Part 2: Mount Desert Island, Maine Located off the coast of Maine, Mount Desert Island is one of the largest islands in the United States and home to Acadia National Park. Long known for its rocky coast, mountainous terrain, and dense wilderness, Mount Desert Island was popularized in the mid-19th century by the Hudson River School. The painters from this art movement focused on scenic landscape paintings, creating works of art that inspired many prominent citizens from the East Coast to build their summer homes on the island. By the late 19th century a resort tradition that became locally known as "rusticating" had taken root on Mount Desert. Wealthy East Coast families known as "rusticators" would spend their summers relaxing in their island mansions, taking in the scenery, and socializing with other prosperous families doing the same. In the early 20th century, the "rusticators" on Mount Desert Island also began to include affluent Detroit families as well.
Eleanor Lowthian Clay, Edsel Ford's future wife, was accustomed to affluence and spent her summers vacationing on Mount Desert Island as a child. Eleanor's wealthy uncle, Joseph Lowthian Hudson, was successful in the Detroit department store scene. As patriarch of the family, the childless J.L. Hudson cared for his other family members and allowed Eleanor's family, as well as some of his other nieces and nephews, to live with him. Hudson employed most of them in his business and groomed his four Webber nephews, Eleanor's cousins, to take over the family trade. Their sister, Louise Webber, married Roscoe B. Jackson, a business partner of J.L. Hudson. In 1909, Jackson helped formed the Hudson Motor Car Company with backing from Hudson. Jackson had found early success with the Hudson Motor Car Company and after inheriting the department store company, the Webber brothers were able to continue its success as well. The wealth and status that these families enjoyed allowed them to later choose Mount Desert Island as the location for their summer retreats and influenced Edsel to do the same.
Eleanor, right, and her sister Josephine, left, vacationing in Maine with their family. THF130536
The wealth of J.L. Hudson had helped establish Eleanor's cousins and acquaint Eleanor with the son of another wealthy Detroiter in Edsel Ford. While Edsel courted Eleanor, her sister Josephine was simultaneously being courted by up-and-coming lawyer Ernest Kanzler. Edsel became close friends with Kanzler, his future brother-in-law, who eventually was hired by Henry Ford to help manage the Fordson tractor company. By the early 1920's, Edsel and Eleanor along with the Kanzlers, Webbers and Jacksons were all vacationing on Mount Desert Island. Edsel began his Mount Desert residency by renting summer homes there, occasionally inviting his parents to vacation with him. During the late summer or early fall of 1922, Edsel purchased property in the area known as Seal Harbor. Sitting 350 feet above sea level on what is known as Ox Hill, Edsel's property had a panoramic view of the surrounding sea and sky. Also within walking distance of Acadia, then Lafayette National Park, Edsel soon found that his property adjoined the property of the neighborhood national park's biggest benefactor, John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Edsel with his sons Henry II and Benson spending time at the beach in Seal Harbor. THF95355
Rockefeller Jr. first visited Mount Desert Island in 1908 and immediately became enamored with the area. He built a large estate in Seal Harbor and by the time he became neighbors with Edsel in 1922, Rockefeller Jr. had already used his wealth to donate large tracts of land to his local national park. During this time he was also in the process of building a network of carriage roads that allowed the beautiful vistas of Acadia to be accessed by the public. Preferring the quiet serenity of horse-drawn carriages over the noisy automobiles, Rockefeller Jr. worked personally with the engineers to ensure that the carriage roads captured the tranquil scenery the park had to offer. The beautiful landscapes of the area would become the topic that Rockefeller Jr. used to initiate his friendship with Edsel Ford.
Panoramic view of Seal Harbor located on Mount Desert Island, Maine. THF255236
Initially writing in December of 1922, Rockefeller Jr. didn't hide his feelings when congratulating Edsel on the purchase of his Seal Harbor property. He had visited Edsel's property at the top of Ox Hill during sunset one night and stated in his letter, "I do not know when I have seen a more magnificent and stunning view than that which met my eye on every side. You have certainly made no mistake in selecting a site for your home.” He concluded the letter by expressing how happy he and his family were at the thought of having Edsel as a permanent summer neighbor. In Edsel's gracious response to Rockefeller Jr., he mentioned that he would be using architect Duncan Candler to design his Seal Harbor home. Candler had previously designed the neighboring Rockefeller home, as well as other note-worthy properties on the island.
John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s initial letter to Edsel congratulating him on the purchase of Edsel's Seal Harbor property. This letter lead to a life-long friendship that would be fueled by the spirit of philanthropy. THF255332
Christened with the name "Skylands" due to the unbroken views of the Maine horizon line that the property provided, Edsel's summer retreat was built between 1923 and 1925. In 1924, familiar with his new summer neighbor's philanthropic efforts and swayed by his past experiences, Edsel began donating yearly to the National Parks Association, known today as the National Parks Conservation Association. Created by industrialist Stephen Mather in 1919, the organization's mission was to protect the fledgling National Park Service, of which Mather was the director. For eight years Edsel would donate $500 annually to the National Parks Association, until the Depression years of 1932 and 1933 when other business and philanthropic demands restrained his monetary donations.
By the time Edsel's summer home was done in 1925, he and Rockefeller Jr. had become good friends and philanthropic partners. They shared a love for the arts, beautiful scenery, social justice, and civic responsibility. Although twenty years his senior, Rockefeller Jr. found Edsel's situation relatable. Both men were the only sons of immensely wealthy industrialist fathers and both had inherited the responsibility of their massive family fortunes. Each looked to use those fortunes to serve humanity and steer society towards a positive future. Rockefeller Jr. cherished the trait of modesty, a trait that he saw Edsel strongly demonstrate throughout his life. For that reason, Rockefeller Jr. held Edsel, "in the highest regard and esteem," describing him as, "so modest and so simple in his own living and in his association with his fellow men." Their summers spent together at Seal Harbor would undoubtedly include conversations about where they could best direct their philanthropic efforts.
Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday, a celebration that encouraged us to seek connections within our collections. This blog post is the first part of four that will trace Edsel Ford’s relationship to the national parks.
The landscapes preserved by the national parks are a source of inspiration. Not only do they document the natural history of America, but they are also integral in telling the story of humanity on the continent. They remain powerful educational tools, allowing citizens to reflect on their collective history and where they want society to go in the future. Responsible for protecting these historical, cultural, and scenic landscapes, the National Park Service owes much of its existence to the forward-thinking industrialists who supported the early environmental movements in America.
The National Park Service's birth can largely be attributed to the efforts of millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather. Using his wealth and political connections, Mather secured the job of Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior and went to Washington. Once there, he worked to lobby, fundraise, and promote an agency that could manage America's national parks and monuments. Finding success, Mather became the first director of the newly-formed National Park Service in 1916. At times, he even funded the agency's administration and bought land out of his own pocket. Mather was not the only affluent American to donate his time and wealth to the National Park Service.
The Rockefellers and Mellons, two of America's wealthiest families in the early 20th century, also became champions of the national parks. Specifically during this time period, the biggest player in national park philanthropic efforts was John D. Rockefeller Jr., the only son of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Among his many other National Park Service donations, Rockefeller Jr. was noteworthy for purchasing the land or donating the money that helped create the national parks of Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah, including the expansion of Grand Teton and Yosemite National Parks. Rockefeller dominated this philanthropic scene and ultimately influenced the only son of another wealthy industrialist to join him in his cause.
Edsel Ford, born to Henry and Clara Ford in 1893, was not born into wealth, but the success of Ford Motor Company in the early years of the 20th century led his father to become one of the richest men in America. This set Edsel down a path to inherit the responsibility of that wealth, a position in which he would thrive. Remarking that wealth "must be put to work helping people to help themselves," Edsel understood the elite position he was in and acted with grace throughout his life. Often described as altruistic, sensible, reserved and most importantly modest, Edsel would go on to channel his family's money into countless philanthropies including medical research, scientific exploration, the creative arts and America's national parks.
While this photograph was taken during the Fords' 1909 trip to Niagara Falls, they posed for the shot in a studio and were later edited into a photo of the falls. THF98007
At a young age, Edsel experienced some of the monuments and landscapes that make up our current national park system, creating memories that surely influenced him later in life. Family trips in 1907 and 1909 took Edsel to Niagara Falls, today a National Heritage Area in the park system. For the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, Edsel accompanied his father by train to Denver and from there they took a scenic drive to Seattle where the exposition was being held. In 1914, he joined Thomas Edison, John Burroughs and his family as they spent time camping in the Florida Everglades. He also had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon at least four times in his life, with his first glimpse of the gorge occurring during a family trip to Southern California in 1906.
Visiting the Grand Canyon in 1906, Edsel sits here with his mother, Clara Ford, and Clara's mother, Martha Bryant. The canyon can be faintly seen in the background. THF255176
Edsel recorded a subsequent trip to the canyon in his diary during January of 1911. He wrote that he spent time hiking, visiting the Hopi House to watch Native American dances, and photographing the canyon. Photography would become one of many artistic hobbies Edsel pursued over the course of his life. Undoubtedly the beautiful vistas of the Grand Canyon provided a spark of creativity for the burgeoning young artist. The national parks and monuments had inspired creative sparks previously, allowing Edsel to illustrate this picture of the Washington Monument in 1909. These forays into the arts helped Edsel later become the creative force that took Ford Motor Company beyond the Model T and successfully into the industry of automobile design.
Edsel recorded his second Grand Canyon trip in his diary. Interestingly, Edsel also mentions he has heard of the deaths of Arch Hoxsey and John B. Moisant, two record-breaking pilots who died while performing separate air stunts on New Year's Eve of 1910. THF255172
Before Edsel made his dreams of car design a reality, Ford Motor Company had played a role in helping to improve accessibility to the landscapes of the national parks by making the automobile, specifically the Model T, affordable to the masses. In 1915, at age 21, Edsel took off in a Model T on a cross-country road trip with six of his friends. Departing from Detroit and heading to San Francisco, the trip allowed Edsel to again witness the scenic changes in the countryside as he traveled across the continent, something he had experienced on numerous family trips before. This time though, he was in charge of the places he explored. Making various stops during his expedition, Edsel visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the desert of New Mexico and the Grand Canyon for a third time.
Edsel Ford and friends hike down Bright Angel Trail while visiting the Grand Canyon during their 1915 cross-country road trip. THF243915
The Grand Canyon must have left quite the impression on Edsel because, in November of 1916, he brought his new wife Eleanor Clay there on the way to their honeymoon in Hawaii. He wrote his parents from the El Tovar Hotel saying "We are surely having a great time. Walking and breathing this great air." They had spent the previous day visiting Grandview Point, a spot that continues to provide park goers with breathtaking views of the canyon. Edsel's new wife Eleanor would play an important role in his future national park endeavors. She exposed him to the rugged shores and natural beauty of the Maine coast -- a place where Edsel would cross paths with John D. Rockefeller Jr., establishing a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Operated by the Fred Harvey Company, which owned a chain of railroad restaurants and hotels, El Tovar Hotel was opened in 1905 through a partnership with the Santa Fe Railway. THF255180 Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
We continue to work on our IMLS-grant funded project to conserve, catalog, photograph, rehouse, and digitize 900 artifacts from our electrical distribution equipment collection. A number of the meters and other artifacts we’ve turned up during that project were created by the Fort Wayne Electric Works (also known as the Fort Wayne Electric Corporation), an Indiana company that manufactured electrical equipment and other items in the late 19th century. To accompany the artifacts, we’ve just digitized photographs from our Fort Wayne Electric Works archival collection, which show various parts of the factory around 1894—including this shot of the testing and calibrating laboratory.
If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, this bench might look familiar to you. In fact, you might have sat on this bench or one of about two dozen exactly like it during your visit. However, this one is now off-limits to sitting, as it has found a place in our collections. The bench was commissioned in 1939 by Edsel Ford for use at what was then known as the Edison Institute, now The Henry Ford. It was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, a leader in early industrial design, at the height of his career. We’ve just digitized the bench—visit our Digital Collections to see other artifacts from our collections related to Walter Dorwin Teague, including correspondence and blueprints associated with the bench.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Pete Henderson, #16 Duesenberg, Ora Haibe, #14 Sebring, John Aitken, #2 Peugeot, Sheepshead Bay, 1914. THF231106
If you’re a fan of the Disney musical Newsies, you may remember the character Racetrack singing about obtaining "a permanent box at the Sheepshead races" in the song King of New York. While Racetrack was referring to a horse racing track located in Sheepshead Bay, New York, that same facility was later converted to a board track for automobile racing. While board tracks around the country had a limited lifespan, they set the stage for the eventual creation of modern paved oval racetracks and the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.
Barney Oldfield riding the "Blue Streak" on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900. THF111772 The earliest oval board tracks in the United States, commonly known as motordromes at the time, were constructed around 1910. With designs based on the velodromes used for bicycle racing in Europe, they utilized thousands of small, wooden boards in their construction. For the one mile long track at Playa del Rey, California, over 300 miles worth of boards were used to create the racing surface. Many of the board tracks also included steep banked corners, adding to the excitement. The wooden surface was cheaper to install than a paved one at the time, although the upkeep did create additional costs over the years.
Board track racing on the track in Playa Del Rey, California. THF228751
Over the next 20 years, board tracks were constructed in cities around the country, including Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, and Brooklyn. Smaller communities also had tracks: Valley Junction, Iowa; Hopwood, Pennsylvania; Sharonville, Ohio; and Salem, New Hampshire, to name a few. They ranged in length from half a mile to 2 miles, with thousands of people attending races. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had established its Contest Board in 1908, sanctioned championship level races on these tracks. From 1920 through 1931, 82 of the group's 123 championship events were staged on wooden raceways. Early motor racing stars, such as Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow, found success on the boards as well as paved tracks.
Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow racing in Oakland, California. THF229073 There were some drawbacks to the board tracks though. Safety issues, including high rates of speed in corners, extreme G-forces on the drivers, flying splinters and debris, and the basic tire technology of the time, led to accidents and fatalities on the tracks. Spectators, especially those at motorcycle races, were vulnerable to out of control vehicles veering off the track. Track upkeep was extremely expensive, with the tracks needing to be resurfaced every five years or less. Stories remain of repairs being made to the tracks as cars raced overhead. Lack of competition with the increase overall speeds was another drawback; generally the fastest car at the start of the race crossed the finish line first.
Dave Lewis's Race Car Stopped on the Board Track at Altoona Speedway, Tipton, Pennsylvania, in 1925. THF73131 Major races ceased to be held on boards after 1932, although a few tracks prolonged their lives by hosting midget racing competitions. In the end, the majority of the tracks were torn down, the land utilized for other purposes. Alas, this was the fate of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The track, built in 1915 on the site of the old horse racing facility, only operated until 1919. The land was sold four years later and redeveloped for residential purposes, with no trace of the facility remaining today. Relegated to memory, it is important to remember the integral role that this board track and others like it played in the expansion of automobile racing across the United States. Janice Unger is Processing Archivist , Archives & Library Services for the Benson Ford Research Center, at The Henry Ford.
The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, GAR) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union. In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts. The GAR scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group. In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.
The collections of The Henry Ford contain dozens of bandboxes, 19th-century containers originally used to store neckbands (the source of their name), but frequently also used to hold hats or other clothing/accessories. These inexpensive containers were made of pasteboard or wood and then covered in paper—in many cases, as with this vibrant example, wallpaper. Over 70 of these fragile objects can now be viewed in our Digital Collections—and check out the ones that have 360-degree views, showing interiors lined with newspapers of the time.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
“Opening the Door” is an unusual and large ( 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide) painting that recently received some much-needed conservation here at The Henry Ford.
Painted in the 1840s by self-trained artist George W. Mark, it depicts a young girl holding a flower. She stands in an elaborately-painted open doorway. Behind the girl a bust and lamp are visible on the table in a very shadowy room. The intent is to present a life-size vision that fools the eye into thinking that we are looking into a real space.
If you have the opportunity to take part in a VIP or Special Access tour of our Benson Ford Research Center storage, you will see this painting. It is greatly admired and it is positioned in a prominent location in the state-of-the-art storage facility here at The Henry Ford.
The painting needed conservation attention because it was not in stable condition after years of storage and many moves. Some of the damages were due to the challenges of handling – the painting is not framed, so corners got crushed when it was set down with too much force. And past attempts to hang it resulted in old patched holes near the top.
Take a look behind the scenes to see some of our work conserving "Opening the Door." This project was made possible by the generous support of The American Folk Art Society and Susan and Henry Fradkin.
Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable, Conservator Celina Contreras de Berenfeld, and Senior Conservator Clara Deck examine the work in progress.
This image shows the last old, yellowed varnish as it was removed from the paint surface.
This is a microscopic image of the thick varnish, before and during removal. The cracks (which are actually quite small!) are expected in a painting of this age and type.
Many paintings suffer over time due to the natural aging that darkens the once-clear protective varnish coat. As the varnish darkens, it shifts colors that were originally intense and bright; they become murky and brownish. Varnish removal restores the painting’s original colors. It is not unusual for old varnishes to require renewal, and this was done as part of an extensive conservation treatment completed last year.
Old patches were also redone so that they are invisible from the front and the whole painting was lined with stable backing material to support its large size. The restoration of damaged areas of the paint was done by “in-painting” only the small areas of lost paint. Finally a new, reversible varnish was applied overall.
The final result is a stronger, stable painting that can survive for at least another 171 years in the care of The Henry Ford.
Clara Deck is Senior Conservator at The Henry Ford.
We are closing in on the end of our multi-year project to digitize photographs related to the buildings in Greenfield Village, and one of the most recent buildings we’ve tackled has been the William Holmes McGuffey Birthplace. In the 1830s, McGuffey created a series of textbooks commonly known as McGuffey’s Readers, intended to teach reading and writing to various grade levels of schoolchildren. Henry Ford used these readers as a child and considered them an important influence in his life, so he moved the Washington County, Pennsylvania birthplace of McGuffey to Greenfield Village in the early 1930s, dedicating it on September 23, 1934, the 134th anniversary of the author’s birth. Among the several dozen images we’ve just digitized is this 1845 portrait of Harriet Spining McGuffey, who became William Holmes McGuffey’s wife in 1827.
If you’ve ever walked by the conservation labs at the back of Henry Ford museum, you’ve probably seen the conservators at work on a variety of objects, of a variety of sizes. With a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we are primarily working on “bench-top” objects – which can be picked up and moved by hand. There are, however, a handful of extra-large objects that we have planned to work on over the course of the grant, including (but not limited to!) historically significant motors, electrostatic producers, and transformers. These objects are important within the electrical scope of the grant, and they need work to be stabilized and preserved for the future.
Note that “extra-large” for us is a lot different than extra-large for the rest of the museum – the Allegheny is magnitudes larger than anything we are working with, for example! The “extra-large” objects that we are working on range up to 2 tons in weight, and require specialized equipment such as forklifts to move. We draw the line at artifacts requiring specialist rigging or outside contractors. These sorts of objects do bring their own issues – moving them from one place to another is difficult and requires careful planning, they require a good deal of space in the lab, and the treatments can take a significant length of time. We’re moving at a quick pace with the work on this grant, so taking two to three weeks just working on one object isn’t a good solution for us.
The first extra-large object we’ve grabbed, viewed top-down – a Sprague streetcar motor.
So how do we balance the amount of time it takes to treat very large objects with the need to keep up a pace in order to achieve completion goals? We’ve tackled this perennial problem in an interesting way. Since we don’t have an enormous number of extra-large objects to complete, we are allowing three months for the conservation of each. What this means practically is that we can bring the object into the lab, give it a space, and then as we have breaks between work on smaller objects, we can dedicate a few hours to it here and there. Breaking up the conservation work in this way has been very successful so far!
The first object that we’ve treated in this way is a Sprague streetcar motor. This is a really interesting and important object, believed to have been used in Richmond, Virginia on the first major electric street railway system, and dating to the end of the 19th century.
Two of the coils on the motor before treatment.
In the image above are shown two of the coils on the motor before treatment – the textile covering was loose and dirty, and in some places the damage extended to the layer below the outer wrapping as well. The treatment for this object required not only cleaning, but repair to these areas of damage.
Their ‘tails’ have been rewound and reattached, and the dust and dirt have been removed. The area around the coils has also been cleaned and the wire wrappings have been tidied. The engine overall is nearing completion, but does have some areas that still need cleaning. It’s been great to have it as a project we can come back to for small spurts of time, which is exactly what we were hoping for our extra-large object treatment plan.
Louise Stewart Beck is IMLS Conservator at The Henry Ford.