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Featured Windows, May 2010

Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane

Building: Fair Lane

City: Dearborn

State: Michigan

Fair Lane

Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane, Dearborn, MI. Completed 1915-1916. William H. Van Tine, Pittsburgh, PA, architect, assisted by Lewis W. Simpson and Joseph N. French.

Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane was the home of automotive pioneer Henry Ford (1863-1947) and his wife Clara Bryant Ford (1866-1950), who lived there from 1915 until their deaths. The estate was named for a place in Ireland where Ford’s ancestors had lived. The Fords initially had hired Marion Mahoney Griffin, a follower of Frank Lloyd Wright associated with the Chicago architectural firm of Von Holst & Fyfe, to design a Prairie-style house and construction had begun. After a trip to Europe in 1912, however, the Fords preferred a home more like an English manor house, and the Chicago firm was dismissed in favor of William H. Van Tine of Pittsburgh, who modified the original plans to suit them. Completed in 1915-16, the fifty-six-room limestone mansion combines elements of both Late English Gothic and Prairie styles. The estate’s extensive 1300-acre grounds, designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen of Chicago, contain a man-made lake, gardens, working farm, staff cottages, pony barn and a powerhouse for which the Fords’ close friend Thomas A. Edison laid the cornerstone. In 1957 the Fair Lane estate was donated to the University of Michigan for its Dearborn campus, with the mansion to be used as a conference center. Ownership of the estate has recently been returned to the Ford family. Beginning in 2011 the mansion will undergo extensive renovations and in 2013 it will partially reopen to the public. Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane has been designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a Michigan Historic Site.

Lewis W. Simpson (1869-1971) designed most of the stained glass of Fair Lane. Born in Kent, England, Simpson became an apprentice architect in Norwich where he learned Gothic architecture through the reconstruction of ancient churches. He worked for architects Sir Arthur W. Blomfield in London and Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Goodhue in New York City before being hired by Van Tine, who wanted someone familiar with English mansion design to assist with the Fair Lane project. In a 1955 interview he recalled that his glass designs for Fair Lane included six windows flanking the main entrance and the large window above it on the stairway landing. Simpson was responsible also for the Gothic-style main entrance doorway and powerhouse chimney, as well as rooftop downspouts (since removed) that formed an architectural “rebus” for the Ford name by means of horizontal ridges designed to represent ripples in a shallow stream. After the completion of Fair Lane, Simpson remained in Dearborn, working primarily on church architecture with Detroit architect W. E. N. Hunter until his retirement in 1954. His work during this period included designs for Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit and Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, among others. After retiring, Simpson moved to Maryland where he lived until his death in 1971.

George Greene (1862-1935) created the windows designed by Lewis Simpson for Fair Lane, as well as other stained glass throughout the mansion. Earlier, Greene had been a partner with Theodore H. Leake (b. 1859) in the decorating firm of Leake & Greene that they established in 1889 at Boston, where they added English glass artist Henry Hunt (1867-1951) to their staff. After moving to different locations in both Boston and Pittsburgh, the firm remained at Pittsburgh from 1893 until 1906 when the partnership ended. During its seventeen years of operation, Leake & Greene was responsible for the decoration of several churches and other buildings in Pennsylvania and New York State, including stained glass and glass mosaics. The firm also participated in architecture exhibitions held in 1898 and 1905 at Pittsburgh, where it exhibited illustrations of its work. In 1916, Greene (now spelled Green) was working independently as a stained glass artist and living at Shields (part of Edgeworth today), PA. He died at Shields in 1935 and was buried in Kinderhook, NY. Greene’s stained glass work, done after his partnership with Leake had ended, is still being discovered and documented. His role in creating windows for Fair Lane was recently revealed.

Agriculture and Wildlife

Window on stairway landing above main entrance of Fair Lane. Designed by Lewis W. Simpson and fabricated in 1916 by George Green(e) at Shields, PA, the window features ten panels with painted images that represent the Fords’ great interest in agriculture and wildlife. A Medieval poem in the lower central panel reflects Henry Ford’s strong belief in the virtue of work: “To no one is given/ Right of delay/ Noted in heaven/ Passeth each day/ Be not thou fruitless/ Work while ye may/ Trifling were bootless/ Watch thou and pray.”

Detail views of several window panels.

Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane was photographed and registered in the Michigan Stained Glass Census by A. Douglas Brim of Dearborn, MI.


Bibliography: Show Bibliography

(MSGC 2010.0005)

Text by Betty MacDowell, Michigan Stained Glass Census, May , 2010.