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.

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.