The arrival of James Graham to the current-day Rochester and Rochester Hills area in 1817 marked the establishment of Oakland County’s premier settlement. Back then, the area was covered in thick woodland and in close proximity to several rivers and creeks; characteristics in which early settlers took advantage of through the construction of mills. Both Rochester and nearby Stoney Creek Village, founded in 1823 by Elisha Taylor, built mills which had the capacity to cut lumber, grind grain, card wool and press cider.
For nearly a century, the Rochester area was thriving with large, self-sufficient family farms. The residents of Rochester recognized the benefits of having major transportation routes nearby, and ultimately purchased $50,000 in railroad stocks to ensure the railroad traveled through the area. The coming of the railroad in Rochester established the fledgling town as a flourishing rural market.
The advent of the automobile played a vital role in the development of this area. After the turn of the century, farmers began to decrease production of crops and flocks in order to make room for small auto parts factories, thus aligning with Detroit’s soon-to-be booming economy. The factories were strategically placed near a train route, guaranteeing continued economic prosperity.
Due to the influx of these new factories, many of the area’s farmers fled to the cities, leaving ample open land that was soon utilized for development of new housing subdivisions and sprawling estates. The farmland that went unused in this development was consolidated or transformed into scientific farming operations, such as Dr. Sarah Van Hoosen Jones’ dairy and poultry farm. Van Hoosen, whose mother and aunt were among the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan, bred prize-winning cattle desired across the globe, further establishing Rochester in the public eye.
The area remained on the up and up, continuously developing, while at the same time, holding tight to the original values upon which it was established. Today, the region is still thriving in all aspects, but its heritage is still distinguished through the maintenance of several historic landmarks—notably Meadow Brook Hall and Van Hoosen Farm.
Meadow Brook Hall was built between 1926 and 1929, making it the fourth-largest historic house museum in the country. The 88,000-square-foot, 110-room structure was the original home of Matilda Dodge Wilson. It is esteemed for its beautiful architecture and expansive collections of original artwork and furnishings, which illustrate the lavish lifestyles of successful American industrialists of the early 20th century.
The initial residence of the Taylor and Van Hoosen families, the Van Hoosen Farm dates back to 1823 and today is known as the 16-acre Rochester Hills Museum complex. Nestled within Stoney Creek Village, the property features original structures from 1840, which includes a restored 1927 Dairy Barn that houses a wealth of artifacts, archives and exhibits highlighting the settlement, agriculture, industrial and cultural rise of this area. d