One of my readers suggested I do a post on Henry Ford’s former estate in Dearborn, Michigan. I said: heck yeah!
“Fair Lane” was actually named after an area in County Cork, Ireland where Ford’s grandfather was from.
Henry Ford was of course the legendary automaker – Detroit’s most famous citizen before Kid Rock – and Ford did indeed name a car model after his house (the Ford Fairlane).
Fair Lane (the estate) encompasses 1,300 acres along the very French sounding River Rouge.
Henry and his wife Clara decided to escape the hustle and bustle they’d help to create in the city of Detroit and headed west to Dearborn, an area Ford knew well because he grew up on the family farm only 2 miles away.
In 1909 construction of the Ford’s dream house began. Over 500 men worked on the home which was not fully completed until 1914. The home was built from Marblehead limestone in a “modified English style”.
In my mind, I see some strong Prairie Style elements incorporated into the design as well.
The estate cost over $2 million to build!
This was the final home of the Ford family, and a lasting tribute to Ford’s success.
Henry Ford died in 1947 and his wife Clara died very soon after.
The estate was purchased by Ford Motor Company in 1952 and then in 1957, the company donated 210 acres to the University of Michigan so the school could open a campus in Dearborn.
In 1966 the house was designated a National Historic Landmark and is now open for public tours as an old house museum.
The Ford estate included some remarkable elements such as: a hydro-electric powerhouse, a laboratory, a green house, staff cottages, and a working farm - built to scale for Henry & Clara’s grandchildren!
Inside the main house, the Fords enjoyed a 4,000 book library, an auditorium, hot and cold rainwater spigots in the baths, a built-in vacuum system for cleaning, a fur storage vault [yuck!], and even a bowling alley!
There is a wall of delicate stained & leaded glass in the grand staircase….
The Ford’s even had a suite of rooms reserved for Thomas Edison, who was a close friend of the family.
Here’s an old photo of the amazing library:
I’m sorry I could not find more photos of the interior (that were not copyrighted within an inch of their life!)
But here is a photo of the on-site power house which harnessed the power of the River Rouge in order to run the entire estate on hydroelectric power:
The power house ran two 55-kilowatt generators that continue to be in use to this day.
Ironically, Henry Ford insisted on powering his estate with a hydro-electric plant because he cared deeply about the environment and only wanted to use clean, non-polluting technologies for his personal home.
Below is a view of the northwest side of the house:
Some other fun features of the Ford estate include: a man-made lake, a skating house, a “Santa’s Workshop”, a maple sugar shack, and numerous bat houses to organically control mosquitos. Apparently, Henry Ford was trying to reduce his impact on the environment at every turn.
The grounds are a spectacle in their own right. There were a series of gardens designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen.
One of the gardens features over 350 varietals of roses!
Henry Ford’s green conscience lives on today with an Environmental Interpretive Center and the River Rouge Bird Observatory located on the university grounds. I write this with only a smidgen of irony.
Not that Ford’s Fair Lane isn’t a spectacular place. Because it is.
But when I think of environmental responsibility and sustainability, the inventor of the mass-produced automobile is about the last person to come to mind!
(Is it just me?)