Rochester Historical Commission
Rochester, Michigan
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DUR Powerhouse, 1907

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Norton House, 1913

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St. James Hotel, 1910


From the Rochester Historical Commission's
"Historic District Ordinance Proposal and Report to City Council," 1976.


The City of Rochester has a rich historical heritage, much of which has been documented in such prestigious works as History of Oakland County, published in 1877 and covering the period of 1817 to 1877; the 1908 Atlas of Oakland County; and numerous other historical writings, including newspaper articles.

According to these records, the first permanent settler in Oakland County, Avon Township, and the City of Rochester was James Graham.  He arrived with his son, Alexander, on March 17, 1817.  Together, they chose a site along Paint Creek in what is now Rochester.  Others followed in increasing numbers, motivated by the 1820 Federal Act authorizing the sale of public land at $1.25 per acre.  Opening the Erie Canal in 1825 was a great aid to transportation.   But it was the fertile soil that attracted these emmigrants, largely farmers from New England and up-state New York.  Merchants, craftsmen and men of various skills arrived, establishing a prosperous trading center in Rochester, and utilizing the fine water power offered by the river system (Clinton, Stoney Creek and Paint Creek).

Under the Indian Treaty of Saginaw (1819), Governor Lewis Cass established Oakland County.  Michigan was declared the 37th state in 1837, and the Village of Rochester was formed on April 12, 1869.  Rochester became a city on February 13, 1967. 

Shortly before the village was formed, the real growth began; first, with the formation of the Western Knitting Mill and then, in 1892, with the completion of the Detroit and Bay Railroad.  Electricity came in 1897, and the telephone came shortly thereafter.  With the turn-of-the-century, the electrified Detroit United Railway extended its operations to Rochester, Romeo, Imlay City and Flint, with hourly day-light service.

Since these early days, Rochester has grown into a healthy suburban community, still managing to retain its historic charm and reputation as a "good place to live."  It has received national recognition as a cultural center with its Rochester College (formerly Michigan Christian College), Leader Dogs for the Blind facility, Crittenton Hospital and Downtown Development Authority, to name a few.

Whether the quality of rural and historic charm can be perpetuated for future generations is questionable.  But certain positive steps can be taken.  This is why Congress, in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, declared it necessary to give maximum encouragement to agencies and individuals undertaking the preservation of historic properties by public and private means, and to assist State and local governments in expanding and accelerating their historic preservation programs and activities.


For more Rochester history, visit the Local History Room at the Rochester Hills Public Library.

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Photos are courtesy of the Ray Russell Postcard Collection
of the Rochester Hills Public Library, Rochester Hills, Michigan
2001, Rochester Historical Commission, Rochester, Michigan