, the citizens of Rochester were doing what they had been doing during the first week of December for over a decade - looking forward to the annual Christmas Parade. Next Sunday afternoon, the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce will present the 62nd annual Christmas Parade and a new generation of Rochester's families will be enjoying the tradition.  So now is the perfect time to look back at some Christmas parades past. Readers, I've pulled out a few vintage views to spark your memories. If you have Rochester parade photos in your own family collection that you'd like to share, e-mail them to and I'll add them to the post for everyone to enjoy.  Add your memories of the parade to the comments section as well!
Bagpipers in Christmas Parade, ca. 1954 (Courtesy of Erv and Dorothy Bauer)

West Junior High band in the parade, ca.1967 (courtesy of Clarence and Dorene Whitbey)

Parade float, ca.1967 (courtesy of Clarence and Dorene Whitbey)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Shopping in Rochester

This week's Black Friday-backed-up-into-Thanksgiving Day retail frenzy has given me pause to reflect upon the Christmas shopping habits of my family during my youth in Rochester. In our family, Christmas gifts were far from extravagant - a modest toy for a child, a useful object or item of clothing for an adult. That's not to say there weren't plenty of gifts under the tree in my family home - there definitely were. It's just that my parents, and the parents of others I knew, didn't go into hock for the rest of the year to underwrite their holiday largesse. Purchases weren't funded with credit cards; most families in my circle of acquaintance probably didn't even possess such a thing, except perhaps for a Kresge's revolving charge card. Instead they planned ahead and set money aside; sometimes with Christmas Club bank accounts, or with layaway plans that allowed them to make payments for merchandise over several weeks.

Downtown Rochester's holiday season kicked off with Window Night and the outdoor decorations consisted of candy canes mounted on the light poles and swags of colored lights festooning the street. A set of three large red bells hung suspended over each intersection and the lights inside the bells moved from left to center to right and back again. We thought those lights were pretty spectacular but they paled in comparison to the Big Bright Light Show that we see today.

Going to a shopping center in those days was rare treat. Most of our family's shopping was done on Main Street, Rochester, or in the stores in the North Hill Shopping Center. My parents most frequently visited Kresge's and Cunningham's on North Hill, along with D & C and Case's Hardware on Main (Case's had a great toyland that I remember fondly). When it was necessary to search further afield than Rochester for gifts, we usually took a family trip to Pontiac to visit the Sears store there. Being accustomed to the small shops of my hometown, I was overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous department store. Today, I am overwhelmed by the numbers of people who camp out in parking lots for days in order to be first in line to  to purchase the latest and greatest electronic gadget that will be hopelessly outdated before the next holiday season rolls around. Such spectacles make me positively nostalgic for simpler days.

Do you have Christmas shopping memories of Rochester?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Subdivision Stories: Blackett's Floral Gardens

This tiny subdivision of only nine lots is located on the west side of John R Road between Avon and Hamlin. Known as Blackett's Floral Gardens, it was platted in 1942 by Russell and Beryl Blackett, owners of the land in Section 23 of Avon Township upon which the development was laid out.  The Blacketts were married in 1929 and settled on the property along John R soon afterward. They operated a greenhouse business called Blackett's Floral Gardens, and trucked their product to Eastern Market in Detroit and to a farm market in Pontiac.  They also operated a retail florist shop in downtown Birmingham for a time.

When this subdivision was platted in 1942, it was appropriately named Blackett's Floral Gardens in recognition of the family business that was located there. The only street in the subdivision is Beryl Court,  named in honor of Beryl Blackett. Russell Blackett's son, Larry, remembers that his father personally built four or five of the houses in the small development.

In 1943, the Blackett family left Avon Township for Marlette, Michigan, where they continued their greenhouse and floral business. In 1952, they moved to Clarkston and operated a lumber yard near the intersection of Dixie Highway and today's I-75.  Today, the children and grandchildren of Russell and Beryl Blackett continue to work in the building industry as Blackett Builders.

My thanks to Larry Blackett for sharing the details of his family's business history with me.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bygone Business: Deaton's Marathon Station

Deaton's Marathon, looking south toward Univerity, 1977
When I was growing up in Rochester, there were more gas stations along Main Street that there are today. One of those stations, now long gone, was Deaton's Marathon, located on the west side of North Main just south of what was then the Dillman & Upton lumber yard. Today, this location would be part of the Rochester Medical Center development.

Deaton's Marathon was one of several local businesses operated by W. "Joe" Deaton, a 1951 graduate of Rochester High School.  Joe Deaton was well known in the community and served as a member of the volunteer fire department, the Shriners, and the American Legion Homer Wing Post. He died in 2002.

I remember visiting Deaton's Marathon as a child, and I particularly recall going there to collect the promotional glassware that Marathon gave away to commemorate the Apollo space missions during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Does anybody else still have a full set of this fine drinkware in the back of the cupboard somewhere? There are probably many
thousands of examples out there, but all of mine came from Deaton's Marathon on Main Street in Rochester, Michigan.  Those were the days!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Albert C. Steadman House

The house at 133 S. Walnut was built in 1891 as the family home of Albert C. Steadman and his wife, Alice Woodworth Steadman. The Steadmans purchased the lot on Walnut from Eliza Newberry in June 1891, when they retired from farming and decided to move into the village. They broke ground for their new house in August 1891.

Alice Steadman died in 1913 and Albert remarried and moved to Bloomfield Township. After the Steadmans, the house was occupied in 1920 by Delos R. Harrington and his wife, Louise. Harrington, a foreman at the Western Knitting Mills, built a new house at 118 S. Walnut in 1929 and the couple moved across the street at that time. In 1930, the Louis C. Harris family lived in the former Steadman home.

Probably the best-known of the residents of 133 S. Walnut was Dr. Ormond Daniel Geib. Dr. Geib studied at the University of Michigan before receiving his medical degree from the Detroit College of Medicine in 1924. He came to Rochester to establish his medical practice in 1932. He and his wife, Jessie, occupied this house for many years.

The Steadman house is 122 years old in 2013.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dr. Mille E. Wilson and the Wilson Medical Dynasty

At the turn of the twentieth century, women physicians were fairly uncommon outside of  the country's largest cities, but the small villages of Stoney Creek and Rochester, Michigan could lay claim to two of them. The story of a daughter of Stoney Creek, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, is well remembered here, but Rochester's woman physician, Dr. Mille E. Wilson, is little known these days.

Amelia Elvira Wilson, known as Mille, was born in Avon Township in 1876, the daughter of Dr. Jesse E. Wilson and his wife, Susan Richardson Mack. Her father, Jesse, along with his twin brother, Jeremiah "Jerry" Wilson, had practiced medicine together in Rochester since before the Civil War. The twin brothers had grown up in Ontario, the sons of American parents, and had studied medicine at the University of Michigan and Bellevue Hospital Medical College before earning medical degrees from Castleton Medical College in Vermont. Together, they came to Rochester and established a joint medical practice which lasted for half a century, until the death of Jeremiah Wilson in 1906.

Mille Wilson first attended college in St. Thomas, Ontario, were her father and uncle had once lived, and then went on to study at Lombard University in Galesburg, Illinois before earning her medical degree from the Michigan College of Medicine and Surgery in Detroit in 1903. She first served as a house physician at the Detroit Emergency Hospital, but when her uncle Jerry Wilson died in 1906 she resigned her post and returned home to Rochester to assist her father in his practice.

A year later, she was appointed assistant physician at the Michigan Home for the Feeble-Minded and Epilepetic at Lapeer (later known as the Lapeer State Home and Training School). She would hold that position for the next 41 years, until her retirement in 1948.

Dr. Mille Wilson was known as something of a pioneer. Not only was she a women in a male-dominated profession, but she was believed to be the first woman automobile driver in Lapeer County. Furthermore, at the age of 70 she took pilot lessons at a Flint airport.

Following her retirement in 1948, Mille Wilson moved to Plainwell, Michigan, to live with a friend. Although she died in Lapeer in 1957, she was buried in Plainwell near her friend rather than in Lapeer or Rochester.

An obituary of Mille's father, Dr. Jesse Wilson, which was published in The Canada Lancet at the time of his death in 1913, claimed that Jesse Wilson was descended from family that boasted several eminent physicians, although their names were not specifically noted. In addition to those in her father's lineage, however, Mille also had at least one physician ancestor in the lineage of her mother, Susan Richardson Mack. According to Mille's membership record in the Daughters of the American Revolution, she was the great-great-granddaughter of American patriot Stephen Powers, who served as a soldier and surgeon attending the wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Thanks to Rod Wilson for the newspaper feature about Mille Wilson which included the photograph show here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

November 1963 is remembered in Rochester history in much the same way that it is by people across the nation. Fifty years ago this month, Rochester residents were stunned and saddened by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Under a banner headline that read "Rochester Bows Head in Sorrow for Fallen President," the Rochester Clarion reported in part:
Suddenly, the streets were empty. It was an overcast, partially rainy early afternoon in Rochester when word was flashed by radio and television that President John F. Kennedy had been struck down by an assassin's bullet while riding down a Dallas street.
. . .
In the National Bank of Detroit office here, a radio was turned on. The customers and personnel froze as the death was announced and the National Anthem was played. Businesses suddenly found their stores almost empty.

The article went on to say that a variety of local events were cancelled or postponed over the weekend that followed the president's death. A turkey drawing by downtown merchants, a hootenanny at the high school, and the Illinois-Michigan State football game at East Lansing were among the activities that did not take place.  What did take place were special local church services on the day of the funeral.  The Clarion continued with its description of local observances:
Schools were closed Monday. There was no mail delivery and all federal and local governmental offices closed their doors. A black drape hung over the front entrance of the Municipal Building. Monday night was the regular meeting of the Village Council. A proclamation by Council President was read and the meeting was quietly adjourned until Tuesday night.
. . .
It was a remarkable and most tragic weekend.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

St. Andrew's World War II Honor Roll

During World War II, the members of St. Andrew Catholic Church assembled this honor roll to recognize those from the parish who were serving their country in uniform. In all, 120 names were added to the plaque that hung in the church until the building was demolished on July 24, 1972.  Parish member Reid Hanlon, whose name was on the honor roll along with those of his brothers, rescued the plaque from the rubble heap and took it home.  After his death, the honor roll passed into the custody of his grandchildren, who recently decided to donate it to the Rochester-Avon Historical Society.

RAHS members Rod and Susan Wilson spent many hours cleaning and repairing the wood and repainting the letters to restore the honor roll to a condition which allows it to be displayed. RAHS hopes to have it  placed in a local museum eventually, but for now it will be on display this weekend at St. Andrew Catholic Church during the 100th anniversary celebration of the parish. For a list of all of the names on the St. Andrew World War II Honor Roll, click here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Pearl John O'Brien House

P.J. O'Brien house as it looked in 1907
 The house on the northeast corner of Fourth and East streets in downtown Rochester was built in late 1903 by Charles A. Burr, who also built the opera house block at the corner of Fourth and Main (where Lytle Pharmacy is today). The Rochester Era reported in late 1903 that Burr had purchased the Barley lot at Fourth and East and was having a foundation laid for a house. In March 1904, the newspaper  remarked that lumber dealer P. J. O'Brien had purchased the newly-built house from Burr, was making an addition to it, and would be occupying it as a family residence.

O'Brien was born in Oakland County in 1875, and was a prominent business and civic leader in Rochester. He established a lumber and coal yard on Water Street in Rochester in 1899 (the business later became known as the Nowels Lumber Yard). He was also a stockholder and second vice-president of the Rochester Savings Bank, and vice-president of the Rochester Development Company, which was formed in 1919 to bring new industry to the village. He served as secretary of the Rochester Fire Department, as village clerk and village treasurer, and as a member of the board of education.
P. J. O'Brien house as it looked in 2013

An interesting aside: O'Brien disliked his given name, Pearl, so later in life he went to court to have it legally changed to Peter. He was commonly known as P. J.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the former O'Brien residence was the home of the Heart of the Hills Resale Shop. Today it is the location of Marie's Salon and Spa.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bygone Business: Club Rochester

According to this newspaper advertisement for Club Rochester, fine dining in 1964 cost a princely $1.95 per plate. Club Rochester was located at 306 S. Main, on the site of today's Rochester Chop House. The popular restaurant and lounge opened at this location in the mid-1950s, succeeding the Hopkins Bar and before that, Harry's Cafe.  Club Rochester came to a sad and abrupt end on July 28, 1970, when the building was completely gutted by a four-alarm fire that started in the kitchen.   The Brooklands, Avondale and Troy fire departments were called in to assist the Rochester Fire Department in fighting the blaze, which attracted onlookers from all over town. The fire threatened the adjacent buildings and sent several fire fighters to the hospital, but was successfully contained with the help of Troy's aerial truck. The remnants of the old structure were demolished and a new restaurant, Cooper's Arms, was built at the location.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pioneer Farmsteads: John Martin Wilcox Farm

Avon Township pioneer John Martin Wilcox built this handsome farmhouse on East Avon Road as his family home around 1860. Here Wilcox farmed and raised horses on a 170-acre parcel. He and his wife, the former Maria Amelia Bennett of Macomb County, reared a family of thirteen children, two of whom died in infancy.

John M. Wilcox was born in Ontario County, New York in 1819 and came with his parents to Avon Township in 1832, when he was thirteen years old. His father settled on the land in Section 14 where the Wilcox farmhouse still stands, but it was John M. Wilcox who built the house after his marriage to Maria Bennett. It is said that timber on the property was harvested and sent to Pontiac for milling, then returned to Rochester to be used in the construction of the house.

The John M. Wilcox house is one of only a handful of Rochester Hills homes that pre-date the Civil War.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

439 S. Main in 1998 (Rochester Hills Public Library)
439 S. Main under renovation in 1999 (Rochester Hills Public Library)

Fifty years ago this month, residents of Rochester were watching a brand-new building go up on Main Street. Joseph Watson of the Watson Insurance Agency built a modern two-story office building on the southwest corner of University and Main, on the site where the old St. James Hotel (earlier known as the Lambertson House) had stood from 1847 until its demolition in 1962. Robert C. Smitha was the architect of the new structure, which housed a real estate firm and a medical office for a number of years. The building was much smaller in 1963 that it is today; it was expanded westward to the alley in the 1999 and almost tripled in size. In recent years it has housed a Starbucks coffee shop on the first floor and is currently home to the Bean and Leaf Cafe, and several offices.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Subdivision Stories: Parkdale Heights

A small subdivision lying south of Parkdale Road between Elizabeth and Lounsbury streets was laid out as an addition to the Village of Rochester in November 1917.  The proprietors of the subdivision were two Rochester couples: Richard D. and Mary Watson and Alfred E. and Elizabeth Williams. The former farm land along Parkdale Road was quickly developed between 1915 and 1925 and many of the houses built on Parkdale and the adjacent side streets were occupied by employees of the Parkedale Biological Farm just east of the village.

The land on which the Parkdale Heights subdivision was created was formerly owned by Robert J. Lounsbury, an attorney and real estate developer who served as mayor of the City of Pontiac. After earning his degree from Columbia Law School in 1875, Lounsbury had come to Michigan to represent the interests of East Coast capitalists who had investments in the Midwest. In addition to the Lounsbury street that bears his name in Rochester, there is also a Lounsbury Avenue in Pontiac.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Yates Cider Mill Marks a Milestone

Yates Cider Mill owners Mike and Katie Titus receive a Michigan Milestone award from a representative of the Historical Society of Michigan
This afternoon at Yates Cider Mill, the Historical Society of Michigan recognized Rochester Hills' oldest continuously operating business with a Michigan Milestone Marker. The plaque honors the mill for 150 years of service.

William H. Yates emigrated to Michigan from New York and established his mill on the Clinton River in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War.  The original structure was a grist mill, but Yates decided to begin pressing apple cider thirteen years later,  in 1876.  In 1894, the Yates family built a new structure to house the thriving business, and the iconic building that we know today was used to press apple cider that fall.

William Yates' son and grandson followed him in the business, and in 1959, Yates' grandson, Harry, sold the mill to the Posey family, who still own and operate it today.  Several generations of area residents have fond memories of autumn trips to Yates Cider Mill, and this year the atmosphere is especially festive as the mill observes the sesquicentennial anniversary of its founding.  We think William H. Yates would be proud!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Milton Henry Haselswerdt House

This lovely home on North Main Street stands in testimony to Rochester's share in the prosperity of the decade known as the "Roaring Twenties." The house was built  in 1928 as the family home of Milton Henry Haselswerdt and his wife, Augustine Blanchard Haselswerdt.  The Rochester Era described the progress on the house in October 1928:
M. H. Haselswerdt, president of the First National bank, who is building a fine new 12-room home, is nearing completion. The house is of colonial design, with exterior walls of buff brick and tile roof. The colonial entrance and arched windows add much to the attractiveness.
Milton Haselswerdt was born in Washtenaw County in 1882. After completing high school, he attended business school in Ypsilanti before taking a position as an assistant cashier at a bank in St. Ignace. He moved to Rochester in 1908, where he helped to organize the First National Bank of Rochester, serving at first as cashier and eventually rising to the position of president of the bank.  He was vice-president of the bank at the time that it built a modern new facility on the southwest corner of Fourth & Main, the building that houses Chase Bank today.

The Haselswerdts moved into their new home only months before the stock market crash of 1929 changed the economic fortunes of the nation.  Milton H. Haselswerdt was best remembered for bringing the First National Bank of Rochester out of the 1933 bank crisis in reorganized form, as the Rochester National Bank. This bank was the only one in Rochester to survive the Great Depression with no harm to depositors. It later merged with National Bank of Detroit, and Haselswerdt stayed with NBD as a director of the Rochester branch, retiring in 1957. He died in 1976 and  was entombed at White Chapel Cemetery in Troy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Music in the Stones" is Coming Soon!

Rochester's history comes to life on Saturday, September 28 when the Rochester Avon Historical Society presents its second annual Mount Avon Cemetery Walk from 1-5 p.m. The event features re-enactors in period costume who portray characters from the community's past as tour groups are guided through the cemetery. This year's theme is “Music in the Stones,” and tour guests will encounter several historical characters who will include musical performances in their presentations. Audiences will also learn about the history of Mount Avon's recently-restored 1925 mausoleum and step inside the building to “meet” a couple who are entombed there.

Tours will depart by shuttle van from the municipal parking lot at Third and Walnut streets and will be escorted by tour guides. Tickets ($15 per person) are issued for specific tour departure times and they are going fast - some tour times have already sold out!  Tickets may be purchased in person at the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce office, 71 Walnut St., Suite 110, or online at (click on the online store link). Any tickets not sold in advance will be available for walk-up sales at the shuttle stop at Third & Walnut on the day of the event.

The Cemetery Walk is a fun and engaging way for families to learn about local history, with a bit of community theater thrown in!  The event is not scary and is enjoyable for both school-age children and adults, but the presentations are not designed to be of interest to pre-school children.

Proceeds from this event are used to fund the Rochester Avon Historical Society's local history education and historic preservation initiatives. The Cemetery Walk is generously supported by Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge, Pixley Funeral Home, and Potere-Modetz Funeral Home.  For a video glimpse of last year's event, click here.

If you are in the area on September 28, please join us!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Honor Roll moving in 1963 (Rochester Hills Public Library)
Fifty years ago this month, Rochester leaders were contemplating what should be done with the community's World War II honor roll, which had fallen into disrepair and was standing in the way of a proposed urban renewal project.

In 1963, the honor roll was located on the east side of Main Street at Second; Second street had not been opened east of Main at that time. The village was preparing for an urban renewal project on the east side of Main, encompassing the area occupied by the former Chapman Mill Pond (which had been washed out in 1946) and adjacent property.  Part of this plan was to open Second Street east of Main.

The village fathers and the Blue Star Mothers, who had originally sponsored the creation of the memorial, contemplating moving the memorial to the municipal building grounds, as this article from the September 26, 1963 issue of the Rochester Clarion reported:
Township treasurer Helen V. Allen, representing the Blue Star Mothers, addressed a letter to the Council asking them to consider a spot for the memorial on the Civil Center grounds.
The memorial is now located on Main St. across the road from the eastern end of Second. Because the names are etched on glass, some of the panels are broken and the memorial in general is in poor condition. It is believed that stones thrown up by passing cars have broken the glass panels.
Mrs. Allen said this week that the Blue Star Mothers have brought a glass company person to Rochester to look at the memorial and it is estimated it will cost $600 to repair the memorial. It will cost an unestimated amount to move the memorial. She said that the Blue Star Mothers will ask other organizations and individuals to help them finance the project.
Honor Roll at re-dedication in 2002 (Rod and Susan Wilson)
The planned move to the municipal building grounds did not happen in 1963. Instead, the honor roll was removed from its site at Second Street and dismantled. The broken panels were stored away in a garage and not seen again for several decades, until the Rochester Avon Historical Society adopted the honor roll as a historic preservation project and restored it.  At a cost many thousands of dollars greater than the estimate of 1963, the memorial was returned to its former glory and given a place of honor on the grounds of the Rochester Municipal Building in 2002. It was re-dedicated on Memorial Day of that year with many local World War II veterans in attendance.

If you haven't visited Rochester's World War II Honor Roll, be sure to take time to stop by the Municipal Building to view this memorial to the more than 1,100 men and women from the community who served in uniform during World War II.  Among the names listed are 26 preceded by gold stars, denoting the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Erastus H. Sipperley House

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the community at the end of Bloomer Road is this handsome brick Victorian, originally built as the farm home of Erastus H. Sipperley.  Today, the house stands upon the remnant of what was at one time a one hundred acre farm.

The Sipperley family came to Oakland County from New York in 1835, while Michigan was still a territory. John and Elizabeth Sipperley made their home in Troy Township, where their son, Erastus H., was born in 1836. Erastus worked on his father's farm until August 1862, when he entered service in the Union army with the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry.  His regiment was assigned to the pursuit of the Confederate general Braxton Bragg, and suffered heavy losses at the battle of Chickamauga, but Sipperley himself escaped harm and returned to Oakland County at the close of the war.

In 1870, Erastus Sipperley married Annette Evritt and moved from his father's farm to a parcel of land in section 13, Avon Township, where he built the house shown here as a family residence.  The couple reared eight children here.
Erastus Sipperley house as it looked in 1907

An 1891 local history book entitled Portrait and Biographical Album of Oakland County, Michigan had this to say about the Erastus Sipperley farm:
One of the most attractive farms in Avon township is owned and occupied by this gentleman [Erastus Sipperley] .  The home place consists of one hundred acres, which are cultivated in a careful and intelligent manner and have their fertility kept at par by a  judicious rotation of crops and the use of drainage of fertilizing agencies when  necessary. A complete line of farm buildings stands upon the estate, modern machinery is in use during the season of planting and reaping, and the stock of high grade grazes in the pastures.  The dwelling is of unusually pleasing design, is a model of neatness and comfort, and in its surroundings gives evidence of the refined taste of the family.  It was built in 1885. 
 Erastus Sipperley died in 1920 and is buried in Mount Avon Cemetery.  His home on Bloomer Road is 128 years old this year.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ford Photographic Farm

A 1964 Rochester Clarion photo of promotional photography being done at the Ford Photographic Farm on the former Ferry-Morse Seed Farm property.
If you're watching closely, you've seen glimpses of downtown Rochester in the background of some recent automobile commercials on television, and Michigan's film program has brought a number of location shoots to our area over the past few years.  But if you think using Rochester as a film backdrop is a new development, think again!

In May 1963,  Ford Tractor & Implement Operations leased 717 acres of the former Ferry-Morse Seed Farm lying east of Rochester Road and south of Hamlin from then-owner Howard L. McGregor.  The property was, at that time, a real working farm that was part of McGregor's Great Oaks Stock Farm holdings.  Ford Tractor was looking for property within a reasonable distance from its Birmingham offices on which to shoot photographs of its equipment in authentic farm situations, and the former Ferry property was the best candidate because of its size.

Loyce Snyder of Rochester was the supervisor of the photographic section of Ford Tractor's advertising and sales promotion department, which operated the Ford Photographic Farm.  Photos taken at the farm were used in sales brochures and national print advertising campaigns, but the company also shot about a dozen motion pictures at the site each year. Some backdrop shots were also taken in and around the village of Rochester.  These films were used for sales training or product demonstration purposes nationwide.
A 1964 national ad campaign for Ford used downtown Rochester looking north from Third Street as a background. The town was not identified in the ad, but everybody from the "Heart of the Hills" recognized their hometown.

Few people knew much about what was happening at the Ford Photographic Farm because it was not open to visitors, but examples of its work can be found in vintage Ford Tractor ads.  Tractor lovers, if you've got any 1960s-era promotional literature stored away, be sure to look for glimpses of the Rochester area in the photo backgrounds. You may see something you recognize!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Distinguished Visitor

Near the end of World War II, the Rochester community was visited by a world-renowned figure, but few people in town knew about the event until it was over.  On June 15, 1945, the Parke-Davis Biological Farm on Parkdale Road was toured by none other than Sir Alexander Fleming - the man who had discovered that penicillium fungi, when properly cultured, would produce a substance with antibiotic properties.  Fleming's 1928 discovery led to the development of the penicillin family of antibiotics just in time for them to be used as a life-saving treatment for soldiers injured during the Normandy invasion in World War II.

The Rochester Clarion told the community that Fleming had visited them in the issue of June 21, 1945. The newspaper said in part:
Few people in Rochester were aware last Friday afternoon, of a most famous visitor in our midst, Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, who spent an hour visiting the Parke Davis Biological farms, east of the village.
. . .
From the people who saw this famous man, last Friday, he impressed them that he didn't consider himself as great. In fact he looked and acted very much like a hard-headed little Scot who is very much perturbed over the great ado being made over him.
A most interesting description was given of him by Malcolm Bingay in his recent column in the Detroit Free Press from which we quote: "By chance I left the farm where my people still are, by chance I got a clerkship in a steamship line, by chance I entered St. Mary's Hospital Medical school, by chance I discovered penicillin. All life is chance."

After concluding his tour of Parkedale, Fleming and his secretary returned to Detroit where they visited Henry Ford Hospital.  Fleming and two other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work with penicillin later that year.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bygone Business: The Food Tray

How many Remembering Rochester readers recall this little delicatessen and party store, tucked into the back of the building on the northeast corner of Second & Main streets?  The Food Tray opened at that location in June 1957, and was originally owned and operated  by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bozynski.  Raymond and Lillian Brinker later owned the business, which operated in the same location at 204 S. Main until the mid-1980s.

This photo of Mr. & Mrs. Bozynski in their new store was published in the Rochester Clarion in 1957 to announce the grand opening of the business.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Plans for a new building on the corner of Oak Street and West University Drive were occupying the attention of Rochester residents fifty years ago this month.  In August 1963, Pixley Funeral Home unveiled drawings for a new, Colonial-style building designed by architect Edward J. Heins of Rochester.  The new building would be state-of-the-art, with five reposing rooms on the first floor and an eight-car garage in the rear.

Pixley Funeral Home has deep roots in Rochester going back more than a century. The business traces its origin to the Thomas E. Nichols funeral home started here in 1910. Vern Pixley joined the Nichols business on January 2, 1918, and later acquired a half interest in the company.  In 1954, the firm was incorporated as the Pixley Funeral Home.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vanished Rochester: Posey's Isle

Posey's Isle as it looked in September 1958 (Courtesy of Yates Cider Mill)
This popular drive-in known as Posey's Isle was located on the southwest corner of Avon and Dequindre roads. It was built in 1942 by Charles M. Posey, who purchased the land from the Yates family and built the restaurant for his wife, Ruth Renwick Posey.  The Poseys,  who bought the Yates Cider Mill from Harry L. Yates in 1959, sold Posey's Isle in that same year but bought it back during the 1970s, and operated it until the mid-1980s.

The little drive-in was torn down just a few years ago. Yates Cider Mill is going strong, however  -  still operated by Posey family members. The business is about to celebrate its 150th year of existence and its 137th year of pressing cider.  And although Posey's Isle has passed into the pages of Vanished Rochester, Yates Cider Mill still offers a very tempting menu of delicious treats in the tradition that Ruth Posey started in 1942.

My thanks to Mike Titus and Hannah Springer of Yates Cider Mill for lending the photo and providing the history of Posey's Isle.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bygone Business: Hayward Bowling Alley

If you ask long-time Rochester residents about bowling on Main Street, they will probably tell you that they patronized the bowling alley in the basement of the Whims building, which was built in 1926.  But this newspaper advertisement from September 1903 shows us that there was a bowling alley on Main Street long before the one in the Whims building opened.

The Hayward bowling alley was located in a building on the southwest corner of Fourth & Main streets, on the lot where the Chase Bank stands today.  (The building was torn down in 1924 when construction of the bank building commenced.)  Nothing much is known about proprietor Daniel Hayward. It seems that he and his bowling alley didn't last long in Rochester.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movers and Shakers: C. Lawrence "Larry" Jerome

If you were living in Rochester in 1970 or earlier, you probably recognize the name of Larry Jerome, who was a prominent business and civic leader in the community for over 40 years. Known as the owner of Larry Jerome Ford Sales and Service which was located for decades at 215 S. Main, Jerome was also a charter member of the Rochester Kiwanis Club and served terms as president of the board of education and chamber of commerce.

A lengthy interview with Larry Jerome was published in the August 6, 1937 issue of the Rochester Clarion, and relates a very interesting life story.  Jerome was born in 1901 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of John Jerome and Eva Ireland. He attended high school in Detroit, but visited Rochester with his friends at the age of fourteen, when the group of boys took a canoe trip along the Clinton River from Pontiac to Lake St. Clair.  The Clarion reported:
...four weary boys, who had paddled their canoe down the Clinton river a long, tiresome day, brought their boat to rest where the river passes through Rochester and prepared to camp for the night.
'Gee, this is a pretty town,' exclaimed one of the lads, after they had set up their tents and were looking over the village, 'I'd like to settle down and live in a town like this someday.' But Charles Lawrence Jerome, the fourteen year old boy who liked the looks of Rochester, known today as "Larry" Jerome, popular Ford dealer here, little imagined that only seven years later he would be settling down in Rochester and embarking on his life work of selling and servicing automobiles to residents here and throughout the countryside.
The seven years that passed between Jerome's canoe trip to Rochester and his arrival here as an adult businessman were busy ones.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy while still underage and spent a summer cruising the Great Lakes on a naval training vessel.  He was quickly discharged as ineligible for duty when World War I broke out.  He finished high school and enrolled in college where he participated in the Students' Naval Training Corps at the University of Michigan, but never saw active service before the war ended.

After leaving college, Larry Jerome found his first job in the automobile industry, working for a used car dealer in Detroit. Jerome's job was to travel the countryside buying used cars for resale. One of the firms he regularly called upon was the Phillips & Bailey Ford dealership in Rochester. After he married in 1921, Larry Jerome decided that he would have better business opportunities in a small town than he would in a city as large as Detroit, so he went to work as a salesman for Phillips & Bailey in the town he had admired when on his canoe trip seven years earlier.  In 1924, when W. J. Bailey was offered the Ford dealership in Romeo, Larry Jerome bought his share of the Rochester dealership and it became known as Phillips & Jerome.  Not many years later, Jerome bought out his partner, O. N. Phillips, and Larry Jerome Ford was born.

In his 1937 interview with the Clarion, Larry Jerome gave his perspective on what made a successful auto dealership:
'The success or failure of an automobile agency,' says Mr. Jerome, 'does not depend on the front office or salesrooms. In the long run the success of an automobile dealer depends on how his back shop is operated.  The first thing that attracted me to Ford, even before I entered the automobile business, was the fact that Ford insisted, not only in selling cars at a low price, but also that his dealers be equipped to make necessary repairs as efficiently and as economically as possible. If, after you sell a customer an automobile, you are able to keep his car running satisfactorily at a minimum expense, you are pretty certain to sell him his next car.'

Larry Jerome operated his very successful Rochester dealership until the mid-1960s, when he sold the business to Jack Long. The McKenzie Ford dealership followed Long, and moved the dealership out of downtown to South Hill.  Larry Jerome died in 1971.

In the 1957 promotional photo shown here, Larry Jerome (right) and his son, Dick Jerome, are looking at a new Ford Skyliner with Jim Scolaro and Mickey Niles.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Subdivision Stories: Hitchman's Haven Estates

The subdivision known as Hitchman's Haven Estates was platted in the southeast quarter of Section 8 of the former Township of Avon (now Rochester Hills) in 1952.  Detroit real estate broker Thomas A. Hitchman and his wife, Ada Lillian Sternbridge Hitchman, developed the subdivision that bears their name; they included the name "Haven" in a nod to the Haven Sanitarium that lay adjacent to their property immediately to the east.  The streets in the original Hitchman's Haven Estates development were named for the western states of Texas and Nevada.  The Hitchmans expanded the subdivision in 1953, adding the streets of Arizona and Oklahoma, and again in 1955, adding a fifth street named Colorado.

An interesting side note about this property is that before the Hitchmans acquired it for development, the parcel was owned by Beryl Harnett Schuyler Kahn, who was the wife of Detroit architect Louis Kahn (not to be confused with the famous Estonian-born architect Louis I. Kahn of the Yale School of Architecture).  Detroit architect Louis Kahn was the brother of renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn.

Monday, July 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, a group of Rochester citizens traveled to Pennsylvania to join historians and re-enactors in a centennial observance of the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Rochester police sergeant Raymond Russell (himself a Civil War historian) along with his son, Brian, and another local family spent a week in an encampment near the famous battlefield.  Dressed in Union blue, they participated in battle re-enactments and the re-dedication of two of the memorials located there.

This week, thousands of visitors will be in Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the pivotal battle. Click here for information about the events that will be unfolding in the next few days.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bygone Business: Burr's B-Z Bootery

B-Z Bootery grand opening ad, May 1957
Burr's Bootery was located at 433 S. Main and was owned and operated by Rochester native Jack C. Burr. The shoe store held its grand opening in May 1957, and was the direct successor of the Adolph Zimmerman store than had been established a quarter of a century earlier and had moved to 433 S. Main in 1930.

After completing his service in the U.S. Air Force, during which he flew the F-86 Sabre in the Korean War, Jack Burr returned to Rochester and bought the Zimmerman shoe store. At first the new business was advertised as the Zimmerman B-Z Bootery, as seen in the grand opening advertisement shown here, but eventually the name changed to Burr's B-Z Bootery.

Jack Burr operated this store at 433 S. Main until 1992. He must have outfitted thousands of Rochester kids with their "school shoes" over his three-and-a-half decades in the business.  He died in 2003.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Whims Insurance is a Michigan Milestone Business

(Photo courtesy of Connie Klix-Mercer)
Whims Insurance Agency of Rochester has just been recognized by the Historical Society of Michigan with a Michigan Milestone Business award for 96 years of continuous service to the community.  The company's history stretches back to April 1917, when Rochester automobile dealer Leslie L. Whims was approached by the Auto-Owners Insurance Company to act as a local agent for its products.  Whims became an Auto-Owners representative, and nearly a century later, the agency that still bears his name continues that relationship and owns the distinction of being the third-oldest Auto-Owners agency in the nation.

(Leslie Whims is also remembered for the commercial building he erected at 430 S. Main in 1926, where a couple of generations of Rochester's youth enjoyed bowling in the building's basement alleys.)

Congratulations to Whims Insurance Agency, a Michigan Milestone business and a valued Rochester institution!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rochester on the Road: Yawkey Hall

If you own property in the Yawkey and Chapman subdivision on South Hill, the name shown in this photo may look familiar to you. This town hall  is located in the small village of Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, lying just northwest of the larger town of Rhinelander. Standing on Yawkey Street in Hazelhurst, Yawkey Hall is named in honor of William Clyman Yawkey and his nephew, Cyrus C. Yawkey, Michiganders who founded the Yawkey Lumber Company there in 1893. The Yawkey company owned and processed three hundred million feet of standing timber in the Hazelhurst area during the heyday of the lumber industry.

 William C. Yawkey was also heavily invested in Michigan timber stands and in several Detroit businesses; at one point he was considered to be the richest man in Michigan. In 1891 he had become president of the Western Knitting Mills and moved the company to Rochester, taking over the old Rochester Woolen Mill property.  His partners in that concern were Charles S. and William C. Chapman, who had also worked for him in his Wisconsin lumber business; the partners built a new, state-of-the-art woolen mill on the Rochester site in 1896.

In Rochester, William C. Chapman moved into the real estate development business at the turn of the twentieth century, as the community saw a boom after the arrival of the interurban line and the sugar beet factory.  Chapman and Yawkey invested together in property on the southern edge of the village of Rochester, and there platted the Yawkey and Chapman subdivision.

The Yawkey name is also associated with sports history, as William C. Yawkey's son, William Hoover Yawkey, was the sole owner of the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise from 1903 to 1908, and part owner with Frank Navin from 1908 to 1919.

If you ever find yourself in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, be sure to stop by and visit this connection to Rochester history.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Vanished Rochester: David Wagner Butts Farmhouse

(Photo courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson)
For half a century, the David Wagner Butts farmhouse stood atop South Hill at the location where the Bill Fox dealership is today.  The Rochester Era noted in February 1906 that: "D. W. Butts is getting material on the ground for a new brick residence on his farm just south of Rochester, in the spring." Although the house wasn't built until the first decade of the 20th century, the property on which it stood had been in the Butts family since 1855. In that year, Elias and Catherine Butts (also sometimes spelled Butz) migrated west to Michigan from New Jersey. Their son, David, was nine years old at the time the Butts family established their farm in Avon Township.

David took over the farm from his father and built this home for his own family, including his wife Juliet Bromley Butts, and daughters Elizabeth and Laura.  In addition to crops, David Butts raised Belgian and Clydesdale horses, and sold two to three teams a year, according to an interview given by his daughter, Elizabeth, in 1944.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Butts Case and her sister Laura Butts Cross eventually inherited the South Hill property, but nobody lived in the house after 1964 and it fell victim to vandals. Laura Cross and her niece, Della Wilson (Elizabeth Case's daughter), decided to have the house razed in 1976 and it fell to a wrecker's ball on August 12 of that year.

In an interview with the Rochester Clarion given at the time the house was slated for demolition, Della Wilson remembered that her grandfather, David Butts, maintained an athletic field for the community on part of his farmland that lay between the house and South Street. She recalled:
The park was like an amphitheater - it was beautiful. My grandfather would mow it and fix the neighbors' fences when the kids broke them down every year.
Mrs. Wilson recalled that her grandfather's ballpark was used for three generations, until Halbach Field was opened in the village in the mid-1920s.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, citizens of Rochester were learning a new number - right along with everyone else in the United States. In June 1963 the United States Postal Service began to roll out its new Zone Improvement Program, which sorted mail by five-digit numbers popularly known as zip codes.  Rochester residents were assigned the zip code 48063.

The challenge for the postal service was to encourage public cooperation with the new plan.  A cartoon character named Mr. Zip showed up in advertising media to cajole postal customers into learning and using their new zip codes.  There was even a zip code song - click this link if you'd like to hear it.

In the late 1980s, population shifts in southeastern lower Michigan necessitated a revised zip code map, and the Rochester area received new zip codes of 48306, 48307 and 48309, while our old zip code of 48063 was reassigned to Columbus Township in St. Clair County.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Weekend Fun, Circa 1921

If you're looking for some family entertainment in Rochester this Memorial Day weekend, you'll probably pay a visit to the Greater Rochester Heritage Days in the Rochester Municipal Park.  Rochester has hosted the festival for more than three decades now, and it always delivers fun for all ages while educating audiences about our history.

Well, that's today. Do you know what families did for fun on Memorial Day weekend 92 years ago?  This advertisement from the Rochester Era issue of May 27, 1921 gives us a clue.  Townspeople gathered at the corner of Fourth & Wesley streets for a vaudeville circus called the Robbins Overland Show. This traveling show was started in 1921 by an Eaton Rapids farmer named Cadwell Robbins.  In his 1952 book entitled The Only Eaton Rapids on Earth, historian W. Scott Munn tells us this about Robbins and his show:
He carried a score of actors besides his band and laborers, and gave his audiences a regular circus with all the frills.  The second year was rough going. A farmer does not speak the same language as the "profess," so he bowed out of the picture, and sold out to George Miller, who operated [the show] until 1926 when he disposed of the outfit and joined the Tiger Bill Show, retiring in 1929.

It seems that the Robbins show was short-lived, so this was probably its one and only performance in Rochester.  If you live in the neighborhood of Fourth & Wesley today, imagine looking out your window to see Opal the Wonder Pony and Julia the Educated Monkey parading down your street!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bygone Business: Cole Brothers Sugar Bowl

If you are looking for a good place to have dessert in downtown Rochester today, you have several excellent options from which to choose.  In 1921, you probably would have visited the Cole Brothers Sugar Bowl at 433 S. Main (currently occupied by the Funky Frog resale shop).  The building at 431-433 S. Main was built in late 1919 and opened to tenants in 1920.  On April  22, 1921, the Sugar Bowl ice cream and confectionery shop opened to the public in the north side of the building.  The location was an excellent one, being one door south of the Idle Hour Theater, which was the only movie venue in town at the time.  The Sugar Bowl operated in this location until 1930, when Adolph Zimmerman moved his shoe store into the space.

This ad ran in the Rochester Era in on April 29, 1921, just a few days after the store held its grand opening.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

At Home in Rochester: George Washington Vandeventer House

This beautiful upright-and-wing house with Italianate details was built in 1875 by Rochester carriage maker George Washington Vandeventer. Born in New York state in 1829, Vandeventer came to Michigan with his parents in 1836, one year before Michigan became a state. He married Julia Pixley, one of the daughters of Avon Township pioneer Jonathan Pixley, in 1853, and the couple had two children, Marshall and Blanche.

Vandeventer operated his carriage business in Rochester and was active in community affairs. He served three terms as president of the village of Rochester and helped to organize a fire brigade after his original house located on this lot was completely destroyed by fire on March 6, 1875.  This house served as the family home of George Vandeventer until his death in 1909 (Julia had died in 1908), but it remained under the ownership of Vandeventer family members well into the 1930s.  In 1998 it was listed on the Michigan Register of Historic Places and a Michigan Historical Marker was erected on the property.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Subdivision Stories: Oak Bluff

Lying east of North Main Street and south of Romeo is the Oak Bluff subdivision, platted in 1948.  Frank R. Chapman and his wife, Lou Blackwood Chapman, along with Frank's sister, Doris Chapman Blackwood, developed the subdivision on family property which had originally been part the the Charles Sherwin Chapman estate.  Frank and Doris had grown up in a grand, shingle-style estate house that stood atop the bluff north of the downtown area, overlooking the Western Knitting Mills pond, sometimes known as Chapman Pond. Charles S. Chapman had built the house in 1899, when he was serving as president of Western Knitting Mills, which was at the time Rochester's largest employer.

The Chapman siblings named the streets in the new development after their father, Charles, and their uncle, William Clark Chapman.  They retained ownership of the property on which the estate home stood, but did not live in the house.  After several failed attempts to find a suitable use for the house, the property on which it stood was sold for development in 1968 and the house was razed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester Board of Education was considering how to re-align office space within the school district's buildings.  Some administrative offices were located in a house at the corner of Walton & Livernois, on the high school campus, while the business and personnel offices were housed at the old Stoney Creek School.  In May 1963, the board voted to spend $16,000 to convert the former Harrison school on Fourth Street to and administration building and hired Frank Rewold & Son to do the construction work.  The Harrison building had been declared unfit for classroom use the year before and had sat vacant for several months.  This building, constructed in 1889, is now 123 years old and is still used for administrative purposes today.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Benajmin C. Harrison House

The house at 420 East Street, known today as the home of the Rochester Folk Workshop, was built in 1870 as the family home of Benjamin C. Harrison and his wife, Almira Fancher Harrison. The Harrisons were married in 1865, and two years later bought two lots on East Street. Tax and census records indicate that the house was built on the southernmost of the two lots in 1870.  Benjamin Harrison was born in New Jersey and was a shoemaker by trade.

In 1873, the Harrisons sold the house and both lots to an Oakland Township farmer named Lemuel W. Shoup and his wife, Laura. Lemuel Shoup was the son of one of Oakland Township's pioneer settlers, Conrad F. Shoup, who had served as the township's treasurer and supervisor. Lemuel's nephew, Frank D. Shoup, was the proprietor of the Rochester Elevator from 1913 to 1922.

The Shoups' daughter, Lydia, married Marcus Eugene Carlton in 1881 and her parents sold the vacant lot to the north of their house to the young couple in 1884 so that they could built their own house. The Carltons hired prominent architect John Scott to design their home, which still stands today at 428 East Street.

Lemuel Shoup left the house at 420 East to another of his daughters, Lillian Shoup Horn, when he died in 1901. Lillian's daughter sold the property in 1919, and after brief ownership by a man named James Wortman, the house was purchased in 1922 by Fred Hart Main.  Fred Main, a carpenter, and his wife, Olive, made their family home there for more than four decades.  Their daughter, Helen V. Main Allen, who grew up in the house, later became the treasurer of Avon Township and served in that office from 1949 until her death in 1970.  The city of Rochester Hills named Helen V. Allen Memorial Park on School Road in her honor.

The property stayed in the Main family until 1970.  In the early 1970s, the current owners, Vincent and Karen Sadovsky, established the Rochester Folk Workshop in the building.

The Benjamin C. Harrison House celebrates its 143rd birthday this year.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bygone Business: Hacker Meat Market

If you were shopping for groceries in Rochester 119 years ago, these are the prices you would have found at the Hacker Meat Market and grocery at 330 S. Main (now 324 S. Main, where O'Connor's Pub is located).  Thomas W. Hacker established his market in Rochester in 1886, and operated it at this location for about 20 years.  This ad from the Rochester Era shows Hacker's prices from 1894, when five pounds of good coffee could be had for $1.00.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Where Do You Think You Are - The Route

1. Start on the street corner in front of the old Congregational Church (the old one - not the one where the congregation is currently located on North Pine St.) - This is the northwest corner of Third & Walnut, in front of Smackwater Jack's.
2. Walk a straight path due east to the place that was the site of the first house in Oakland County and the first school in Rochester. This takes you to the Rochester Settlement Marker located on East Third Street at the East Alley.
3. Walk straight north to the corner where the old Village Hall and police station stood. This location is at the northeast corner of Fourth Street and East Alley, where the municipal parking lot is.
4. Walk straight west to the street corner in front of the old 1937 post office building. This is the location of the Penny Black restaurant on the northeast corner of Fourth & Walnut.
5. Walk straight north to the next street intersection. (Intersection of Walnut & West University Drive).Cross the street and walk straight west to the street corner in front of the old Nichols Funeral Home stood (now the corner of West University and Oak Streets; Nichols was the predecessor of Pixley Funeral Home). Walk straight north to the  Charles W. Case house (522 Oak Street).
6. Walk about 220 feet due northeast from the front of the Charles W. Case house. Where are you? You are at the plaza east of the police station entrance where the World War II Honor Roll and Harris Fountain are now located.

If you liked this little exercise, stay tuned, because the Rochester Avon Historical Society's downtown walking tours will soon be starting a new season.  The first walk will be held on Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m., and you can meet host and tour guide Rod Wilson in front of the Rochester Mills Brewing Company on Fourth Street. For other tour times and dates, visit the RAHS web site or Facebook page.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Where Do You Think You Are?

OK, history buffs and long-time Rochester residents, here's a geography quiz for you. All you have to do is follow the instructions listed below from point to point and tell me where you end up!  All locations are within the municipal limits of the City of Rochester, so if you end up out on Avon Road, you to a wrong turn somewhere.  Those who are up for some exercise may want to physically walk the route, but for the rest of you, this trip can probably be taken right inside your head, with or without the aid of a map.  For helpful hints and information about some of the historic sites referenced in the clues, I recommend following the route on the Oakland Regional Historic Sites web site.

Ready? Here we go:
1. Start on the street corner in front of the old Congregational Church (the old one - not the one where the congregation is currently located on North Pine St.)
2. Walk a straight path due east to the place that was the site of the first house in Oakland County and the first school in Rochester.
3. Walk straight north to the corner where the old Village Hall and police station stood.
4. Walk straight west to the street corner in front of the old 1937 post office building.
5. Walk straight north to the next street intersection. Cross the street and walk straight west to the street corner in front of the old Nichols Funeral Home stood. Walk straight north to the  Charles W. Case house.
6. Walk about 220 feet due northeast from the front of the Charles W. Case house.

Where do you think you are?

Feel free to tell me where you ended up in the comments.  I will hold all comments until Tuesday, April 16, and then I will release the comments for publication and post the answer.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pioneer Farmsteads: Albert Terry Farm

Near the southwest corner of Auburn & Livernois roads stands a beautiful brick farmhouse that dates from the Rochester area's pioneer era.  The Greek Revival residence was built by settler Albert Terry about 1840 when the land on which it stands was still wilderness, and it has survived 173 years of development swirling around it.

Albert Terry was born in Livingston County, New York in 1817, the year in which the village of Rochester was founded. He was the eldest of a family of fourteen children. Terry taught school for a time as a youth, and then made a visit to Michigan in 1838. He decided to move permanently to Michigan and returned the following year, when he purchased the northeast quarter of section 33 of Avon Township and thereafter built his home. In the fall of 1839 he returned to New York to claim his bride, Delia Lathrop, and brought her back to his new home in Michigan.  The Terrys  had seven children.  Delia Terry died in 1859, and the following year Terry married Lucina Richardson, the daughter of Isaac Richardson of Pontiac.
The Terry house as it looked in 1877

The farm was prosperous, and Terry added more acreage until he had a farm of 192 acres, one of the largest in the township. He grew fruit and won several agricultural awards for his apples and pears. Albert Terry was a leader in local politics and was elected to the office of Supervisor of Avon Township for 14 years, from 1862 to 1876.

Terry died in 1880; his farm was subsequently owned by Samuel Durrant and later by Georgiana Kersting.