Rochester hosted quite a party this week in 1935.
People from all over flooded Rochester for a four-day birthday party filled with pageantry, sporting events, music and nostalgia. From June 13 to 16, Rochester celebrated a Double Jubilee, a program commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Avon Township (located outside of Rochester and now Rochester Hills) as well as the 100th year of Michigan statehood.
I know what you’re thinking. Michigan was declared a state in 1837, so why would the community celebrate its centennial two years before the actual anniversary?
Years later, Sara Van Hoosen Jones, chairperson of the Double Jubilee committee, wrote about the celebration stating that she and other event organizers decided that while Michigan was declared a state in Jan. 1837, the year of its first constitutional convention – 1835 – was a more accurate date to commemorate.
“Plans for celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Avon Township were being anticipated in early 1935,” wrote Jones in her book Chronicle of Van Hoosen Centenary Farm. “This date also broached on the centenary of our state, since the first State Convention for framing a constitution had taken place in 1835.”
Michigan’s constitution had been “written and accepted” that year, she wrote, but a border dispute with Toledo, OH, in 1836 delayed official action on the part of the U.S. Congress.
“To settle the dispute,” Jones wrote, “the congress of the United States declared Michigan a state in January 1837, awarding her the Upper Peninsula instead of the disputed area around Toledo, OH.”
According to a program from the event, Avon Township was formed in April 1835. Therefore, the two anniversaries coincided well and the Double Jubilee was celebrated.
Yet, in May 1935, the Rochester Era reported that the Double Jubilee was commemorating Avon Township’s first non-native settlement in 1817 along with its 100th anniversary, proving, once again, that you can’t always trust old newspapers to get the facts right.
June 13: Farmer’s Day
The first day of the Double Jubilee was held on June 13 and called Farmer’s Day. It began with a sunrise salute followed by a sporting contest on Main Street; a parade of county 4-H clubs; a judged agricultural stock show, for which Jones donated a registered Holstein calf as a prize; horse-pulling contests with monetary prizes of $25, $15 and $10; a display of domestic work by 4-H girls; the coronation of Betty Treacy as Miss Avon, Queen of the Double Jubilee; band concerts; and a historical pageant.
The historical pageant consisted of five episodes that told the history of the township since its settlement by the Graham family in March 1817 when Alexander Graham built the township’s first residence (and Oakland County’s first residence) – a log cabin on what is now Third Street in downtown Rochester. A plaque now marks the site and is located on a large boulder near the Rochester Conservatory of Music.
The pageant’s episodes included costumed participants retelling the histories of the Graham family; the township’s first school, post office, and church meeting; the Avon Rifleman who reportedly were an outstanding early military unit similar to the National Guard; the township’s participation in the Civil War; and township transportation over the years.
In May 1935, the Rochester Era reported that “in order that pictures presented by the historical pageant may be as historically correct as possible, files of the costume designs of the different periods and dates have been consulted this past week, that the events in Avon one hundred years ago may be presented as they actually occurred.”
June 14: School’s Day
The second day of the Double Jubilee was called “School’s Day” and, as the event program noted, featured a “big historical Parade of Progress” that marched down Main Street led by a 300-piece band. Local businesses, including the Ferry Morse Seed Company, and organizations entered floats for the parade. At Halbach Field, Rochester High School hosted a special feature – the formation of a human flag – followed by a baseball game between Utica High School and the Rochester High School Falcons. The day ended with a second showing of the historical pageant.
“The day for the parade was a fine one,” wrote Jones, “clear and as cool as middle June could offer and the sidewalks were filled with onlookers. The make-up of the parade was not unusual, but it bespoke the fact that Rochester, as many other towns, was showing her patriotism and civic pride by celebrating her township’s centenary as well as that of the State of Michigan.”
Jones and the Van Hoosen Farm sponsored a parade float that included one of their prized purebred Holstein-Friesian cows along with four farm workers dressed in their white coveralls.
June 15: Mardi Gras Day
Saturday, June 15, was Mardi Gras Day and began with a baseball game between the Rochester American Legion Junior League and the Royal Oak Junior League. There was also a horse-shoe pitching contest in the Avon Township Park (today’s Rochester Municipal Park) – which opened to the public that summer, band concerts, a grade school demonstration at Halbach Field, aquatic sports, a mummer’s parade and a third showing of the historical pageant.
Special attractions at the Double Jubilee included a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, A Century of Progress Exhibition on Main Street, the Avon Curiosity Shop on West Fourth Street, and free street dancing every night except Sunday on Fifth Street (now University).
The Curiosity Shop featured a slew of antiques on loan for the event.
“Here were collected for the exhibit only,” Jones wrote, “authentic antiques owned by the families of Avon Township.”
The Double Jubilee committee secured a vacant store on Main Street with “double windows extending out on the sidewalk,” Jones noted.
One of the windows featured a display of a nineteenth-century kitchen, while the other displayed a modern parlor room. Jones and other volunteers took turns answering questions and sharing stories with visitors.
On June 14, 1935, the Rochester Era reported that “the antiques loaned have been beyond expectations and make a wonderful exhibit.”
June 16: Final Jubilee Day
The final day of celebrations was much more subdued and began with special morning services at several area churches. Later in the afternoon, a baseball game was held between the Rochester Hales and a team from Imlay City, followed by a second ball game between the Rochester Merchants and the Old Timers.
Additionally, the Daughters of the American Revolution held a ceremony to decorate the grave of Sarah Taylor, mother of Elisha Taylor who settled Stoney Creek Village, and the great-grandmother of Sarah Van Hoosen Jones.
“Here atop a hill below which lay the valley of Stony [sic] Creek,” wrote Jones, “the ladies of the General Richardson Chapter assembled. A group of Boy Scouts sounded the reveille – the ladies . . . spread their four flags across the grave, while another member read the lovely ritual.”
'Students of History'
I’m fortunate to own a copy of the original Double Jubilee program. In it are ads from retailers and merchants who supported or participated in the four-day event, along with a schedule of events and brief histories on a variety of local topics including business, canals, physicians, etc.
In the program’s introduction, it’s noted that the “program is not to be considered as a complete history of this community and little attempt has been made to have the publication record even a partial history of any particular subject.”
It further states that “therefore, our aim has been to keep this booklet in its class and use it as a Program Publication in every sense of those words. We desire to record the events and activities of the Double Jubilee and let the publication take its place as one piece of historical data for future reference, when students of history wish to learn of events in 1935, properly commemorating the foundations of 1835.”
We, “Patch of History” readers, are those students of history who have learned a bit more about the founding of Avon Township, as well as those four days in June when Rochester threw one big party.
The author thanks the staff of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm for their time, efforts and assistance with the research for this article and for retrieving photographs and other documents to accompany the research.