Rochester: Small Beginnings

The city of Rochester, Michigan, had its beginning in 1817, and was the first area settled in what is present day Oakland County. Rochester and Rochester Hills made up what was originally called Avon Township, and was sought because of its prime location in the Clinton River Valley. Named after Rochester, New York, the first settlers to arrive were James Graham, his son and son-in-law, Alexander Graham and Christopher Hartsough respectively, and their wives. The very next year the first child of a white settler was born, to Alexander Graham and his wife Sarah.

With its ideal location in the Clinton River Valley, the settlement’s main source of water-power came from the Clinton River, Stony Creek, and Paint Creek, which fueled the water-powered mills that were key in providing food, shelter, and cut lumber. In fact, the farming operations that went on in Rochester during its early years were the main functions of the city for many years, and an important part of its history.

The first industry in Rochester was a water-powered sawmill, and by 1850, the community had produced 444,000 board feet of lumber. While many of the farms began as family farms, producing food and clothing simply for themselves, more and more land was cleared away to expand the farms and make production for sales and profit possible. Wool mills were equally as important to the industry of Rochester, and the Western Knitting Mills building is still an important historical landmark today, although today the building is used for a different purpose.

Western Knitting Mills (left), built in 1896. Today, the building is home to Rochester Mills Beer Co (right)
Western Knitting Mills (left), built in 1896. Today, the building is home to Rochester Mills Beer Co (right)
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