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.