Tag Archives: Edsel Ford

Haven Hill

7 Sep

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Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit in 1893, he was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. From an early age he was passionate about art, with Henry Ford as his father he naturally went into the family business, Ford Motor Company. In 1916 he married Eleanor Lowthian Clay, they went on to have 4 children together, in 1919 he became the youngest president of Ford Motor Company, that same year Henry and Edsel became sole owners of Ford Motor Company, not bad for a 26 year-old man. In the early 1920’s Edsel began buying up land in Highland and White Lake Townships with the intention of building a self-sufficient retreat to escape city life; what he created was a 2,422 acre estate called Haven Hill. Today we’re in the Highland Recreation Area for the Haven Hill Festival.

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We park near the Gate House, built in 1927 this was the original entrance to the estate, anybody entering would have to pass through security to gain access to the property, remember these were the days of kidnapping, labor unrest and gangsters during prohibition. Today it serves as a headquarters for the festival. Inside a man is finishing talking about the property, restoration of the remaining buildings, historic photos and renderings cover the walls and tables. Jens Jensen and Genevieve Gillette worked together on the original landscape design, I’m not sure how much of it remains.

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We make our way to Goose Meadow, a line of Model A’s from members of the Livingston A’s Driving Club are on display; Edsel was responsible for the design of the Model A. The brass band is playing in the distance as an 1860’s era baseball game is finishing up. Under a canopy historic photos of Edsel, Eleanor and their children at Haven Hill are on display; in those days Edsel held the world on a string. We take the Jeep up a narrow lane that winds through the park till we arrive at the Carriage House. The building, a charming log cabin nestled into the woods, still looks to be in decent condition, windows are boarded up for protection. Originally intended to house the chauffeur and the Ford family cars, it became the playhouse for Henry II, Benson, Josephine and William Clay.

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Just up the hill is the site of the Lodge, the 6,900 sq. ft. hilltop residence at Haven Hill; only it isn’t there anymore. In 1999 the building burned to the ground due to arson; I find the site absolutely fascinating. Concrete steps lead us under an arch, up a hill to the homes footprint, historic markers are placed about representing the various rooms of the estate, placards display black and white photos of the room in which we are standing. Footings remain, spray paint maps out the floor plan, the grand stone fireplace is crumbling. I stand in front of the photo that includes the fireplace, in my mind I can see the family gatherings that took place, well-known visitors such as Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Cooper, the Prince of Wales and Admiral Richard Byrd were frequent guests.

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The terrace patio remains, a photo shows a group of lounge chairs providing a restful place outdoors. Here and there colorful stone remains, random groups of flowers are in bloom. I meander room to room; photos display conservative furnishings, a child’s bedroom holds a canopy bed, crib and rocking chair. A few steps lead to the top of the hill, the view now obscured by trees. We look around for what’s left of the swimming pool and tennis court, the path is overgrown and impossible to pass.  It’s kind of eerie, here we are standing in what remains of the grand lodge where the Ford family spent 20 years, their children grew up here, they had a 3,000 ft tow-return toboggan run, they rode horses and went fishing, such personal stories laid out for all of us to see.

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On the way down from the lodge we notice a pair of pretty cupolas in the horizon, a closer look reveals a group of buildings once used for the Ford farm, now used as the maintenance shop for the Highland State Recreation Area. The Edsel Ford Barn was built in the 1930’s, a large section of it was blown down by high winds in 2008, crews are currently working on restoring the remaining section of the barn. Haven Hill was a working farm, Henry Ford once said “With one foot in industry and one foot in agriculture America is safe.” Wise words from a wise man… The barn originally housed 1,500 sheep, later it was home to horses and cattle. The barn with its 3-tiered roof is actually quite lovely, I’d love to come back and see it when it’s done.

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Edsel Ford was the longest running president in the history of Ford Motor Company, he introduced the Model A, Mercury and the Continental. He was a supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, Admiral Richard Byrd’s North and South Pole flights, he was the chairman of the DIA. In 1943 at the age of 49 Edsel died at home in Grosse Pointe. Three years later Eleanor sold the Haven Hill Estate to the Michigan State Park System. State budget cuts lead to the closure of the structures in the 1980’s, the riding stables and lodge were lost to fire. Now the Friends of Highland Recreation Area and Michigan DNR are working together to bring the 3 remaining structures back to life, it’s an incredible piece of history that has gone largely unnoticed for decades. 

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On our way out of the park we make a stop at Teeple Lake Beach, a canopy on the beach is ready for a wedding ceremony, the shelter is set up for the reception. The small lake is a pretty sight; wildflowers sprout near the shoreline, the water is almost still, a picturesque wedding venue. We are headed to the Village of Milford for lunch, this quaint little town is home to nice boutiques, restaurants, parks, and a trail system, it’s not unusual to see bicyclists riding through town. The rain has begun, we luck out and get a parking space on Main Street directly in front of Palate. The attractive interior has a rustic, old-fashioned feeling to it, dark wood, brick, wooden barrels stamped with names of local breweries. Servers are friendly and helpful. We are having the Fried Chicken and Waffle sandwich: buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, pickles, 3-pepper gouda, bacon and chipotle aioli all stuffed between two golden malted waffles. The sandwich is delicious, the chicken is crispy and juicy, the cheese and aioli provide a little kick and the waffle is a tasty and tender alternative to a boring bun. Served with a side salad, it is plenty for the two of us. 

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Driving through town we notice the Milford Historical Museum is open, let’s go in. The museum is located in an 1853 Greek Revival home built by local cabinet maker John Wood—seriously. The structure has seen time as a family home, Doctor’s office, village offices and police department, it as been the local history museum since 1976. Milford began as a rural mill community, the Huron River was attractive to settlers from New England and New York. Farmers raised cereal grains, mills processed timber and farm products. The railroad arrived in 1871; there was a door knob factory in the 1880’s, residents manufactured window screens and furniture. Henry Ford created one of his Village Industries along the Huron River and began manufacturing Ford carburetors here in 1938, that’s quite a history for a small town.

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Inside the tiny museum we are greeted by volunteers, near the stairway is an exhibit taken from the old Milford Post office. Up the stairs rooms are furnished in the late Victorian-era, many of the items were manufactured in Milford. I like the rose-colored glass of the hanging light fixture in the formal parlor, the kitchen is full of labor-intensive gadgets. The bedroom has a rope bed high off the floor, the toy room is popular with visitors. The Log Cabin exhibit is a depiction of the Bigelow cabin built in the south end of Milford in 1833. The fireplace was not only a source of heat for the family it was essentially the stove too. It was in this cabin that Mrs. Bigelow started the first school for children in the area.  I always enjoy visiting little local history museums, they share the history and heritage of the town and its residents. Without fail we gain insight into the past helping us to understand the present and have fun while we’re at it.

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Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Grosse Pointe

30 Nov

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When people are on vacation they seem to develop a certain sense of curiosity and adventure, they visit a museum or two, tour a mansion, they drive around a bit, see new things, maybe even try a new type of cuisine.  I’d like to challenge you to take that same sense of adventure and do something you’ve never done right here in the metro Detroit area. Detroit is home to top museums, we have the second largest historic theatre district in the country, fine dining, art and culture. Men of wealth and power lived here, worked here, and changed the world from here, one of those men was Edsel Ford.

Edsel was the only child of Henry and Clara, he began working for his father at a young age and found the automobile business suited him perfectly. Edsel’s wife Eleanor lost her father at the age of twelve, it was then that her family moved in with her Uncle, J.L. Hudson. The fact that they came from affluent families paid a big part in their sense of appreciation for fine things. They were both known as extraordinary and generous, thanks to Eleanor their home is open to the public so we too can experience the beauty and elegance of the past. On an unseasonably warm November day we visited the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House on Lake Shore Drive.


Construction on the home began in 1926, it took one year to build and two additional years to finish the interior. The home was designed by Albert Kahn; the Ford’s traveled with Kahn to England to choose the style of home they desired, there they decided on a Cotswold style home. Paneling and fireplaces were purchased from manor homes across England, rooms were disassembled, shipped to Grosse Pointe, then the pieces were fitted into the home. The exterior is sandstone, vines cover the walls, the roof is made up of hundreds of pieces of slate. The home sits on 3,100 feet of Lake St Clair waterfront, the view is stunning!


Enter through the front door into the main hall, the ceiling is low, it is plaster with a beautifully carved pattern, the walls are sandstone, it feels cozy. A gorgeous Christmas tree sits in front of a large stained glass window. It is an old fashioned tree, green and flocked as if there had just been a snowfall. Elongated ornaments hang from the limbs, these were custom made for Mrs Ford by Ford Motor Company. The tree is a replica of one of Eleanor’s favorites they had put up for a party years ago, the ornaments are the originals. One of my favorite things about visiting this home is that it looks the way it did when the family lived here. These are their furnishings, dishes, books, the things they used in their everyday life. It is thanks to Eleanor’s forethought that we can visit her home; she put the house in a trust so that it would be open to the public. She was devastated when the nearby Dodge mansion was demolished, and did not want her home to share that same fate.

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As you walk from room to room really look around, the paneling is 16th century oak, the carvings are finely detailed, the linen fold amazes me. The stained glass windows are 14th century, fireplaces are centuries old. The Gallery is the largest room in the home, measuring 25 x 60 feet this is where the family held large gatherings. Here you’ll find another carved plaster ceiling, English paneling and a huge Gothic chimney piece. This is a great time of year to visit, the house is decked out for the holidays, the Christmas trees are lovely and many of the ornaments are original. The Fords had purchased many paintings from significant artists, the ones that were donated to the DIA or were taken by the children have been replaced by reproductions, some originals still hang. Yes, the house is huge, but each room has it’s own feel, the rooms are decorated and arranged in such a way that they feel welcoming and comfortable. I think I like the dining room the most; furnished in dark Pine from a 1740 home in England, it is lit only by sunlight during the day and candelight and the glow of the fireplace in the evening, it is a spectacular room. The table is set for a holiday  meal with Mrs Fords china; an elaborate lace tablecloth covers the wooden table, delicate stemware awaits the evening’s wine. Like many homes, they also had a children’s table, this one sits in front of the window overlooking the grounds.

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The Fords raised four children here, the youngest William was only four when they moved in. Their bedrooms were redone as guest rooms after the children moved away, other rooms were updated as well. The modern room is a great example of Art Deco; done in the 1930’s it is still stylish by today’s standards. Everything for this room was custom made, much of it is built-in and bolted to the floor. The Steinway piano is custom made and one of a kind. If you like ultra modern style be sure and check out Henry’s bathroom; the walls are a grey glass called Vitrolite, it’s really cool.  As you may have noticed by now, photos are not allowed inside the home. You are allowed to photograph outdoors and inside the garage, which is where we are heading next.

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The home rests on 87 acres of land, on the property is the main house, gate house, power house, pool house, garage and the playhouse. If you can, walk around a bit outside, the exterior detail on the house is exquisite; simple things like downspouts and brackets are detailed and elegant. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of a passing freighter. The grounds were landscaped by Jens Jenson, he also designed the grounds at Henry and Clara’s home in Dearborn. The man made lagoon once opened out onto the lake, but was closed off for the family’s privacy. Be sure and see Josephine’s playhouse; it was a gift to her from grandma Clara in 1930. It is adorable; everything is scaled down to perfectly fit a little girl, it even has electricity and plumbing!

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Walk a little further to the garage; it was built to hold eight cars, and there’s a turntable so you never have to back out of the garage. One of the most impressive vehicles is the 1941 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet, which was designed by Edsel himself, Frank Lloyd Wright called it the “most beautiful car in the world”. It is still one of the most highly thought of designs of all time. The Cabriolet, 1934 Brewster Town Car and the 1938 Lincoln Brougham were all owned by the Ford’s. Check out the kids go-karts.   People from all over the world visit the Ford house, come see it for yourself.

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For lunch we drove to the area of Grosse Pointe known as “The Village”. On the corner of Kercheval and St Clair is a little restaurant called TN Thai. They have a great selection of sushi on the menu, 35 different sushi rolls alone! We have not had their Thai as of yet, but every plate that went by looked appetizing. In the warmer months we like to sit out on the patio, but those days are gone now. We like to start with their Fresh Rolls, these are some of the best we’ve ever had; rolled tight and packed with delicious fillings like tofu, bean sprouts, noodles and cilantro. They serve a cup of soup with all meals, broth based, with bits of cilantro, it’s really good. We’ve never been disappointed with their sushi, and we’ve tried many varieties, today’s was no exception. I love the Jasmine tea either hot or iced, Kris prefers the raspberry iced tea, either way, you can’t go wrong.