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.