By Jennifer Donovan
HOUGHTON (WWJ) — Have you ever been to a 150th birthday party? Michigan Technological University’s Ford Center and Forest in the Upper Peninsula settlement of Alberta is holding one this month in honor of Alberta’s founder and the Ford Center’s namesake, Henry Ford.
Henry Ford’s 150th birthday is July 30. The party — open to the public — is the Saturday before, July 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Ford Center in Alberta. Festivities include free rides in Model T Fords, a Ford car show featuring antique, classic and modern models, free admission to the Sawmill Museum and a self-guided tree trail through the site’s majestic forest.
There’s even a birthday Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/150thBDayCelebrationHenryFordInAlberta
“And no birthday party would be complete without cake,” says Kari Price, educational program coordinator and manager of the Ford Center. Additional food will also be available.
The Flivver Car Club from Menominee is bringing eight working Model T Fords to give rides around the village of Alberta. The car show is open to any Ford from 1908 to 2014, in any stage of restoration.
The Sawmill Museum features exhibits that tell the story of Alberta, the center of Henry Ford’s little-known lumber empire in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as exhibits about the lumbering industry in the UP and Michigan Tech’s development of the site as a forestry education and research forest, tourist attraction and conference center after Ford donated the village of Alberta and 1,400 acres of surrounding timberland to the university in 1954.
Why did Henry Ford get into the lumbering business? Each Model T used more than 250 board feet of lumber, so Ford was looking to the UP for lumber as well as iron as early as 1912.
He built a sawmill in Kingsford, 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 not only purchased more than 550,000 acres of forest, he built the village of Alberta — named for Ford’s UP 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 handpicked from the other mills and their families.
Alberta soon became the public face of his lumber empire. The steam-powered mill went into operation in 1936. Workers were schooled to stop their work and do demonstrations for visitors. In August 1938, the mill saw 3,000 visitors.
Henry Ford died in 1947, and when the classic Ford Woodie Wagon went out of production in 1951, it sounded the death knell for his lumber empire. Ford Motor Co. sold off all its UP assets except for more than 1,400 of forest and the entire village of Alberta, which the company donated to Michigan Tech.
The 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 gave the center another grant, this time to fix up the old mill and turn it into a museum. A decade later, the company donated an F450 pickup truck that had belonged to Bill Ford, Henry’s great-grandson.
Michigan Tech and Ford Motor’s partnership has continued to this day. The company and its Ford Motor Co. Fund have donated nearly $14 million over the years to support a wide range of programs including vehicle donations, scholarships, Senior Design and Enterprise programs, student organization, sponsored research, young programs, diversity initiatives and more.
Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.
More at www.mtu.edu.