Clinton George Griffey House
The Clinton George Griffey House was built in 1906 as a private residence. Griffey, a Civil War veteran and publisher of the Negaunee Iron Herald newspaper in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, had chosen Rochester for his retirement home. According to local tradition, Griffey's house was built with brick reclaimed during the demolition of the Detroit Sugar Company mill on Paint Creek in Rochester. The failed sugar beet processing plant was demolished during the spring and summer of 1906, at the same time that the Griffey house was being built. The property also features a brick carriage house, one of only a few surviving examples in the city of Rochester.
Backstory and Context
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This house was built in 1906 by newspaper publisher and politician Clinton George Griffey. Griffey was born in Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1841, the grandson of a Welshman who was one of the earliest settlers of Erie County. The Griffeys were prominent citizens of the township of Conneaut, and on modern maps of that area landmarks such as Griffey Road and Griffey Cemetery can still be identified.
At age nineteen, C.G. Griffey was publisher of the Girard Union newspaper when the Civil War broke out. In 1862, he served fifteen days under arms in defense of Pennsylvania as a member of the 15th infantry regiment of Pennsylvania militia. As Robert E. Lee's forces were entering Maryland in the fall of 1862, Pennsylvanians feared for their state, and the governor called up all able-bodied men to join the militia in defense of the capital at Harrisburg. Griffey enlisted on September 12, 1862, and was discharged from service on September 27, 1862, after Confederate forces were defeated at Antietam and had retreated across the Potomac.
Griffey sold the Girard Union in 1864 and was involved with several other small newspapers before settling in Negaunee, Michigan in 1873, where he founded and published the Negaunee Iron Herald. During his years in Negaunee he entered politics, serving at the local level as postmaster and supervisor. He also served in the Michigan House of Representatives in 1880, and in the Michigan Senate in 1890.
Griffey paid a visit to Rochester in 1903 and liked the town so much that he decided to sell his newspaper in Negaunee and relocate there. He built three houses in town before erecting his fine residence at 444 W. Fifth (now West University Drive) in 1906. The Griffey residence is one of several buildings in Rochester said to have been constructed with brick reclaimed from the demolition of the Detroit Sugar Company factory on Woodward St., which was razed in the same year that the Griffey house was built.
The Detroit Sugar Company had built a large beet processing mill on the banks of Paint Creek, along today's Woodward Street in Rochester, in 1899. The mill was not the hoped-for economic boon to the community and shut down after about four campaign seasons, due to poor-quality beet crops in the area, the lifting of tariffs on Cuban sugar, and other factors. After it was deemed unprofitable for the long term, the mill was demolished and the bricks were re-used for other construction projects. Several local houses, including the Griffey house, are all that physically remain of the Detroit Sugar Company mill today.
C.G. Griffey lived in the house at 444 W. Fifth until his death in June 1937. He was buried at Mount Avon Cemetery in his adopted home of Rochester.
The porch and front dormer on the house were removed in June 1962 and replaced with a Colonial-style, two-story columned portico. The decorative ironwork on the roof was also removed, but still exists today on the carriage house at the rear of the building.
"After Thirty Years, Clinton G. Griffey Retires From the Newspaper Field at Negaunee," Grand Rapids Press, April 8, 1903, p.7.
"Clinton G. Griffey" in Bingham, S. D. Michigan Biographies: Including Members of Congress, Elective State Officers, Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Michigan Legislature, Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, State Board of Agriculture And State Board of Education ... Lansing: The Michigan historical commission, 1924, pp.353-354.
"C. G. Griffey is figuring on building a new brick house in the spring, on his lot, corner of Fifth and Madison avenue," Rochester Era, February 23, 1906.
"Starting from an overheated furnace, fire this afternoon damaged the residence of C. G. Griffey several hundred dollars' worth...," Detroit Free Press, October 28, 1908, p.6.
"C. G. Griffey Dies at Age 95 Monday," Rochester Clarion, June 11, 1937, p.1.
"Senator C. G. Griffey Observes His Ninety-Seventh Birthday Recently," Rochester Era, July 24, 1936, p.1.
"United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZQ5-H8L : accessed 13 July 2020), Clinton G Griffey, Avon, Oakland, Michigan, United States; citing ED 159, sheet 14B, line 95, family 338, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 789; FHL microfilm 1,820,789.
"United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XQ1V-379 : accessed 13 July 2020), Clinton Griffey, Rochester, Oakland, Michigan, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 3, sheet 7B, line 69, family 186, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1016; FHL microfilm 2,340,751.
"United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K4GB-QNB : 29 February 2020), Theodore D Hall, Rochester, Avon Township, Oakland, Michigan, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 63-3, sheet 2B, line 67, family 40, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 1798.
Rochester: A Sketch of One of the Best Towns on the Map, 1907 [public domain]