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.

Volunteers

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.

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.