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.

Remembering the Rochester Explosion

It was one of those events that had people asking, “Where were you when…?” Twenty-five years have passed, but those who were in Rochester at the time can tell you - as if it happened yesterday - where they were and what they were doing when they heard the explosion on May 20, 1992. It was a warm, late-spring Wednesday afternoon in downtown Rochester. The evening rush hour was underway when, at 5:20 p.m., a blast erupted, leveling the northernmost two-thirds of the Crissman building at the … [Read more...]

Rochester Media Acknowledges World War I Social Media Day by Honoring the Horse Named Tess

A century ago - on April 6, 1917 - the United States entered World War I. Today, in towns across the nation, memorials stand in honor of local men who served in the conflict. American Legion posts, like the Homer Wing post in Rochester, bear the names of some of those who gave their lives. But there is one Rochester hero of World War I who has no granite monument to commemorate service during the war. Her name was Tess. The Parke-Davis Company, a prominent Detroit pharmaceutical firm, … [Read more...]

The Battle for Avon Township, Rochester and Rochester Hills, A Tale of Two Cities

As we celebrate the founding of Rochester during 2017, we must also note that Rochester Hills shares the same anniversary. Both Rochester and Avon Township - today’s Rochester Hills - received their first non-native settlers in 1817. Some of the founding Graham family members built their home in what is now the City of Rochester. The rest of them moved out to the area that is now the intersection of Avon & Livernois Roads, becoming the first white settlers of what would become Avon … [Read more...]

Who was James Graham, the Founder of Rochester

An 1877 Oakland County history book records that on March 17, 1817, a small band of emigrants followed the Clinton River inland from Mount Clemens and stopped at the place we know today as Rochester. Here they founded the first non-native settlement in what would later become Oakland County. The group included James Graham, his wife Mary Vandemark, their son Alexander and his wife, their son Benjamin, and Christopher Hartsough. Descendants of the Graham patriarch would remain in the greater … [Read more...]

Whims Insurance Celebrates a Century in Rochester

By Deborah J. Larsen When Tom Klix and his sister, Connie Klix Mercer, head to their offices at Whims Insurance each morning, they take a literal walk down memory lane. The company’s offices are on the second floor of the Mitzelfeld building at 322 S. Main Street. The municipal parking lot behind the building sits on property that was once the home of Klix and Mercer’s grandparents, Leslie and Lyla Whims. The two siblings now run the insurance agency their grandfather founded. They … [Read more...]

Byers Wrecker Service has Hooked-up the Rochester Area for Decades

Byers Wrecker Service Has Been Assisting Rochester Motorists for Decades By Deborah J. Larsen When Rochester area residents need a vehicle towed, they don’t say, “Call a wrecker.” They say, “Call Byers.” For 66 years, the familiar red tow trucks have responded to local residents needing assistance. Harry E. “Gene” Byers started out in auto transport work after serving in the army. But in 1951, he decided to start his own towing business. At first, his “office” was in the restroom of a … [Read more...]

Molnar’s has been Helping Rochester Dress to Impress since 1964

A revolution and a chance meeting with a local entrepreneur were the forces that brought Hungarian-born tailor Frank Molnar to Rochester 52 years ago. Molnar opened his menswear shop on Rochester’s Main Street in 1964 at a time when the standard work uniform for businessmen was the three-piece suit. Molnar possessed the requisite skills to build a successful family firm from the local demand for quality men’s clothing. In his native country, Molnar was apprenticed to a tailor at the age … [Read more...]

Heller’s Has Been Keeping Time for Over Half a Century

The Heller family has been keeping time for Rochester residents for well over half a century in the same Main Street location. In 1961, Ernest and Violet Heller bought an existing jewelry business at 409 S. Main in Rochester, and today their son, George, is the proprietor of Heller’s Jewelry. Ernest Heller was born in Vienna in 1921. When he was 16 years old, his father sent him to the United States to assist his uncle with a business in Detroit. When things didn’t work out as planned with … [Read more...]

Holland’s Has Been Beautifying Rochester Since 1929

It started out as a way to earn extra money during the Great Depression, and evolved into a family business and Main Street landmark that has passed through three generations. In 1929, William L. Holland Sr. felt the sting of the U.S. economic collapse when his job as a foreman at Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit was reduced to part time status. To make up some of his lost income and support his family of six, Holland started a greenhouse business at his property on Norton Lawn in Avon … [Read more...]

Lytle Pharmacy is Rochester’s Oldest Drug Store

No living person in the Rochester area remembers when there wasn’t a pharmacy located in the Opera House block at the corner of Fourth & Main streets. Ever since the building first opened its doors in 1890, a pharmacy sign has been hanging in its front window. Robert A. Lytle is the current - and longest tenured - proprietor of the drug store business that was operated by John T. Norton when the Opera House block welcomed its first tenants 126 years ago. When Charles A. Burr built the … [Read more...]