About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen recently retired after 34 years as local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She currently serves as the research chairperson for the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

Howlett Park Honors Rochester’s First Police Chief

A city park on Inglewood Avenue is named in honor of the man who built a modern police department for Rochester and helped to shape the town’s safety and prosperity for almost half a century. Rochester Police Chief Sam Howlett at his desk (Courtesy of Barbara Howlett Bates) Samuel “Sam” Howlett was born in 1909 in the area historically known as the Big Beaver settlement, which was centered around the intersection of Rochester and Big Beaver roads in Troy Township. Howlett’s family roots in … [Read more...]

From Sugar Beets to Baseball: How Halbach Field Got its Name

An abandoned dumping ground for the old Detroit Sugar Company mill took on new life in the 1920s when it became Rochester’s high school and community athletic park. After the Detroit Sugar Company demolished its factory at the west end of Woodward Street in 1906, the company deeded the property back to the village of Rochester. Around 1923, local residents started using the portion of the vacant land on the south side of Woodward and east of the railroad track (today’s Paint Creek Trail) as … [Read more...]

Rochester’s Great Sugar Disaster

In 1899, Rochester area residents enthusiastically signed on in support of a new agricultural and industrial venture that they hoped would bring jobs and a rich infusion of capital to the community. Because of their efforts, the chimneys of the imposing Detroit Sugar Company mill rose quickly over Paint Creek, but in only seven years’ time they would be nothing more than a memory. The Detroit Sugar Company factory at Rochester as it looked while under construction in 1899. At the turn of … [Read more...]

Building’s Facelift Reveals Hidden Rochester History

The Gateway Center building on Main Street near the South Hill Bridge is undergoing a makeover, and the work has revealed a long-hidden link to Rochester’s industrial history. When workers recently removed the false front from the building, they uncovered an old, stone nameplate bearing the name “Yates” and the year 1929. Longtime Rochester residents will remember this building as the Yates Machine Works. The former Yates Machine Shop building is currently undergoing a facelift - Photo by … [Read more...]

The Story of Rochester’s Noon Whistle

Nobody who lives or works in the vicinity of downtown Rochester needs a watch to know when it’s lunchtime. Six days a week, at high noon, the blast of the fire department’s siren marks the midday hour. However, the daily sounding of the noon whistle has nothing to do with signaling a meal break and everything to do with a devastating fire that nearly destroyed an iconic Main Street business. This photo shows clean-up work in progress two days after the Phillips & Jerome fire. Back in … [Read more...]

Free Park Access for Seniors, Veterans, and Disabled is on the Ballot

Seniors, military veterans, and residents with permanent disabilities will be offered free annual vehicle passes to parks operated by Oakland County under a funding proposal that appears on the November 3 ballot. Oakland County has 13 Parks Oakland County voters in the upcoming general election will decide the fate of a proposal from the Oakland County Board of Commissioners to increase funding for Oakland County’s 13 parks. The ballot question asks residents to approve a new property tax … [Read more...]

The Man Who Went to School for 45 Years

The Rochester Community School District has named several of its buildings in honor of well-known educators, administrators, or civic leaders. However, the district’s oldest building is not named for a teacher or a public official—it is named after the building’s caretaker, who was a friend to all of the students he served during his 45-year tenure there. The 1889 school building as it appeared during William Harrison's tenure. The rise of Fourth Street as it approaches Wilcox Street was … [Read more...]

Rochester Municipal Park Has Been the Place to Play for 85 Years

The Avon Park dam formed a popular swimming hole. The dam and bridge were dismantled in the 1980s. (From the Archives of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm) Eighty-five years ago this summer, Rochester residents dedicated a new recreation spot on Paint Creek. Built on the site of a bankrupt dairy farm and a long-abandoned millrace, Avon Park—now Rochester Municipal Park—quickly became a favorite place for area residents to swim, picnic, and play. The property on which Rochester … [Read more...]

Mt. Vernon is a Ghost of Our Agricultural Past

At the intersection of 28 Mile and Mt. Vernon roads, about five miles northeast of Rochester, lies a remnant of our area’s agricultural past. The unincorporated town of Mt. Vernon—now little more than a country crossroads—was not only a trading place for area farmers, but also went down in history as the birthplace of the American typewriter. Mt. Vernon lies just inside the western edge of Washington Township, abutting the border of Oakland and Macomb counties. As Washington Township was … [Read more...]

Rochester Explodes with History as Part of the “Arsenal of Democracy”

The “Arsenal of Democracy” in Rochester: How McAleer Manufacturing Helped Win a World War During the recent months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen Michigan manufacturers—including several in the Rochester area—pivot from their usual course of business to manufacture ventilators, PPE, and other high-priority items in response to our nation’s health emergency. This is not the first time our Rochester businesses have made such a transition in the national interest; during World War II, … [Read more...]