The Hamlin Family Legacy

The Story of the Hamlin Name in the Rochester Area

Hamlin Road, Hamlin School, Hamlin Place Farms Subdivision – even Hamlin Pub – all owe their names to a pioneer settler of Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) named John Fairchild Hamlin.

Black and White photo of John in 1800s clothing

John F. Hamlin

The immigrant ancestor of John F. Hamlin settled in the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1640. Some branches of the family moved on to New York State, where John Fairchild Hamlin was born in the Finger Lakes region in 1799. Hamlin family footprints are evident all over New York, especially in the Buffalo region, where a cousin of John’s, named Cicero Hamlin, was a prominent business leader. A descendant of Cicero Hamlin is actor Harry Hamlin of L.A. Law fame.

John Hamlin was not destined to stay in his native state. As a young man, he followed his urge to move westward along with one of his brothers, a sister, and her husband. The small band of travelers first headed to St. Charles, Missouri, but after staying there a year, decided to move on. While Hamlin’s brother headed for Illinois, he, with his brother-in-law and sister, William and Olive Burbank, decided to go north to Detroit.

From Detroit, John Hamlin and William Burbank scouted for land to homestead, and found what they were looking for on the outskirts of Oakland County’s first settlement, at Rochester. Avon Township had not yet been formally organized in 1825 when John F. Hamlin first purchased land in the area. Rochester was a tiny and isolated village and only a few families were sprinkled through the area that would come to be known as Avon Township.

Six years after buying property here, Hamlin married Laura Andrus of Washington Township and brought her to his homestead south of Rochester (The new Mrs. Hamlin was the sister of Loren Andrus, who later built as his personal residence the iconic Octagon House that still stands today on Van Dyke Road).

Hamlin Road Sign

Hamlin Road

The Hamlins developed a large farm on the corner that we know today as Hamlin and Rochester roads, but agriculture was not John Hamlin’s only business venture. During Michigan’s internal improvements era, he was keen to bring transportation routes into the township. Hamlin was one of the contractors on the ill-fated Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal – a project that was begun at Mount Clemens with the goal of building an engineered waterway across the Lower Peninsula to Lake Michigan. The construction job was much more difficult and costly that originally forecast, and the canal was bankrupt by the time it reached Rochester. John Hamlin spent nearly a decade afterward petitioning the state government to pay him for his labor and expenses on the project.

In 1844, Hamlin and several other local landowners were authorized by the state legislature to organize the Troy and Rochester Railroad Company and to raise money, by subscription, to fund its construction. The small line was supposed to run south from Rochester until it intersected the Detroit and Pontiac railroad, but the project never got off the drawing board.

Instead, Hamlin tried again in 1848 to improve access to Rochester and Avon Township by organizing a plank road company. The Rochester and Royal Oak Plank Road ran roughly along the route that we know today as Rochester Road. The tollhouse for the Rochester terminus of this road was located on the Hamlin farm.

Old photo of the still standing Hamlin house

John Hamlin House, ca. 1957 – Courtesy of Swords Family Archive

Meanwhile, John and Laura Hamlin operated their farm in Avon Township and reared a family of six children. Sometime around 1840, the Hamlins built a large farm house facing Rochester Road – the Hamlin house still stands today at 1812 South Rochester Road, across from Bordine’s.

According to federal agricultural census records, the cash value of the Hamlin farm was $12,000 in 1850. Some historical currency converters suggest that the equivalent value of his holdings today would be approximately five million dollars, making John F. Hamlin one of the wealthiest landowners in the region in his time.

Hamlin died in 1863, but his widow, Laura, continued to live at the Hamlin farm for another 20 years. The Hamlins’ youngest daughter, Belle Hamlin Burch, inherited the family property after the deaths of her mother and sister. Belle was the wife of a federal judge and lived most of the year in Washington, D.C., but still visited the old homestead in Avon Township during the summers. After Marsden Burch retired from the bench, the couple returned home to the Hamlin farm, but subdivided much of the farm acreage to create the Hamlin Place Farms subdivision. The remaining property, including the house, passed from Hamlin family ownership in 1936, after the death of Belle Hamlin Burch.

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.

Comments

  1. Donald Worrell says:

    Another highly engaging article by Ms. Larsen!
    Having passed by what I now know is the old
    Hamlin house a thousand times, it is a delight
    to learn a bit of its history. I was also intrigued
    by the Hamlin family connection to the equally
    historic Octagon House. Thank God historic
    edifices such as these have been preserved.
    Kudos to Deborah Larsen for her ongoing
    contributions to this noble effort!

  2. Nice story!!

  3. John Berney says:

    Did the Bordine’s get the land from Hamlins???

    • Carol Van Sickle says:

      In the 1960’s Daniel Holefca owned the home and probably the land next to it. Mr. Holefca had an insurance benefit company in the home and in 1962, I worked there as a clerk typist. Before Holefca Insurance agency, Gerda McCotter had her restaurant in the old home so there were probably many owners through the years. Mrs. Hamlin was a sister to Loren Andrus of the Octagon House in Washington, MI. I can trace my ancestry back to the Andrus family in the 1600’s in Early Vermont and Connecticut as Laura’s ancestor and mine were two brothers who came here from England.

  4. Evelyn Jackson says:

    John F. Hamlin & his wife Laura were my 3rd great grandparents. I have the Hamlin family bible with his signature & genealogy pages inside. My grandmother would tell me stories about the family that had been passed down. Thank you for this wonderful article.

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