About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen is the assistant director and local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She is active in the Macomb County and Rochester-Avon historical societies, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

The History of Winchester Mall

The Winchester shopping center at Avon & Rochester roads is now in the process of entering its third incarnation as a retail development. Earlier this year, the owners sought approval from the City of Rochester Hills for another makeover of the site. An Art Van furniture store will occupy space that has been vacant since the K-Mart store closed in December 2014. The plan also calls for new outbuildings to house an Aldi grocery and a restaurant, as well as a complete redesign of the parking … [Read more...]

How Lysander Street and Woodward Street were Named

Rochester Has Two Streets Named In Honor of Pioneer Settler Lysander Woodward The Connecticut native came to Oakland County in 1838, married in 1843, and bought property for his family home just north of the village of Rochester. Starting out with an 80-acre parcel, Woodward built a house that still stands today on the west side of North Main, and developed a farm that won an award from the state agricultural society.  Lysander Woodward was successful in farming and business, and his … [Read more...]

How Wilcox Street Was Named

Do you know the story behind the name of Rochester’s Wilcox Street? Early Avon Township settler Lyman J. Willcox and his son Elliot R. Willcox owned part of the land through which Wilcox Street now runs. According to an 1883 account in the Pontiac Gazette, Lyman Willcox left New York City with nothing but a rifle and a pack on his back and walked westward, traversing Ontario, and finally coming to Michigan. He stopped first in Troy Township and then settled in Avon Township in 1824, where … [Read more...]

Rochester and the Detroit United Railway

New Book Will Tell Rochester’s DUR History Robert Michalka knows about railroads and local history. The lifelong Rochester area resident is combining his two interests in a forthcoming book entitled Rochester and the Detroit United Railway, scheduled for publication by the Rochester Historical Commission later in 2018. Michalka grew up working on Rochester’s Main Street, where his father, Al Michalka, ran a feed store from 1927 until 1982. The younger Michalka started out at the age of 10 … [Read more...]

How Ludlow Street Got its Name

Street and building names in a town often memorialize the people who helped to create them, but as time goes on and memories fade, the stories behind those names can become lost. Take, for example, Rochester’s Ludlow Street. Do you know for what or whom it is named?  The story of Ludlow Street starts with the Chapman family. William Clark Chapman and his brother, Charles Sherwin Chapman, grew up in and around Ludlow, Vermont. When William was 16 years old, the Chapman family moved from … [Read more...]

Olympic Ski Jumping in Rochester

The History and Connection of Olympic Ski Jumping in the Rochester Area As unlikely as it may seem, ski jumping was a big attraction in the Rochester area during the Roaring Twenties. The sport had grown in popularity in America as it spread from the mountainous western states to the Midwest. Here in Michigan, the Upper Peninsula town of Ishpeming had a famous ski jump and hosted many high-profile tournaments. Six brothers from Ishpeming with a keen interest in the sport brought ski … [Read more...]

Water-Powered Mills of the Rochester Area

Mill Town Heritage of Rochester and Avon Township The real estate professional’s mantra that “location is everything” was as true in Rochester’s pioneer days as it is today. Long before the James Graham party led white settlers to today’s Oakland County, its hospitable lakes and streams and the excellent fishing they offered drew native people to the area. Water also attracted the Grahams and those who followed them. It was an essential element to sustain life, and it would power the new … [Read more...]

Christmas 1942 in Rochester, Remembering the Fight and Loss of the War

Virginia MacLeod and Christmas 1942 in Rochester  Seventy-five years ago, Rochester’s Christmas season was a memorable one – for a tragic reason. The end of the first year of the Second World War brought with it rationing restrictions, worries about absent loved ones, and the shock of a wartime-related death that happened not overseas, but right here at home.  There were no big, bright holiday lights on Rochester’s Main Street in December 1942. The news from the fighting fronts was … [Read more...]

The Native American Indians of Michigan and their Connection to the Rochester Area

As Rochester marks the 200th anniversary of its founding this year, have you ever wondered about the native people who lived here before white settlement?  According to The Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, our area’s indigenous population was very small two centuries ago. By the time that James Graham’s family and other pioneers settled Rochester and Avon in 1817, many of the Native American residents of the area had already moved on.  Most European-ancestored settlers did not venture … [Read more...]

Gail Kemler Celebrates a Century

Rochester is marking the 200th anniversary of its founding this year, and local resident Gail Kemler has witnessed almost half of the town’s two centuries of history. Kemler, of Rochester Hills, is planning to celebrate her 100th birthday at the end of this month, in the company of scores of family and friends. Gail Johnson Kemler was born October 28, 1917 in Brookfield, Illinois, where her father worked on a railroad line. When Kemler was four years old, her mother became seriously ill and … [Read more...]