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.

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...]

Ferry-Morse Garden Seeds Have Rochester Area Roots

If you started vegetables or flowers from seed this spring, you may have used seeds from the Ferry-Morse company currently headquartered in Norton, Massachusetts. If so, your seeds have long historical ties to Michigan and the greater Rochester community. In 1852, Dexter Mason Ferry came to Detroit with plans to attend college and began a night job as a bookkeeper for a small seed house. Four years later he became a partner in the firm, and in 1867, he and other investors took over the … [Read more...]

Rochester Funeral Homes Cope With the Cruelty of COVID-19

They’re not often mentioned with the other front-line workers fighting the COVID-19 crisis, but they are there nonetheless—quietly risking their health to ease the pain of others. For the men and women of Rochester’s funeral homes who consider it a sacred trust to care for the dead and provide compassionate service to their families, the barriers imposed by COVID-19 are heartbreaking. The virus is cruel—not only to the victims whose lives it takes but also to the surviving families who face … [Read more...]

A Portrait of Our Pandemic

A photographic Tour of Rochester during the Midst of Our Pandemic Photo captions by Deborah J. Larsen / Photos by Gerald Larsen   … [Read more...]

Rochester’s History of Fighting Viral Disease

Parkedale’s Role in Defeating Polio As we wait for medical science to develop vaccines and treatments to fight COVID-19, it is interesting to turn back the pages of history to the story of another disease that was vanquished by vaccine—and to remember Rochester’s connection to the historic achievement. Poliomyelitis (commonly called polio) is a contagious viral disease with a wide range of symptoms, including paralysis in some cases. The disease swept over the United States in several … [Read more...]

Rochester’s Pest House Was an Early Answer to Outbreaks of Disease

As we cope with the various levels of disruption in our daily routines made necessary by the response to the COVID-19 virus, it is interesting to look back at the way contagious disease was handled in our community in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In small communities like Rochester, there were no hospitals at the time. A village might be fortunate enough to have a physician or two in residence, but there were no cures and few effective therapies available for the primary … [Read more...]

St. John Lutheran Church Celebrates a Century

The History of St. John Lutheran Church & School in Rochester In early 1920, a small band of first- and second-generation German immigrants living in Rochester decided it was time to stop riding the interurban car to Royal Oak to attend church services. They asked their pastor, the Rev. Otto H. Frincke of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Royal Oak, to help them form a congregation in their own town. Their first exploratory meetings were held in the home of Charles and Anna Kitchenmaster on Drace … [Read more...]

Paint Creek Tavern’s Past, Present and Future

The Paint Creek Tavern Has Been Known by Many Names and Has Ties to Interurban and Railroad Days of Downtown Rochester Paint Creek Tavern—known fondly by locals as the “Paint Creek Yacht Club” or “PCYC”— has been a fixture on the banks of its namesake waterway for decades. But despite its tongue-in-cheek nickname, the business got its start not because of its proximity to water, but because of its location near the interurban and railroad lines.  During the heyday of the Detroit United … [Read more...]