Outsiders have a history of saying questionable things about metro Detroit. Remember when Rush Limbaugh claimed the basketball brawl at The Palace made us “New Fallujah, USA”? Or when Glenn Beck compared us to Hiroshima after the bomb? And what about the time Ohio Gov. Edward Tiffin claimed Rochester was worthless because it was “a poor, barren, sandy land”?
If that last dig doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because no one has thought it for nearly 200 years. But if you go back far enough in Rochester’s history — before Oakland University, before Meadow Brook, before tree-lined roads and quaint downtown shops — you’ll discover that statement to be the public’s understanding of the land sitting 30 miles north of Detroit.
Rochester and Rochester Hills (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), the newest installment in the company’s Images of America series, goes back to that era of unsettled land, sending readers to 1817, when settler James Graham founded Rochester and challenged that notion about the topography. Meadow Brook Hall curators Meredith Long and Madelyn Rzadkowolski rounded up more than 200 vintage photographs and let the images do most of the talking, choosing to sparsely add supplemental stories, names, and dates to accompany the visuals.
Rochester and Rochester Hills are communities with daunting breadth. It’s impressive that Long and Rzadkowolski were able to cover Oakland University, high-school football, the birth of the UAW, the Dodge family, and the founding of Leader Dogs in just 126 pages (almost all of which are photo heavy). The book is short enough to help you pass an afternoon, but rich enough to demand it not merely collect dust on your coffee table.