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.