DEARBORN: The Ford Homes

23 Dec

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In 1915 American Industrialist Henry Ford built the Henry Ford and Son Tractor Plant in the city of Dearborn. In addition to American production, Ford built 6,000 tractors for England and 1,000 for Canada in 1917 to assist the countries with food production during WWI. By 1918 the plant employed nearly 400 men, most of which were forced to live in Detroit because of the lack of housing in Dearborn; it took workers an hour via streetcar to get to work everyday. The idea to build a planned subdivision that would allow workers to live close by was embraced by Ford. The Dearborn Realty and Construction company was formed with Clara (Henry’s wife) and Edsel (his son) owning 2/3 of the shares, Henry was not a shareholder. The company purchased 312 lots with the intention of constructing modern, tastefully designed homes, each a suitable size for an average family. They were to be built of the best materials and differ in appearance, there were six different models, A-F, all are colonials.

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Today we are doing the Ford Homes Historic District Holiday Home Tour, we don’t know too much about the area so we’re excited to check it out. We purchase tickets at Reach International Church on Nowlin St. The building is a collage of the original structure and additions through the years from 1924-1964. We are invited to look around the church, the Sanctuary was added in 1964 and is a reflection of the Modern architecture popular at the time, colorful stained glass in linear patterns is reflecting onto the walls, placards explain the symbolism of architectural details. We ascend and descend short staircases pausing to look in various rooms, photos and finally the original chapel. 

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Tour booklets in hand, we hit the sidewalk, from the map it looks like the tour houses are reasonably close together. All of the Ford homes were constructed in 1919 and 1920, 250 in all, spread out on Beech, Nona, Park, Edison, Francis, Gregory and Military streets. Henry Ford had definite ideas of how things should look and be, he insisted the homes not be placed an even distance from the street, here we have 3 houses 24′ from the street the next 4 are 32′ so a staggered look is achieved. He insisted various models be placed on each block, making each home appear distinct–it works. Ford homes were purchased directly from Dearborn Realty and Construction Company, no banks were involved. Once you purchased a house, you could not sell it again for at least 7 years; the company retained the right to re-purchase a home within the first 7 years if the buyer was deemed ‘undesirable’.

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We start out on Beech, a Model B home, then down Gregory to a Model A and C, although the homes have many things in common each buyer added their own special touch with options like built-in cabinets, fireplace surrounds, doors with 3 or 6 glass panels, brick or siding. Nearly 100 years later I’m astounded by how original they still are; floors, light fixtures, cove moldings, shutters, amazing. Homes are decked out for the holidays; trees, garlands, wreaths, miniature lights. Dining room tables are set for a holiday feast, settings look like pictures from a magazine. Neighborhood streets are absolutely charming, front porches are welcoming, old-fashioned lamp posts are wrapped with greenery and red bows, vintage cars are making a special appearance for the tour, a burgundy Model A, turquoise Packard, yellow Buick and a Model T (black, of course) are all parked in driveways. Homes are beautifully maintained, many have had additions through the years, care as been taken to unite the old and new.

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We have visited 11 homes in the Historic District, I think we’ve seen all but one of the six different models offered. The Ford Homes are distinct, they were built with a production-line approach to construction. Lots were excavated by Ford tractors then the foundation crew arrived, followed by the framing crew and on it went. Each crew had its own specialty, something unheard of in 1919 when a home was generally built from the ground up by a single construction crew. In September 1920, following a slow-down after the war, the tractor plant was moved to the massive Rouge Plant, the workers soon followed, after that no more Ford Homes were built– the remaining lots were filled with other homes put up after 1921. It’s clear the people who to live in these houses take pride in their neighborhood, appreciate the unique history they represent and share it by opening their doors to all of us, thank you for that.

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We are having lunch at Al Ajami on W Warren Ave. After eating at many other places in the area, Al Ajami is still our favorite. The large modern interior has table seating for large or small groups and cozy booths on the upper level. We are seated in a large booth in the front window, a server immediately arrives with a pickled vegetable platter and a basket overflowing with fresh-from-the-oven pita bread. These little round pitas are slightly crisp outside, tear into it and watch the steam be released, the inside is moist and tender–I think I could make a meal of the pita and vegetables alone….. Well, that and the vegetarian combo: fresh tabbouleh, falafal, grape leaves, creamy hommous, smoky baba ghanouj, so delicious! We eat until we can eat no more. It’s been another fun day of exploring topped off with an outstanding meal.

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One Response to “DEARBORN: The Ford Homes”

  1. sueski99 December 29, 2015 at 7:54 am #

    Thank you. Great little piece on a slice of Dearborn. Can’t wait to try Al Ajami

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