Saturday, February 7, 2015

Movers and Shakers: The Journey of John Fairchild Hamlin

Hamlin Road, Hamlin School, Hamlin Pub - the Hamlin name has high visibility in the greater Rochester area more than 150 years after the death of John Fairchild Hamlin, a pioneer settler of the Township of Avon.  So who was John F. Hamlin, and why do we remember him today?

Hamlin was born in 1799  in the Finger Lakes region of western New York state, in the town of East Bloomfield in Ontario County. He was one of 11 children of Elijah Hamlin and Lydia Pope, and his family line can be traced back to Hamlin immigrants who came to America from England in colonial times.  Some of John Fairchild Hamlin's cousins settled in the Buffalo, New York area and were prominent in business there. Cicero J. Hamlin was a successful industrialist and breeder of trotting horses whose home is a landmark in Buffalo today, and Cicero's great-great-grandson  is actor Harry Hamlin of L.A. Law fame. Another Buffalo cousin, Emmons Hamlin, was a founding partner in the firm of Mason & Hamlin, manufacturers of fine musical instruments.

In the year 1820, when John F. Hamlin was 21 years old, he set out on a westward journey in the company of his older brother, Adolphus, his sister Olive, and her husband, William Burbank.  The travelers embarked on a river journey at Olean, New York, where they picked up a keel-boat on the Allegheny River. The group followed the Allegheny for 325 miles to the Ohio, and then traveled the Ohio for 981 miles to its mouth at Cairo, Illinois. At Cairo, they continued on the Mississippi River and then to the Missouri, until they reached St. Charles, Missouri, where they had been enticed by friends to settle.

For reasons that are not recorded in history, the Hamlins and Burbanks were dissatisfied with life in St. Charles and decided to move on within a year of their arrival in Missouri.  Adolphus Hamlin decided to settle in Galena, Illinois, and John F. Hamlin decided to go to Detroit to seek his fortune.  The Burbanks stopped briefly in Sandusky, Ohio, where Olive Burbank decided to return home to western New York to visit her family while her husband, William, traveled on to Detroit to meet John Hamlin so that the two of them could look for homestead land north of Detroit.

John Hamlin and William Burbank decided to settle in Oakland County in what would later become the Township of Avon.  John Hamlin bought land in section 22, at the corner of today's Rochester and Hamlin roads, and established a large and prosperous farm where he raised sheep.  The family home that he built for his wife, Laura, and their six children, has been a landmark in the Rochester area for more than a century and a half and still stands at 1812 S. Rochester Road.

As a farmer of some means, John F. Hamlin had a keen interest in improving transportation infrastructure in an area that was basically a wilderness when he arrived.  Access to city markets was important for farmers, and Oakland County had no travel routes except rivers and wagon trails.  When the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal project was launched in 1837, Hamlin signed on as a contractor to build part of the canal route.  After the canal project failed a few years later, he turned his attention to railroads and was one of several Avon men who applied for legislative approval  in 1844 to organized the Troy and Rochester Railroad.  Unfortunately, the scheme was not economically viable and the rails were never laid; instead, Hamlin and some of the others in the railroad venture organized the Rochester and Royal Oak Plank Road Company, an improved road that was financed through tolls and followed the route of what is known today as Rochester Road.

By the time that John Fairchild Hamlin died in 1863 at the age of 64, his holdings were worth about $5.2 million in terms of today's dollars. He had a résumé of public service that included terms as supervisor, justice of the peace and collector of Avon Township, and his name was forever associated with the founding of the community.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester Board of Education asked voters in the school district to consider a special bond election to fund construction of a swimming pool and auditorium at Rochester High School. The proposed project was expected to cost $1.1 million, and school officials pointed out that adding a 600-seat auditorium to the high school would provide a much-needed performance space that the community was lacking at the time.

The new Rochester High School at Livernois & Walton had opened to students in the fall of 1956, replacing the old high school building on the corner of  West Fifth (later West University) & Wilcox.  It was the only high school serving the district at that time, as Rochester Adams High School would not be opened until 1970.  The bond issue to add a swimming pool and auditorium was defeated by a 106-vote margin in the spring of 1965, but was re-submitted and passed in 1966.  The new sections, including a bridge to connect the physical education and music wings at the east end of the high school, opened in 1968.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Parallel Lives: The Hamlins and the Woodwards


If you live in the greater Rochester area, you are invited to the next public meeting of the Rochester Avon Historical Society on Thursday, February 5 at 7:00 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Rochester Hills Public Library.  Your blog author will present "Parallel Lives: the Hamlins and the Woodwards," an illustrated program that will examine the lives and legacies of two of the Rochester area's pioneer families.  The program is free and open to the public and anyone interested in the topic is welcome to attend.

Be sure to check out the RAHS Facebook page for announcements of other programs of interest, including Tuesday Brown-Bag lunch meetings and our Appraisal Day, coming on Sunday, March 1 at noon.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bygone Business: Potere Super Service

In the summer of 1931, Leo Hartwig opened a Super Service station and tire service center in a brand-new building at 917 North Main, on the corner of Drace.  Hartwig operated the business for nine years, and in February 1940, leased it to William Potere.   This announcement in the Rochester Clarion advised local residents that Potere Super Service would continue to offer the Hi-Speed product line.  The station became Johnson's Super Service in the early 1950s.  About that time, William Potere went into a different line of business.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Subdivision Stories: Howarth and Hammond



One of the smallest subdivisions in the City of Rochester consists of only 13 lots. The Howarth & Hammond Addition lies on the south side of Albertson Street, and comprises the 13 lots east of the old railroad right-of-way (now the Paint Creek Trail).

This subdivision was platted in October 1913, and adjoined the larger Albertson Addition to the north, which had been laid out on the former Albertson farm in 1900.  The partners in this development were Elijah Bailey Howarth, Jr. and his wife Laura, and Laura M. George Hammond.  Elijah Howarth was a prominent Oakland County attorney and descendants of the Howarths who had settled in the Silverbell  and Lapeer roads area of Orion Township. The historic Howarth School is named after this family.

Elijah B. Howarth received his law degree in 1910 and began his private practice in Rochester. In 1913, the same year in which this subdivision was platted, he moved his practice to Royal Oak.  He later went on to serve as a state senator from Oakland County.  The Howarths' partner in their Rochester subdivision was Laura M. Hammond, the widow of  George A. Hammond, and a member of the George family of Rochester.  Laura's sister, Grace, was married to Carroll B. Chapman, the son of William C. Chapman, one of Rochester's biggest real estate developers in the early 20th century.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

1945 U.S. topographical map of downtown Rochester, before the flood
2011 U.S. topographical map of downtown Rochester

The year 1965 ushered in a number of changes to the landscape in the village of Rochester.  In January 1965, the village council took up the long-overdue development of the old mill pond, which had been destroyed by a storm and flood in June 1946.  The area had been essentially a wasteland ever since,  and finally a development plan for the 27-acre site lying east of Water Street was brought forth.  The proposal included the extension of East University Drive through the area from its terminus at Water Street all the way to Elizabeth Street with a new bridge across Paint Creek, and a 7-acre parcel for a brand-new clubhouse and banquet center for the Rochester Elks.  Developers also planned an all-electric apartment complex (known today as the Paint Creek Condominiums).

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.