Working to Save Ford History One Piece at a Time

Feb. 1, 2017

Working to Save Ford History One Piece at a Time

By Austen Smith

DETROIT -- A MotorCities board member recently undertook a complex, logistical challenge to save a significant piece from the history of the Ford Motor Co. -- a public street lamp. 

While saving an old lightpole from the scrap heap may not seem terribly important at first, this particular street lamp is one of the very rare, remaining vestiges from Henry Ford's first factory, originally located at 6560 Mack Ave., Detroit, MI. 

 

 

 

This photo was taken in 1929, you can see the street lamp in the foreground.

In this photo taken more recently, you can see the same street lamp in the same location.


The building that housed the factory is no longer having suffered a fire in 1945. With the fire and passage of time, antiques associated with this historically significant site are rare.

It was under these auspices on which Lansing man Ted O'Dell set out to locate the original, old-fashioned street lamp which had been standing in the same location as recently as November of last year. 

 

 

Ford's original Mack Avenue plant in Detroit.


O'Dell, who is a Model T owner and enthusiast, said his mission to locate the street lamp started on a whim, but quickly turned into hours of research, phone calls and multiple emails. Through his efforts, O'Dell was able to locate and save the fixture just after it had been replaced as part of the city's new street lighting effort. 

"Subsequently; working with public authorities in Detroit, the Public Lightning Authority, historic photographs and Google-Earth together with inventory schedules...I was to able to locate the exact pole that stood in front of Henry Ford's Mack Avenue factory," O'Dell state in a Facebook post. "I am happy to report that through the generosity of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority I have been able to rescue Henry Ford's Mack Avenue light pole as tangible evidence of his first car factory."

 

 

 

Ted O'Dell, far right, and the rest of the team who helped save a significant piece of Ford history. Margaret Hehr (center with hard hat) is also a MCNHA Board Member. 

 

Currently, the street lamp is being held for restoration and when ready, the piece will be donated to a local collection that celebrates and preserves Michigan's rich automotive story. 

"This inanimate object may not seem worthy of preservation to some, but given the fact it can be documented and that it was present at Mr. Ford's first factory, in my opinion, gives it a level of historical significance worth saving for future generations," added O'Dell in the Facebook post. "Especially considering all too often, society is poised to raze our history with little thought and toss it on the scrap heap of history."

For more infromation and for more photographs from Ted O'Dell's journey, click here. 

 

Austen Smith is the Communications Coordinator for the MotorCities National Heritage Area. He can be reached at asmith@motorcities.org.

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