Saturday, January 25, 2014

Subdivision Stories: Hamlin Place Farms

The Hamlin Place Farms subdivision was laid out on the north side of Hamlin Road, straddling Rochester Road, in late 1916.  It was located on a portion of what was historically the John Fairchild Hamlin farm, a pioneer farmstead in Avon Township since the 1830s. The Hamlin farm at its peak encompassed more than 500 acres; after the death of John Fairchild Hamlin and his wife, Laura Andrus Hamlin, ownership of the property passed to his daughter Belle, who was the wife of Judge Marsden C. Burch.

The Burches did not live in Avon Township on a full-time basis. Marsden Burch was a judge in Osceola County, Michigan, and later located in Grand Rapids, where he was U.S. District Attorney for the western district of Michigan. In 1897, President William McKinley appointed him an assistant Attorney General of the United States, and he and his wife moved to Washington, D.C.  They visited Rochester regularly to look after their farm interests, which were managed by tenants, and to vacation during the summers in the old Hamlin homestead, which they affectionately called "Oldhome."

The Oldhome property was reserved for the Burches' use when they sold off portions of the old farm for development, and the Hamlin house in which they lived until their respective deaths still stands at 1812 S. Rochester Road. The one and only side street in Hamlin Place Farms ran north from Hamlin Road, west of Rochester Road, and was called Burch Street for the property owners; it was renamed Crestline in 1950.

This 1917 advertisement for the lots in the Hamlin Place Farms subdivision refers to this portion of Avon Township as "Rochester Heights." It also makes reference to deed restrictions which were fairly common during this era, usually prohibiting sale of lots to people of color or to people of certain religious beliefs. Deed restrictions based on race or religion were widely used to enforce segregation in the days before federal law prohibited such discriminatory practices.

Thanks to Rod and Susan Wilson for providing the Hamlin Place Farms advertisement shown here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Rochester Relics: The Elbe E. Robson Story

According to its label, this palm-sized antique bottle was once given out as a party favor during the 1901-1902 holiday season by E. E. Robson of Rochester, Michigan. The bottle is empty now, and not a trace of its former contents remains after 113 years, but we can be fairly certain that it once held holiday cheer in the form of liquor. Robson's back story as a player in a local controversy suggests no other possibility.

Elbe E. Robson was born in Michigan in 1865. He came to Rochester around 1899 to take over as proprietor of the Detroit Hotel, which stood on the southwest corner of Third & Main streets (where the Hermitage Gallery is today). The hotel was a handsome two-story brick building that boasted 30 guest rooms, a dining room, a bar and billiard lounge.

As one who made his living in the hospitality trade, Elbe Robson was an ardent advocate for the rights of saloonkeepers to sell liquor unfettered by government regulation. He apparently challenged such regulation early and often; Robson wasn't long in Rochester before he got himself into trouble with the law. According to a Detroit Free Press account from August 1900, he was one of four Rochester men fined for selling liquor without a license. In December of the same year, the Free Press reported in a dispatch from Pontiac that there had been more trouble:
The December term of the Circuit Court opened here yesterday afternoon and a lively session is promised. The criminals were arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Elbe E. Robson, of Rochester, proprietor of the Detroit Hotel, paid a fine of $200 upon pleading guilty to a charge of selling liquor on Sunday. He was also assessed $10 costs. On two other charges he was released on his personal recognizance in the sum of $300, in each case, until the February and April terms of court.
His hefty fines aside, E. E. Robson was in for a rocky ride in the first decade of the twentieth century. Back in 1889, Michigan had passed a liquor control law in Public Act 207, commonly referred to as the "local option" law. Under this act, individual counties were permitted to outlaw the manufacture and sale of intoxicating spirits within their borders upon a vote of the people, which could be petitioned for not more often than every two years. In Oakland County, agitation by temperance organizations was beginning to bubble to the surface right around the time that E. E. Robson was handing out these little bottles of cheer, but it was successfully beaten back by the "saloonists" until 1908.  In that year (the same one in which Carry Nation made her famous romp through downtown Holly), the temperance forces petitioned for a ballot question on the issue, and Elbe Robson stood in the gap to defend the saloonkeepers.

Elected as chairman of an executive committee of the county's saloonkeepers' organization, Robson traveled around advocating against the exercise of local option in Oakland County.  Just before the election, he gave an interview to the Bay City Times, which the newspaper summarized thusly:
E. E. Robson, proprietor of the Detroit Hotel at Rochester, and the most salient factor in the concerted movement instigated by the liquor element of Oakland County to oppose local option, was a guest of the Crawford today. This noon in a brief interview he outlined the situation as it now lies in his county, closing with the declaration that it would be a battle to the last ditch between the advocates of the licensed liquor traffic and the supporters of the local option cause.

As it turned out, Robson was right to be less than optimistic about the outcome of the election. His faction lost, and Oakland County went "dry" in the spring of 1908. The Detroit Free Press reported in late May of that year that Robson, weary of the fight, had closed the Detroit Hotel and moved to Richmond, Michigan.  Richmond was in Macomb County, which was still "wet," so Robson operated the Commercial Hotel there for two years, until 1910, when the temperance advocates were reversed at the polls and Oakland County went "wet" again.

This time, Robson went by the book and applied to the Rochester Village Council for a proper liquor license. The application was not without controversy, as opponents pointed out the proximity of the Universalist Church (at 226 Walnut) to the hotel. The hotel and the church did, indeed, share a property line, but measurements were taken and it was determined that the two buildings were precisely 400 feet apart, the minimum requisite distance under the law at that time, so the village fathers granted the liquor license.

The seesaw battle on the issue continued over the next several years, and Oakland went dry again in 1915. In 1918, statewide prohibition was voted in Michigan, and by 1920, the entire nation was (technically) dry. E. E. Robson threw in the towel and moved to Detroit, where he and his wife went into a completely different business and operated a millinery store.  He died in November 1933, exactly one month before national prohibition was repealed and liquor again became legal in the United States.

My thanks to Rod and Susan Wilson for the photo of the bottle that accompanies this post.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

At Home in Rochester: The William Henry Ducharme House

This Dutch colonial on Crooks Road, just north of Hamlin, has ties to the history of the American automotive industry. According to WPA rural property inventory records, the house may have been built about 1899, but the exact date is currently unknown. The house stands on the remnant of what was once a large farm parcel straddling Crooks Road and consisting, at times, of more than 200 acres.

The most interesting part of the property's history began in 1916, when it was purchased by William Henry Ducharme of Detroit. Ducharme was the son of Detroit hardware merchant Charles A. Ducharme, who was a partner in the Buhl & Ducharme hardware business and was also president of the Michigan Stove Company. William Ducharme was a talented amateur athlete and active member of the Detroit Athletic Club; he played first base for the D.A.C.'s baseball club, known as the Deltas. He was a member of that team when they won the national amateur championships in 1890 and 1892.

In business, William Ducharme had started out in the hardware trade, like his father, but in 1909 he became one of the three organizers of the Kelsey Wheel Company and was elected treasurer of the new firm. Kelsey Wheel got its start from Henry Ford, who purchased more than three-quarters of the company's wheel production in the first year. The company later expanded sales to other automakers and to the federal government during World War I, and by 1919 was producing two million wheels a year.  In 1927, Kelsey merged with the Hayes Wheel Company and formed what became the Kelsey-Hayes Corporation, a major supplier of wheels and brakes to the Big Three automakers.

With Kelsey Wheel making great strides in the industry, William Ducharme decided to invest in real estate. He purchased the Crooks Road property in 1916 from William McKinstrey and apparently used the house as a country escape.  The 1922 Detroit Social Secretary lists Ducharme and his wife, Frances, as residents of Jefferson Avenue in Detroit but notes that they maintained a "country home" in what they referred to as "Avon Hills."

Ducharme owned the Crooks Road property until 1943, a year before his death, but by 1939 he was apparently leasing the house for use as a convalescent home.  The Rochester Clarion reported on May 19, 1939, that the house was damaged by fire while so occupied:
The River View Rest Home, operated by Jerry Cummins and Robert W. Brennan at 1921 Crooks road, about 3 miles west and two miles south of Rochester, was badly damaged by fire, Monday afternoon, about 2:45 p.m., when a fire started in the attic of the house and before Rochester firemen could get it under control had burned the top floor of the sanitorium.
It is believed the fire was caused by sparks from a hole in the chimney. Firemen were handicapped in fighting the blaze for lack of water. The well on the property had gone dry and was being repaired by John Boldt, who gave assistance in getting the patients from the Home before help arrived. Firemen exhausted the chemicals in attempting to extinguish the blaze and a hose line was run 800 feet to the Clinton River and pumped to supply water.
At the time of the fire, nine patients were registered at the Rest Home. One of the women patients had suffered a stroke two days previous and had to be carried from the home. She was transferred in the A.C. Hobart ambulance to the Woodruff-Geiger Hospital. The other patients were taken to The Haven, another private sanitorium west of the village, and to the home of Mrs. Leila Mitchell on East Fifth street. Mrs. Mitchell is a nurse at the River View Rest Home.
The property is owned by William DuCharme, of Detroit. He will repair the home immediately for its continued use as a convalescent home.
 Another newspaper article a few months later reported that the house had been repaired and the rest home was back in operation, but after Ducharme sold it in 1943 it returned to service as a private residence.  Most of  the surrounding farm land was sold for development following World War II.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Story of Tyrrell H. Duncombe

This collectible old bottle has a connection to Rochester, Michigan and an intriguing back story. The product known as "Germex" was manufactured in Highland Park and Rochester, Michigan by Tyrrell Hubert Duncombe, who ran the Duncombe Research Laboratory in both locations from the late 1920s until his death in 1945.

Duncombe was born in Ontario in 1867, the son of a prominent physician and Canadian member of parliament. From 1889 until 1910 he was a pharmacist in St. Thomas, Ontario, where he also ran a real estate business.  Duncombe built the New Duncombe Opera House in St. Thomas and there exhibited the first motion pictures ever shown in Canada.

In 1910 he moved to Detroit, and by the late 1920s was a resident of Avon Township (now Rochester Hills), living on Washington Road.

Tyrrell Duncombe was a prolific inventor and was issued many U.S. and Canadian patents. Among them were patents for an acetylene gas generator in 1902, a coin-operated vending apparatus in 1910, a rotary internal combustion engine in 1921, and a traditional fuselage airplane with helicopter capabilities in 1930.

In addition to his mechanical inventions, Duncombe also styled himself  a cancer researcher, and he ran afoul of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 1935 when his claims that his Germex product was an effective treatment for cancer and other diseases fell under the agency's scrutiny. In a 1937 finding and summary of the investigation into Duncombe's case, the FTC cataloged the following claims that had been made by him in advertising for Germex:
Represented that cancer cures attained by said preparation were "beyond  all comprehension," and that it was a cure for syphilis, arthritis, pernicious anemia, and gangrene, and a remedy for tuberculosis, and that notable results were being obtained by use thereof in such diseases as cancer, sinus, catarrh, etc., and that it was used most successfully for various other diseases and was recommended for or effective in various other ailments, including kidney and liver trouble, pyorrhea, etc., and variously recommended same as a competent cure and remedy for everything that local doctors are called upon to treat and for any diseases caused by parasites or bacteria, and made use of circulars and other literature containing purported testimonials by various people to the effect that they had been suffering from cancer, ulcers and other diseases and had been relieved or cured thereof or completely restored to health by use of said preparation. . .
In his biographical entry in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Duncombe claimed that he had been graduated from "Ontario College of Pharmacy in 1889, M.D. at Rush Medical College, Chicago, in 1893 and D.C. at Chiropractic College, Detroit, Mich., in 1912."  The FTC investigation, however, took issue with his educational claims and described his credentials thus:
Although respondent is, or at one time was, a pharmacist, he is not registered as such in Detroit or Wayne County, Mich. Respondent never took a course in medicine and holds no degree in medicine. Respondent, however, in written communications prescribing and selling "Germex" has signed himself "Dr. T. H. Duncombe." Respondent explains that he uses the word or title "Dr." because he is a chiropractor. When questioned in regard to chiropractic, respondent was unable to state accurately the number of vertebrae in the spinal column.
The FTC further asserted in its findings that Duncombe had no substantive knowledge of the conditions that he claimed Germex could treat:
Respondent never read, nor could he give the name or title of any book on the subject of arthritis, anemia, syphilis, trench mouth, or scarlet fever. Respondent could name no book or article he had ever read on septicemia, gangrene, ulcers, diabetes, tuberculosis, or other diseases enumerated in his advertising material.
Notwithstanding the fact that respondent is not a doctor and is without medical education, he has not hesitated to consult with patients, to undertake to diagnose their troubles and to prescribe his product, "Germex" for them.
So what, exactly was Germex? The chemical analysis conducted by the FTC investigators found that:
Bacteriological examinations of "Germex" disclose that it is not an antiseptic, is not sterile and contains pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria.
. . .
Chemical analyses of a sample of ''Germex" as made by the Laboratories of the Detroit Department of Health disclosed the product to be a brown liquid, cloudy in appearance, with a yellowish residue on the bottom and a scum on the surface of the liquid standing in the bottom. The sample contained 8.18% of ethyl alcohol by volume, a deficiency of .82ff. had a musty odor, a slightly acid reaction, small amounts of resin and glucocides, total solids of .97'i of this .147, representing a composition of ash, largely sodium carbonate, and a trace of potassium carbonate.
Unimpressed, the FTC in 1937 issued a "cease and desist" order against Duncombe and the Duncombe Research Laboratory with respect to the sale and distribution of the product known as Germex. Tyrrell H. Duncombe died eight years later. He is buried in Mount Avon Cemetery.

Thanks to Rod and Susan Wilson for the photo of the Germex bottle.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This Month in Rochester History

As we turn the calendar page to 2014 today, we also look back at what was happening in Rochester half a century ago, in January 1964. The headline news in the Rochester Clarion at that time was the dedication of the new chapel at University Presbyterian Church on Adams Road, which took place on January 20, 1964. The congregation had been organized in 1958 and met in Lawnridge Hall, the former home of Donald C. Wilson, brother of Alfred G. Wilson of Meadow Brook Hall. Once their new chapel was dedicated, the congregation used Lawnridge Hall for administrative and educational functions. It is still a part of their campus today.

In its coverage of the dedication plans, the Clarion described the new building this way:
The chapel seats 180 people around three sides of a raised chancel supporting the pulpit and gleaming white marble communion table. From the skylit peak of the 40 foot ceiling, a celtic cross hangs suspended above the chancel. Behind the chancel, the choir is grouped around the Alfred G. Wilson Memorial Organ.
A few months after the building was dedicated, it was selected from among 275 entries as one of the top ten church building designs in the United States by the National Conference on Church Architecture.