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. The first has to do with the original layout, or plat, of the village that was made in 1826. Austin Wing and Charles Larned created the street plan for Rochester in that year and filed it with the Michigan territorial government. The original plat of Rochester established streets and village lots beginning at the point we know today as the intersection of University and Main. This intersection is what land surveyors call a section corner; the land that was destined to become Avon Township was divided into 36 square-mile sections, and the intersection of University and Main is the place where the corners of sections 10, 11, 14, and 15 meet. It was from this point that Wing and Larned began numbering village lots. Rochester’s Lot 1 is on the southeast corner of the intersection, where the Crissman building stands today.

Plat Map of Rochester Area
The 1896 plat of Rochester shows the section corner at the intersection of Main and Fifth (University Drive).

This intersection is also important to Rochester’s history because the formal organization of the village took place there in 1869. In that year, the electors of the village met in the parlor of the Lambertson House (a hotel that was later known as the St. James Hotel) on the southwest corner of the intersection. There they voted to incorporate the village of Rochester and govern it separately from the surrounding township of Avon.

Also Read: The Battle for Avon Township

Downtown Rochester’s East Street used to be known as Oliver Street.

When Wing and Larned platted Rochester, choosing the name of the street that ran parallel to Main Street on the east side was a no-brainer. They called it East Street for the obvious reason. But some maps from the later nineteenth century, along with newspaper accounts of the day, reveal that Rochester residents called the thoroughfare Oliver Street. A look at the plat maps reveals why the street acquired its unofficial name.

Plat Map of Rochester Area
This 1896 plat map of Rochester shows East Street marked as Oliver Street.

One of the early landowners along East Street was a man who was known in Rochester as John B. Oliver. He and his son owned several lots and some of the unplatted acreage adjacent to Paint Creek. Unlike most of the settlers of Rochester and Avon who came from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, Oliver was a Frenchman. Born Jean Baptiste Olivier in 1794 in Beaufort, France, he entered the French army as a young man and served for eight years under Napoleon Bonaparte. He was said to have participated in numerous military engagements, including the Battle of Waterloo, in which he was wounded.

When Olivier emigrated to the United States with his wife in 1828, his name was anglicized from Jean Baptiste Olivier to John B. Oliver. The Oliver family lived fourteen years in New York before moving on to Michigan and settling in Rochester. When he died in Rochester in 1875, Oliver’s obituary in the Rochester Era noted that he had asked to be buried “with his old sword and scabbard lying across his breast.” The request, the newspaper noted, “of course was complied with.” The obituary also remarked in passing that Oliver had owned several dwellings on “Oliver Street.” One that he built, but apparently did not live in for more than a short time, is the brick Italianate Victorian house that still stands at 324 East Street.

Old two story house with decorative window frames, front view.
John B. Oliver built this house on East Street about 1865.
Rochester’s Railroad Depot Was Moved

In 2022, Rochester’s iconic railroad station on East University Drive will celebrate its 150th anniversary. Now occupied by the Catching Fireflies gift boutique, the depot was built in late 1872 when the Detroit and Bay City Railway (later Michigan Central) tracks were laid through Rochester.

One story rectangular building on a street corner.
Rochester’s 1872 railroad depot as it looks today.

Also Read: Rochester and the Detroit United Railway

But newspaper accounts and the 1872 map of Rochester tell us that the depot’s current location is not where it was originally built. Two years after the depot’s construction, the Pontiac Bill Poster newspaper reported in its Rochester news column that the railroad station would be moved and enlarged: “The contract for building a new freight depot in this village was awarded to Mr. Joseph Holman, Jr., of this village, last Tuesday, and the work will commence immediately. The station house is to be moved across the street, north, and the freight house attached to it.” A further account in the same newspaper later in 1874 reported that “the depot at Rochester, as was noted some time since, has been moved, enlarged, and put up in good style.”

Plat Map of Rochester Area
On this 1872 map of Rochester, the railroad depot appears on the south side of Fifth Street (University Drive).

The 1872 map of the village of Rochester shows that the railroad depot stood on the south side of Fifth Street (now University Drive), slightly northwest of the spot now occupied by the Rochester Elevator. Subsequent maps show the station in its current location on the north side of the street, approximately 150 feet from its original position. Six years after the depot was moved, the railroad company deeded the parcel where the station had first stood to Charles K. Griggs, who built his grain elevator on the site.

Also Read: Why Rochester Elevator is NOT a Barn

Please tell us your thoughts and memories in the comments and let us know what local history stories intrigue you.

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.

Comments

  1. I’ve been told there’s a point marked on the window sill of the Chase bank building that all property lines are measured from.

    • Deborah J. Larsen says

      Quite true! The U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey left a surveyor’s benchmark on the window sill of the bank in the 1930s. Another was located on the northwest corner of the wall of the Crissman building, near the sidewalk, but it was lost in the explosion.

  2. Vickie Kriewall says

    Always informative and interesting, glad to be a native of the area.

  3. Rick Martin says

    Fascinating article!!

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