By JOHN OLIVER, Guest Writer
The University is in the final process of transferring ownership of the Henry Ford Estate to the Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, according to Judith Modelski, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor.
When finalized, the agreement would unite the Henry Ford Estate, and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House “in what will become a national model of the sustainability and 21st century interpretation of our nation’s history,” according to an earlier University of Michigan-Dearborn Office of Business Affairs press release.
On April 19, 2010, Chancellor Daniel Little explained the “win-win” benefits of transferring the campus icon to the Ford House. “UM-Dearborn is committed to preserving the legacy of Henry Ford, which is a story of innovation and experimentation that serves as inspiration for the entire region,” he said. “This transfer will help the Henry Ford Estate achieve its full potential as a first-rate historic attraction and allow the University to remain committed to its core academic mission. We have a cultural gem on our campus and we look forward to many collaborative opportunities with Ford House.”
Modelski emphasized the importance of the Henry Ford Estate to the Dearborn campus. “We have been the steward of Fair Lane since UM-Dearborn opened 53 years ago,” she said. “The estate is original to the University. We take great care in maintaining it.”
According to Modelski, the University provides two employees to maintain the grounds, and provides security patrols. She added that there has been some sharing of resources between the two sites.
While recognizing that Ford House is in a better position than the University to preserve and present the splendor of the estate, she said that “Fair Lane will be a collaborative effort going forward.”
The name Fair Lane is taken from an area in County Cork, Ireland, where Henry Ford’s relatives once lived. The mansion is a 31,000 square-foot Marblehead limestone structure of a modified old English design. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Ford House also has that designation.
One of the exciting processes after the transfer will be determining how to show the estate to the public. Docents led tours of the mansion before it closed in the spring of 2010. With today’s technology-interactive, multi-media, etc.-future visits may take on a different face.”That hasn’t been decided yet,” Modelski said.
Restoration decisions are other unknowns. The estate’s furniture was auctioned off when the Ford Motor Company purchased it. According to Modelski, some original bedroom furniture has since been donated to the estate after owners were located by using auction records. It is unknown if Ford House will decide to refurnish Fair Lane with period furniture. Ford House, on the edge of Lake St. Clair, has its original furniture.
When will the transfer of ownership take place? Modelski doesn’t know. However, she expects there will be news announcements about the status of the transfer on the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford’s birthday, July 30, 2013.