RochesterJuly 3, 2012
Main Street Makeover unveils Rochester’s history
By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer
ROCHESTER — City officials surmised that construction crews would uncover a number of historically significant items during the Main Street Makeover, but they had no idea exactly what they would find.
They knew the project would expose Main Street’s first paved surface, which was made of brick and was laid in 1916, but crews have found a number of historic artifacts — such as old coins, glass bottles and other items.
One of the most exciting discoveries thus far, according to City Manager Jaymes Vettraino, were old documents from the former Kroger Grocery & Baking Co. store that were found in a coal bin in front of 400-402 S. Main St.
“We found many coal bins under many of the Main Street stores that extended underneath the sidewalk and then into the side walls of the buildings. Back when coal was a primary use for heat, a coal delivery would be made right there into the sidewalk into the bins, and the chutes would put it into the basement,” he said.
Vettraino said all of the bins, which have since been covered by sidewalk, were empty — except one.
When crews found the old Kroger documents, they notified Downtown Development Authority Director Kristi Trevarrow.
“In the corner of a coal bin there was this big pile of paper. Some of it had been burned — it was sitting down there for about 80 years, so it wasn’t in really good shape — so crews put it in a box and asked me to come over and sort through it. What we discovered is that it was actually from the Kroger Grocery & Baking Co. — which was the precursor to the Kroger superstores that we have today,” Trevarrow said.
The documents include some old marketing pages, payroll forms, inventory lists, produce price sheets, order forms and weekly produce specials.
“The papers in there didn’t fully burn, and those papers had payroll calculations with the names of the employees, their hours, and weekly wages from the early ‘30s. They also had a lot of the daily marketing sheets that would go out to the Kroger stores … so it was just neat to revisit that,” Vettraino said. “In terms of an unexpected find, I think that was one of the coolest pieces that was found.”
Trevarrow said the documents date back to 1931-1933.
“There were time sheets that actually had the names and addresses of the employees of that location. There were different order forms that they would send in to the main office in Detroit for their orders for the week of what they needed, and we found an entire stack of inventory sheets. What was most interesting to us was we actually found their produce sheets, because produce was a big deal back then, and every week they would get in a list of what their produce prices would be for the week based on the market, and they would also have selling tips on it,” she said.
Cucumbers were listed at 8 cents each, beets were 4 cents each, and carrots were 5 cents each.
Soon after the discovery, Trevarrow reached out to Kroger officials, who were “super excited” about the documents, she said.
“They were most interested in the produce sheets with the marketing tips because they still do that today,” she said.
After viewing the documents, Kroger officials offered to donate $2,500 to help the city preserve and display many of the documents in Rochester.
“We’re pretty excited about it, so that has been one of our most exciting finds so far,” Trevarrow said.
Cathy Pouls, the Rochester Historical Commission’s liaison for archives and accessions, said she is “tickled” that Kroger officials have taken such an interest in the documents, which she is deciding how to best preserve and display.
“I haven’t really come to a definite plan yet because I just started figuring out in my head exactly what I am going to be doing, but I do plan on framing a few pieces. The rest of it, I want as easily accessible to people who want to see it as possible, so I’m going to have to find out the best way to preserve that information — this means that the pieces of paper have to go into an acid-free system for protection,” she said. “They are very, very cool looking, and I was delighted to see them. They are a definite treasure for the city.”
Another exciting piece of history that was uncovered, according to Vettraino, is an old cistern — which city officials now think might be a well because of the design discovered after the road was removed — in front of O’Connor’s Public House.
“We’re in the process of designing a looking glass, clear piece of material that will actually lay in the sidewalk and will allow people to look down into the old well and cistern, and we’ll have the educational information about that — how the water was transported and held for the businesses in the area before the water lines came in during the early 1940s,” he said.
Throughout the construction, crews found a number of historical items city officials thought might be uncovered, many of which are displayed either in the window or in a display case at the Main Street Makeover Field Office on Main Street.
“You’ll see our Main Street bricks there. They found a Vernors bottle and a 7UP bottle. They’ve also found original railroad ties with the railroad spikes, and we do have some of the Kroger documents down there. We also have some small found items from the street — bullet casings, a dress weight, a suspender, a lot of coins and buttons, and things like that,” Trevarrow said.
Vettraino said all historically significant resources found in the construction zone will be preserved and protected by the city, or the state, and many will be on display in Rochester.
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