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"The Land of Healthful Delight": Highlights from the Rod and Susan Wilson collection of Rochester History


The Western Knitting Mills

The Western Knitting Mills were built in 1896 on the site of the ruins of previous mills in Rochester, at Fourth and Water streets. 


They were established by Charles and William Chapman who bought an existing knitting works company and moved its operations from Detroit to Rochester.


Until its closure in 1937, the knitting mills was one of the largest employers in the area and a major producer of wool gloves, socks, and mittens. During World War I, they produced khaki gloves for American troops.  Women came from afar to work at the mills and were housed in adjoining dormitories.


In 1940 the vacant building was acquired by McAleer, a Detroit company which produced automotive polish and later on, during World War II, became the nation’s leading manufacturer of photoflash bombs. 

The Rochester paper mill

The Rochester paper mill started operations in 1857 on the banks of the Clinton river, on the site of an old flouring mill that dated back to 1824. The mill operated under different names (including Barnes) until 2002.

The Detroit Sugar Company

In 1899, the Detroit Sugar Company built a massive beet sugar processing plant along Paint Creek in the northwest corner of the village of Rochester, close to the Michigan Central railroad tracks.


Unfortunately, the government incentives and high tariffs on Cuban sugar that made the venture attractive did not last and the company ceased operations in 1903. Three years later, the building was demolished and the machinery and bricks were sold.


Founded in 1866, Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Company operated out of its Detroit riverfront facility for several decades until 1907, when it established a 340-acre farm in Rochester to house its animals, called Parkedale. Those were required to make its vaccines for diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, and tetanus.


By World War I, Parkedale Biological Farms had some 600 horses, as well as sheep, cattle, poultry, and many more animals. According to The Early History of Parke-Davis and Company, “the animals at Parkedale were probably the best fed and cared for in the world.” 


The Rochester site was in part chosen because of its location on the interurban railway, which provided easy connection to Detroit. In 1970 Parke-Davis was acquired by the Warner-Lambert conglomerate. After a series of corporate acquisitions PAR Sterile Products moved into the site in 2014.


The sprawling Parkedale facility included fields, tracks and barns for the animals and numerous other buildings. The 3,000 Parke-Davis employees enjoyed a rich social and cultural life within the company, as illustrated in the company magazine.