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.

Avon Players Celebrates 75 Years

The year was 1947. On the world stage, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his experimental jet airplane and Jackie Robinson became the first African American to take the field in a Major League baseball game. On the local stage in Rochester, Michigan, a community theatre group known as the Avon Players was born. An early Avon Players production (Courtesy of Avon Players) The Rev. Robert J. Burgess of Rochester’s First Congregational Church was a leading advocate for the formation of a … [Read more...]

The Rise and Fall of Entertainment Venues on Rochester’s Main Street

In its more than two centuries of existence, Rochester’s Main Street has hosted its fair share of public entertainment venues. As the village grew from a pioneer outpost to a thriving town, Main Street’s business owners stepped up to provide social outlets for the community. Rochester Opera House block as it looked about 1910. Curtain Up A minstrel show and brass band concert was advertised at Newberry Hall in 1876. The first public gathering place capable of seating a crowd—aside … [Read more...]

Power to the People: How Electricity Came to Rochester

Unless a power failure happens, modern Rochester residents tend to take their electric service for granted. However, at the end of the nineteenth century, electric lights were a novelty enjoyed by few and coveted by many—until an interurban line came to town with the power to change everything. Clerks at work in the Rochester Edison building, September 1923. Rochester in the 1890s was a bustling place during the day, but the setting of the sun had a natural dampening effect on the level of … [Read more...]

Remembering Ray H. Lawson

In Memory of Ray H. Lawson By Deborah Larsen Most children watching the Rochester Christmas Parade keep their eyes peeled for the last unit in line—that’s Santa Claus, after all. As a child, I was equally fascinated with the first unit in the parade. Right there at front and center, just after the slow-rolling police cruiser, in every year for what seemed like decades, was Ray Lawson. Proudly wearing his crisp American Legion uniform, his white-gloved hands firmly holding the staff of the … [Read more...]

Harry S. Tripp, One of Rochester’s Fallen Heroes, is Remembered

In Mount Avon Cemetery, an easily overlooked marker is tucked in front of the graves of Gold Star parents Harry and Fael Tripp. The small tablet memorializes the sacrifice of the Tripps’ son and Rochester native, Harry S. Tripp, whose remains lie in an American battlefield cemetery near Liege, Belgium. A small sign nestled in front of the gravestone of Harry and Fael Tripp at Mount Avon Cemetery memorializes the service and sacrifice of their son, Harry, in World War II. Harry and Fael … [Read more...]

Old Maps Reveal Interesting Truths You Might Not Know About Rochester

How well do you know your Rochester trivia? Old maps can be a treasure trove of information about a community’s history, and vintage maps of Rochester are no exception. A close examination of these nineteenth-century documents reveals three interesting tidbits about our area’s past. The intersection of Main Street and University Drive could logically be considered the “birthplace” of the village of Rochester. This intersection is a key location in Rochester’s history for two reasons. … [Read more...]

The Woman’s Relief Corps Served Rochester for Generations

A quilt on display in the farmhouse at the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm is a window to the charitable work of a Rochester women’s organization that served the community for three-quarters of a century. The center panel of the WRC quilt identifies it as the product of Rochester post 227 (From the Archives of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm). One year after the Civil War ended, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was formed as a veterans’ advocacy and fraternal … [Read more...]

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...]