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...]

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...]

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’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...]