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.
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).
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.
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.
Article by Debra J. Larsen
Red Knapp is something of a household name in the Rochester area. After all, local residents have been enjoying hamburgers at Red Knapp’s Dairy Bar on Main Street for the past 66 years. But who exactly was the man whose name blazes in neon over the front door of Rochester’s iconic burger spot?
Long-time restaurateur Lyle “Red” Knapp was born on a Sanilac County farm in 1910. He came to Rochester to find work in 1926 and landed a job pouring concrete for the foundations of Meadow Brook Hall, then under construction. Knapp had dropped out of school but was determined to earn a diploma, so he enrolled at Rochester High School while working in a local garage to pay his way.
Lyle “Red” Knapp, his wife, Cecelia (far right) and the staff of Red Knapp’s Dairy Bar pose behind the counter with Claire Elias, the reigning “Mrs. Michigan” of 1953, during her goodwill tour of local businesses – Photo Courtesy of Roger Knapp
Lyle "Red"Knapp, his wife, Cecelia (far right) and the staff of Red Knapp’s Dairy Bar pose behind the counter with Claire Elias, the reigning “Mrs. Michigan” of 1953, during her goodwill tour of local businesses – Photo Courtesy of Roger Knapp
During his senior year at Rochester High, Red Knapp was expelled from school after intervening in a fistfight between Principal David Millard and another student. Controversy erupted, but after his attempt to defend the other student became known, more than three hundred local residents signed a petition demanding that the school board reinstate Red Knapp. The board reversed its earlier decision and Knapp returned to class.
After high school and a brief sojourn to California, Red Knapp went into business operating a gas station on Main Street near the South Hill Bridge. He slept at the station and operated it around the clock, seven days a week, mostly by himself. He wanted to open a roadhouse in connection with the service station, but state regulation at the time forced him to choose one business or the other. He decided to go into the restaurant trade in 1936 and bought a building on the west side of Main Street, where Kruse & Muer is today.
In the same year he opened his bar and restaurant, Red Knapp also joined the volunteer fire department. As a firefighter, he met his fellow citizens at some of the lowest points of their lives; and he was deeply affected by the need he saw around him. He maintained a regular clothing drive to aid fire victims and distributed food baskets to those whose family budgets wouldn’t stretch to cover holiday meals. Eventually, the Inter-Church Women, who established The Clothes Closet to aid low-income families, adopted Red Knapp’s work. Today, the Clothes Closet is part of the Rochester Area Neighborhood House, but it all started with one firefighter who wanted to make a difference in his community.
Although his restaurant and bar business was successful, Red Knapp was never comfortable selling liquor. “He was a lifelong non-smoker and non-drinker,” his son, Roger Knapp, told Rochester Media. “He said that the people he was selling liquor to in the bar were the same ones he was delivering food baskets to during the holidays.” So Knapp decided to make a change; he sold the restaurant and bar to his brother, then he and his wife, Cecelia, built Red Knapp’s Dairy Bar at 304 S. Main. The new restaurant opened in July 1950, and its signature hamburger has been a local favorite ever since.
Red Knapp died in 1992, but his name is still prominent on Rochester’s Main Street. His grandchildren run the dairy bar now, which looks much as it did when it opened six and a half decades ago. The faces have changed and the upholstery on the stools has been replaced a few times, but the important things remain the same. Locals don’t need to consult a menu to know exactly what they’ll get when they order “one deluxe with cheese and seasoned fries.” It’s Red Knapp’s, after all.
And yes – in case you were wondering – his hair was red.
Article by Debra J. Larsen
Remember this one? By Ronnie Milsap...... One of the BEST Songs of our times....
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Classmate Visits to our Website = 41,333 hits to date!
Check the list of Missing Classmates from the link at left and help us locate these twenty-seven fellow Falcons! Search your memories and tell us what you know about these individuals since you graduated in 1958. Places they might have lived, married names for women, companies they may have worked for, etc. Use the Contact Us link and share what you know so we can locate and invite them to future Class Reunions.
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We are so excited to offer this wonderful website to our class members. Be assured this is FREE to join, and it is private to us and us alone. We thank the Classes of 1961, 1962, and 1963 for bringing this to our attention. The Class of 1961 was the original class to employ this means of reconnecting. They are enjoying each other so much that, and to quote Bill Potere, "this has brought us as a class so much more together, we are now planning events in between our reunions..."
We hope you will also enjoy this, utilize it, and spread the word. Should you know another class that would benefit from having their own website like this, please contact me via email, or call me 248-561-9978, Carole Bird (Chekaluk-Christopher), I can forward a referral link. And, for each referral that activates a website, we earn a $50 referral fee. That would aid in subsidizing this website for the future.
Live everyday to the fullest, we never know when it might be our last; dance like nobody is watching. Enjoy our website, visit it often, stay in touch!!!
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