By Derek Smith
This is a story by Dr Charles Kempf. It is a wonderful manuscript which I recently discovered, squeezed between hundreds of documents, housed in a group of historical archives, contained in the basement of the Port Huron Public Library. It is a story that calls out to you and states “I am interesting, informative, and full of historical nuances.” The story draws you back into the early 1900’s, and contains many idiosyncrasies, uncovered by the author, who was witness to those historical moments.
Dr Charles Kempf arrived in Port Huron in 1933, bearing the title of the first registered Podiatrist in the thumb and downriver Eastern Michigan. He hung his shingle at the Michigan National Bank Building, a prominent historical structure, still very visible to the eyes of the today’s local citizenry.
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Andrew Murphy, more commonly known as Mr. Murphy, visited Dr Kempf at his office there. In the late 1930’s, Mr. Murphy had just returned from a European trip. During his travels there, he had acquired a painful blistered heel, delivered by a new pair of stiff, British shoes, an injury which needed immediate attention.
“While treating the foot, Murphy was very talkative in telling me about his trip. I complimented him on the suit he was wearing. It was a beige tweed with a half belt in the back. He sported a soft floppy hat that matched his suit. I never saw Murphy wear a regular necktie. He always wore a hand-tied bow tie. His ties came from England, many in colors to compliment his tweed.”
One day in the 1950’s, while attending an appointment with Dr Kempf, Murphy noticed a 30 * 24 inch lithograph of Port Huron hanging on the wall in my waiting broom wall. Murphy remarked that “the print looks exactly like Port Huron when I arrived here”. Kempf questioned what year that might be, and Murphy replied “1901.”
Murphy was raised in Columbus Oh. His father was a high official of the Portland cement company, which was located there, and involved in the brick paving business.
In the late 1800’s, the Hocking Hills area, which is in the Columbus area, was one of North America’s leaders in the production of iron.
The Hocking Hills region had numerous blast furnaces used in the reduction of iron ore. Early blast furnaces were fueled from wood, which had been burned into charcoal, to heat the iron ore and transform it into iron ingots. With an abundance of furnaces, an ample supply of clay in the area, along with lots of trees to fuel the kilns, the manufacture of brick pavers became a natural offshoot of iron production.
When young Andrew Murphy graduated from high school, his father put him to work in the Portland laboratory to learn the cement business.
After working a year or so, he came up with a new formula for paving roads. The company tested his formula and approved it for future paving.
Murphy was awarded a contract in South Bend and completed paving on several blocks of streets in the summer. Those efforts landed him a recommendation to a Chicago ward official. The following spring Murphy got a contract to pave several more blocks in Chicago. It took the summer to finish the contract, which was then approved by the city. Murphy was told to return the next spring, and he would get another contract for a larger pavement job. The following spring, they offered him an even bigger paving contract, but there was a problem. The ward leader demanded a kickback for himself. This was a new venture for Murphy, after he had thought it over, he decided to turn it down.
Perhaps it was Murphy’s deep sense of morality, a divine intervention, or a handsome coincidence that led Murphy to this decision.
In any event, it was the correct conclusion.
It was a decision that would impact the rest of Andrew Murphy’s life, a fortuitous judgement that
would lead to a loving companionship, an impactful business career, and a rich and influential lifestyle, that only a fraction of society might taste.
After turning down the new contract offer, Murphy went back to his hotel to wait for a train back to Columbus. While sitting in the lobby of the hotel, he engaged in conversation with another guest, a gentleman who had just returned by train from a city in Michigan called Port Huron. They did not have any paving and were looking for a way to cover the mud streets of their city. Murphy asked how to get to Port Huron and was told to take the grand trunk railroad in Chicago to the end of the line. Murphy did just that.
In Port Huron Andrew was granted a contract, that would take him eight to nine years to finish. “As I recall, Murphy told me that Water St was the worst mud street, and it was the first street to be paved” using Murphy’s brick pavement process, which began with the ground being levelled down lower on the sides to allow for drainage. It was then covered with several inches of sand and gravel. Large bricks were placed by hand on the sand leaving an inch separation between each brick. Murphy designed a soft broom that the men used to sweep the cement into each crevice down to the sand. This was called grouting. There are many streets in Port Huron where Murphy’s Hocking Hill bricks are now covered with pavement.
During his business dealings in Port Huron, Murphy met Henry McMorran, who at that time, was one of the most successful businessmen in the area. He would also meet Henry’s daughter Emma, whom he fell completely in love with. The two would marry following a 4-year engagement.
As our narrative continues, Dr Kempf remarks, “I must say that many of my stories came from Clara Watson, who ran the Chateau Restaurant on Military Street. Clara was also in charge of the kitchens at three golf clubs over the years. The McMorran and Murphy families dined regularly whenever she was the cook.”
In the late thirties “The Chateau” on Military Street was “the place” for fine food in Port Huron. The business was owned by Mrs. Clara Watson, a skilled professional cook. The business catered to private weddings, parties, lunches, and banquets.
The Chateau as It Now Stands Today as an Apartment Complex
During the golfing season, Clara also managed the kitchens of the Black River, the St Clair, and the Port Huron Golf clubs. For several years Clara would rotate between the clubs. Around 1950 she would make the Port Huron Golf Club her permanent home.
The folks at P.H.G.C. were very happy with Clara’s decision, so much so, they had the road paved, leading into the club from the lakeshore, and named it after her, “Watson Drive”.
When the golf season was over, Clara moved back to the Chateau and catered to private parties and clubs.
She rented the three-story stone home for $200.00 per month. There were 3 or 4 teachers living there, year-round. The rent they paid her made her rent payment.
Clara had two regular customers, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Murphy. They came to dinner almost every night.
They sat at the same table, at eight o’clock, and were served their pot of tea. Mrs. Murphy’s sister Mrs. McKenzie occasional dined with them.
When Clara went back to the golf club, Murphy would take out a social membership to dine there.
They never knew what would be served to them.
Over the years, Clara knew everything they liked and prepared it specially for them. Clara once told me that Murphy had his tipples at home, before dinner.
Clara was very demanding with her the girls she employed. Those who did not meet her professional standards were dismissed, hence, there were quite a few of her employees that returned to the lines of the unemployed.
In the fall of 1937, Clara hired a young Polish girl, Helen Rogaczewski, to work for her. Helen turned out to be her best employee, and in about a year, Clara had Helen living at the Chateau. Helen was a good driver. She took Clara shopping and did much of her food purchases. She was very dependable, and Clara soon became a second mother to her. They went on several trips to eateries in the city to get ideas on new foods and salads.
When the Murphy’s dined at the Chateau, Helen served them their pot of tea and dinner. Mr Murphy’s wife, Emma, and her sister Mrs. Clara McKenzie were daughters of State Congressman Henry Mc Morran. They were both very fond of Helen.
One fall, Mrs. McKenzie asked Helen to go to Italy with her, for the winter as her companion, but meek Helen decided to stay with Clara and work at the Chateau. Mrs. Watson did not like Helen’s long polish name, so she told Helen to shorten the name to Rogers. After that everyone called her Helen Rogers.
I had been dating Helen, and in April of 1941 Helen became Mrs. Charles Kempf. After Helen and I were married, Helen left her job but did go back to help Clara with the dining room, whenever she was having big parties. Her job was to arrange the tables and flowers, check and direct the waitresses to their serving tables, and whatever else was necessary before serving dinner. On one occasion, Clara had a big dinner to serve at the Port Huron Golf Club. She had fired her hostess at 3:00 o’clock, so she called Helen to come and prepare the dining room for dinner. Helen called me to see what time I would be home, so she could have the car to go to the club by five o’clock.
Helen always had a white uniform to wear in these emergencies, so when I arrived home Helen was waiting in our doorway in her white dress, motioning me to answer the phone which was ringing. The call was from Clara, calling from manager Bob Hayes office. Clara wanted Helen to stop at Hank Gates store and pick up some thickening for the gravy. Helen laughed and asked me for $10 to purchase the thickening. The request was their signal to bring Clara a pint of whiskey. She could not ask while her boss was at the desk beside her. Helen did get the thickening.
Before Murphy’s wife Emma died, I was not invited to visit them. I never met Emma or her sister Mrs. McKenzie.
I had Murphy as a patient since the 1930’s and had heard many of his life’s experiences, when he came to my office. On one occasion, Murphy wanted Helen’s advice. His favorite lounging chair needed repairs. Helen advised him to have Vining’s upholstery do the repairing. Helen chose the material for him but there was a catch, the back of the chair was depressed, and Murphy wanted it returned, re-upholstered with the depression of his back kept exactly as it was before. The Vining man did a good job and when the chair was returned, we went to see it. To celebrate the new chair, we had a tipple with Murphy before leaving.
Murphy and wife Emma had enjoyed talking with Helen about the early years when Helen waited on them at the Chateau and golf clubs.
From the 1940’s -1960, Helen had many Sunday afternoon phone calls from Andrew Murphy, inviting her to his home. In reality, it was his wife Emma and her sister Clara McKenzie that the visits were meant for.
They had known Helen since 1937 and enjoyed visiting with her. The sisters had no children of their own and it seemed that her visits meant a great deal to them.
After Emma passed, Murphy invited both of us to his home. Without Emma, Murphy had grown lonely.
By 1960 both sisters had passed away. For the next six years, Helen and I had many phone calls from Murphy inviting us to visit.
After his wife Emma died, Andrew spent most of his days at home or went down to his new arena to see how things were going. One day when he was in my office, he told me “He wanted to make his office in part of the 150-foot tower”. He never went through with the plan.
To be continued…