Village of Manchester, Michigan

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History of the "Old Ford Building"

Excerpts from Councilmember Patricia Vailliencourt's speech at the Village Hall dedication in March 2002...

Christmas Tree Lobby  Henry Ford was one of the most visionary Americans of his day – his dreams included such things as using soybeans for human consumption, his farsighted outlook on health, exercise, teaching the three R’s in school, employment of the physically handicapped and minorities, stopping excessive use of tobacco and alcohol, ecology, waste, recycling and preserving our history. Henry Ford believed in improving man’s quality of life.

This building is also part of his dream. He dreamt of dotting many of America’s rivers with small water-driven factories, which would offer high-paying jobs to small-town people and farmers. To him the countryside was an area of hope. In contrast, he thought the big city was a mistake. It meant high land costs, high taxes, poor housing, and congested transportation. To quote him, “With one foot in industry and one foot in agriculture, America is safe.”

In 1919 he began acquiring plant sites and in 1920 he set up his first rural production plant in Northville, making valves for his model T. By 1925 Ford had nine hydroelectric plants in operation, some employing only a dozen people. Between 1935 and the start of World War II, he added a dozen more plants. One of those plants was the Manchester facility, built in 1941.

In 1936, he had purchased 88 acres here for $38,979. He then spent $203,000 for land improvements (mainly the dam), $192,000 on the buildings, $152,000 on machinery, $104,000 on tools, and $88,000 on power equipment. All totaled, he invested $831,000 in this plant. This amount is about double to what he spent in surrounding plants in Saline, Brooklyn, Tecumseh, Milan, Dundee, and Sharon Hollow.

The Manchester plant employed about 300 people. It produced, at one time or another, ammeters, charge indicators, instrument clusters, and oil, temperature, and fuel gauges. Although Ford got glowing reviews of his “Village industries” (low turnover, first-rate workmanship) after his retirement in 1945 his highly practical successors steadily phased out his rural plants. Only five continued into the mid-50’s (Manchester was one of them), three were left in the early 60’s and after that only the original Northville plant carried on. Today, EVERY hydropower plant restored or built by Henry Ford is still standing, and nearly all of them are being used for manufacturing, offices, antique shops, community/youth centers, or parks.

So, in a sense, Henry Ford’s plants have not died or faded away. Today they are perhaps an idea whose time has finally come. Many companies have moved plants and offices to towns and villages where workers can be nearer to home. There is much interest in reactivating the hydropower plants. It has just taken us a while to catch up with Ford’s vision.

Our Ford plant closed in 1957, with the opening of the Rawsonville plant. In 1960, this property was sold to Thornton Industries, whose founder was an inventor and admirer of Henry Ford. Thornton and a small staff carried out automotive experimentation here until the early 1970’s, when Thornton’s death forced abandonment.

By the mid 1970’s the plant was turning out compressors for paper balers made by the Economy Baler Division of American Hoist Company. A depressed market forced Economy Baler to close. Brooklyn Products Company made wax applicators here from 1977 until 1980. Then, the building sat empty for a couple of years until Hoover Universal purchased and renovated it for their Marketing and Technical Service Center of the Plastics Machinery Division.

In renovating the plant, the building’s original construction was preserved except for the addition of a mezzanine and the replacement of the windows with a mirror finish glass. Over the years Hoover Universal sold the Plastics Division to Johnson Controls and then to Cincinnati Milacron. The building had become the World Headquarters for a multi-million dollar business.

After the completion of a new Research & Development facility, the Uniloy division of Milacron and the Village of Manchester completed an agreement late in the year 2000. “The Old Ford Building” then became the property of the Village.

The Village paid $ 1.2 million for the building and the 3.9 acres it sits on. This is a critical location to the Village because it adjoins our wastewater treatment plant and provides room for expansion as we grow. Uniloy donated an additional 1.88 acres and the two buildings on Hibbard Street, the 9 acres across the River Raisin, plus the millpond and the dam property (a total of about 20 acres of land) and they donated 13 rooms of office furniture. The building has about 18,000 sq. foot of space and the attached metal building has 7,320.

Currently, the building is used to house the Village offices, Manchester District Library, local sub-station of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, Washtenaw County Community Support Treatment Services, Western Washtenaw Construction Authority, and the Manchester Senior Center.