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.