"We have built a home in the country since I saw you, and we love it very much . . . " - Clara Ford, letter to a friend, 1919
stately self-contained enclave of privacy and natural beauty, tucked away on 1300 acres of rambling Dearborn farmland. Fair Lane stands today as a true reflection of
Henry and Clara Ford's interests and ideals.
In 1909, with the success of the Model “T," Henry Ford began
building his vast Highland Park Complex.
The automobile industry was quickly becoming America’s largest and this growth was led by the Ford Motor Company. To bring the price of the Model “T” within the grasp of the average man, Ford introduced the assembly line to
the automobile industry in 1913.
Henry Ford , Thomas Edison and John Burroughs in the "ubiquitous" Model T
jumped to 1,000 cars per day in 1914 and then to 2,000 cars
per day in 1916. With this rise in productivity, Henry Ford found it possible to make his workers customers as well, announcing a $5.00 day in January 1914. This unprecedented step, more than doubling wages overnight, also proved to be a great public relations move, driving sales still higher and turning Mr. Ford into a worldwide celebrity.
and Henry Ford's
Edison Avenue home.
Such success brought a stream of uninvited callers to the doors of
Henry and Clara Ford's Edison Avenue, Detroit mansion. Reporters, salesmen, and job seekers deprived the family of the privacy they desired. They soon wished to build a new home, one removed from the rapidly expanding city, where they could satisfy their love of nature, gardening and bird watching, in particular. Never comfortable with the boisterous lifestyle of Detroit society, the Fords abandoned plans to follow the migration of the city's wealthy to the eastern suburbs, and instead chose to build on a 1,300-acre tract
of land approximately two miles from
In February 1914, work began on what would be the couple's final home. Between 500 and 800 masons, wood carvers, and artisans worked year round to complete the estate as quickly as possible. In keeping with the Ford's love of nature, the residence was built with rough-hewn Ohio limestone to harmonize with the surrounding countryside. The grounds, designed by noted landscape architect
Jens Jensen, were transformed from farmland into a natural, native landscape.
Lane is neither the largest nor the most opulent house of its
era. Mr. Ford was proud of his simple tastes and felt no need to flaunt
his substantial wealth. He cautioned the architects against building
lavishly; the residence's total cost was not to exceed $250,000. Despite
this directive, at the time of completion the building cost $1,875,000.
Interior decorating cost an additional $175,000 with property
development and landscaping adding another $370,000 to the final bill.
By January 1916, the Fords were completely settled into their new home.
the Fords' residency, Fair Lane bustled with
activity. In addition to the residence and its powerhouse, the estate
included a summer house, man-made lake, staff cottages, gatehouse, pony
barn, skating house, greenhouse, root cellar, vegetable garden,
thousand-plant peony garden, ten thousand
plant rose garden,
a "Santa's Workshop"
for Christmas celebrations, maple sugar
shack, working farm for the Ford grandchildren built to their scale,
agricultural research facilities, and five hundred birdhouses to satisfy
Mr. Ford's interest in ornithology.
Because the Fords designed the residence to be so private and
self-contained, it is uncertain how large of a staff was retained to run
the estate. About a half-dozen people worked in the residence, and
technicians, stokers, and electricians were always on duty in the
estate's powerhouse. A considerably larger staff was needed to maintain
the extensive gardens of the estate. Up to twenty-five men tended the
grounds on a seasonal basis, but exact numbers are difficult to
determine due to Mr. Ford's practice of augmenting the staff with people
temporarily pulled from his assembly lines.
Clara and Henry Ford with their
grandchildren at the Fair Lane Estate
Henry Ford enjoyed
Fair Lane for over thirty years until his death
in 1947. When Mrs. Ford died three years later, her grandchildren
commissioned Parke-Bernet Galleries of New York to conduct an auction of
the home's furnishings.
In 1952, the Ford Motor Company purchased the estate from the heirs
and, after renovating parts of the interior, established its corporate
archives in the residence. Ford Archives stayed until 1957, when the
the residence, powerhouse, 210 acres, and $6.5 million
to the University of Michigan for the creation of the Dearborn campus.
In 1963 a local group, the "Women of Fair Lane," persuaded
university officials to allow tours of the home, which lasted for three
years, when Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan reacquired
some of the rooms for administrative purposes. The Henry Ford Estate,
including 72 of the original 1,300 acres, was designated a National
Historic Landmark in 1966. Public tours of the historic home were
re-introduced in the 1970s. Since then, a limited staff, generous
contributors, and approximately 250 volunteers successfully continue the
process of rebuilding the estate and reviving its former splendor.
Work has been undertaken to preserve and protect the site for future generations. Interior rooms and five acres of gardens and grounds have been renewed and restored. Critical infrastructure repairs have been completed. Just recently,
1915 Powerhouse began
generating electricity again. The tremendous strides that have been made are significant and, in large measure, are driven by the importance of the Henry Ford Estate, as a National Historic Landmark, to the local and world community.