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Rochester Historical Commission to release book on Detroit United Railway

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published August 2, 2017


ROCHESTER — The Rochester Historical Commission is gauging interest in a new book it hopes to release this year called “Rochester and the Detroit United Railway.”

The book, written by longtime Historical Commission member Robert Michalka, tells the story of the Flint Division of the Detroit United Railway, featuring photos and information pertaining to areas on the DUR Flint Division route — including Detroit, Royal Oak, Rochester, Washington Township, Romeo, Almont, Imlay City, Lake Orion, Oxford, Ortonville and Flint.

Rochester City Councilman Rob Ray, who serves as the council liaison to the Historical Commission, said Rochester was the home of the Flint Division of the Detroit United Railway from 1899 to 1931.

“The railway was a huge employer. Local workers stationed offices here in the city — a dispatcher’s office, a car barn and maintenance shop, everything throughout the city up and down the line,” he said. “The DUR was an electric interurban railway. Now, this was when, technically, the most efficient way to transport goods was still by steam, so this was the new technology that was coming out in the 1890s.”

To create the book, Michalka — who has served on the Rochester Historical Commission for 25 years — spent the past 23 years cataloging the history of the DUR, getting photos and information, and collecting interviews.

“The book has gone through six drafts, each time with more and more information put together. The majority of the book that he has been working on has come from his own collection of photos, but also those that he has collected over 50 years. He has been donated pictures and negatives from family members in the community and has traveled as far as Arizona to get negatives. And I believe the majority of the pictures that he has have never been published before,” Ray said.

With the city celebrating its bicentennial this year, Ray said the Historical Commission is interested in bringing the book to life.

“I couldn’t be happier that of all the times for it to come to fruition, it’s this year,” he said.

“Rochester and the Detroit United Railway” will be a hardcover book, with approximately 300 pages, 150 photos, maps, an actual schedule from 1927, and 10 interviews with people associated with the railway. It will retail for $39.95.

In order to print the book, Ray said, the city would need to loan the commission anywhere from $10,000 to $13,000 — depending on the number of books printed — for which he said the commission plans to reimburse the city.

“The intention is, any proceeds derived from the book, first and foremost, would go back to paying the city’s investment and support of this endeavor, and that any additional proceeds be donated back to the city, hopefully, with it earmarked for being used toward some historic preservation, maybe something DUR-related,” Ray said.

But before going to print, the commission is launching a website to measure interest from the public for pre-orders.

“No money would exchange hands, but the first people to reserve copies would get (free shipping) and autographed copies. That way, we can come back to council with some measure of the interest of the book so that any request that we might make would be in line with the market demand as we have been able to measure,” said Ray.

Ray shared the project with the council during the July 10 City Council meeting and got some positive feedback from council members.

“I think this is a pretty cool way of really sharing our history,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kim Russell.

Councilman Ben Giovanelli said he is in full support of the project, adding that he “hopes it does well.”

“As always, the projects that you pick are so full of vim and vigor,” he told Ray. “It’s outstanding.”

For more information or to reserve a copy, visit