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.