The First Decades
of the Twentieth Century

Tragedy for Utica
The century began with hardship and tragedy for Utica, as once again fire destroyed the town. The Utica Sentinel records in its May 13, 1904 edition: "Utica has had a great loss - a loss that will be felt for years - as some of the losers by the big fire have lost their all with no insurance."

The article begins: "At 9:30 on a beautiful Sunday morning, the cry of 'fire' was heard. In less than 10 minutes, the hotel, 75 years old, was a 'seething furnace.' A special train brought aid from Detroit, and 'Engine No. 4', with Lieutenant Sheahan in charge, had a hose laid from the canal bridge and a vigorous stream was thrown on the blaze and its further progress was checked from that moment….By a freak of the fire the flames missed the little Cootes house and consumed St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church…there is no fire protection…scarcely a ladder to be found in the whole village."

St. Lawrence Church was destroyed, but Father O'Shea immediately set to work. Services were held in private homes in Utica, Washington and surrounding territories. Finally, Catholics rented Robertson's Hall and used this until the church was rebuilt.

The primary problem facing him was the raising of funds to rebuild the church. A subscription fund was started and parish social activities, parties, picnics and suppers produced $5,367.26 for the building fund. Many donors from Mt. Clemens and places other than Utica supported the cause. Among the names of those listed are: Church and Church, Builder's Supplies; H. O. Messmore, Butcher; William E. Hahn, Hardware; Herbert McClellan, General Store.

A New Church: The First Parish Festival
Consultations were held with architect and contractor. Finally the cornerstone was laid with considerable celebration, and the new church was built in 1908, on the property at Van Dyke and McClellan.

In August of 1916, Father O'Shea suggested to the people of the parish that they celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence by having a community dinner. Each family would bring a "favorite dish" in a picnic basket and everyone would partake in the feast. Thus began the first parish Festival, a tradition which would blossom into the largest summer event in Utica, and continue for the next 45 years. People were known to come from miles around to enjoy a homemade chicken dinner with all the trimmings, see old friends and continue to weave a strong bond between parish members.

During the years 1917-1919, St. Lawrence became a mission of Rochester, and Fr. Charles Linskey was then in charge. During this period Mass was offered every two weeks. From 1920 to 1924, Fr. Thomas J. Carroll was pastor of Rochester thus also serving St. Lawrence. There were still relatively few families -- scarcely 50, no school, no sisters, a small church and seldom more than 25 communions at a Sunday Mass. A usual collection amounted to about $15. There developed during this time a divergence in the various nationalities settling in Utica. Belgian gardeners, recognizing the fertile land available in the area, began buying farms and selling their produce at the Eastern Market.