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  Jen Jensen’s drawing showing the ancient bur
oak in the midst of the proposed vegetable
garden, Henry Ford Estate, Dearborn, Michigan,
May 1915. ID.64.167.797.2

  The 300-year-old bur oak tree on the Henry Ford Estate. Photo courtesy The
Cultural Landscape Foundation.

October 2007

A Tree Grows in Dearborn

A 300-year-old tree on Henry Ford's Dearborn estate, Fair Lane, won a Landslide Award from The Cultural Landscape Foundation in October 2007. The foundation's theme that year, "Heroes of Horticulture," highlighted "significant horticultural features that have stood steadfast in the face of almost insurmountable natural and cultural odds; having born witness to the heritage of our nation."

During the mid-1910s, while creating a master landscape plan for Henry Ford's Fair Lane estate—which included a sun-loving vegetable garden in the area where the tree was growing—landscape architect Jens Jensen and Henry Ford agreed that the bur oak and its shade should remain. This 1915 Jensen drawing shows the tree carefully blocked off in the garden. Today, one side of it is almost completely hollowed out from repeated lightening strikes, but the 65-foot tall tree survives and continues to produce acorns. The bur oak, along with many other beautiful natural elements on the estate, continues to connect the present with the past.



MORE:  A Tree Grows in Dearborn


Henry and Clara Ford's Fair Lane estate in Dearborn, Michigan is one of the best surviving examples of celebrated landscape architect Jens Jensen's large-scale residential designs.  Originally called in to solve a grading problem around the house, Jensen soon found that he and Henry Ford shared many interests.  Both men had a strong commitment to preserving habitats for wildlife and both had strong conservation values.  Jensen once told Henry and Clara Ford that he would put the land back to what it was when the American Indians skied down the banks of the Rouge River. 

The naturalistic master plan that Jens Jensen created for the Fords' Fair Lane estate included most of his signature elements—a path to the setting sun down a great meadow, a series of networked garden rooms, a quiet lagoon, a rock garden with waterfall and pool, a grotto and bird pool, a blue garden, and various farm and orchard gardens.

Jens Jensen continued to design landscapes for the Ford family and Ford Motor Company for about twenty years. He designed the grounds of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, the sites of numerous Ford Motor Company office buildings, and landscapes for four homes of Henry's son Edsel and his wife Eleanor.  His office also provided plans for Greenfield Village, and the Ford pavilion at the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress.

-- Kathy Steiner, Head of Access Services

Henry Ford wanted to use hydroelectricity to provide power for his Fair Lane estate.  Here, Ford is shown standing on the banks of the Rouge River in front of a hydroelectric dam that Jensen camouflaged so carefully that it appeared to be natural rapids.  This dam remains the most extensive of Jensen’s renowned river-edge rock creations. ID.P.833.5713   The entrance road to the Fair Lane estate was carefully designed to allow visitors to experience sequences of sun and shade–a Jensen trademark. ID.P.833.20311
The Burroughs Grotto was designed to attract birds and to celebrate Ford’s friendship with naturalist John Burroughs.  It included a heated bird pool and rock garden, with a statue of Burroughs perched on a ledge. ID.P.O.19532   The Great Meadow at Fair Lane leads out from the terrace with a slight bend in its length.  At the far end of the meadow is a small pond with a cluster of white birches on the edge of the woods.  During the summer the early morning sun softly highlights these trees while the evening sun sets at the end of the path to the setting sun.  ID.P.O.19118



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