Michigan history: When Henry Ford bought furniture in Lenawee County

Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.
Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.

It is no secret that Henry Ford visited Lenawee County a number of times in the first half of the 20th century. He had many investments in the region, from hydroelectric facilities to property near Macon. Most of the visits were without fanfare.

One visit, however, garnered newspaper headlines. In September 1924, Ford came to Lenawee County to find furnishings for the Botsford Inn near Detroit.

On Saturday, Sept. 6, 1924, Ford visited the Walker Tavern at Cambridge Junction, which at the time contained an area of antiques and other items for purchase. Ford had "keen interest in this pioneer hostelry and in the many articles of antique furniture as well as implements and utensils handed down from early times which are on display there."

Frederick Hewitt had purchased the tavern about three years before, restoring the run-down stagecoach stop and transforming it into a tourist attraction. His efforts turned it into a profitable business venture, weaving historical fact with apocryphal tales to entice visitors from far and wide. The article stated that Hewitt had recently found two ornamental hitching posts in Tecumseh and bought for the tavern to add to the "atmosphere of the place."

Ford had purchased the Botsford Inn, a pioneer-era hotel 16 miles from downtown Detroit, and was looking to add furnishings to its rooms. Ford and his entourage stopped at the tavern at dinner time while motoring through the Irish Hills area. The automaker giant examined Hewitt's vast collection of antiques and purchased a table, a four-post bed, a bureau and a three-cornered cupboard as well as a clock.

Ford's arrival came near the end of the tourism season, where Hewitt reported 15,000 guests during the 1924 season thus far. He said that was down from previous years due to the ongoing construction going on along the Chicago Road, today's U.S. 12.

The article did not state if the tavern was Ford's end-destination, nor were there any pictures of Ford's purchases. He went on to restore and open the Botsford Inn the following year, in 1925, and the Ford family operated it until 1951. The facility changed hands several times before becoming part of the Botsford Hospital property.

Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Dan Cherry: When Henry Ford bought furniture in Lenawee County