A New Beginning for a National Historic Landmark
Summer 2013 marks the latest milestone in the history of Henry Ford Estate — Fair Lane. During the celebratory season of Henry Ford’s 150th birthday, ownership of the estate has transferred from the University of Michigan to a newly formed nonprofit that will restore, refurbish and reimagine this National Historic Landmark.
Fair Lane, located in Dearborn, Michigan, was the beloved family home of Clara and Henry Ford from 1915 until 1950. Upon Clara’s death, it was given to Ford Motor Company, and in 1957 Ford donated the estate and the farmlands to the University of Michigan for construction of the Dearborn campus. In 1966, it was among the first in the nation to receive the prestigious designation as a National Historic Landmark from the National Register of Historic Places.
A new 501c3 nonprofit, Henry Ford Estate, Inc., has been formed to bring the house and grounds to a new generation of visitors. The estate will undergo extensive restoration, and immersive experiences will be developed to bring the Fords’ world to life.
Join us on the journey. Sign up to receive updates and information, and help welcome the Henry Ford Estate into a new era.
From 1915 to 1950, Clara and Henry Ford called Dearborn, Michigan home, staying in their beloved residence known as Fair Lane. Upon Clara’s death, Fair Lane was given to Ford Motor Company, and in 1957 Ford donated the estate and the farmlands to the University of Michigan for construction of the Dearborn campus. In 1966, it was among the first in the nation to receive the prestigious designation as a National Historic Landmark from the National Register of Historic Places. In June 2013, ownership of the Estate transferred from the University to the Henry Ford Estate, Inc., a new 501c3 corporation that will now restore, reimagine and reopen the Estate.
GOVERNANCE AND LEADERSHIP
Board of Trustees
- Edsel B. Ford II, Chairman
- Lynn Alandt, Secretary
- David Hempstead, Treasurer
- Kathleen S. Mullins, President
- Lindsey Buhl
- Benson Ford, Jr.
- Cynthia N. Ford
- Eleanor B. Ford
- Donna M. Inch
- Sam Pack
- Michael T. Ritchie
- Kathleen S. Mullins, President & CEO
- JoAnne Thompson, Vice President, Finance & Administration
- Ann Fitzpatrick, Vice President, Communications
- Megan Wood, Associate Vice President, Education & Visitor Experience
- Mark Heppner, Vice President, Historic Resources
- Matthew Wawro, Vice President, Development
VISITING THE ESTATE
The historic buildings on the Estate are currently closed for restoration. However, the grounds remain open year-round for the general public to explore and discover. Maps highlighting walking loops of the Jens Jensen landscape are available on site. The grounds are open Monday through Friday until 6 p.m. Admittance to the grounds and on-site parking are free of charge.
The historic buildings of the Estate will be opened on a limited basis for pre-arranged group tours. To inquire about availability for a group tour, contact Donna Buchanan or 313.884.4222.
The Estate’s buildings and grounds currently are not available for rental use. Photography is allowed on the grounds. To inquire about photography on the grounds, contact Karen Marzonie at 313-701-2240.
Photography Use Guidelines [PDF] 138KB
Historic Ford Estates
1100 Lake Shore Road
Grosse Pointe Shores, MI 48236
The Estate is seeking garden volunteers to assist on Friday mornings and every other Saturday from April through November with tasks including planting, weeding, mulching, cultivating, pruning and sweeping. Anyone interested in gardening is welcome; in addition, the Estate is an approved site for Wayne County Master Gardeners to obtain required volunteer hours. For more information or to volunteer, contact Pamela Morrison, Landscape Coordinator, at 313-701-2241, or Karen Marzonie, Director of Landscapes, at 313-701-2240.
A Family that Changed America... and the World
Rooted in the rhythms of work, family, and tradition that defined the nineteenth-century rural Midwest, Clara and Henry Ford may have seemed unlikely contenders to radically change the touchstones of American society. Yet, together they created a world and forged a legacy that transformed the lives of their fellow citizens everywhere, from the boardrooms of Manhattan to the kitchen tables of rural Mississippi.
Henry’s most celebrated innovations, the auto assembly line and the living wage, sparked sea changes, including large-scale industrial production and mass consumerism, the expansion of the middle class, immigration, and migration of masses to America’s northern cities. At the same time, he eased passage through this torrent of transformation with his promotion of reform, advocacy of the workingman, and allegiance to populist values—becoming a folk hero and one of the first celebrities of mass culture. Henry also broke new ground in the vanguard of environmental stewardship, leading the way in industrial recycling at Ford Motor Company’s immense River Rouge plant as well as in ventures such as the firm he launched with E.G. Kingsford to make charcoal briquettes using the scrap wood from his sawmill and parts plant.
At every point in the remarkable trajectory of Henry’s career, Clara was his indispensable partner—a confidant in business matters as well as a companion sharing personal interests. Moreover, she was influential at pivotal points in the history of Ford Motor Company. Clara is credited with influencing the extension of the “five dollar day” wage policy to the company’s office workers; and convincing her husband to sign an agreement with the autoworkers union to end a raging labor conflict. Henry’s strong anti-union sentiments, grounded in his notions about individual responsibility, met their match in Clara’s convictions. The model of Victorian decorum, Clara also possessed a strength of will and morality that fueled her passion for her numerous philanthropic pursuits and social reform projects, aligned with the growing activism of women in the Progressive Era of the early 20th century.
Clara and Henry Ford had one child, Edsel who married Eleanor Lowthian Clay in 1916. Eleanor and Edsel raised a family of four: Henry II, Benson, Josephine and William Clay. Their home in Grosse Pointe Shores is open to the public today as the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House.
The Home at the Heart of the Legacy
As newlyweds, Clara and Henry first lived in a farmhouse on property owned by Henry’s father. But Henry’s passion for mechanics led him away from the farming life. Clara, who literally stood by his side as he poured gasoline into his experimental engine, embraced his calling and believed in his future success. In 1891, they moved to Detroit where they resided in a series of apartments and houses as Henry lead two unsuccessful attempts at starting an automobile company before realizing success in 1903 with Ford Motor Company. The immediate popularity of the Model T, introduced in 1908, secured both wealth and renown for the Fords who sought a home away from inquisitive reporters and gawking fans. They began construction of their beloved home, Fair Lane, in 1913.
True to their roots, Clara and Henry seemed most comfortable in the rural countryside of their youth. They named their home, Fair Lane, after the birthplace of Henry’s grandfather, Patrick Ahern, in County Cork, Ireland. Fair Lane, built on 1300 acres of farmland, was just miles from both Clara’s and Henry’s places of birth.
Most of the estate’s structures stand today -- the main residence, the powerhouse and garage, the greenhouse and gardening building, the boathouse, and the stables. Frank Lloyd Wright was retained to design the house; but shortly after beginning, abandoned his practice. Taking on Wright’s commissions, Hermann V. von Holst and James L. Fyfe engaged Marion Mahony Griffin, an associate in Wright’s studio, to design Fair Lane. She utilized the “Prairie School” philosophy for its design, but at odds with elements of the design and expense, as well as enamored of English manor houses after their first trip to Europe, the Fords dismissed the architects and engaged William H. Van Tine. He greatly modified the design into the eclectic mix of English castle and Midwestern prairie-style that survives today. The extensive gardens for the estate were designed by the landscape architect Jens Jensen.
THE PROJECT AND THE CAMPAIGN
Restoring, Reimagining and Reopening an Iconic Estate
On June 27, 2013, ownership of the Henry Ford Estate transferred from the University of Michigan to Henry Ford Estate, Inc., a new 501c3 nonprofit. With the transfer, Fair Lane became united with the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. Both estates are now under the operational umbrella of the Historic Ford Estates.
With transfer complete, the Henry Ford Estate Board of Trustees is initiating a complex project to restore, reimagine and reopen Fair Lane, beginning with a strategic planning initiative in 2014.
A campaign is quietly underway to fund the restoration and interpretive work. The Campaign for Fair Lane will support initiatives in the following key areas:
Estate Restoration and Groundwork for the Fair Lane Experience: This undertaking will include the main house, powerhouse and garage, greenhouse/garden buildings, boathouse, dam, gardens, river bank, and other key areas of the landscape.
Visitor Experiences and Public Programming: The quality and caliber of programming and information provided at Fair Lane is central to the visitor experience. Funding will be dedicated to developing interpretive and educational programming for on-site and virtual visitors as well as reproduction of original furnishings for the main house.
Sustainability: An endowment will be established to provide a foundation of operating support that can ensure the estate’s future and make annual fundraising and revenue generation realistic and manageable.
We encourage you to join the vanguard of leaders in this venture – help us to provide this amazing experience and learning opportunity for youth and adults – help us to make this extraordinary home available now and for decades to come.
To learn more about the project and/or to become involved in The Campaign for Fair Lane, contact Matt Wawro, Vice President for Development.
In the News:
Crain’s Detroit Business - Capital, rebranding efforts set to revive historic Fair Lane site