Saturday, March 30, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Lewis Ward Curtis House

If you've ever visited the Victorian Rose at 118 West Third Street, chances are you've sipped tea in Lewis and Madelin Curtis's living room. Dr. Lewis Ward Curtis and his wife, Madelin Hipp Curtis, built this prairie box style house in 1912; Dr. Curtis had purchased the lot in 1911.

Lewis Ward Curtis was born in Macomb County in 1879, but he grew up in Rochester where his father, James Ewell Curtis, operated the grist mill at the south end of Main Street. (Known for many years as the Curtis Mill, this structure was later known as the Barkham Mill.)  The young Curtis attended Rochester High School and was graduated with the class of 1897. He then enrolled at the University of Michigan College of Dental Surgery and, according to his college yearbook, served as president of his class. After receiving his D.D.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1902, Curtis returned to his home town to establish a professional practice. He built a brick business block at 307 S. Main in 1907 and later bought property up the street at 315-317 S. Main (where Arizona Saddlery is located today).

Lewis W. Curtis practiced dentistry in Rochester until 1929. He was also very active in community affairs and served as president of the Rochester Board of Education. He died in 1976.  The former Curtis house at 118 W. Third has served as the home of the Victorian Rose Tea Room in recent years; before that it was the home of the offices of Buckerfield Engineering.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bygone Business: Rochester Motor Lodge

From the mid-19th century through the early decades of the 20th century, Rochester had two lodging houses - the Lambertson House/St. James Hotel at Fifth and Main, and the Sidney House/Detroit Hotel at Third and Main.  Both of these hotels had faded away by the time of the Great Depression, and for a couple of decades there were no hotels available in Rochester. That changed in the late 1950s, when two new establishments opened: the Spartan Motel on North Hill, and the Rochester Motor Lodge, south of the village.

Rochester Motor Lodge opened in February 1959 in a brand-new building on the west side of South Rochester Road, near the corner of Hamlin. Harold H. Brown was the proprietor, and designed the 12-unit building with the assistance of Mount Clemens architect Elmer Parke.  The Rochester Motor Lodge stood at this location until about 1998, when Walgreens purchased the property as a site for one of their stores.

This advertisement ran in the Rochester Clarion on February 12, 1959, to announce the grand opening of the motel.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Subdivision Stories: Avon Hills Estates

The Avon Hills Estates subdivision was laid out on the northeast corner of Adams and Auburn roads, south of the old Grand Trunk Railway line,  in 1925. Officially known as Wheaton and Worrall's Avon Hills Estates, the development was created on land that was formerly the farm of Orrin W. Harris and his wife, Dora. Harris's wife died in 1921, and in 1925 he contracted with local developers Arthur O. Worrall and Harold L. Wheaton to transform the property into a subdivision.  Ladd Brothers, a Rochester real estate agency, handled the original sale of the lots.
The streets in Avon Hills Estates were originally named Welling and Sylvan; when Avon Township renamed many of its streets in 1950, Welling became Avalon and Sylvan became St. Clair.

This advertisement for lots in Avon Hills Estates ran in the Rochester Clarion when the subdivision was first opened in 1925.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vanished Rochester: Barkham Mill

Barkham Mill (Courtesy Rochester Hills Public Library)
If you could travel back in time to the Rochester of 1900, you would find two grist mills in the downtown area, one standing at each end of Main Street, like bookends. Rochester had been established because of abundant water power along Paint Creek, Stoney Creek and the Clinton River, and the mills that stood along these waterways were the first economic engines of the area. At the north end of the village was the Neely Mill on Paint Creek, and at the south end, near the foot of today's South Hill bridge, was the Barkham Mill.

Steven W. Barkham was the name of the final owner of this mill, which stood on the west side of Main, north of the Clinton River, for ninety years.  It was built in 1837 by Johnson Niles, a founding pioneer of the settlement of Troy Corners, and had many owners and operators in its nine decades of operation.  According to a memoir of Theodor Dahlmann that was published in the Rochester Clarion in 1927, Niles and his business partners sold the mill in 1850 to Charles Nathaniel Griffin, a native of New York, who operated it for nearly ten years before selling out and moving to Detroit.  During the Civil War years, the mill was owned by Baxter Gillett and operated by his brother, Hartson Gillett. Several other owners and partners followed until 1885, when James Ewell Curtis became owner of the business. Curtis, a son of area pioneers, was also the father of Dr. Lewis Ward Curtis, a Rochester dentist who later built business blocks at 307 and 315-317 S. Main Street.  The Curtis heirs sold the grist mill to Steven W. and Beal Barkham in 1903, and so the old wooden structure was known as the Barkham Mill when it was completely destroyed by fire on December 2, 1927, consigning it to the pages of Vanished Rochester.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

At Home in Rochester: Irving J. Coffin House

A stately Dutch colonial home that stands atop a bluff on the west side of North Main Street, between Ferndale and Glendale is connected to a prominent Detroit area man and a tragedy that took his life.  Irving J. "Duke" Coffin built the house in 1927, on a lot he had purchased in 1925.  Coffin was born in Rochester in 1875, and served with the Michigan Naval Brigade aboard the U.S.S. Yosemite during the Spanish-American War. Following the war, he moved to Detroit and worked for the D.U.R. for a few years. In 1910 he took a job as a process server for the Wayne County Prosecutor's office, and worked his way up to county detective. In 1918 he ran a successful campaign for Wayne County Sheriff and served in that position until 1923.

The Rochester Clarion reported in the spring of 1927 that "I. J. Coffin has broken ground for a Dutch colonial type eight-room house on his lot adjoining H.A. George's home on North Main Street." Coffin also owned a farm home two miles north of Rochester, and it is unclear whether he ever lived in the new house in town. On July 28, 1928, Coffin was driving his Lincoln sedan south on Rochester Road when a vehicle turning in front of him forced his car onto the D.U.R. tracks and directly into the path of the oncoming northbound limited interurban car, which was on its way to downtown Rochester.  In the car with Coffin were his eleven-year-old adopted daughter, Evelyn,  and two adult women passengers.  Evelyn Coffin was instantly killed and Irving J. Coffin died of his wounds - a crushed chest and fractured skull - soon after arriving by ambulance at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac.

The funeral service for Irving J. "Duke" Coffin was an impressive one, with full military honors. Fifteen Lincoln sedans were sent out from Detroit by Henry Ford to convey funeral attendees from the home to the cemetery.  Michigan Governor Fred W. Green, who made the trip to Rochester from Lansing by airplane, served as one of the pall bearers.  The Henry Ford band provided music at Mount Avon Cemetery, where Coffin and his daughter were laid to rest.

Friday, March 1, 2013

This Month in Rochester History

Cemeteries were on the minds of Rochester area residents fifty years ago this month. Members of the Avon Township Board of Trustees expressed their extreme displeasure at the application of LePage & Associates to establish and operate a cemetery on Hamlin Road, on land formerly occupied by the Ferry-Morse Seed Farm.  The township itself operated two cemeteries and did not welcome competition from the outside; furthermore, trustees were concerned that the land in question would be removed from the property tax rolls if used for cemetery purposes.  Trustees commented that Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) had "no need" for a new cemetery.

The objections of the township board notwithstanding, the proposed cemetery was soon after established on Hamlin Road as Christian Memorial Cultural Center. It has recently changed names and management and is now known as Christian Memorial Gardens West.