July 30 marks the 150th anniversary if the birth of one of the world’s most influential industrialists. If Henry Ford (b. July 30, 1863, d. April 7, 1947) were here, how might he celebrate?
Henry’s multiple interests reached far beyond his obvious fascination with things mechanical. Country dancing was one that he and his wife Clara pursued at The Botsford Inn, an 1836 stage coach stop in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills that he restored in 1924. (It still stands but is no longer open as an inn.)
He and buddies Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs roamed the country—including Northern Michigan—from 1915 and 1924 as “The Vagabonds.” With their elaborate gear, equipment and staff (including photographers to record the guys roughing it) they were early Glampers, enjoying the great outdoors with the comforts of home.
Henry liked to fly fish, which he did on the fabled AuSable River in northeastern Lower Peninsula. He tinkered with watches, something he did as a boy growing up on a farm in Dearborn, a city neighboring Detroit to the west. And he was interested in a range of subjects from soy beans and history to “village industries,” rural developments where workers lived where they were employed.
There’s no shortage of spots around Michigan where locals claim, “Henry Ford (and pals) were here.” Many of these attractions are seasonal; click on each to learn more.
The Henry Ford: A must-see attraction even if you’re not a fan of the man. Established by Ford in 1929 as the Edison Institute, this complex, which includes indoor and outdoor museums, a tour of the famous Rouge car plant and an IMAX Theatre, takes a few days to fully explore. Wear your walking shoes:
- Henry Ford Museum: Ford collected objects that he felt told the story of America, from household utensils to farm equipment. Under one roof you’ll see cars (of course), furniture, gigantic locomotives, historic airplanes, President Lincoln’s chair from his last night at the Ford Theatre, the last example of a Dymaxion House, a vintage diner, collection of lightbulbs, roadside tourist cabin and more.
- Greenfield Village: The actual homes, factories and other buildings related to significant people and events in American history, reassembled in a town setting including Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, the cycle shop where the Wright Brothers built their first airplane,working steam train and the farmhouse where Ford was born.
Stop in at the Detroit jewelry store frequented by Ford, which he’d visit on trips through the Village and where he’d sometimes sit and work on watches in the shop window. Take a spin in a Model T and enjoy costumed interpreters throughout the Village including a live presentation by Henry discussing the Tin Lizzie.
- Ford Rouge Factory Tour: See the vehicle assembly process from an elevated walkway over the floor where the F-150 trucks are built. The visit includes a couple of excellent video productions and display of vehicles made at the massive plant, which opened in 1917.
Model T Automotive Heritage Complex: The “T-Plex” is the 1904 factory on Piquette Avenue in Detroit where Ford and draftsman Joseph Galamb developed the idea for the Model T, and where the idea evolved for the moving auto assembly line that would revolutionize the industry. The “Birthplace of the Model T” turned out the first 12,000 of the cars before he moved the operation to its new Highland Park factory in 1910.
Fair Lane Estate, the mansion and extensive grounds that Henry and his wife Clara developed in 1915 Dearborn, is undergoing restoration and is not open to the public. You can visit the estate of their son, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, across town on the east side of Detroit on the shore of Lake St. Clair.
Fuller’s North Branch Outing Club, Lovells: Built in 1916 as The Douglas Hotel, the lodge is located on the North Branch of the fabled fly fishing waters of the AuSable River in the northeast part of the state near Grayling. Stay at the 12-room Bed & Breakfast frequented by Henry and son Edsel Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison and an international clientele that included European royalty.
Alberta Sawmill Village Museum, L’Anse: Tour the steam-powered sawmill that Henry Ford built to produce wood, logged from company property in the Upper Peninsula, for Ford automobile bodies. Take a walk through the planned village of homes and other buildings that surround the factory. The compound is now used by Michigan Tech University School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.
Dearborn Inn: Sleep or sup at the world’s first airport hotel, which was built by Ford in 1931 to accommodate travelers landing at Ford’s own air field across the road (that land is now the Ford Motor Company product proving grounds). Now a Marriott Hotel, the gracious, 223-room Georgian-style hotel also offers lodging in a Colonial Village on its 23-acre site. The five homes replicate those of Americans Ford admired: Oliver Wolcott, Barbara Fritchie, Patrick Henry, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe. Located just a short distance from The Henry Ford museum complex.
McCourtie Park: The art of el trabejo rustico, cement crafted to look like wood, populates this park along US-12 near Somerset Center (south of Jackson). Built around 1930 by cement magnate William H.L.McCourtie, the grounds include an underground Rathskellar where Henry Ford (supposedly) played poker with the guys.
Check out the self-guided Life and Times of Henry driving and audio tour in Southeast Michigan, downloadable at MotorCities National Heritage Area.
For more information, upcoming lectures and other events go to:
All stories and photos copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted