2006 HFHA Field trip to Ford Motor Highland Park Plant


The Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant was built between 1909 and 1920 on a 60-acre site bounded by Woodward, Manchester and Oakland Avenues, and the adjacent railroad lines. At this plant Ford introduced the automotive industry's first moving assembly line in 1913 and the $5 day in 1914, more than doubling wages overnight, while cutting the work day from 9 to 8 hours. Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed the complex, which included offices, factories, a power plant and a foundry. By 1915 Ford built a million Model T's at the facility and in 1925 over 9,000 were assembled here in a single day.

In 1927 Ford shifted automobile production to the River Rouge Complex, with the introduction of the Model A, limiting this plant to truck and tractor manufacturing. Ford Motor Company sold the facility in the 1980's. Today this National Historic Landmark is owned by Woodward - Manchester Properties and operated by our host, General Manager and HFHA member, Claude Auger.

A Tough Guy's XANADU
HFHA members tour Harry Bennett's Castle.

Inspired by the reported splendor of the 11th century Mongolian summer capital, and composed after an admitted “opium induced” dream, this first line of Samuel Taylor Colerige's great romantic poem Kubla Khan has, in modern times, become a metaphor for both great power and grand opulence. Orson Welles used the stanza in setting the mood for his 1941 classic Citizen Kane, referring to his main character, Charles Foster Kane (aka William Randolph Hearst), as “America's Kubla Khan”.

High above Ann Arbor, Michigan's beautiful Huron River, stands the personal Xanadu of a man who could cynically be called Henry Ford's own Kubla Khan (or Genghis Khan, as many of those who knew him might have agreed). An opulent yet schizophrenic structure whose composition seems the result of paranoia rather than opioid, so reminiscent of the Wellesian melodrama, that on entering one may expect to hear the word “ rosebud “ reverberate throughout its halls.

The home that Ford's personal mercenary called his “Castle” exists today as one remaining monument to the controversial character that was Harry Bennett.

It was thanks to Ford historian Dr. David L. Lewis and the extreme graciousness of the Castle's current owners, Felecia and Dr. Aneel Karnani, that HFHA members were allowed a once in a lifetime tour of the Bennett sanctum. After meeting at the Henry Ford Estate, 100 members were transported about 30 miles to the Geddes Road site; traveling both by car and via the Dearborn Trolley, the latter piloted by HFE volunteer Otto Grau.

Upon arrival, the group received copies of two past Detroit Free Press articles, authored by Dr. Lewis, which profiled the castle and Dr. Lewis’ 1974 interview with Harry Bennett. The Karnani’s were presented with two volumes of Dr. Lewis’ Ford Country, a copy of his definitive biography The Public Image of Henry Ford and a reprint of Bennett’s own tome We Never Called Him Henry. After a question and answer period, in which the Karnani’s spoke of what it is like to live in such a home, tour participants were allowed to freely explore all the inner nooks and crannies of the house that Bennett built.

Harry Bennett purchased the 154-acre (now reduced to 8.6 acres) site in 1929. The man most feared for his ruthless treatment of Ford employees had reason to find refuge behind the gates of this fortress-like estate. Towers, tunnels, spiral staircases, “switch” steps, secret doors, hidden rooms and many other unique security features were incorporated into its design, all to protect the Lord of the manner from “well wishers”, union men and Detroit gangsters. Dr. Lewis has written that Henry Ford and Harry Bennett “designed the mansion with the enthusiasm of boys building a robber lair or pirate’s nest”. Since Ford was involved in the project, no expense was spared.

The architecture of the first floor seems to reflect Bennett’s artistic bent (in his youth he had studied art at the Detroit Fine Arts Academy). Arched hardwood doors, marble accents and vaulted ornamental plaster ceilings provide the perfect setting for the current owner’s collection of Indian art. Bennett’s “secret room” is now easily accessed through a normal doorway, eliminating the need to enter via the hidden fireplace door. A stunning feature is a black tiled, art deco bath complete with “porthole” window. A sweeping staircase climbs to the second floor within a castle-like tower. On the rail of a roof deck an original security spotlight rests in place.

Down in the basement, HFHA members found a bar and billiard room styled after an English Pub, an area where Bennett often conducted “Ford “ business. Another room is reminiscent of an underworld catacomb. Most unique, a tiled Roman bath carefully hidden beyond a sliding cabinet. For those members who dared, an exciting, yet somewhat claustrophobic, experience, was a stroll through the seemingly endless, and unlit, under ground tunnel. This ran from the hidden bath to the outbuilding that house Bennett’s infamous lion and tiger dens. A branch of this tunnel leads to an extremely tight spiral staircase, which ascends to the top of the home’s guntower.

A tour of the grounds revealed the small house Bennett built for his mother, the remnants of the pool house, and the overgrown ruins of a miniature village built for the enjoyment of the Bennett daughters.

The Bennett Castle lives up to its reputation as one of the most bizarre mansions in Michigan. An intimate reflection of the man Dr. Lewis, has described as Henry Ford's most trusted - and toughest - lieutenant. During his day, few outsiders were made privy to its hidden features. The Henry Ford Heritage Association would again like to thank the Karnani’s for allowing us such a rare peak. One would doubt that Kubla Bennett would have been so accommodating.

I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

A "Last Chance" Tour of the Dearborn Assembly Plant

Photos Dan Brooks & Leggitt

Fifty-five very fortunate members of the Henry Ford Heritage Association took part in one of the last tours of the 1917 Ford Motor Dearborn Assembly Plant (DAP) on a brisk but dry winter day, February 24, 2004. Before the tour, participants watched a video covering the history of the plant and the tour safety rules. Michael Joseph, DAP FCN Coordinator then we1comed the group. Mr. Joseph was presented a an autographed copy of Ford Bryan's book, The Rouge: Pictured in its Prime. Tour participants were then split into two groups and were led through the plant by Mr. Joseph and DAP Assembly Team Member, Marcus Murphy.

The 87 year old plant closed just three months after the tour as the 6,700,000th Mustang (a red convertible) rolled off the line at the DAP. The car was completed at 1 :07 p.m. EST on Monday, May 10, 2004. A small portion of this historic plant will be converted to a conference and learning center and the rest will be demolished.

The Ford Motor Company Dearborn Assembly Plant was one of the world's most famous automobile plants. Around 1915 Henry Ford bought almost 2000 acres along the Rouge River at this site. During WWI the "B" Building was constructed to assemble Eagle boats for the U.S. Navy. In 1927 the company began to turn "The Rouge," as it became known, into the most fully integrated car manufacturing facility in the world. That year the company shifted final assembly from Highland Park to the Rouge. As the Model T was replaced by the Model A, the "B" Building became Dearborn Assembly.

Eventually the complex included virtually every element needed to produce a car: blast furnaces, an open hearth mill, a steel rolling mill, a glass plant, a huge power plant and, of course, an assembly plant. Over 100 miles of roads, ninety miles of railroad track and miles more of conveyor belts connected these facilities. The result was mass production of unparalleled sophistication and self-sufficiency. "By the mid-1920's," wrote historian David L. Lewis, "the Rouge was easily the greatest industrial domain in the world" and was "without parallel in sheer mechanical efficiency" Dearborn Assembly still operates the final assembly line on which, in addition to the Model A, other notable cars have been built, among them the 2-seat 1955-57 "Classic" Thunderbirds and the Mustang since its 1964 introduction.

Mustang production has been relocated to the Auto Alliance plant in Flat Rock Michigan .

Edsel Ford II Receives Friend of Ford Award

The Henry Ford Heritage Association's celebration of the l40th anniversary of Henry Ford's birthday, held at the Henry Ford Estate -Fair Lane, was attended by a record 176 members and guests! Fortunately, the weather was nearly perfect since the strong attendance led to a dozen attendees eating dinner outside next to the rose garden.

This year's guest speaker and Friend of Ford award winner was Henry and Clara Ford's great grandson, Edsel Ford II. Mr. Ford spoke of his family's legacy, the Fair Lane and Gaukler Point estates and of the recent Ford Motor Company centennial celebration. Afterwards, Mr. Ford was gracious enough to allow a question and answer session. Mr. Ford's remarks included the ongoing restoration of the Fair Lane residence and grounds. Of the residence he said, "I believe that this was Clara's home first. When my great grandfather was bored, he's go back there (Mr. Ford pointed towards the estate powerhouse) and work on watches and things. This home clearly reflected Clara's interests, especially the gardens. So as part of the task here at this home is to a attempt to restore it to what it was like when Henry and Clara Ford lived here."

After Edsel Ford II's remarks, several presentations were made. First, Mike Skinner presented Mr. Ford with a copy of a framed print of "The Automobile Industry of Michigan, 1907" on behalf of the Henry Ford Heritage Association Board of Directors. Mike noted that it was a copy of the photograph of ninety-eight Michigan automotive pioneers that hung in Mr. Ford's office at the Piquette Plant. Mike also noted that Henry Ford's photograph was at the top center of the photo (where he belonged even in 1907) and next to him is Ransom E. Olds and that in 2004 when Oldsmobile ceases to exist Mr. Ford will be the last person in the photograph that will still have a company named for him. Mike also presented Mr. Ford with two copies of the HFHA2004 Calendar.

Then Dr. Jerald Mitchell, CEO of T-Plex, the 501 C 3 organization set up to over see the Piquette Plant, and Margaret McAlister presented Mr. Ford with a framed ..Artist's Proof' of Ms. McAlister's painting of the Ford Motor Company Piquette Ave. Plant ca. 1906. Finally, Sara Ford, HFHA member and representative of the Milan, Michigan Chamber of Commerce presented Mr. Ford with a Ford Centennial lap blanket. The city of Milan presented these blankets to 250 Model T owners that visited Milan during the Model T Club National Meet earlier in July.

HFHA Historian, Ford R. Bryan received the HFHA Book Award for his sixth book, Friends, Families and Forays: Scenes from the life of Henry Ford. Ford also completed his seventh book, Rouge: Pictured in its Prime" in 2003 and he is working on an updated version of his first book, The Fords of Dearborn, to be published in 2004.

As we do at each annual dinner, we asked for a show of hands of those who either knew, or had met, Henry Ford. It is good to see so many attend the dinner, unfortunately this group seems to be dwindling each year.

After dinner Mike Skinner announced the new slate of HFHA officers and directors, thanking outgoing board member, Dolores Blaszczak and By-Laws co-chair, Bob Witter and welcoming Patricia Long back to the board. Following the business part of the evening including Nominating, Membership and Treasurer's reports, guests were urged to visit the two Ford Estates by Casey Granston, Director of Development at the Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane and John Franklin Miller, President of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. Additionally, Dr. Jerald Mitchell invited everyone to visit the Ford Piquette Plant and he thanked the Ford Motor Company and family for their support. His remarks were as follows:

I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the multi- faceted assistance that Ford Motor Company has provided to T-Plex.

First, I wish to thank Mr. Edsel Ford and Mr. William Clay Ford Jr. for autographing Margaret McAlister's painting of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and for assisting our fund raising efforts by granting permission to make prints of the painting for sale.

We wish to thank the Ford Motor Company for holding their 2003 North American International Auto Show press parties at the historic Piquette Avenue Plant. We were honored to be the venue of such important events and appreciate the resulting building improvements and favorable media coverage that we received.

We also wish to acknowledge the major assistance provided by the Ford Community Service Program. Through this program, hundreds of salaried Ford employees have provided thousands of volunteer hours. Ford employees deserve much of the credit for the progress we have made in preparing the building for restoration. Volunteering at T- Plex has put employees in direct contact with the company's remarkable history. Visiting the historic plant is a real morale builde7: As a result, employees leave T-Plex with renewed pride in being part of the Ford Motor Company and with greatly increased morale.

The Metro Detroit Ford Dealers have become major participants in our Adopt-A- Window program. After touring the building, dealers experienced a renewed appreciation of Ford history. In addition, they are now taking pride in contributing to the preservation of a great American landmark.

Finally, we wish to acknowledge the contribution made by FREE -Ford Retired Engineering Executives. They have formed a sub-committee to provide advice and counsel. Also, a hands-on group meets regularly to work on our 99-year old windows. In addition, FREE donated the recently unveiled bronze marker indicating inclusion of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in the National Register of Historic Places.

As this list indicates, Ford assistance to T-Plex is virtually universal. It encompasses members of the family, the company and its employees, dealers and retirees. We are grateful and proud to have such a resounding endorsement of our efforts to preserve a key part of Ford history and a great landmark to American genius and ingenuity.

Thank you.

HFHA Centennial Tour - A Trip To Remember


This summer of 2003 is sure to go down in the annals of automotive history as “the Ford Summer”. The celebration of the Company’s 100th year provided visitors from around the world with a myriad of once in a lifetime Centennial experiences. With the events at The Henry Ford II World Center, the re-opening of the revitalized Greenfield Village and with tours of the Ford Homes, Ford Piquette Plant and new Ford River Rouge Visitor’s Center, there was enough Ford history on display to make a convert of the most ardent GM or Chrysler aficionado.

For members of the Henry Ford Heritage Association, the HFHA Centennial Tour will remain one of the most memorable happenings of the Centennial weekend.

On June 17th, over 80 HFHA folk assembled in the courtyard of the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant for an auto tour that included three of the most significant sites in Ford Motor history. Many members brought along their own beautifully restored vintage Fords, models that included: 2 1903 Model As, 9 Model Ts and 5 - 2nd generation Model As, a 1934 Ford Phaeton, 2 1956 Fords, a 1957 T-bird and a 1978 Lincoln (along with 5 modern Ford products).

As HFHA President Mike Skinner arranged rides for those without cars, members mingled about. Suddenly Mr. Henry Ford himself appeared (aka HFHA past president and board member Dick Folsom) and agreed to accompany the group on their trip to the site of the first Ford factory and on to Detroit’s Hart Plaza, site of Malcomson Coal Company where Ford Motor papers of incorporation were signed, June 16th, 1903. (For his first time Dick finally donned the paper mache Henry Ford head and costume borrowed from Detroit’s Parade Company).

Led by Rick Lindner’s wonderful 1903 Model A, with Mr. Ford bobbing along high in the rear, the convoy of vintage Fords left Piquette and traveled the streets of Detroit to what has now been determined as the exact site of the Ford Mack Ave Plant. The fledgling Ford Motor Company began operations on the site in a rented facility provided by Ford stockholder and building contractor Albert Strelow and continued to assemble cars there until the move to Piquette in the fall of 1904. The original Mack Avenue Plant survived until August of 1941 when it was destroyed by fire. Shortly thereafter Henry Ford had a 2/3rds scale replica constructed at his Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Ironically, the structure that currently occupies the site had also burned just one month before the HFHA event. Its semi demolished appearance and inner city locale did not sway the enthusiasm of the die-hard Fordophiles.

Upon arrival, the line of Fords parked along the street directly across from the site as Rick Lindner positioned his ‘03 A under a Centennial banner placed by Dick Folsom and Mike Skinner earlier that day. Quite a stir arose among the locals as they watched the picture taking that ensued and HFHA members crisscrossing the street to “have a photo” with Mr. Ford at the site of his first factory. To add to the mêlée, Rick unloaded his 2nd non-running ‘03 Model A from a trailer (it had broken down during the Motor Muster at Greenfield Village two days before) and with the helping hands of a few tour participants positioned it behind his first car for another photo shoot.

With all the activity and quite a heavy traffic flow, it was not long before the tour received a visit from two representatives of the metro Detroit constabulary. Soon thereafter, Mike Skinner was relieved of his traffic directing responsibilities. After a short discussion with Skinner and some urging by HFHA Webmaster Dan Brooks to have photos taken in the operating ‘03 Ford, Seventh Precinct officers William Brewster and Rebecca Leyder gave the tour a safe and enthusiastic police escort from Mack avenue to downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza, site of the Malcomson Coal Company.

Rain was falling and limited parking was available, so tour participants placed their vehicles under the entry of the abandoned Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium. Rick Lindner was graciously allowed to take his Ford onto the plaza and park it next to the Michigan State Historical Marker indicating the site of the coal yard where Ford Motor Company was legally founded. Again, another round of picture taking took place as Mr. Ford stood next to the marker and Mike Skinner noted the history of the site. As the rain diminished, members returned to their cars and after a bit of maneuvering the tour was on its way again. On passing a convention of over 12,000 Baptists, which was taking place at Detroit’s Cobo Center, the sun broke through and it was clear sailing all the way down Washington Blvd. to Woodward Avenue and back to Piquette. Only a few traffic lights, a stop in front of the Fabulous Fox Theater and one other at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, site of Henry and Clara Ford’s funerals, broke the procession’s stride.

Finally, HFHA members were treated to a tour of the birthplace of the Model T during one of the most opportune times since the days of Henry Ford. For in celebration of the Centennial, a most unique assemblage of Piquette built cars were amassed on the 3rd floor of the historic plant. A nearly complete set of letter cars (Models A through T) was on display as were a number of Piquette era cars, Wayne, Flanders, EMF, Oldsmobile and Cadillac. A short ceremony took place and a beautiful Centennial cake, decorated with edible images of the Mack Ave. plant and Henry Ford's original Ford stock certificate, was served as participants took in the atmosphere of one of Detroit’s hidden jewels.

Such events come around but once every 100 years. All in all, it was quite a trip to remember!

(President’s Note – A special thanks to all of the historic Ford vehicle owners including 14 members of the Model T Ford Club of Detroit and several HFHA members. This event would not have been a success without the participation of so many enthusiastic Fordophiles. It was important that a Ford Centennial event be held in Detroit where the company was founded and headquartered for 7 years. It was most appropriate to hold such an event precisely 100 years from the date that papers of incorporations arrived and were approved at the state capital in Lansing Michigan. I am proud that our association sponsored such an event.)

Text on the Michigan State Historical Marker, indicating the site of Malcomson Coal Company.

Ford Motor Company was incorporated as an automobile manufacturer on June 16, 1903. The articles of incorporation were drawn up and signed in the office of Alexander Y. Malcomson, who operated a coal yard once located on this site. Henry Ford gave the company its name and designed its first product, the 1903 Model A. The purpose of the company was to manufacture and sell motorcars and related parts. In addition to Ford and Malcomson, the original stockholders included other figures important in the history of Detroit: John S. Gray, John F. Dodge, Horace E. Dodge, Albert Strelow, Vernon C. Fry, Charles H. Bennett, Horace H. Rackham, John W. Anderson, James Couzens and Charles J. Woodall. Over the past seventy-five (now 100) years the Ford Motor Company has become one of the leading auto producers of the world.

(Installed in 1978 on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Ford Motor Company).

Fall 2002 Field Trip Draws Large Crowd

On the morning of Saturday, November 16,2002 almost 100 HFHA members and their guests toured the 1925 Ford Motor Company's Engineering Laboratory Building. After lunch most returned to complete the HFHA "Early 20th Century Ford Engineering and Housing" Field Trip by touring Dearborn's Ford Homes Historic District.

The tour of the Engineering Laboratory Building was led by Mike Bennett, Property Manager, Ford Motor Company Powertrain Operations. The group squeezed into the building's lobby to escape the chill of an unusually cold fall morning. Then Mr. Bennett took half of the group through the facility while Mike Skinner explained the history of the building to the others. Afterwards the groups traded places. Todd Wilson, Ford Motor Company Security Supervisor, Research and Engineering Center, Executive Operations, opened the building and provided lobby coverage. Thanks to Mr. Bennett and Mr. Wilson the group enjoyed the rare treat of touring a building so important to Ford Motor Company operations during Henry Ford's lifetime and beyond.

The tour of the Ford Motor Company's original Engineering Laboratory made it obvious that this 77 year- old facility is still an important part of the company's engineering operations. Additionally, the building's superb amenities, including mahogany woodwork, brass hardware, marble, etc. has been well maintained and Henry Ford's office, which can be viewed through a special glass door, is now preserved in Mr. Ford's memory and is no longer used as an office. While the skylights in the main work area are now covered, the beam in this area on which Henry Ford, Edsel Ford, Charles Sorenson and other members of the company's 1938 management team marked their heights is now visible under glass. On the building's facade the names of 21 scientists and inventors are still prominent and visible to all entering the main entrance (see the related story concerning these names elsewhere in this newsletter). Making the tour even more exceptional was the fact that a number of tour participants once worked in this building and several of them shared their stories of meeting or seeing Mr. Ford in the facility with those in attendance.

Later that afternoon over 80 HFHA members and their guests completed the Fall 2002 field trip by taking a walking tour of the Ford Homes Historic District which was led by district resident, Sylvia Tillman. This walking tour was followed by a tour of three of the district's homes. Thanks to Sylvia and Dave Tillman, Teresa and Kurt Klimkiewicz (the Tillman' s and the Klimkiewicz ' s live in the homes on either side of 22516 Nona where Mike and Sandy Skinner lived from 1987-1993) and Joel Ray and Dr. Sue Clereman for opening their homes for our members and guests. The 250 homes in this district built by the Dearborn Realty Company between 1919-1921 are lovingly maintained by their enthusiastic residents.

Down By The Old Mill Stream AGAIN !

Due to mail delivery problems that caused many members to receive the Summer 2001 "Legend" and the enclosed announcement of the Fall 200 1 field trip after the event took place, the Ford Mill Tour was repeated on April 27, 2002. A group numbering almost 40 members and their guests enjoyed a bright, sunny Spring day in the Southeastern Michigan countryside. The parade of cars on the tour included 5 classics

Just as with the Fall 2001 tour, this group spent time at the splendidly renovated Sharon Hollow Mill. This mill and the surrounding property have been beautifully restored, renovated and landscaped into the Washtenaw County Parks, "Sharon Hollow County Park". Watch for more details of the September 27, 2002 dedication in the next "Legend". Although somewhat remote this site is a "required" side trip if you are in the Ann Arbor / Tecumseh, Michigan area.

Once again HFHA Board member, Lee Koepke gave us an extensive tour of every square inch of his former Ford Motor Company Brooklyn mill. As with the fall tour the group had to be dragged from this site so that we could continue our journey to the remaining mills. Two stops later I unfortunately "crossed signals", concerning our arrival time, with Joe O'Neal, owner of the Macon - Dynamic Kernels mill and HFHA member, and the group departed this site just minutes before Joe and his wife, Karen arrived to lead a tour of this incredibly maintained mill. Ironically, HFHA Past President, Dick Folsom and his son, Patrick, who planned to join the balance of the tour at this location, also arrived after the group left. As a result Dick and Patrick were treated to over an hour tour that included a chance to run much of the equipment. Dick said that Patrick would not soon forget turning the valve that released the water to turn the 18-foot "Poncelet" water wheel. The error concerning the time of our visit was totally my fault and I want to apologize to the O'Neal's and thank them for taking the time to give the Folsom's a great experience.

After completing the tour many participants finished this daylong tour with ice cream at "Yesterday's" just off the 1-94 interstate at the Zeeb Road exit in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This combination automotive book/gift store and car museum is another must see if you are in the area.