Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bad Day at the Bakery

Monday, January 18, 1965 was supposed to be a big day at the Home Bakery. The store was set to re-open after having been closed two weeks for interior renovations, but events didn't unfold quite the way the owners had planned.

It was a zero-degree day in Rochester, and a patron of Bebout's Restaurant, up the street, decided to leave his Thunderbird at the curb with the engine running while he popped into Bebout's for some breakfast.  A short time later, witnesses saw the T-bird rolling down Main.  They failed to catch up with the car in time, and watched as it dodged a couple of light poles before crashing into the front of the Home Bakery.

In this Clarion photo, bakery owner John McClellan is seen surveying the $2,000 worth of damage to his storefront.  The newspaper reported that there was little damage to the Thunderbird.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Eulogy for our Neighborhoods

The year 2014 has been the most destructive in the history of Rochester. When future historians examine the record of this year looking for the cause of the devastation, they will not find narratives of fire, tornado, or bombs.  Instead, they will find that in 2014, when Rochester's landscape was riddled with the pock-marks of demolished vintage houses, the damage was wholly self-inflicted.

An amazing number of buildings in Rochester's residential neighborhoods have been razed during the past 12 months.  Not all were counted among the best of our historic properties, but some were - the 1888 Van Hoosen-Case house being a notable example and the most recent to fall to the wrecking ball.  We seem to be in the middle of an "out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new" cycle.  After all, old houses take a lot of time and money to maintain.  They are inconvenient - the walls are seldom square and plumb, the floors aren't completely level, they have inadequate closet space and the kitchens - gasp! - aren't usually roomy enough to accommodate an island cook-top and all of the latest appliances and gadgets.  So we rip them down and replace them with something more amenable to modern family life, and strip away a little more of our heritage in the process.

Just old buildings?  Not quite.  An anonymous person once said, "It's not good because it's old, it's old because it's good."  These houses are witnesses, if only we would take the time to listen to their testimony.  They all have stories to tell about the families they have sheltered over the decades, and the people in those families were the ones who built this community and left something behind for the citizens of today. Author and home restoration specialist Jane Powell once spoke quite eloquently on this issue; she said, in part:
American culture, and advertising in particular, has done an excellent job of convincing consumers that they are the center of the universe, and that their needs and desires should be more important than anything else. This has led to a huge sense of entitlement, including the idea that one's time is so valuable that it couldn't possibly be spent maintaining the house. Here's some news you may find distressing. You are not the center of the universe. I am not the center of the universe, either. We are temporary. We are not playing Monopoly, and there is no "get-out-of-maintenance-free" card. (Those who are elderly or disabled get slack.) A house comes with responsibilities, and a historic house comes with more responsibilities. We are only the caretakers of these houses, which were here before we owned them and which will be here after we are gone. They contain the wood from the old-growth forests, they are monuments to the skill of those who labored to build them, they represent our cultural heritage. To destroy them, or allow them to be destroyed by neglect, to remove their original fabric in the pointless pursuit of "no maintenance" is profoundly disrespectful both to the trees that gave their lives and to the labor and skill of those who built the houses - with hand tools, I might add.
The issue of historic preservation is now being studied in the halls of city government, and the coming year may see the topic addressed, perhaps by ordinance.  Personally, I hope that any discussion will include not only consideration of control by ordinance, but also a conservancy/trust model for the handful of our most precious historic gems.

A conservancy/trust for historic properties might look something like the greenspace initiative passed in Rochester Hills some years ago to protect certain land from development.  A millage was passed to provide the city with the funds to acquire these properties for the public good.  A similar approach could be used to acquire select historic properties, which would then be owned, operated and maintained by a public trust.  The properties could be leased - with the appropriate restrictions on the activities of the tenants in order to protect and preserve the buildings - and the income realized from the leases would be returned to the trust and invested, providing a fund for the perpetual care and maintenance of the properties. (If you are interested in such arrangements, check out the web site of the Bucks County, Pennsylvania Heritage Conservancy, which conserves both historic buildings and natural resources.)

In February 1968, Rochester suffered a loss when its Albert Kahn-designed Chapman mansion and ten acres of trees were bulldozed.  There was considerable public outcry at the time - after the fact, of course - and the Rochester Clarion was prompted to run an editorial under the headline "A Lesson Can be Learned."   The editor's closing words were these:
The lesson learned from this incident should be clear. Private industry is not in the park business. If enough citizens earnestly want to have a piece of land preserved, they should waste no time in urging some unit of government to grab it as soon as it is for sale - not six months later. They should also be prepared to possibly pay higher taxes to secure it. Natural beauty is not a luxury.
Forty-six years later, the evidence suggests we haven't learned that lesson yet. Demolition is a bell that cannot be unrung.  It is time to decide how we can progress while honoring our past, and how we can preserve our neighborhoods without heavy-handed infringement of private property rights.  This post is not aimed at the builders and developers who are doing what they have the legal right to do with privately-held property; it is aimed at their enablers. It is aimed at the citizens who signal by inaction their tolerance for bulldozers rolling down their streets, of graceless mini-mansions bulging at the lot lines and crassly towering over their neighbors in a vulgar attempt to make Rochester a clone of the zip code to our southwest.

My home town is better than that.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Return of the Historic Butts Surrey

Rod and Susan Wilson, Gail Kemler and Carol Becker in the Butts surrey, pulled by Lace. (Photo by Gerald Larsen)
The Butts surrey, recently restored by the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, returned to the streets of Rochester today in the annual Hometown Christmas Parade.  The surrey's history was told in an earlier post, and since that time it has traveled to Nappanee, Indiana, where an Amish craftsman returned the well-worn carriage to the condition of its glory days.  Now approximately 115 years old, it looked beautiful today decked out in holiday finery and once again rolling down Main Street, Rochester.

Monday, December 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the attention of Rochester residents was focused on a special election held on December 8, 1964. The purpose of the election was the consideration of a $190,000 bond issue to fund the village's portion of an urban renewal project for East Third Street.  The proposed project would relocate 33 families to other housing, raze substandard buildings, grade the land and install new water and sewer lines. The course of Paint Creek would be straightened and new bridges would be built.  After all of the work was completed, the lots in the area would then be sold for industrial use.

The East Third Street area had been devastated by a flood in 1946 when the old Western Knitting Mills dam was washed out. The area had never fully recovered from that disaster, and with the assistance of federal funding, was ripe for redevelopment.

The cost of project was estimated to be $709,000, three-quarters of which would be paid by a federal urban renewal grant.  The remainder of the cost was to be borne by the village through a bond issue.  The question passed on a vote of  357 to 149, setting the stage for a year of great changes for Rochester in 1965.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Got My Thrill on Newberry Hill

Just in time for holiday giving or enjoying on a snowy day is the latest publication from Rochester Avon Historical Society, a new book entitled I Got My Thrill on Newberry Hill: Rochester Area's World Renowned Ski Jump.  Author Penny Frank Reddish is uniquely qualified to offer this illustrated history of Rochester's ski jump: her family sold the property on which the ski jump was built, and her father and brother participated in its construction.

This book is full of photographs and accounts from Frank family diaries that are available nowhere else. If you'd like to read the authoritative story of the ski jump that hosted internationally-ranked competitors such as Olympian Anders Haugen and Norwegian jumper Johanna Kolstad, this is the book for you.  Copies are available for $9 at Lytle Pharmacy in downtown Rochester and through the Rochester Avon Historical Society's online store.  Also, copies will be available at the RAHS booth in the Kris Kringle market in downtown Rochester on the weekend of December 5-6.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bygone Business: McAleer Manufacturing - Part 3

ITT-Higbie plant in 1978 (Photo by Harold Mowat)
The post-World War II years were turbulent ones for Rochester's McAleer Manufacturing. Before the war was over in the Pacific, company officials had already plans for production of a new portable suction cleaner for automobiles.  The company had also just acquired the Bronson Reel Company of Bronson, Michigan; Bronson, now a McAleer subsidiary, claimed to be the largest producer of fishing reels in the world at that time.

On January 15, 1946, just five months after the war ended, owners Carlton and N. Bradley Higbie took their company public, offering 50,000 shares of preferred  McAleer stock at $10 a share and 50,000 shares of common stock at $5 a share.  The stock offering was intended to raise approximately $662,500 in new capital.

The following November, Carlton M. Higbie bought out his brother's share of the company and took his place as both president and chairman of McAleer.  Along with the announcement that N. Bradley Higbie was leaving the firm came the news that McAleer was ready to start production steel pressure tubing for the auto industry.  On May 5, 1950, company stockholders met and voted to change the name of the firm to Higbie Manufacturing Company.  Higbie was organized into four divisions: Avon Tube Company, McAleer Manufacturing, Bronson Reel, and the general crafts division. Two years later, the McAleer division was sold off, and the Rochester plant was solely devoted to the Avon Tube division.

In 1971, Higbie Manufacturing was acquired by International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) and became known as ITT-Higbie.  ITT-Higbie continued to produce tubing in the Rochester plant until 1994; the building was then sold for redevelopment and eventually became the home of the Rochester Mills Beer Company.

Miss the previous posts on this topic? Click here for Part 1 or Part 2 of the McAleer story.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering World War I

Today is Veterans Day, known in days past as Armistice Day, because it marked the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918.  The community of Rochester observed the original armistice day in 1918 with a parade - a noisy, joyful celebration of the fact that the war was over and Rochester's boys in uniform would soon be on their way home.

However, events did not play out as Rochesterites expected on that happy day in November 1918. One of their own, a young private in the Army named Homer Wing, was in Russia at the time of the armistice. His unit was assigned to an expeditionary force known as the Polar Bears, and was left in the vicinity of Archangel, Russia with a mission to destabilize the newly-ascended Bolshevik government there.  Months went by after the armistice was signed and still the Polar Bears did not return home. Finally, bowing to public pressure, the government ordered them stateside.

Homer Wing was actually on his way home when he was killed in a railroad collision on the Vologda Railroad, and when at last he returned to Rochester in November 1919, it was as a fallen hero.  Members of the newly-chartered American Legion post, named in Homer Wing's honor, led his funeral procession through the streets of Rochester. The newspaper reported on the solemn ceremonies as follows:

November 18, 1919 -- Rochester business places were closed from 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon while the village paid honors to Homer Wing, whose body had been brought home from Russia for burial. Wing was a member of the 339th Infantry who was killed in a railroad accident overseas last May.
The Homer Wing Post, American Legion, consisting of about 30 soldiers in uniform, headed the funeral procession through the main streets of the town. They were followed by 30 members of the local Red Cross, the Mothers' Service Club and about 225 school children who had been given a holiday to assist in the services. The remains were taken to the Rochester cemetery where they were interred, Rev. W. H. Collycott officiating at the services.

Many of the Polar Bears were from Michigan. A monument to their sacrifice was erected at White Chapel Cemetery in 1930, surrounded by the graves of 56 members of the Polar Bear units.

This year, the Rochester Avon Historical Society's cemetery walk, "Heroes in the Stones," featured a portrayal of Homer Wing by actor Jacob Fulton.  Click the video link above to view the performance.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bygone Business: McAleer Manufacturing - Part 2

In September 1942, McAleer Manufacturing announced that it would build a second facility in Rochester. The factory in the former Western Knitting Mills building was already running shifts around the clock and McAleer had just won a new defense contract - to produce aluminum powder used in the manufacture of various types of explosive ordnance.

The new factory was built on South Street, along the banks of the Clinton River. It was financed and built by the Defense Plant Corporation, or DPC, a government agency created expedite the equipping of private sector industry for wartime production. Factories built by the DPC were given Plancor numbers for identification purposes. The McAleer powder plant on South Street was designated Plancor 2151, and it was built with the urgency that accompanied the times: the project was announced in September and the plant began operating in December 1942.

The work done at the South Street plant was dangerous, and several concrete bunkers were built away from the main plant to further isolate the risky operations. In December 1942, just after production began, an explosion in one of the compound's small cement and frame building killed two women employees and seriously injured a third. The women were blown out of the building when powder in a mixing machine they were using exploded, and they were burned when their clothing caught fire. Virginia Ann MacLeod, 22, of Rochester, and Ella Jane Brinker Thorne, 31, of Pontiac, died from their injuries. Audrey M. Shoemaker Fisher, 30, also of Pontiac, was the only one of the three to survive the accident.

Another fatal explosion happened a year later.  George Howard Smith was killed when the powder he was mixing exploded and destroyed the isolated building in which he was working. According to one newspaper account, Smith had been a member of the plant protection force before transferring to the job of explosives mixer. The day of the explosion was his first and only day on the new job.  In addition to these tragedies, several other serious but non-fatal accidents happened at the powder plant during the war years.

After the war ended, the McAleer powder plant was idled and in April 1946 the government offered it for sale as excess inventory. The main powder plant building still stands on South Street, looking much as it did during the war, but almost all of the outbuildings that were part of the compound have long since disappeared.  Several light industrial operations have occupied the former powder plant over the years, including Crucible Brass, Beaver Stair Company, and Boyle Engineering.

Next week: Part 3: McAleer in the Postwar Era.  (Click here to go back to Part 1.)

Click here to view  a video of the story of McAleer employee Virginia MacLeod, who was portrayed by actress Halley Anspach in the 2014 Mount Avon Cemetery Walk, "Heroes in the Stones."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Pixley Funeral Home as it looked in 1964
The new Pixley Funeral Home building was unveiled to the public fifty years ago this month.  Over the weekend of November 7-8, 1964, local residents were invited to an open house to view the new Georgian-style funeral home building that had been under construction for fifteen months.  The new facility featured a chapel and five reposing rooms, and was a big expansion for the business, which had been formerly located in a converted house.

Although the building was new in 1964, the Pixley Funeral Home business had long roots in Rochester.  At the turn of the twentieth century, the firm of Edward A. Tuttle & William M. Sullivan operated an undertaking business on Main Street in Rochester.  William Sullivan left the partnership to start his own funeral business in Royal Oak, which continues to this day as the William Sullivan & Son Funeral Home in Royal Oak and Utica.  Tuttle then took as his partner Thomas E. Nichols, and Nichols eventually bought him out.  In 1920, Vern Pixley - a descendant of one of Rochester's pioneer settlers -  bought an interest in the firm, which was then known as the Nichols-Pixley Funeral Home. In 1953, after the death of Nichols, the business became known as the Pixley Funeral Home.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bygone Business: McAleer Manufacturing - Part I

(Courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson)
Today's post is the first of a three-part story about McAleer Manufacturing, one of Rochester's leading industries during the mid-20th century.

McAleer Manufacturing Company was founded in approximately 1923 in Detroit, Michigan, by a former garage foreman from Pennsylvania named Charles H. McAleer (1894-1968).  McAleer developed a formula for automotive polish in a washtub in his basement and launched a successful business during the prosperous 1920s. The company grew to national prominence, and in 1930 McAleer took to the skies on a cross-country promotional tour with an airplane dubbed “Miss McAleer,” from which a loud-speaker broadcasted commercials for the company's products to prospective customers on the ground. McAleer brand polishes and waxes were so highly regarded that they became the standard against which bids for such products furnished to the United States military were judged.

In 1940, McAleer sold his controlling interest in the company to brothers Carlton and N. Bradley Higbie.  The Higbie brothers were from Chicago, and both had extensive experience in commercial banking and finance; in addition, Bradley Higbie had served at the helm of a chemical manufacturing company.  When they took control of McAleer, Bradley Higbie stepped into the role of president and his brother, Carlton, served as chairman of the board.

In June 1941, the Higbies  made a decision that would have a major impact on Rochester's history. The brothers purchased the old Western Knitting Mills factory at Fourth and Water streets, vacant since 1937, and moved manufacturing operations here from Detroit. A banner headline in the Rochester Clarion issue of June 12, 1941 heralded the prospect of new jobs in a community weary of Depression-era unemployment levels.

Just six months after McAleer announced its move to Rochester, the Pearl Harbor attack plunged the United States into World War II.  In an effort to restore the company to a sound financial footing after the setbacks it had suffered during the Depression years, McAleer management sought to procure defense contracts and turned from the production of polishes and finishes to war matériel.   The list of items that McAleer was contracted to provide for the war effort was lengthy: a water resistant coating for airplane parts; gun oil; rust preventative;  control surfaces for airplanes; and most notably, the AN- M26 photoflash flare and the MK-46 photoflash bomb.  More photoflash bombs - 50,000 in all - were manufactured and shipped from Rochester, Michigan than from any other defense plant in the nation.  At the height of its wartime production, McAleer employed approximately 600 people in its Rochester facilities.

Coming next week: Part 2: McAleer expands into powder production

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Subdivision Stories: Brooklands

The Brooklands Fire Department in the Christmas parade sometime in the late 1970s (Courtesy of Clarence and Dorene Whitbey)
Lying mid-way between Rochester and Utica along both sides of Auburn Road are the Brooklands subdivisions. The original Brooklands plat was laid out in 1916 on former farmland of August and Caroline Dobat that was situated west of John R and south of Auburn Road. The streets surrounded the brand new Brooklands Golf and Country Club, and were named for the most prominent amateur golfers of the day: Tom Bendelow, Harry Vardon, Jerome Travers, Chick Evans, and Ted Ray.  Some of these street names survived after the entire plat was vacated in 1920 and a complete replat was done.

During the 1920s and '30s, the Township of Avon created several supervisor's plats adjoining the original Brooklands plat to the east.  A grid of streets was created with small city lots appropriate for modest one-story or story-and-a-half bungalows that  attracted wage-earning autoworkers and their families who wanted to own their own homes.  Developments like Brooklands allowed factory workers in Detroit's auto industry to move their families out of the city into affordable housing in a country setting.  Many who worked in Pontiac's auto plants bought homes in Brooklands.

As more families located in Brooklands, the area began to evolve as community of its own. Auburn Road served as a pseudo-Main Street, and a commercial hub began to develop there. By the end of World War II, Brooklands was a de facto village unto itself.  Auburn Road through Brooklands boasted a school, a couple of churches, a grocery store, a hardware, a couple of drive-in restaurants, a couple of bars, and several other miscellaneous businesses. All the necessities of daily life could be had there without traveling to Rochester or Utica.  The Brooklands area even organized and operated its own independent fire department, entirely separate from the rest of Avon Township.

During the 1960s and '70s, the Brooklands area developed something of a "bad boy" reputation.  The stereotypical Brooklands youth, it was said, attended school somewhat sparingly, was quick with his fists, was not unacquainted with lawbreaking activity, and had driving skills and a car fast enough to outrun the cops.

By the early 1980s, a change was happening in the subdivision's character. A natural generational turnover was taking place in the neighborhood at the same time that other areas of the township - now Rochester Hills - were becoming increasingly affluent. Brooklands became the haven for young families seeking affordable starter homes with nearby schools. In the middle of suburban sprawl, they were also looking for a sense of community - something Brooklands has always had, in abundance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

The Auburn Hills Nike base in 1964 before it was developed as Oakland Community College.
Fifty years ago this month the citizens of Rochester were learning about a new college that was coming to the area.  The announcement was made in October 1964 that a community college campus would be built on land in Pontiac Township (now known as Auburn Hills), immediately west of Avon Township.

The 247-acre parcel at Hamlin & Squirrel roads that was selected for the new campus was a deactivated Nike missile installation.  In the days of heightened tension after the Korean War, a missile defense system was deployed to protect the nation's major city and industrial centers, Detroit among them.  A ring of Nike bases surrounded Detroit and its industry, including the one at Hamlin & Squirrel and another on Woodall Road in Shelby Township.  Armed with Ajax and Hercules surface-to-air missiles that were stored underground, the bases stood ready to repel a threat that never materialized. 

In the case of the Pontiac Township site, the installation was deactivated in 1963. The buildings formerly used for the base were remodeled for use of the college, which opened to students in September 1965.

Click here for details and aerial photographs of the Auburn Hills Nike site.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The Albertson House

The Albertson house standing on North Main just before it was moved in 1953
On the south side of Ferndale Street, just west of North Main, stands a lovely house that fits beautifully with its surrounding neighbors.  The Woodward Heights subdivision, of which Ferndale is a part, was platted in 1920, so one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the houses on the street date from that time or later.

In fact, this particular house, originally part of the Albertson farm, is far older than its neighbors on Ferndale street.  The house originally stood on the west side of North Main, just north of the location of today's Rochester Athletic Club (or the old A & P supermarket for those of you who haven't been to town in a while).  When the supermarket site was being prepared for construction in February 1953, three dwellings that stood north of the property were sold off and moved so that the hill could be cut down and used as fill for the low-lying land on which the store would stand.  The Dr. Godfrey Hamlen house was moved to North Oak Street, where it still stands today; the Albertson house and one other were moved to Ferndale Street.

The Rochester Clarion, in reporting on the moving of the houses in 1953, remarked that the Albertson house was "built at least 90 years ago."  If the Clarion's estimate was at all accurate, the Albertson house was originally built around 1863, making it one of Rochester's oldest homes.

The Albertson family farmed a 56-acre parcel of land bounded on the east by North Main Street and on the north by what we know today as Woodward Street. Most of the farm land was platted and sold in 1900 as the Albertson Addition, creating the streets of Albertson, Griggs and Drace.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Record Harvest

With all of the growth and development that has happened in our community over the past half century, it is sometimes difficult to picture the Rochester area's agricultural heritage. But it really wasn't so long ago that the farmers of Avon, Oakland and Shelby were a strong economic presence here.  Witness this check, written by the Rochester Elevator in August 1953, in payment for what was at that time the largest single wheat crop that the elevator had ever purchased.  The seller was William A. Fisher, owner of a 250-acre farm on the southwest corner of Rochester & Avon roads. Fisher had been the president and one of the founders of the Fisher Body Works, and used his Avon Township farm as a country retreat when he wanted to get away from city life.

This check represented the proceeds from the sale of 9,310 bushels of wheat and a yield per acre from the Fisher farm of 38 bushels. The Rochester Clarion, which published this check on its front page in 1953, noted that the yield would have been much higher if Fisher's wheat crop had not been seriously damaged by a tornado in mid-June of that year.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

In September 1964, Rochester saw the construction of a new church building when Ridgecrest Baptist Church broke ground for a new sanctuary at 1181 Harding Road. Built by Larry Aulgur of Utica, the facility included a 200-seat sanctuary and classrooms.  Members of the congregation did much of the finish work on the building themselves. 

Ridgecrest Baptist was started as a mission church by Columbia Avenue Baptist Church of Pontiac and first met in the old Masonic block on East Fourth in downtown Rochester.The congregation was dissolved in 1995, and the building became the home of the New Life Baptist Church, and after that the Goodnews  - Detroit Church.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Heroes in the Stones

Rochester's historic Mount Avon Cemetery is a place of stories waiting to be told and remembered. The Rochester Avon Historical Society will present some of those stories on Saturday, September 27, 2014 in its third annual Cemetery Walk, entitled "Heroes in the Stones."

Tour guests will meet some of the people buried at Mount Avon, brought back to life through the skills of historical re-enactors dressed in period costume.  The re-enactors will tell the stories of some heroes who lie at rest in our cemetery, including a Revolutionary War patriot, a War of 1812 veteran, and a World War II defense industry worker who was killed in the line of duty.  The 1925 Mount Avon mausoleum will also be open for visits by tour guests during the event.

The cemetery walk is a major fundraising event for the Rochester Avon Historical Society and supports the organization's local history education and historic preservation initiatives.  If you appreciate the work that RAHS has done and is doing, such as the restoration of the World War II Honor Roll, the restoration of the Beerbohm mural at the RCS administration building, the restoration of the historic Butts surrey, the walking tours, the free local history programs at the library, the theatre project, and more, you can support these efforts by attending the cemetery walk.

Tours will depart by shuttle van from the municipal parking lot at Third and Walnut streets at 20 minute intervals between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.  Tickets are issued for a specific tour time, so buy your tickets early to have the best selection of tour times.  Tickets may be purchased in person at the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce office at 71 Walnut Street during weekday business hours, or online from the RAHS online store.

Please join RAHS on September 27 to celebrate our Heroes in the Stones.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

At Home in Rochester: Godfrey F. Hamlen House

Hamlen house on North Oak in 2014
 This house on the west side of North Oak Street was built around 1925 as the family residence of Dr. Godfrey F. Hamlen and his wife, Anna.  The house originally stood at 725 North Main, directly across from the old Charles S. Chapman estate (and immediately north of the location of the Rochester Athletic Club in 2014).

Godfrey F. Hamlen was a native of Canada and an 1896 graduate of the Detroit College of Medicine. He practiced for a few years in Commerce Township and Farmington before locating in Rochester in 1906, and continued his private practice here until his death in 1933. (He was not related to the pioneer Hamlin family of Avon Township, spelled with an 'i'.)

In February 1953, as preparations were being made to build a new A & P supermarket on North Main, the Hamlen house and two others near it were moved to make way for the new construction.  The three houses stood on a hill immediately north of the supermarket construction site; they were moved to allow excavators to cut down the hill and use it to fill in the low-lying parcel where the construction was taking place. The Hamlen house was moved to North Oak, and its immediate neighbors, the Albertson and Drace houses, were moved to Ferndale Avenue.
Hamlen house at original location on N. Main, date unknown

After it was relocated to North Oak, the Hamlen house was reconditioned and offered for sale for $13,000 by Max Hartwig realty.

To read more about the history of the Hamlen house and view more photos, visit the property's record in the Oakland Regional Historic Sites database.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bygone Business: Michigan Wildflower Company

If you ask most people what seed company was based in the Rochester area, they'll probably name the Ferry-Morse Seed Company that operated a large farm and experimental garden on Rochester Road between Hamlin and Auburn.  That is a correct answer to the question, but it is not the only correct answer.

Ferry is well-known locally for the operation they established in Rochester just after the turn of the 20th century; however, Rochester was also home to a plant and seed company before the turn of the century.  Wilford A. Brotherton, a botanist who was born in Oakland County of one of its pioneer families, lived on West Fifth Street (now University Drive) in Rochester and operated a mail order seed and nursery business from his home as early as 1891.  Known alternately as W. A. Brotherton & Co. or Michigan Wild Flower Company, the firm advertised in gardening and horticulture publications nationwide and shipped product all over the country.

Wilfred Brotherton was active in a number of professional organizations including the Michigan Academy of Science and the Michigan Ornithological Club. He also taught botany at Rochester High School for a time. He died in Detroit in 1914 and was buried at Mount Avon Cemetery.

Some of the Brotherton catalogs have survived the years; click here to view an example from 1891.

Friday, August 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester area residents were becoming acquainted with a brand new entertainment venue in the community: the Meadow Brook Music Festival.  The inaugural festival was held at the end of July and the beginning of August in 1964 in the brand-new Howard C. Baldwin Memorial Pavilion on the campus of Oakland University. Meadow Brook was the exclusive summer home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director Sixten Ehrling.

During that first season in 1964, Meadow Brook Music Festival was a local event, but its popularity grew quickly. So great was the interest, that after two years the university had to open a new road from the festival area to Adams Road to create an additional outlet for concert traffic.  By the time the venue reached its third summer season, it had developed a regional following.

For more information about Meadow Brook Music Festival's fiftieth anniversary, including some photographs from the early years, click here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Subdivision Stories: Twin Oaks

The Twin Oaks subdivision in the City of Rochester is bounded by Fourth, Third, Castell and Wilcox streets, with Wesley Avenue running right through the middle of it.  When the village of Rochester was first laid out by surveyors in 1826, this property was part of outlot 14 of the original plat of the village.  Over time, the village outlots were further subdivided and platted with the streets and alleys that we know today.

In 1925, this portion of outlot 14 was platted by owner Robert H. Bitters, who named the new subdivision Twin Oaks. Plat names often reflect the names of their developers, and sometimes the streets in the subdivision are named in honor of their family members. In the case of Twin Oaks, all of the streets in the plat are simply continuations of streets that had already been laid out in the older plats to the north and east.
As far as the name of the subdivision itself is concerned, no paper record exists to inform us of the reason for the name, but perhaps we need only to use our eyes.  These formidable twin oak trees stand just to the east of the intersection of Third and Wesley, like gatekeepers to the subdivision. It may well have been these trees that inspired Robert Bitters in naming his subdivision.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The Van Hoosen - Case House

This historic house at 522 Oak Street, near the Rochester Municipal Building, is 126 years old this year, and is connected to one of the most prominent families in Rochester's history.

When John Van Hoosen built the house in 1888, his property stretched over 4 lots from Oak Street all the way to Pine Street, and fronted on Paint Creek.  In the days before it was re-routed, Paint Creek ran much closer to the foot of Oak Street than it does today, meaning that the lot on which this house stands was once highly-desirable riverfront property.

John Van Hoosen and his wife Mary built the house as their family home, but the couple divorced in 1894 and sold the property to Charles Wallace Case, a young man who was working as a clerk in his uncle Harvey Taylor's hardware store on Main Street.  C. W. Case bought out his uncle a few years later and established the C. W. Case Hardware store that was a landmark on Main Street for almost seven decades.

Meanwhile, the Case family occupied this house on Oak Street until Charles Case's death in 1944.  Case raised purebred poultry on the property, for which he won many awards and medals in poultry shows nationwide.  Several additions have been made to the house over the years and it has been remodeled as a multi-family dwelling, but many of the original exterior details of the house that are visible in an 1897 photo of the building can still be seen today, well over a century later.

The Van Hoosen - Case House is one of Rochester's historic gems.

UPDATE: This house was demolished in fall 2014.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bygone Business: Nye Manufacturing Company

If you travel down Oak Street between Third and Fourth, you'll pass an ordinary-looking apartment house in the middle of the block on the west side of the street that doesn't give any outward sign of the history it harbors.  But if walls could talk, this building would definitely be a place for us to do some listening.

The Seventh Day Adventist Society of Rochester purchased this lot in 1881 from George W. Vandeventer.  Local oral history says that the Society then moved its meeting house from another location to this lot, so the actual date of construction of the building is not known.  The Adventist Society sold the property in 1893, when the congregation apparently dissolved, to a local carpenter named Merritt M. Nye.

Merritt Nye turned the building into a factory for his Nye Manufacturing Company, which produced a bean picker of Nye's own patented design.  The 1896 plat map of Rochester even shows the Nye Manufacturing Company building at this location. The implement was not an economic success, apparently, for only three years later Nye abandoned the enterprise and returned to his former occupation of carpentry.  As for the building, the Rochester Era reported on November 5, 1897: "The Nye Manufacturing Company are turning their shop into a double dwelling house, one of which will be occupied by M. M. Nye and wife."  The Rochester correspondent to the Utica Sentinel reported in early 1898 that the work on Nye's double house on Oak was almost complete.

Since 1898, the building that began its life as a church and then became a factory has been used as a multiple family dwelling, probably giving it the additional distinction of being the oldest apartment house in the City of Rochester.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The Peter Lomason House

In September 1900 the Rochester Era newspaper opined that "when completed, Peter Lomason's new house on East Fifth street will be one of the finest residences in Rochester."  The next time you pass this house at 113-115 East University, look up - all the way up - and you will see some of the details that led the Era to make such a statement. Although the rest of the house has undergone many changes and additions in the past 114 years,  the ornamental iron work and slate roof are still its crowning glory, a testament to a different era in house construction.

Peter Lomason was a descendant of Rochester's pioneers. His mother's family was among the first non-native settlers of the Township of Avon. Peter Lomason served as Justice of the Peace for Rochester and held a number of municipal offices. Only a few years after building this house he moved to Bad Axe, where he ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature.

Lomason died in August 1919, and just a few weeks prior to his death he sold his Rochester house to local merchant Camille DeBaene. DeBaene owned the property until 1936, when it went to the First National Bank of Rochester. The bank immediately disposed of it to James Stackhouse and his wife, Jessie McDonald Stackhouse. James Stackhouse was a Rochester meat merchant and his wife was the postmaster of Rochester from 1934-1945. In 1946, after the death of his wife, James Stackhouse sold the house to Oral E. Camp and his wife Jane. The Camps were the proprietors of Rochester Lunch and Camp's Cafe in Rochester from 1944 to 1965. The Camps are shown in the 1948 Rochester telephone directory as residents of the house. In 1977, the house was sold by the Camp estate and was thereafter used for commercial and office purposes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

In July 1964, Rochester residents were congratulating local mail carrier Harold Dawe on his retirement after 42 years on the job.  Mr. Dawe started his employment with the Rochester post office in 1922, just a few years after he had returned home after serving in the Army in World War I.  At that time, the post office had seven employees plus the postmaster, and Dawe was one of two mail carriers who covered the entire village of Rochester for a salary of $1,000 per year.

"We delivered twice a day and the routes were much longer then," he told the Rochester Clarion in 1964 when interviewed about his career.  He also told the newspaper that he and the other carrier had done the parcel post deliveries as well, sometimes working 16-hour days before Christmas and borrowing an ambulance to use as a makeshift delivery truck.

Harold Dawe was also a musician and was the leader of the Rochester town band during the 1930s, which is why the retirement cake shown in the photo is decorated with musical notes.

In this photo published in the Rochester Clarion at the time of his retirement, Harold Dawe is shown with his wife and postmaster Cole Neumann.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Subdivision Stories: Stratford Knolls

In the summer of 1960, the first of ten Stratford Knolls subdivision plats went on the market.  Lying south of Walton Boulevard and west of Old Perch Road, the new development was laid out on land that had once been farmed by early Avon Township settlers Adam Manwaring and Wilson Fenner. In the later nineteenth century, the land was owned by Albert G. Griggs and had contained a large peach orchard.  (Local legend says that the name of Old Perch Road resulted from a misinterpretation of an old map which had labeled the road "Old Peach Road" in reference to the peach orchard.  Someone read "perch" instead of "peach," or so the story goes, and the error was cemented into fact when it was repeated on subsequent documents and maps.)

College Park Development was the company that platted Stratford Knolls, and Weinberger Homes was the builder.  At that time, Weinberger Homes was southern Michigan's biggest custom home builder and even sponsored a racing team in the Indy 500. The company's designs offered all of the modern amenities of the day in houses that ranged in price from $21,000 to $35,000.  Advertisements for the new subdivision, which held a grand opening sale in July 1960, boasted of the winding streets and large wooded lots that were available in the new development.

The final Stratford Knolls plat, No. 10, was opened in 1976.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bygone Business: Hale's Shoe Store

Hale's Shoe Store was well known to Rochester residents for nearly three decades.The business opened at 410 S. Main in 1929 after shoe store proprietor William A. Mow sold out the stock of his business, previously located in the same building.  Hale's was owned by R. Clifford Hale and his wife, Grace, who operated the store for about 18 years before selling it to Lavern D. Bravener; Bravener continued to do business under the familiar Hale's name.

In early 1953 Bravener sold a part interest in the store to Robert Leinenger.  Leinenger had been a salesman at Hale's chief local competitor, Zimmerman Shoes, which was located across Main Street from Hale's.  The new partners remodeled the store and held a grand re-opening in March 1953.  The ad shown here ran in the Rochester Clarion to announce the gala event.

By the late 1950s, Robert Leinenger had become the sole proprietor of the shoe store and changed its name to Leinenger's Footwear. When the store closed around 1963, it ended a run of nearly half a century of shoe selling at that location by the Mow, Hale and Leinenger stores.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

At Home in Rochester: Frank Butts House

This house on the northwest corner of West University Drive and Wilcox Street was built in the summer of 1897 as the family residence of Rochester cigar maker Frank Butts.  Butts was born in Northampton County, Pennsylvania in 1870, and migrated to Michigan to settle in the Rochester area along with a number of other families from his native county.  In 1891, he married Florence Belle Davis, and the couple made their home in Rochester. In May 1897, the local newspaper reported that Butts was preparing to build a new house on his lot on West Fifth Street (now West University Drive). A month later the Rochester Era told its readers that the frame of the Butts house was up, and in August, it reported that Frank and Florence Butts were moving into their new home.

Frank Butts learned the cigar trade from his uncle, Simon Grube, who built a cigar store on Main Street in Rochester in 1891.  When Grube was ready to retire, he sold his business to his nephew, who ran it in the same location for another three decades.

Locals who knew him remembered that Frank Butts' store was less than pristine.  One resident said that the same layer of dust covered everything in the store from one year to the next.  The shop was a favorite spot for local men to gather to play cards, smoke, and shoot the breeze without female interference, for few - if any - women wanted to set foot in the place.

A 1954 publication on the history of the sugar beet industry gives us an interesting sketch of the character of Frank Butts.  The publication contained a profile of the failed sugar factory at Rochester, and described the reaction of the village residents to the big mill.  The article reported that virtually every citizen was planting sugar beets in his back yard, except for Frank Butts, who was described like this:

Frank Butts, the village cigar maker "stuck to his last." Every day starting at 5 o'clock in the morning, he made his quota of 400 cigars. He could not make varieties to please every taste, so he made the quality that enough men liked to absorb his output. In one year he turned out 100,500 cigars. During the fishing season he relaxed - "Allah does not deduct from man's allotted time the hours spent in fishing and hunting." As soon as his head hit his pillow he fell asleep. In 1950 he still used the stool which served him for 56 years, although he had retired from his manufacturing business.

The Frank Butts house is now used as office space. The house celebrates its  117th birthday this summer.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month the village of Rochester was adding modern technology to its police department.  Incoming police chief Robert Werth is shown here displaying the department's new radar gun, the Stevenson Speed Analyzer.  The village council had voted to purchase the equipment at a cost of  $1300 to enforce the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit in town.  To be fair, Chief Worth told the Rochester Clarion, the village would publish a list each week giving the locations where the unmarked radar unit would be operating.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

At Home in Rochester: Adam William Yates House

This attractive bungalow on West Second Street was built in 1922 as the family home of Rochester businessman Adam W. Yates and his wife, Ida Belle Springer Yates.  Adam "Addie" Yates was the grandson of William Henry Yates, who came from New York state to settle on the Clinton River in the eastern section of Avon Township in 1863. W. H. Yates established a grist mill on the river and converted it to cider making in 1876, thus forming the business that we know today as Yates Cider Mill.

Grandson Addie Yates grew up working on the machinery of the mill and showed an aptitude for mechanical tasks at a very early age. His first business venture was a modest auto repair service that he ran on the cider mill property. He then took a job as a millwright and repairman with the C. N. Ray Company in Oxford; C. N. Ray was a gravel operation that was the predecessor of American Aggregate at that location.

In 1920, Yates purchased the former Jackson Foundry at the foot of South Hill and opened the Yates Machine Works there; two years later, he built this handsome home for his family located just a couple of blocks west of his business. Yates was also interested in civic affairs and served as a Rochester village councilman and superintendent of the water works.

In later years, after withdrawing from his business because of ill health, Adam Yates moved to a farm in Dryden where he could better enjoy the outdoor life.  He died in 1952 and is buried in Mount Avon Cemetery.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bygone Business Collection Now Available in Print

The third Remembering Rochester print collection is now available! Remembering Rochester: Bygone Business, a collection of the posts about Main Street businesses of the mid-twentieth century, has just been published by the Rochester-Avon Historical Society and goes on sale today at the RAHS booth at the Greater Rochester Heritage Days in the Rochester Municipal Park.

This collection contains 19 stories and a new introduction, covering Case's Hardware, Crissman Pharmacy, the Four-O-Six Bar, and many others.  The cost is $9 and every penny of the proceeds benefit the local history education and historic preservation projects of the Rochester-Avon Historical Society.

If you are in town this Memorial Day weekend, be sure to stop by the park to enjoy the festival events including the Lions Club car shows, the antique fire trucks, the lumberjack show, the craft sale, the Civil War encampment and the exhibits by the local historical agencies.  Your Remembering Rochester author will be manning the Rochester-Avon Historical Society booth on Saturday afternoon if you want to drop by for a chat about all things Rochester.

Copies of Remembering Rochester: Bygone Business and other publications of the Rochester-Avon Historical Society will also be available for sale at Lytle Pharmacy on Main Street and through the RAHS online store.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rochester's Four-Legged War Veteran

Memorial Day will soon be upon us, and presents us with a number of opportunities to reflect upon the sacrifice of our military members who gave their lives in the service of their nation. As we contemplate the stories of those who served in our country's various conflicts, it is interesting to note that not all of our military veterans walked on two legs: some walked on four.

In 1941, while serving with the U. S. Army in California, Charles G. Seed of Rochester acquired an albino German Shepherd named Lucky.  When he received orders to deploy overseas, Seed shipped Lucky home to his family in Rochester.  Two years later, the U. S. Quartermaster Corps made an appeal for dogs to serve in the military, and Rochester Clarion editor Earl Seed enlisted Lucky on October 28, 1943. Lucky served at the U. S. Naval base at Jacksonville, Florida until discharged on August 11, 1945. He then came home to Rochester, where he was the most popular staff member at the Rochester Clarion office.

Lucky spent the rest of his days interacting with the folks on Main Street, or napping on his bed in the Clarion office.  Each morning, he presented himself at Sutton's Market, just a couple of doors down from the newspaper office, where he was rewarded with a bone from the shopkeeper.  Lucky died in June 1953 and was appropriately eulogized on the front page of the Clarion.

Military dogs performed vital tasks during World War II, including sentry, messenger and scout work. The Quartermaster Corps trained over 10,000 dogs before the war ended, and a couple of them were recipients of the Purple Heart and Silver Star.  If you are interested in knowing more about the service of canines like Lucky in the military during World War II, click here to view a government newsreel feature about the dogs.

The photo of Lucky shown here ran on the front page of the Clarion with his obituary in June 1953.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The Homer Axford Case House

803 N. Main as it appeared around 1920
This bungalow on the corner of Albertson and North Main streets was built in 1912 as the family home of Homer Axford Case and his wife, Mabel Knapp Case. Homer Case was the brother of Rochester hardware merchant C. W. Case, and like his brother began his business career as a clerk in a hardware store. After working for one year in a store in Owosso, Homer Case established his home in Rochester in 1899 and became assistant postmaster of the village. He was then hired as a bookkeeper at the Rochester Savings Bank and advanced through the management of the bank to become head cashier in 1919.

Homer A. Case was involved in many business ventures and efforts to promote growth in Rochester's economy during the first half of the twentieth century, and also served two years as president of the board of commerce.  He died in 1959.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Police Chief Sam Howlett at his desk in 1964
Fifty years ago this month, Rochester residents were absorbing the news that police chief Samuel A. Howlett was retiring.  After 29 years on the job in the village of Rochester, Howlett informed the village manager and council that he would retire as of July 1, 1964.

In announcing his retirement, Chief Howlett reminisced that he was hired originally as a "speed cop," and was required to furnish his own vehicle for the job. The village paid him $100 per month and a five-gallon-a-month gasoline allowance.  After a year of chasing speeders, Howlett was promoted to police chief. He had one assistant, who was something of a night watchman for the downtown area.  The chief was expected to work 10 to 12 hours per day, seven days a week, with no vacation time.  If his nighttime "doorknob jiggler" encountered a crime, he called Chief Howlett in from home.

By the time Chief Howlett retired in 1964 to take the position of assistant chief of plant protection at National Twist Drill, the Rochester police department had grown to include seven patrolmen, one detective and four dispatchers.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bygone Business: Crissman's Drug Store

An early view of Crissman's Drug Store. Owner and pharmacist Lewis Crissman is show at right. (Courtesy of John Crissman)
One of the best-remembered businesses on Rochester's Main Street during the twentieth century was Crissman's Drug Store.  Lewis C. Crissman, a 1910 graduate of Ferris Institute (now Ferris State University), established the drug store that carried his name in 1913, when he bought out Luel H. Smith's Central Drug Store.The Smith store was located at 329 S. Main, just south of where the Chase Bank stands in 2014.

Around 1915, Crissman moved his pharmacy across the street to 438 S. Main, in what was then known as the J. W. Smith block, owned by the proprietor of the St. James Hotel. Lewis's brother, Clayton, was his partner in the early years, and for a time the store carried the name of Crissman Brothers.  L. C. and Clayton Crissman dissolved their partnership in 1936 when Clayton decided to concentrate his efforts on his fruit farm business.  When Lewis Crissman decided to retire from the pharmacy he passed the baton to the next generation, son J. Kenneth Crissman, who like his father, had earned a pharmacy degree from Ferris.

The Crissman brothers remodeled their store in 1929 and installed a soda fountain that became a clearinghouse of sorts for community news.  What the parlor of the St. James Hotel across the street had been to the town during the nineteenth century, Crissman's soda fountain was during the mid-twentieth century. A social switchboard in Rochester's game of telephone, the counter allowed for the rapid dissemination of local news and gossip. During World War II, servicemen coming home on leave found that a stop at Crissman's soda fountain was the fastest way to catch up on the latest events on the homefront as well as word of comrades in arms serving in far-flung places.

Crissman's came to an end in October 1966 when the business was sold and became the Pinkerton Pharmacy, bringing a close to  a run of more than half a century on Rochester's Main Street.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Historic Butts Surrey

The surrey on the Butts farm, ca.1930
When Della Casey Wilson and her mother, Elizabeth Butts Casey Case, decided to close up the farm on South Hill that had been in their family since Rochester's pioneer days, they sold an old surrey in their barn to Red Knapp. That surrey remained with the Knapp family until 2009, when Red's sons donated it to the Rochester Avon Historical Society.

Elizabeth Butts Casey Case was the granddaughter of Elias Butts, a farmer who had migrated from New Jersey to settle on South Hill in Avon Township before the Civil War.  Elizabeth, or "Lizzie," as she was locally known, was also the second wife of Rochester hardware merchant Charles W. Case.

The Butts surrey has ties not only to families prominent in Rochester's history, but also to the history of the automotive industry.  The surrey was manufactured by the Dunlap Vehicle Company of Pontiac, Michigan, which was launched in August 1898 as an offshoot of the Pontiac Buggy Company.  Dunlap was meant to produce lighter-duty carriages, while Pontiac Buggy concentrated on the heavy-duty vehicles. The Dunlap company lasted only ten years; in 1908 it was merged back into the Pontiac Buggy Company.  Pontiac Buggy, in turn, was one of several concerns that were merged to form the Oakland Motor Car Company. In 1909, Oakland Motor Car became part of General Motors, and was the ancestor of the Pontiac brand.

The surrey on its way to restoration in 2014

Rochester Avon Historical Society is working to return the Butts surrey to the streets of Rochester. The surrey has been transported to northern Indiana where an Amish carriage maker will undertake the repair and restoration of the vehicle.  When it returns home in a few months, it will look much as it did when the Butts family was using it on the streets of Rochester about 115 years ago.

RAHS is currently raising funds to complete this project. If you would like to contribute to the restoration of the Butts surrey, visit and click the "Save the Surrey" link to make an online donation, or send your check to Rochester-Avon Historical Society, P.O. Box 80783, Rochester, MI 48308-0783. Please note the word "surrey" on your check or online donation.

For the complete history of the Butts surrey from the RAHS web site, click here. For more pictures of the surrey before restoration, click here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The Axford Price House

(Photo by Susan Wilson)
This large home on the southeast corner of University Drive and Walnut Street was built in 1894 for Axford Price and his wife Laura Fosdick Price.  Axford Price was the son of local pioneer William Price, who came to the area in 1830 and settled on the Hersey property in Stoney Creek. William Price's wife was Sally Axford, the daughter of Macomb County probate judge Samuel Axford; their son, Axford Price, born in 1834, was named to honor his mother's family. In 1835, when Avon Township was officially organized, William Price was elected to serve as the first township supervisor. 

Axford Price spent most of his life on his farm in Stoney Creek, where he and his wife reared a family of four sons.  This home in Rochester was built as their retirement residence, and Axford lived in it for 15 years, until his death in 1909. A few months after her husband died, Laura Price had the house partitioned to make it a two-family home to accommodate her son, Oscar, and his family. Oscar's daughter, Elna, and her husband, John Plassey, were the next generation of the Price family to occupy the house.

Eventually the Axford Price home was converted for office use, and is currently the home of Potere-Modetz Funeral Planning, among other tenants.  The Axford Price home celebrates its 120th birthday this year.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bygone Business: Lucille Shoppe

For 27 years, the place on Main Street for stylish women to buy clothing was the Lucille Shoppe at 400 S. Main. Robert and Lucille Warren opened the store on October 17, 1946 in the Rochester National Bank building at Fourth & Main (now Chase Bank). The retail clothing trade was not unknown to Lucille Warren; her father, Fred B. Carpenter, had succeeded Louis Finsterwald and Harry Bigger as Rochester's menswear merchants, and her brother, Hilburn, had followed her father into the family business.

In 1952, Lucille's moved to the Masonic Block, where the shop became the neighbor of the venerable Carpenter's Men's Wear. The Warrens added the Boys 'N' Girls Shop to the retail mix in 1964, thereby creating a block of stores that could cater to the clothing needs of the entire family.

For an entire generation of Rochester families, the Lucille Shoppe and its adjunct children's wear store were a popular place to find that special “outfit.” But in November 1973, Lucille's and the Boys 'N' Girls Shop bowed to the enormous economic pressure that nearby shopping malls and discount stores had brought to bear on the Main Street shops and closed their doors.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

The talk of the town in April 1964 was a new apartment complex that was going up in the village of Rochester. Wake-Pratt Construction Company of Royal Oak broke ground for the 49-unit Village Apartments on Romeo Road on April 23.  The $700,000 project included three buildings, named Surrey House, Carriage House and Coach House, in keeping with the development's modified Early American architectural style.  Architects for the complex were Lorenz & Paski of Detroit.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mystery Spot

This week's post is a mystery photo, which should be no problem at all for natives of Rochester or those who are well familiar with Main Street.  How well do you know your town?

This photo was taken a few days ago from the sidewalk on Main Street, somewhere in the blocks between Third Street and University Drive.  In front of which store is this little stool to be found?  Post a comment and tell us where it is!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

At Home in Rochester: William Shulter Starring House

This house on the southwest corner of West University Drive and Wilcox Street has historical connections to two long-time Rochester businessmen. It was built in the summer of 1916 as the family home of Rochester druggist William Shulter Starring, who operated Starring's Drug Store at 321 S. Main St. from approximately 1887 until 1923. The Rochester Era newspaper reported in early June 1916 that Starring had broken ground for a new bungalow on West Fifth Street (now University Drive), and updated its readers a week later with the news that the basement of the new house had been completed. The Starrings moved into their new home in October 1916. After retiring from the pharmacy business, they sold the property in 1924 to another prominent Rochester businessman, Charles Louis Sterns, and his wife Rena.

Charles L. Sterns operated the Idle Hour Theatre on Main Street, and in 1936 remodeled it, installed a new Art Deco facade, and re-christened it the Avon Theatre. In 1942, with Rochester's demand for movie seats increasing, Sterns opened the  Hills Theatre on the opposite side of Main Street.  The Avon closed in the early 1950s and the Hills continued as Main Street's only movie venue until it went dark in 1984.

Rochester Avon Historical Society is currently working on a project to bring back the Hills Theatre. Read about the Society's progress in this story from this week's Rochester Post.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bygone Business: Four-O-Six Bar

As Rochester was emerging from the Great Depression in 1936, local resident Carl H. Hartwig bought out the Village Tavern - formerly known as the Merchant's Restaurant - which had been operating at 406 S. Main Street since 1927. Hartwig, who was the brother of Rochester real estate agent Max A. Hartwig, announced that he would open a new cocktail lounge and restaurant in the space after investing about $4,000 in new equipment and furnishings.

Hartwig announced his grand opening in the Rochester Clarion on September 18, 1936, informing local residents that the new establishment would be named the the Four-O-Six, presumably after its street address. The advertisement offered lunches for 45 cents and special “roadhouse dinners” for one dollar.

In 1952, restaurant owner Leonard Bebout needed to vacate his location south of the Opera House block and decided to move Bebout's Restaurant into the building he owned at 406 S. Main. As a result of that shuffle, the Four-O-Six moved up the block to 434 S. Main (thereby creating a local joke: “What's the address of the 406 Bar?”).

The Four-O-Six was known as a comfortable watering-hole where working men could enjoy a beer after the whistle blew at Twist Drill or Avon Tube. That image was tarnished by a tragic incident at the bar on September 26, 1971, when local resident William H. Spencer was shot and killed by another bar patron. As capital crimes were few and far between in Rochester, the murder at the Four-O-Six was the talk of the town and the story became permanently linked with the bar's name. The Four-O-Six closed its doors about two years later.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Main Street Timeline

Rochester is approaching its 200th birthday in 2017, and with two centuries of development in our rear view mirror, there is a lot of history to ponder along Main Street.  This handy timeline illustrates some of the milestones that Main Street has marked along the way. Click on any of the balloon markers to expand it and read more about the event. Some events may be collapsed to the bottom of the frame - just click on the plus sign to expand and view them.  There is even an historic video clip featured in one of the event balloons for your viewing pleasure, but you'll have to find it on your own!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

Clarence Bigger meeting his last passenger train in 1964
Half a century ago, in March 1964, the Rochester Clarion reported that 80-year-old mail messenger Clarence M. Bigger was out of a job.  Bigger was newly unemployed because the New York Central railroad had just discontinued passenger train service in Rochester.  The last passenger train pulled out of the depot on East University Drive on March 19, 1964, leaving Bigger without a job after 57 years of meeting every passenger train to send out or receive mail.  He had won the mail messenger contract in 1912 and had met every train - except for a handful of days of illness - ever since.  The Clarion related his story:
Except on Sundays when there is no mail delivery, and a few times when he was ill, Clarence has met every passenger train coming into Rochester. "Never once have I been late meeting one," he says with pride.

Abiding by postal regulations, he has been required to carry a gun, but has never once had to use it. Once, when accepting a large shipment of money here aboard a Detroit United Railway (DUR) car, he was surprised to learn that seven armed guards had put it aboard the car at Detroit. "I used to handle all the money shipped into the Rochester National Bank," Clarence recalled. "Some days there would be as much as 32 bags of silver."

The New York Central/Penn Central continued to run freight trains on the line through Rochester until 1976; at that time the line was abandoned and the old railroad bed became the Paint Creek Trail.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bygone Business: Bebout's Restaurant

For nearly four decades, Rochester residents who wanted to "dine out" likely bought their meals from one of the Bebout brothers, Harold, Clare and Leonard.  Harold Bebout started his career cooking in the town's pool hall, while in 1927 Clare took over the Merchant's Restaurant located in a newly-constructed building at 406 S. Main.  Those were heady days in Rochester - the South Hill bridge had just opened, bringing more automobile traffic into town, and business was booming. Not long after came the stock market crash and the Great Depression, and the restaurant closed, a casualty of hard times.

Harold Bebout rebounded in 1933 and opened a new restaurant, this time located in what was then the Nichols building (known today as O'Connor's Public House). During World War II, he also operated the employee cafeteria at McAleer Manufacturing on Water Street (now Rochester Mills Beer Company) and offered catering services.  Harold Bebout retired in 1947 and sold Bebout's Restaurant to his younger brother, Leonard, who had been cooking in the establishment since he was in high school. In 1952, Leonard moved the restaurant once again, back to 406 S. Main, where his brother had started out back in 1927.

One local resident recalled that a menu wasn't really necessary at Bebout's. A guest simply ate whatever Mr. Bebout, in his signature chef's hat and apron, happened to have on the grill that day, and paid whatever the waitress said was owed.  In May 1967, Leonard Bebout decided to hang up his hat and apron and go fishing, and that was the end of Bebout's Restaurant in Rochester. He's miss his friends, Bebout told the Rochester Clarion, but he was "just tired of cooking."

This 1961 photo of Bebout's Restaurant at 406 S. Main is from the Walter and Marjorie Dernier collection.