John B. Oliver House
This two-story brick dwelling was built circa 1865 for John B. Oliver (also known as Jean Baptiste Olivier) in standard upright gable front-and-wing configuration typical of the Greek Revival. The house has decorative influences of the Italianate Victorian: wide eaves supported by heavy double brackets, narrow 1/1 and 2/2 windows crowned by decorative arched window hoods, and a front bay window on the first floor, topped by decorative ironwork.
Backstory and Context
The preponderance of evidence in deed and property tax records for this lot indicates that the house at 324 East Street was built for John B. Oliver in approximately 1865. Lot 125 was sold by John E. Oliver to his father, John B. Oliver (1794-1875) in 1863; the taxable value of the lot appears to indicate no building on the lot before 1865, but in 1866, the taxable value of the lot had doubled while the value of adjacent lots remained unchanged.
John B. Oliver was born in France in 1794 with the name Jean Baptiste Olivier. He immigrated to the United States from France with his family aboard the ship La Leonarde and arrived in New York on August 29, 1828. The 1877 History of Oakland County documents him as one of only two veterans of the Napoleonic Wars living in Oakland County at that time. He was a cabinetmaker by trade. His obituary indicated that he had fought with Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo and was wounded in the battle. Before he died in Rochester in 1875, he requested that he be buried with his old sword and scabbard lying across his chest. According to the newspaper, his final wishes were granted.
Samuel Harris, an early resident of Rochester who relocated to Chicago after the Civil War, published his reminiscences of Rochester's pioneer days in the Rochester Era in 1909. Harris mentioned the Oliver house in his installment of November 8, 1909, as follows:
John Oliver, the Frenchman, came to Rochester long ago. He claimed that he was in the French army under Napoleon, and always stuck to it that he was in the battle of Waterloo. As I remember, he had two sons and three daughters. I have lost track of them all. He built a house on the flat on the corner directly in front of Charley Cook's house and one square west of the Woolen Mills.
Oliver sold Lot 125 to Nehemiah Ralston in October 1866. Ralston and his family were natives of Northampton County, Pennsylvania and had lived there until the end of the Civil War. Nehemiah and Mary Ralston were listed as resident taxpayers in the village of Rochester from 1866 when they purchased the lot until they sold it in 1872; they owned no other property within Avon Township or the village of Rochester, so it is reasonable to assume that they were living on Lot 125 at the time. Vital records also indicate that the Ralstons had an infant child who died while they were living in Rochester in 1869.
Nehemiah Ralston sold Lot 125 to Rochester merchant Abram Horn in February 1872, and the 1872 plat map of Avon Township and Rochester shows the house standing on the lot at that time. In 1873, the brick house is mentioned specifically in a newspaper article noting that Abram Horn had sold it to James E. Riggs, another Rochester merchant, after owning it for less than two years. Riggs sold or traded the house to Orestes Millerd in 1878. The Pontiac Gazette of July 26, 1878, reported as follows:
Mr. Orestus Millerd [sic] and Mr. James E. Riggs have just perfected a trade or exchange of property, which places Mr. Millerd in possession of the brick house and premises on Oliver street, into which he moved last Wednesday. Mr. Riggs' family will remain there also for the present, but we understand will ultimately remove to Arkansas on property taken in part in exchange for his place here.
The house was subsequently owned by Millerd and his family for a number of years. The Millerd heirs sold the house to H. Frank Stone, who sold it to Hiram C. Hadden in 1904. The Haddens owned the property for thirty years, and in 1944, it was converted to use as a nursery school, thus ending the building's service as a private residence. In 1969 the house was purchased by Oscar J. Sorenson, who operated it as a private museum he called "Wedgewood Hall." Sorenson built an addition on the back of the house to replace an old summer kitchen. The building has housed several businesses in the intervening time, including the Martin Insurance Agency, a clothing store called The Nest, and Kosch Catering. In 2021, the building became the home of a private event venue called The Social Space.
John E. Oliver and Augusta Oliver, his wife, to John Oliver, Lot 125 and south 50 feet of Lot 126, Richardson and Adams Addition to the Village of Rochester, 23 November 1863, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 87, p.513.
John Oliver and Rose Oliver, his wife, to Nehemiah Ralston, Lot 125, Richardson and Adams Addition to the Village of Rochester, 01 October 1866, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 87, p.514.
Nehemiah Ralston and Mary A. Ralston, his wife, to Abram Horn, Lot 125, Richardson and Adams Addition to the Village of Rochester, 16 February 1872, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 106, p.451.
Abram Horn and Esther Horn, his wife to James E. Riggs, Lot 125, Richardson and Adams Addition to the Village of Rochester, 07 Oct 1873, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 111, p.427.
"Col. A. Horn has just sold his house and lot..." Rochester Era, October 9, 1873.
"Mr. Orestus Millerd and Mr. James E. Riggs have just perfected a trade...," Pontiac Gazette, July 26, 1878, p.4.
"H. F. Stone will sell at auction next Saturday...," Rochester Era, January 26, 1906, p.1.
H. Frank Stone and Ella F. Stone to Hiram C. Hadden, Lot 125, Richardson and Adams Addition to the Village of Rochester, 10 February 1904, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 216, p.628.
Rochester Clarion, September 7, 1944.
"Remodel Haden [sic] Homestead for Nursery School," Rochester Era, September 7, 1944, p.1.
John Oliver obituary, Rochester Era, 1875.
Durant, Samuel W. History of Oakland County, Michigan. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877, p.272.
"Aged Rochester Woman is Dead: Mrs. Hiram C. Hadden Succumbs to Long Illness Wednesday," Rochester Clarion, February 20, 1925, p.1.
"Pioneer Dies After Short Illness: Hiram C. Hadden, Oldest Resident in Vicinity, Dies at 97 Years," Rochester Clarion, January 19, 1934.
"Restoration of Old House Idea of Oscar Sorensons," Rochester Clarion, February 22, 1969.
Sanborn-Perris fire insurance map of Rochester, Oakland County, Michigan, May 1900, plate 1.
"Museum Hails Victorian Era," Pontiac Press, October 17, 1969, p.D1.
"The Nest Opens," Rochester Clarion, August 15, 1974, p.2.
"Old Rochester: Sam Harris Continues His Interesting Reminiscences, " Rochester Era, November 8, 1909, p.1.
Klein, Susan Tauber. "The Nest: Fashionable Half-Size Apparel," Rochester Eccentric, January 2, 1978, p.9A
Sanborn-Perris fire insurance map of Rochester, Michigan, May 1900 [Library of Congress; loc.gov]