Property #: 1514105008
Historic Site Credit: Rochester-Avon Historical Society
Website Administrator: Rochester-Avon Historical Society

Street:  400 Water Street
City:  Rochester
County:  Oakland
ZIP:  48307
Latitude:  42.6804799
Longitude:  -83.1312141
Current Name:
Rochester Mills Brewery
Historic Name:
Western Knitting Mills
Contributes to:
NR Eligible:
NR Eligible
SHPO Evaluation:
Listed on National Register of Historic Places, NRIS 00000646
Resources on Property Status
Historic Use:
Industry/Processing/Extraction: Processing site
Current Use:
Commerce/Trade: Restaurant
Owner Type:
Deborah J. Larsen
Western Knitting Mills, north and west elevations, 2011
Main Building
Period of Significance:  1896-1942
Area of Significance:
1. Industry
Date Built:  1896
Architectural Classification:
Late 19th and Early 20th Century American Movements: Commercial Style 
Material Notes:
Other Buildings/Features:
Significant Persons:
Chapman, Charles Sherwin, 1864-1912
Chapman, William Clark,1866-1946
Yawkey, William C., 1834-1903
Higbie, Carlton Milo 1890-1955 
Statement of Significance:
Constructed in 1896, the Western Knitting Mills building was supported by a yarn mill, dormitories, and two warehouses. One of the area's largest employers, the mill produced wool socks, gloves, and mittens (1896 - 1916); wool cloth (1916 - 27); and khaki gloves for World War I soldiers. Knitting ceased at this site in 1939.  
1. "Great Day at Rochester: Ground Broken for the New Factory by 100 Enthusiastic Shovelers," Utica Sentinel [reprinted from Rochester Era], June 20, 1896.
2. "Brick-laying on the new factory building is progressing rapidly...," Rochester Era, August 21, 1896.
3. "Knitting Factories at Rochester Will Open Up," Detroit Free Press, October 28, 1896, p.3.
4. "Western Knitting Mills Damaged: Storm Causes Much at Rochester," Detroit Free Press, July 4, 1902, p.2.
5. "Water Turned in Rochester's Reservoir," Detroit Free Press, November 15, 1902, p.2.
6. "Passing of a Pioneer: William C. Yawkey Called to Eternal Rest," Detroit Free Press, November 24, 1903, p.1
7. "The tower of the Western Knitting Mills has been in a dangerous condition for some time and it has been taken down to the bell room," Rochester Era, February 24, 1905, p.4.
8. "The result of returning prosperity is being felt by the Western Knitting Mills...," Rochester Era, November 13, 1908, p.4.
9. "The Western Knitting Mills is constructing an addition to its factory at Rochester, Mich.," American Machinist 44:15 (1916), p.80.
10. "Rochester mill lands big army glove order," Detroit News, December 13, 1917, p.2.
11. "Sale of Textile Mills Completed Here: Carlton Higbie Becomes New Owner of Property," Rochester Clarion, June 12, 1941, p.1.
12. "Alterations Being Finished," Rochester Clarion, July 24, 1941, p.1.
13. "ITT and Higbie Modify Terms of Acquisition," Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), November 15, 1971, p.15.
14. "Construction to Begin on Historic Knitting Mill," Rochester Clarion, October 9, 1997, p.1.
15. "Knitting Mill Has Historic Touch," Rochester Clarion-Eccentric, April 2, 1998, p.1. 
Surveyor's Comments:
Western Knitting Mills, organized in Detroit by Charles Sherwin Chapman, William Clark Chapman and William C. Yawkey, built this factory in Rochester in 1896. The Rochester Era reported that ground was broken in June of that year with a work bee of local citizens: "Ground was broken early last Monday morning, and it was not long before one hundred men were at work digging a trench 150x140x5x3 feet. All worked with a will and determination, and by six o'clock the work was nearly completed. It is estimated that over 200 of our citizens handled shovels and threw out dirt during the day. Every business man in town, who was physically able, was on hand, and right nobly did the work go... It was a great day for Rochester, and our citizens will never regret the efforts put forth to bring this gigantic enterprise - the second largest of its kind in the United States - to this village."

The building originally had a fire watch tower on the northwest corner of the building, which was removed in 1905. The tower was rebuilt during a restoration of the building in the late 1990s.

Western Knitting Mills was a major employer in Rochester in its heyday, and was also a major player in the textile industry in the U.S. at the time. The Rochester Era commented on November 13, 1908:
"The result of returning prosperity is being felt by the Western Knitting Mills, the second-largest concern making yarns and mittens in the U.S. Orders are coming in regularly and the mill will soon work full time and increase its force, which will be good news to all concerned."

In December 1917 the Detroit News reported as follows:
"The Western Knitting Mills have been awarded another government contract for 2,800,000 pairs of army gloves. The mills now furnish their own electricity and are planning to furnish power to other local consumers."

The mill operated until 1927 and then was sold to another knitting company that operated it sporadically with little success through the years of the Great Depression. In 1941, the McAleer Manufacturing Company of Detroit, headed by Carlton M. Higbie, purchased the old mill and relocated its manufacturing operation to Rochester. During World War II, McAleer fulfilled government defense contracts for photoflash bombs and flares and aircraft sub-assemblies from this facility; more than 50,000 MK-46 photoflash bombs were built and shipped from this location during the war. Following the war, the company returned to the manufacture of automobile industry-related products. In 1950 the company was renamed Higbie Manufacturing Company, and later, ITT Higbie, and produced industrial tubing. Manufacturing ceased at this location in 1994 and the building was restored and renovated for use as the Rochester Mills Beer Company and a suite of offices. Plans for the historic restoration were drawn by architect John Dziurman. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.