John Fairchild Hamlin House
This house is significant for its association with pioneer farmer and contractor John Fairchild Hamlin, who settled this land in sections 22 and 23 of Avon Township after his marriage in 1831. Hamlin, who migrated to Oakland County from New York, was one of the contractors on the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal project and had a hand in the financing of a plank road into Rochester. The house is also significant for its association with Judge Marsden C. Burch, the husband of J.F. Hamlin's daughter, Belle Hamlin. Burch was a federal attorney who lived in Washington, D.C. while serving as special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States and used his wife's ancestral home as a summer and retirement residence.
Backstory and Context
Likely built in the early 1840s by pioneer Avon farmer and contractor John Fairchild Hamlin (1799-1863), the residence was well-appointed for its day, as befitted the home of a man as successful as its owner. J.F. Hamlin was born in 1799 in the state of New York and migrated to Michigan during territorial days. He was appointed an ensign in the territorial militia of Michigan by Governor Lewis Cass in June 1824. He married Laura Andrus of neighboring Washington Township in 1831 and the couple settled in Avon Township. Hamlin amassed significant real estate holdings; by 1857, he owned more than half of section 22 and part of section 23, totaling 545 acres, as well as lots in the village of Rochester and acreage in other sections. According to his probate file, when John Fairchild Hamlin died in 1863, the land in his estate was valued at more than $30,000.
Part of J.F. Hamlin's fortune came from farming, but some of it came from contracting work for transportation infrastructure in the new state of Michigan. Hamlin was one of the contractors for the section of the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal running from Utica to Rochester, and after the project was bankrupted, he spent the next decade - along with others - petitioning the state legislature to pay him for his work. Hamlin was also a commissioner of the Rochester and Royal Oak Plank Road Company, chartered by the state of Michigan in 1847.
John's widow, Laura Andrus Hamlin, died in 1883 and ownership of the Hamlin farm, known as Oldhome, passed to John and Laura's daughter, Belle. Belle was married to Marsden C. Burch, who had a long and noteworthy career in law and government service. Burch had begun his law career at the age of 21, as the first clerk and attorney for the newly-minted village of Rochester in 1869; two years later he was appointed probate judge of Osceola County. He also served as a federal district attorney in Grand Rapids before moving on to Washington, D.C. where he joined the Department of Justice as a special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States. Since the Burches resided for much of their married life in Washington, D.C., they used the old Hamlin homestead as a summer and vacation residence, visiting the Rochester area for a few weeks each year. Judge Burch continued the farm as a going concern by hiring a superintendent to operate it in his absence.
On October 9, 1903, the Rochester Era reported: "Judge Burch has returned to Washington, D. C. and his duties in the department of justice. During the summer the Judge has built over the old Hamlin home, two miles south of Rochester, until it is now one of the finest country residences in Avon township. Always a stately mansion, it has been added to and overhauled until now it is a most desirable home. Robert Featherstone, a good farmer and citizen, occupies the house and works the farm."
In 1916, the Burches sold part of the Hamlin farm holdings for subdivision, but retained the house and other buildings and a generous section of the property for themselves. In announcing the partial sale of the farm, the Era said: "It will be gratifying to the people of this region that Mrs. Burch holds onto the place where she was born [in 1846] and lived until her marriage, and that not one of the buildings is to be parted with, and Oldhome will remain as it is, and has been. It has been known far and wide as the Hamlin Place practically as long as Rochester itself, the mansion and many of the other buildings dating back to the early part of the last century."
The Hamlin house ceased to be a private residence after World War II and in the late 1980s was developed as professional office suites. A large wing was added to the west side of the building at that time.
Bloom, J. Porter., Carter, C., United States. National Archives and Records Service., United States. Department of State. (19341975). The Territorial papers of the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., v. 11 (Michigan Territory, 1820-1829), p. 582.
Benjamin Horton to John F. Hamlin, 31 October 1831, 25 acres on Section 22, Avon Township, Oakland County, Michigan, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 5, p. 326.
"Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VN2G-9B5 : 4 November 2017), John F Hamlin and Laura Andrus, 29 Mar 1831; citing reference ID , various county clerks and libraries, Michigan; FHL microfilm 979,570.
"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MF8K-R8M : 4 April 2020), John F Hamlin, Avon, Oakland, Michigan, United States; citing family 778, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
"At Rest [obituary of Laura Andrus Hamlin]," Rochester Era, July 12, 1883, p.1.
"The Hamlin Farm Sold," Rochester Era, March 3, 1916, p.1.
"Judge Burch has returned to Washington, D.C....," Rochester Era, October 9, 1903.
"Death Comes to Mrs. B. H. Burch," Rochester Era, July 17, 1936, p.1.
1812 S. Rochester Rd., "Inventory of Historic Properties, Avon Township," 1978
Michigan. State Historic Preservation Office. Intensive Level Survey, Rochester Hills Historic Districts Survey [prepared for the City of Rochester Hills by Jane C. Busch], 2002, p.138.
History of Oakland County Michigan, 1877