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 Deborah J. Larsen

Adam W. “Addy” Yates (sometimes also referred to as Addison Yates) founded the Yates Machine Works in 1920, in a building formerly occupied by the Jackson Foundry. The location was one of Rochester’s earliest industrial sites. Daniel L. Jennings had first opened a foundry there in 1859; William H. Jackson bought out the Jennings Foundry in 1877. The original foundry building burned in 1884, and Jackson rebuilt on the same property.

Adam “Addy” Yates was the grandson of William Henry Yates, who came from New York State to settle on the Clinton River in the eastern section of Avon Township in 1863. W. H. Yates established a grist mill on the river and converted it to cider making in 1876, thus forming the business we now know as Yates Cider Mill.

This 1920 newspaper ad announced the opening of Yates Machine Works.

Grandson Addy Yates grew up working on the machinery of the mill and showed an aptitude for mechanical tasks at a very early age. His first business venture was a modest auto repair service that he ran on the cider mill property. He then took a job as a millwright and repairman with the C. N. Ray Company, a gravel operation in Oxford that was the predecessor of American Aggregate.

William Jackson’s widow sold the Jackson Foundry property to Adam Yates and his wife, Ida, in March 1920, and Yates established his own machine shop there. According to newspaper accounts, Adam Yates began an expansion of the building in 1925, and, based on the date on the building’s nameplate, there must have been some major work completed in 1929. Newspaper accounts inform us that in addition to the Yates machine shop, the building was also occupied in 1929 by Roy Hallock’s Buick salesroom. Because other additions and renovations were made over the decades of Yates ownership, it is unlikely that any parts of the old Jackson Foundry building still exist within the structure today.

Renovations recently revealed this nameplate on the former Yates building – Photo by Deborah J. Larsen

Yates Machine Works was a defense contractor during World War II and won the coveted Army-Navy “E” award for excellence in the production of war equipment. The company did iron and steel work for the War Department and also won a “Bullseye” award from the U.S. Treasury Department for having better than ninety percent participation in war bond purchases among the members of its workforce.

In 1948, Frank W. Yates, son of Adam and Ida Yates, joined his father as a partner in the Yates Machine Works. His father retired and Frank Yates became the only active partner in the machine shop. The business closed in the late 1950s.

After the machine works closed, several small industrial concerns occupied the building at 115 S. Main, while the Yates heirs retained ownership of the property. For a few years in the early 1960s, the Yates building was one of the locations of the Troy-based Jim Robbins Company, and seat belts were manufactured there until 1966. At that time, the workers at the Rochester plant struck in protest when rumors surfaced that Robbins planned to close the facility and move the work to southern states. The closing of the Jim Robbins Seat Belt plant meant the loss of 125 local jobs—almost all of them filled by women.

In 1970, Ida Yates sold the machine shop property and the building was remodeled and redeveloped as the Gateway Center (so named for its location at the foot of South Hill Bridge). It has since housed a mixture of retailers, restaurants, and professional offices.

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.


  1. My Grandfather (Mom’s Dad) worked at the Yates shop. I have his pay stubs from 1943 to 1951.
    One of the projects I remember hearing of is that Grandpa made new gears for the Cider mill. The old ones were worn and breaking. I heard there was nothing standard about the shapes of the gears.
    Our family has been in the area since the 1800’s.

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