Story of the Week

Posted: 06.12.2017
Meadow Brook Hall looks back to automotive elegance
By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of meadowbrookhall.org

 

 

The ornate and pastoral Meadow Brook Hall has been hailed as one of “America’s great castles,” but many are unaware that the sprawling mansion and grounds is rooted in the automotive industry.

Matilda Dodge Wilson (1883-1967) – born Matilda Rausch, in Walkerton, Ontario – broke ground on Meadow Brook in 1926, some six years after the death of her husband, John Francis Dodge, who co-founded the Dodge automotive company with his brother, Horace.

The mansion reflects the rich and fascinating history behind the Dodge family and the lumber broker the late Alfred G. Wilson. This National Historic Landmark embraces the exciting and new possibilities as it continues to show visitors from all over the world rich and exciting history through guided tours and specialty programs.

 

 

Meadow Brook Hall is a Tudor revival style mansion located at 480 South Adams Road in Rochester Hills, Michigan. In the beginning, Meadow Brook Farms originally belonged to Matilda's first husband, automotive industrialist the late John Francis Dodge. The two brothers got their start in the transportation business by manufacturing bicycles. In 1901, the brothers, with the help and encouragement from their father and grandfather, became expert mechanics. Later they would move to Detroit from their boyhood home in Niles, Michigan to become automobile parts makers.

In 1910, history was made when they purchased the Dodge Main Plant in Hamtramck Michigan, which was on a 78-acres of building space. This established the Dodge Brothers chapter in history as one of the largest automotive manufacturing plants in the world. Unfortunately, on January 14, 1920, John Dodge died of influenza leaving Matilda a widow with three small children at the age of 37.

 

 

Many years after John's death, plans got underway to build Meadow Brook Hall, which was going to be a new and exciting home for their family. Matilda's second husband was the late Alfred G. Wilson (1883-1962). They married on June 29, 1925.

The late Mr. William Kapp, of the firm Smith Hinchman & Grylls, designed this great historic looking mansion. It is one of the nation's most beautifully preserved landmarks to visit.

Meadow Brook Hall was the pride and joy of Matilda Dodge Wilson's legacy to preserve this great mansion and to have it serve as a cultural center by founding Oakland University. Later, her wishes would come true. With $500,000 in grant funding, the university has brought the old mansion up to local building and fire codes, improving the lighting for conferences and much more.

 

 

Today, inside visitors will notice the beautiful hand-carved panels along with the luxury and elegance that is on display for everyone to see. When Matilda Dodge Wilson died in 1967, she decreed that the home, all of the real property and grounds be donate for use as a university and cultural center.

In conclusion, Meadow Brook Hall provides a riveting glimpse into early 20th century automotive royalty. But moreover, it captures the story of Matilda Dodge Wilson and her philanthropic generosity to donate the grounds to what would become Oakland University. Meadow Brook Hall is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic places, U.S National Historic Landmark and a state of Michigan Historic Site.

For more information on Meadow Brook Hall, please call 248-364-6200 or mbhiwfo@oakland.edu

 



For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. (Bibliography: Bunting, Briggs Jane. “Meadow Brook Hall shows the way it was” Detroit Free Press 10/19/1976; Patrick, Debbie. “Waltzing Matilda” Oakland University Magazine Spring/Summer 1998.)

If you would like to contribute an article for the MotorCities newsletter, email Communications Coordinator Austen Smith at asmith@motorcities.org  

 

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