Henry Ford's 150th Birthday Bash Includes Celebration in the Boonies


  • Henry Ford Picture

    Henry Ford Picture

    A party marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henry Ford will be held in remote Alberta, Michigan. | July 25, 2013

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Just the Facts:
  • It's a birthday bash in the boondocks, as tiny Alberta, Michigan gets ready to host an event to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of auto pioneer Henry Ford.
  • Alberta is home to Ford's little-known lumber empire in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
  • The July 27 festivities include free rides in Model T Fords, a Ford car show, free admission to the Sawmill Museum and a self-guided tree trail through the site's 1,400-acre forest.

ALBERTA, Michigan — Henry Ford put Alberta, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the map.

To thank him, the community and the university that now owns it, are coming together to host a 150th birthday party for their founding father, who built a saw mill and the village of Alberta as part of Ford's little-known lumber empire in the western Upper Peninsula.

A more high-profile event to mark the anniversary will be held on Saturday at Ford's historic home in Dearborn, including remarks by Ford's great-grandsons Bill and Edsel.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Co., was born in Dearbornville, Michigan on July 30, 1863.

His legacy is still the subject of new books, including the recent I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford. But American humorist Will Rogers perhaps summed Ford up best when he said: "It will take a hundred years to tell whether he helped us or hurt us, but he certainly didn't leave us where he found us."

Ironically, Ford was said to despise modernity and built a museum to honor the past. He probably would have felt most at home blowing out his birthday candles in Alberta.

Ford Motor Co. donated the remote village to Michigan Technological University in 1954, which uses it as a conference center and research forest. The mill is now a museum.

The birthday party — open to the public — is Saturday, July 27, from 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. at the Ford Center in Alberta.

Festivities include free rides in Model T Fords, a Ford car show featuring everything from antique to modern models, free admission to the Sawmill Museum and a self-guided tree trail through the site's 1,400-acre forest.

The Flivver Car Club from Menominee, Michigan, will bring eight working Model Ts to give rides around Alberta. The car show is open to any Ford from 1908-2014, in any stage of restoration.

Why did Ford get into the lumbering business? Each Model T uses more than 250 board feet of lumber, so Ford was looking to the forest-rich Upper Peninsula for lumber as well as iron as early as 1912.

Before founding Alberta, he built a sawmill in Kingsford, Michigan, and purchased mills in L'Anse and Pequaming. In fact, he bought the entire village of Pequaming, including its large sawmill.

But Ford needed trees to feed his sawmills.

"He also had a vision of integrating industrialism with rural living, so he purchased more than 550,000 acres of forest and built Alberta — named for Ford's U.P. Manager Fred J. Johnson's daughter — where 12 houses and garages, a pump house/visitor center, a sawmill and three school buildings became home to workers," according to Michigan Technological University.

Henry Ford died in 1947, and when the classic Ford Woodie wagon went out of production in 1951, his lumber empire died. Ford Motor Company sold off all its lumber assets except for more than 1,400 of forest and the entire village of Alberta, which the company donated to Michigan Tech.

The Houghton, Michigan-based university first used Alberta as a base for forestry students. Students lived in the houses and used the mill as a training facility.

After 1980, the Ford Center became a conference center. In 1996, Ford Motor Company gave the center another grant, this time to fix up the old mill and turn it into a museum.

For more information on the birthday party, visit its Facebook page.

Edmunds says: A quirky location for Henry Ford's birthday party, but one rich with meaning.

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