By Candlelight

March, 2008.

In case you didn't notice, I already have a few posts on this website dealing with Henry Ford. In 2008 I started reading several books about the old Flivver King after visiting his son Edsel's Haven Hill Lodge. Then I dug up info about the old Dahlinger Estate after I explored it. This time I decided to tour Fair Lane, Ford's old mansion that he built for himself and his wife Clara before he died.

The name Fair Lane is well known, mainly because of the large Fairlane Mall nearby that was named after the estate. There is also the classic Ford Fairlane car, which was built from 1955 to 1970. Originally the name was spelled only as two words, but at some point was combined into one word in common use. The name "Fair Lane" comes from the birthplace of Henry's grandfather in County Cork, Ireland.

Back when I chose to take a tour of Fair Lane, I really had my head wrapped around the story of Henry, and sort of began seeing the world through his eyes. What a strange, perfectly eccentric person he was. If he wasn't such an asshole half the time, I think I would've loved the guy. Supposedly my great-grandfather always said that when Henry died, "the bastard got what he deserved." Even though he is traditionally held up as some sort of god to the people of Detroit and the world, Henry Ford really was a terrible person in many ways. To idolize him as so many people do is to miss the whole story.

Yes, he was the inventor and businessman who practically gave birth to the 20th century, and he was the world's first billionaire, but he was raised on a farm in Dearborn like a regular Joe. And as all regular Joes do, Henry had faults (namely, he was a f@#$in tyrant to his employees, and a vocal anti-semite, for starters). In fact I'm certain that near the end of his life he got pretty loopy, sort of like Hitler did toward the end...which is interesting, since their lives had many parallels, and many people questioned whether Ford supported Hitler due to some of his actions before WWII. There is no question that Hitler revered Ford on the other hand, and in fact the F├╝hrer decorated Mr. Ford with the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938.

But all that aside, I feel a bit of kinship with Henry, being that I have many of the same traits and interests as he did, similar old-fashioned views, and nostalgic leanings. Not to mention I too was born in Dearborn and for many years I lived in a neighborhood that stands on what used to be the farm where he grew up. I could even walk to the small, unassuming Ford family cemetery where he is buried in a surprisingly modest grave. Much of the fascination and reverence I have for history, and for things that are old, comes from the many visits to Henry Ford Museum that I paid from the time that I was old enough to walk.

When I finally toured his house, I felt strangely at home. I tended to agree wholeheartedly with his taste in decor, and he had a tantalizing obsession with hidden or secret things, which I feel may have been fostered by a romantic mindset (similar to my own). Namely, almost every building that he oversaw the construction of was interlaced with secret passages and tunnels...but more on that later.

When I visited, the Fair Lane Estate was part of U of M Dearborn, historically preserved and open for tours. It is located at 4901 Evergreen Road (on the Rouge River), not far from the original site of the family farm he grew up on. It was a grey, rainy summer's day when I visited Fair Lane for the first time. You grow up in an area, yet you never go see certain landmarks you take for granted; just like how native New Yorkers proverbially live their lives without ever visiting the Statue of Liberty.

The weather was uncharacteristically dreary and depressing for summer, and I had a strange feeling of anticipation in my gut as I approached Henry's old house. It was nestled in a botanically beautiful setting; Henry was buddies with famed naturalist John S. Burroughs, and in fact Henry dedicated an eternal flame to him in the garden. Henry also employed the world-renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen to design Fair Lane's grounds from 1914 to 1920, as he did with Edsel's estates as well.

For Fair Lane, Jensen designed the grounds to perfectly harmonize with nature, using only native plants. He even incorporated two long meadows between tree groves that aligned with the sunset on the winter and summer solstices to throw long, beautiful sunbeams across Ford's property on those days for a heightened aesthetic effect. Then Henry's wife Clara went ahead and mucked up Jensen's plan by installing her magnificent English-style rose gardens, which drew national fame but are now in ruins (seen near the bottom of this post).

Despite what you might have assumed, Albert Kahn was not the architect of Henry Ford's house. "Albert Kahn almost invariably built the residences for his major clients," W. Hawkins Ferry writes in his The Buildings of Detroit, A History, but even though he designed all of Ford's modern factories, "Ford shrank from the idea of living like other wealthy men," which may explain why his estate turned out as such a bizarre science-project like this.

According to the book Buildings of Michigan by Kathryn Eckert, the original architect of Fair Lane was Ms. Marion Mahoney Griffin, "a close adherent of Frank Lloyd Wright" from the Chicago firm Von Holst & Fyfe. She was also wife of the famous architect Walter Burley Griffin, and composed plans in 1912 for Fair Lane as a Prairie Style house, but there was a disagreement over contractors and suppliers after construction had started and Ford dismissed Von Holst & Fyfe from the project. There is a rumor that Frank Lloyd Wright was supposed to be the architect of Fair Lane, but it isn't true.

A timeline on says that Clara contracted Mr. William H. Van Tine of Pittsburgh in 1914 to alter and finish the design for Fair Lane in the style of the English manor houses she had visited in Britain. Mr. Van Tine altered Ms. Griffin's plans, blending her Prairie design with Late English Gothic style. The AIA calls it a "Prairie-Gothic villa." Van Tine was unknown as an architect, and letters from the Ford family show that a detective agency was even hired to look into his background, which found he had trouble paying bills, according to an article at The Fords kept him anyway (I suspect that this may have been contended territory of husband-wife disputes between Henry and Clara). Henry was known for spying on everyone he did business with, even his closest lieutenants.

Despite its modernistic Prairie-Style form, the 31,000-square-foot house's interior was given an anachronistic touch of Victorian aesthetic that both Henry and Clara were accustomed to.

W. Hawkins Ferry goes on to say that Van Tine's principal qualification was his supervisory ability, and he dealt directly with manufacturers, thus eliminating contractors, which might explain why Henry went to him after dismissing Ms. Griffin. Van Tine was known in Pittsburgh as more of an interior decorator than as an architect, which might also explain why the exterior of the house looks so bad, and yet the interior looks so good. It seems as if Fair Lane is just a cheap fake medieval castle decal plastered over a Frank Lloyd Wright-style frame, serving only as a shell for its splendid, sumptuous interior.

Even though Ford set out to not build a lavish mansion, as Ferry points out Fair Lane's interior could arguably be said to "out-Grosse Pointe" the Grosse Pointe mansions that Ford so despised. But it is a perfect embodiment of its owner, a man who was internally conflicted between the rich and the modest; the modern and the nostalgic.

Ford was a consummate land purchaser–he owned 2,000 acres in this area alone. In fact, half of Dearborn used to be called Fordson Township. Guess how Ford Road got its name? Today, even all the manhole covers in Dearborn have his name on them:

...What other man in history has been famous enough to warrant that kind of commemoration? Here at his estate, the covers simply say "FORD."

This is the guest entrance. I felt privileged to touch the handle of Henry Ford's front door and let myself in:

Other more notable guests to the estate than myself have included British royalty, President Hoover, and Charles Lindbergh, who was a close personal friend of the Fords.

The AIA's Guide to Detroit Architecture says that it took Henry a decade of strategic purchases to amass the land for his Dearborn empire, and despite building his Rouge Plant, Fordson Tractor Plant, and other commercial installations here, he set out from the beginning to preserve pockets of wetlands, forest, and bird sanctuary, especially in the area where he planned to put his estate.

Fair Lane Estate originally encompassed around 2,000 acres according to Eckert, and I know that the Rouge Plant covers approximately 1,000 acres by itself. Between Greenfield Village & Henry Ford Museum, World Headquarters, and the Ford Research & Engineering Center, that's got to be another 1,000 acres, and considering all of the modern business developments that Ford Land currently owns in the area, it might be safe to say that Ford has owned or still owns about 1/3 of the city of Dearborn's land mass.

The Fords previously lived in Detroit's distinguished Boston-Edison neighborhood, so as to be near the Highland Park Model-T Plant. But according to the book Ford: The Times, The Man, The Company by Allan Nevins, their home at 140 Edison Avenue was not private enough–callers constantly came by from dawn 'til dusk asking for job interviews, help with inventions, asking for money, or to just be nosy.

The Fords hired a guard, but knew they needed a more private estate more becoming of Henry's status as most popular man in the Motor City. When he was starting to build Fair Lane Henry had just made the "$5-dollar-day" announcement, which turned the industrial world on its head and propelled him and his company to unheard-of fame.

Originally the Fords were going to build Fair Lane at Gaukler Pointe on Lake St. Clair, but they soon found out that they would be living in the midst of a community of other rich folks who had bought land all along the lakeshore with intent to build too. So he chose rural, undeveloped–and undesirable–Dearborn Township, where land was swampy, cheap, and plentiful and he could create an empire around himself.

He also chose Dearborn over Grosse Pointe–where Detroit's auto barons were typically building their mansions–as a gesture of contempt for the high society of the Pointes, whose pretentiousness he despised. Henry chose to identify with the common man who bought his utilitarian cars rather than the stuffy, monocle-wearing elites of GM and Packard, and he did not own a yacht like the Dodge Brothers. As it would later turn out, Henry's son Edsel eventually took up residence on the property at Gaukler Pointe, building his own estate there, and wholeheartedly immersing himself in the culture of the Pointes.

This chandelier originally hung in the British Houses of Parliament, and is now over 300 years old (it originally held wax candles, not light bulbs):

Fair Lane was actually the Fords' fifteenth and final home, according to, where they often entertained grandchildren and many friends, including Henry's bosom buddy Thomas Edison, for whom they had a special suite reserved since he was such a frequent visitor.

Henry and Clara disagreed on the interior decor of the house. He loved the dark walnut paneling throughout, but she thought it made the place too dark and depressing.

Once when he was away, Clara called in painters to paint over all of it in white. He came back early and was furious, sending the painters away. This angered Henry, but his mantra was "Peace at any price." So, Clara was allowed to have the music room and her study kept white. Personally I love the dark look; painting over such fine wood is a sin. The music room also contained a pipe organ at one time, but it was later removed. The pipes were housed behind this grille (seen at left of the fireplace):

The mantel in the music room is solid carved mahogany I believe... is inscribed with a poem that sings the virtues of seizing the day and not wasting one's time. Fitting for the house of an inventor. There is also a grandfather clock and a stained glass window in the house bearing similar verses. The beautiful herringbone floor was for dancing when the Fords entertained. Henry loved his square dancing, and didn't much care if it was grotesquely out of style–if you came to visit, you were going to have to do some square dancing and pretend to like it.

This is the dining room, where the Fords entertained guests:

The smaller table near the windows was where Henry & Clara normally supped, so as to better see the many rare birds and fauna they kept on their estate. Both Fords were avid birdwatchers.

On a different floor the same bay window is repeated, this time in a parlor or meeting room.

This was Henry's library:

Since Twitter didn't exist yet for celebrities to spend their spare time publicly embarrassing themselves by posting mindless drivel he loved reading books, as did Clara, though she had her own study (which of course was painted white). The library's ornate ceiling was actually part of an endangered English manor house dating to the 1600s that Henry had disassembled and re-installed here. All of the books are Henry's personal books. To browse them you would find many are religious in nature, and several deal with the topic of reincarnation. He was a firm believer in reincarnation, and not only that, but he believed he was the reincarnated soul of a soldier who died at the Battle of Gettysburg, since he was born just after it took place, in 1863.

This, Ford professed, was why he was also a lifelong pacifist. In the beginning of WWI, he even purchased a vessel dubbed "The Peace Ship," and with several other wealthy leading pacifists of the day he set out across the Atlantic to Europe with $1 million of his own money in gold bullion to try and persuade the warring nations to find a peaceful solution. The voyage was a disaster. Everyone on board became sick from the bad weather, and obviously the peace mission failed...upon return Ford was made a laughing stock in the papers. Which is in part what ruined his bid for the U.S. Senate, and the Presidency. But the Peace Ship mission pointed the way later for the genesis of the League of Nations, and the United Nations.

So this is it...this is where the great and powerful Henry Ford lived. His house. His crapper. His dresser where he put on his underwear in the morning. His bed where he slept every night, or got busy with Clara (or not):

It was also the bed where Henry breathed his last breath. It is said that Henry Ford left this world the same way he came into it–by fire and candlelight. He suffered a stroke in early 1945, and died on April 7, 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage. The man who gave birth to the modern age out of a dislike for the old rustic life of toil he grew up with, died in bed of an illness during a severe flood of the Rouge River which knocked out power for heat and light at his house. The flood level of the Rouge has never been as high as it was in April 1947 when he died. Ironically, the hydro-turbines that generated electricity for his own personal powerplant were totally submerged, making them useless. When news of his death broke the entire region mourned, and 100,000 people filed past his coffin at Greenfield Village.

Speaking of last breaths, Henry's best friend and personal hero Thomas Edison had his dying breath captured in a glass vial and sent to Henry Ford. It is on display today in Henry Ford Museum–which was originally called the Edison Institute. I think the vial really contains one of Nikola Tesla's farts, but Ford never knew.

Anyway, the vial is sitting right next to the actual chair that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in. I'll say it again–Henry was a weird character. He collected all kinds of amazing and bizarre things. If you ever want to see the Lincoln limousine that JFK was assassinated in, that's in the Henry Ford Museum too, as well as a few other surprising artifacts, such as Edgar Allen Poe's travel writing desk. Henry was so fond of Thomas Edison that he had a special guest room designed at Fair Lane for him when he came to visit. It overlooked the Rouge River through this window:

Edsel's son, Henry Ford II, was named the new president of the company, a position of power that the mentally deteriorating Henry Ford was unwilling to let go of. The Fair Lane Estate was bought from the family heirs by Ford Motor Co., and became the company's archives for many years. Clara died a few years later in 1950, at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Most of Fair Lane's original furniture was sold at auction in the 1950s, other than a few select items retained by Ford family descendants. The house then served as a records-storage for Ford Motor Co. It was only in recent years that the estate has been restored in any sense for public viewing.

According to, Fair Lane also served as the genesis of the University of Michigan's Dearborn campus when Ford Motor Co. donated 210 acres of the estate (and $6.5 million) in 1956. The home then became a conference center and historic site open for tours. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. In 2013 the Henry Ford Estate, Inc. was formed to take stewardship over the estate's main structures, collections, and related items, as well as the 17 acres immediately around it.

It's a good thing I went when I did because the estate has been closed to tours since 2010, when its first renovation in 100 years began. According to a 2015 article at, the nonprofit that currently oversees Fair Lane has launched a $35-million campaign to not only restore the estate, but also re-create it as it would have looked around 1915 when it was completed.

Henry wielded incredible influence over others, and persuaded them (often against their will) to do things the way he himself did. As I said earlier, he had a thing for secret tunnels. Henry had a mansion built out in Belleville for his mother in law which included a tunnel to a boat launch. Ford had it built mostly to keep his in-laws away from him. Most of all he had influence over his son Edsel. Edsel tried to rebel by building his own mansion in high-society Grosse Pointe, a place that Henry disapproved of. Nonetheless, there are tunnels underneath Edsel's estate.

Henry's bodyguard / head security goon Harry Bennett built a mansion in Ypsilanti known as the Geddes Castle. It contained many secret passages, some of which were escape tunnels, some led to the boat launch, and some led to the lion cages (you read that correctly). Bennett had a fortified cottage up in Clare County with a tunnel to a boat launch on Lost Lake, as well as a concrete pagoda-shaped house on Grosse Ile with a secret staircase that led into a boathouse.

I am not sure how he pulled it off, but Henry allegedly managed to create a tunnel system underneath the city of Dearborn linking his Rouge Plant to the Ford Experimental Lab, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, and his Fair Lane estate. He purportedly used these tunnels on a regular basis to get to and from work, or to avoid having to meet with people he disliked. The tunnel at Fair Lane is actually part of the tour.

The way to the tunnel is kept hidden in the servants' wing, perhaps so that the ever-meddling Mr. Ford could pop out unexpectedly to see if his help was slacking off while on duty. This is the door that you go through in the house to reach the tunnel. It looks just like every other door in the servants' wing:

And this is the security gate behind it:

And here we are, on our way to the powerhouse / garage, connected to the main house by a 300-foot-long tunnel.

I spied a door at one point that was closed and locked, but I strongly suspect it connected to the aforementioned Greenfield Village, Museum, and Rouge Plant complexes. I itched so badly to sneak off and find out, but I knew it would be protected by motion sensors and I didn't want to get assassinated by the Ford Hit Squad. There was another closed door that led to the bowling alley.

There was even an indoor pool with heated marble benches that unfortunately I don't have any photos of. It had been changed into a dining room for conventions however (I'd be willing to bet that there is an access door somewhere that still leads into the former pool's void underneath the dining room floor). But this spot in the tunnels is actually next to the pool; you can tell by the square foundation on the left that interrupts the rest of the arched tunnel:

Surprisingly, for an industrialist Ford was quite the nature-lover, and pioneered clean-energy methods in his industries, simply because it made better economic sense. He had a full recycling program at the Rouge Plant because he hated waste–waste of materials was a waste of money. Likewise, the hydroelectric-plant at his home was so efficient that he actually put surplus electricity back onto Dearborn's power grid. There was even a water-powered elevator in the powerhouse.

This powerhouse was where Henry spent much of his time, because he was a tinkerer, and there he could be alone in his "secret" lab upstairs:

I say secret, because he had a security gate installed on the stairs leading up to the small room, and only his closest, most trusted lieutenants were allowed up. Incidentally, this is one of the parts of Fair Lane that was not part of the tour in 2008, and remained ominously locked. To this day, no member of the public has ever been up there as far as I know.

This was where Henry sequestered himself while he was designing the Model-A, which replaced the Model-T and became one of the most popular cars of all time. It was also where he spent 20 years designing the "X-Motor," which was to replace the inline-style engine, and replace it with a more balanced aircraft-style engine. The "X" was the most top secret of his projects (aside from the Model-A itself), and those who worked on it with him were sworn to secrecy. Its existence was not even discovered until well after his death. But here it is now, on display:

It is small, air-cooled, and the cylinders are arranged in an "X" shape. He could never get it to work without fouling-out the bottom spark plugs, which was because aircraft engines were not designed to handle the stop & go of automobile driving. Therefore, he was forced to turn it into a water-cooled engine, and his designers eventually arranged all the cylinders pointing up in a V-pattern. Thus the first modern V-8 engine was born–the legendary Flathead Ford. It was installed in his brand-new Model-A car which debuted at the same time.

The Model-A was Ford Motor Company's first new design since the Model-T, 20 years prior. The troubles with the "X" project are what in large part prolonged the antiquated Model-T's production run, to the point that the Ford brand was suffering heavily in the market. Other companies had long been producing more modern cars with sleeker styling than the Model-T (companies that were owned and ran by Grosse Pointe residents, by the way), which made it look like a joke on wheels.

Ford had Jens Jensen design this dam on the Rouge River for a waterfall and his hydro-electric powerhouse:

But he made sure that there were stepping stones across the top of the waterfall so that (during normal water levels) Clara could use them to skip across to the opposite bank of the river to visit her sister who lived there. You can't really see the stepping stones here, because the water level was too high.

The powerhouse is water-driven by the Rouge River's current, and the main generator (almost a century old) still provides power to the estate today from its turbines, still spinning four stories below. Ford was immensely proud of this power plant and its efficiency. These are the outlets for his hydroelectric system:

Here is the cornerstone to Fair Lane's powerhouse–laid by Thomas Edison himself:

And this is some random pit I discovered under a steel lid in some overgrowth while checking to see if it led into the famed secret tunnels:

Anyway, what kind of garage would the "Motor King" have for himself? Here it is, ye fellow gearheads, look, and behold!

The Model-T in this next shot sits on a turntable built into the garage, which would have saved its owner from the unbecoming task of executing a three-point turn to make it face outward again. I've never seen a billionaire bother with turning a car around, have you? Didn't think so.

As I said, Henry was a modest man, or at least a shrewd one. He boasted that he did not own custom luxury cars as did the other Detroit auto barons, but instead he drove the same plain-Jane workaday Model-Ts and Model-As he sold to his laboring-class customers.

The car on the left in the next shot is a Model-A, and on the right is Mr. Ford's last car, a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe that was custom outfitted with bulletproof glass and hidden compartments for his body-guards' machineguns, a two-way radio to the Rouge Plant, and other luxuries:

This Lincoln was the car he took his final ride in, and is the car seen in the famous photo of him receiving his 80th birthday cake from a young lad. All of Henry's personal cars still reside in the old garage–there are only about three.

Even the famous Quadri-Cycle, his first working automobile, which he built from scratch in a shed on Bagley Avenue in 1896 has been lovingly cared for and still resides here in Ford's personal garage:

It was awe-inspiring to behold one of the world's first-ever automobiles. This is the car that is depicted on the back of the Michigan 25-cent Quarter, and the manhole lid in one of the previous photos. It was *the* first Ford...if it had a VIN number, it would be "1." Every other Ford car that has ever existed descended from this one. Looking at it, I tried to compare it to the 1996 Thunderbird I drove at the time. There is exactly 100 years of automotive history separating the two cars. What would Henry think to see a machine like mine? Would he be amazed that his name has continued to flourish to the point where it now is emblazoned on cars like my '96 T-Bird which are capable of performance 90 times better than his Quadri-Cycle? Maybe.

More likely he would scoff at it though, because it's not painted black, and has more cylinders than a cow has tits. If it were up to him, we would all still be driving Model-T's. But the Quadri-Cycle broke its way into the modern world with a fury. Partly because when he built it in his attached shed, he realized upon getting ready to take it on its first run that the door was not wide enough to drive as the story goes he hurriedly grabbed a pick-axe and started hacking his house up to make the door wider. This was the first of many home renovation choices that really annoyed Clara.

Speaking of Clara, this car was hers:

It is an electric-powered car. Yes, even as far back as 1907 there were electric cars, and they were built in Detroit (imagine that). Henry bought one for Clara because she (as many women) was not strong enough to crank-start a Model-T (in all fairness crank-starting a car wasn't easy for men either). The Detroit Electric automobile became the very symbol of wealthy womanhood; Clara used it to traverse the Fair Lane grounds while on her gardening chores. Detroit Electric had three charging stations across the city to recharge one's car. You know the Fords really were the king sh*t because on the wall in this photo you can almost see the brass cover-plate of the charging outlet Henry had installed in their own garage.

In 1916, Ford Motor Co. was the largest film producer in the world, shooting mainly training films, and documentation of their manufacturing methods. This projector is thought to have been the Ford family's own home movie projector.

There was also the boathouse, which was mostly underground. The side-door entrance to it can be seen here, nestled into the landscape:

Clara loved taking her boat out on the river to visit family, and Henry had his own trips upriver to visit his mistress Evangeline Dahlinger who lived in the house he built there for her. I found this skylighted boathouse unlocked, and waltzed in to find it in somewhat grubby condition, though being used for storage. As you can see, a brick floor has been built in here where the boat would have been docked.

The channel that used to lead from the boathouse to the river has been filled in too, and covered with pea gravel:

This is the side doorway next to the bay door:

There was also a bowling alley in the house but it was not part of the tour in 2008, as well as an indoor pool, skating house, servants' cottages, and a pony barn. 

*   *   *

In October of 2010 I made a return visit to the grounds of Fair Lane. We went to a part I had never seen before, and found some ruins that I never knew about. We hiked out into Jens Jensen's long meadow, the one that was designed to catch the rays of the setting solstice sun, and beyond that to the "ruins" of Mrs. Ford's famous formal rose garden:

Henry had the powerhouse, which doubled as his personal garage and secret laboratory, as well as a working farm built to scale for his grandchildren, while Clara spent her hours in the gardens, greenhouses, and orchards of the estate, Ferry wrote. The Fords even had peacocks that roamed the grounds, as well as a deer herd 100 strong. There were birdhouses and feeders designed to attract rare birds, and Henry even imported some English species of birds, 500 to be exact, to be released in his sanctuary.

Although he had achieved his sought-after privacy within his 2,000-acre empire, Nevins writes that Ford also suffered from being too insular and withdrawn after he completed Fair Lane, sinking deeper and deeper into seclusion, social impairment...and paranoia. (In other words, he had become a suburbanite!)

This plan shows what the garden was supposed to look like from above:

When it was maintained, it held 10,000 rose plants of 400 different varieties, and cost $200,000 to complete (in 1926). It covers 2.5 acres. As a result of her rose garden Jens Jensen resigned in disgust because it clashed with his designs for the Ford grounds. There were also some structures added as well, including a screened summer house, a pergola, a small stone bridge, and some ponds. Here are the ruins of the pergola:

In his book The Secret Life of Henry Ford, John Cote Dahlinger (the alleged offspring of Henry's affair with Evangeline Cote), writes that Clara Ford spent so much time in her garden because she hated the house. Henry didn't exactly design Fair Lane for comfortable living, it was sort of a museum even back then, Dahlinger said, and Henry didn't spend much time there anyway since he was always at the Rouge Plant, out on inspections, or at his mistress Evangeline's house, the Dahlinger Estate. As a result Clara was sort of "marooned in a castle," a lonely woman eager for company.

Clara Ford helped found the Garden Club of Dearborn, and was its first president, according to Work on the house was completed in December of 1915.

This was the summer house:

It stands unused, with no screens in its windows, since no one actually lives at the estate anymore to use it.

John Cote Dahlinger also wrote that one of the bucks in the deer herd on the estate attacked Henry one morning while he was out for a walk with Evangeline, knocking him over. Henry hobbled home and, to put it succinctly, ordered venison roast for his next four dinners.

The stone bridge, and the ponds:

The gunked-up former lily pond:

This slot had once been the artificial source of the now dry ponds:

The water would've cascaded down here:

And ended up in this pool:

...before passing under this bridge:

...and out into another pool, which in turn drained to an underground tunnel feeding the lily pond down by the summer house (in the distance). You know you're rich when you can afford some sh*t like that.

Other important posts on my website that explore Henry Ford-related sites are:
Dahlinger Estate
Haven Hill Lodge
Cherry Hill Farm
Highland Park Model-T Plant
Kingsford Woodie Plant
Perrinsville School
Down The Rouge
Ford Motor Co. Utica Trim Plant
Ford Motor Co. Wixom Assembly Plant
Secret Road Maps of Henry Ford
Wilcox Mill

Buildings of Michigan, by Kathryn Bishop Eckert, p. 119
AIA Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Hill & Gallagher, p. 328
The Buildings of Detroit, A History, by W. Hawkins Ferry, p. 298-299
Ford: The Times, The Man, The Company, by Allan Nevins, p. 584-585
The Secret Life of Henry Ford, by John Cote Dahlinger, p. 71-72, 79, 81


  1. I've been around the grounds and estate a few times volunteering for Ford doing landscaping for the Ford volunteer corps. I can say, that they family / company now owns the estate now, and is working to bring it back to it's original grandeur, including the gardens and original furniture (what they can find). I can also assure you those tunnels all exist, as I have been in them, and spoken with maintenance employees who have traversed all of the tunnels from PDC, to the glass house, to the estate, to the power plant / steam plant, to the church in Dearborn, all the way to the Rouge. Apparently (according to the one maintenance employee I spoke with), a couple of guys drowned in the tunnel leading out to the Rouge complex when a water main broke while they were in the tunnel. Looking forward to the re-opening of the Estate when it is finished.

    1. Awesome. My girlfriend worked at Greenfield Village for many years and she has also told me about all the tunnels between all those buildings, as well as all the random uncatalogued artifacts that Henry had store down there until the big modernization happened. I also worked with a telephone lineman who worked in the Ford tunnels between the various sites like WHQ, R&E, and PDC. I would have a meltdown if I was allowed to explore the Ford empire at will like that.

    2. I used to walk between building 1 and PDC all the time via the tunnels. When I was bored, I would sneak as far as I dared off the main pedestrian tunnel under oakwood towards the other tunnels but always chickened out before I got to the junction for fear of loosing my cushy engineering job. But yes, like you, I would have a meltdown as well. Maybe someday.

  2. This is a fascinating (even great) account. I do have a fairly major nit-pick, however. It is a PROJECTOR, not a camera. Cameras take movies; projectors show them. This one appears to a Simplex Model A with a full sound enclosure. It has a Simplex "straight arc" lamp which is appropriate to the era of Fairlane's construction. Yes, I worked in the movie business for a while when I was in college.

    1. Thanks for the catch on that--I totally should have known, but I guess I quickly glossed through that part of the writeup.

  3. Hello, I use to go to the Fair Lane house in the 1970's. At that time you could go to the boat house and still was flooded by the Rouge River. Also my dad bought a use car from one of the care takers it was a A.M.C. Gremlin and the man showed him how the turn table worked. Also the car in the garage is not a Lincoln but a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe with a two way radio to the Ford Rouge Plant. Keep up the great work love it, Thank You

  4. Hey, just wanted to say that I absolutely LOVE your site. I've spent hours poking around on here so far and I know I've only scratched the surface. Not only do I love what you do, I love your writing style and amazing attention to historical detail.
    In terms of Fairlane, my Dad used to be a Historian on Henry Ford and helped (along with my step-Grandfather) to restore the powerhouse in the late 1970s. He was a tour guide at the home as well as at the home in Fort Meyers. Unfortunately he passed away when I was only 3 in 1983. He has a plaque dedicated to him and his work with Fairlane tucked away in a corner of the powerhouse. If he were alive I'd totally love to hear any stories/details about those tunnels.. I'm with you, exploring them would be a DREAM.
    Keep up the good work!

  5. Hi, I was working as a volunteer at the Henry Ford Estate last week and one of the gardners was talking about a long entrance to their estate. He mentioned it was "Like" a mile long and had a guard shack at the entrance. If you draw a straight line, going East from the estate, the 1 mile mark lands at Ford WHQ. This does not seem like a coincident to me. I wonder if Ford WHQ was build at the entrance of Henry Ford's estate.

  6. While riding in the auto with my parents along Michigan avenue was the entrance to Fairlane. In my first 15 years, were living in Dearborn, I remember my dad saying there is Old Henry now, coming out Fairlane driveway that was a long time ago, I am now 90 years old.


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