Ford House grounds dazzle after dark this holiday season

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 11, 2013

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Over the years, thousands of visitors have enjoyed the twinkling lights and festive decorations that deck the halls of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House during the holidays.

But the landscaped and wooded gardens and grounds — so popular with tourists during the spring, summer and fall — were left in the dark when it came to holiday programming. That is, until this year, when Ford House officials decided to brighten up the outdoors, as well as the indoors.

Ford House Communications Specialist Sarah Tuxbury said there are more than 70,000 lights on the grounds this year for the new Winter Wonderland Weekends, a series of strolls accompanied by holiday music along a half-mile path. The weekends — which started Dec. 7-8 and continue from 4-7 p.m. Dec. 14-15, 21-22 and 28-29 — are aimed at the whole family, with storytellers from the Michigan Humanities Council sharing holiday-themed tales, hot chocolate and fire pits to warm up walkers.

More activities for the kids include visits to Josephine Ford’s child-sized playhouse — decorated for the holidays — and Santa’s Workshop inside the South Cottage. Children can also make a craft to take home and give to Mom or Dad for Christmas. And for grown-ups, mulled wine is available for purchase.

“Everyone we’ve talked to has been excited about it,” said Ford House Vice President of Communications Ann Fitzpatrick. “This is a nice way to create family memories and a new tradition.”

Unlike the Nutcracker Teas, Holiday Tea and Tour, and Christmas Story Time — popular events that were all sold out at press time — the Winter Wonderland Weekends can accommodate large crowds and don’t require reservations. And Ford House staffers have come up with some inventive and gorgeous light displays, from a glimmering blue pond to what Tuxbury said is a “snowfall of lights in the birches” that visitors will walk under as they stroll from the main house toward the pool house, which is open for visitors to view home movies of the Ford family enjoying the season.

A large willow tree dripping in strings of white lights from top to bottom took two weeks to complete, and the grounds crew made the 250 luminaries that line the pathway, Tuxbury said.

“It’s sophisticated, it’s elegant, it’s beautiful,” she said of the lighted grounds, which are planned as a new annual tradition at the historic estate. “We want to accentuate the landscape. I do believe if Edsel and Eleanor Ford lit the grounds, this is what they would have done.”

Because this event involves being outside, Tuxbury said warm clothes and comfortable footwear are recommended. Cameras are another must, to capture precious moments. Santa will be on hand for photos with the little ones, she said.

“This is a nice way to not only have some atmosphere, but to give people a new way to experience Ford House,” Tuxbury said. “It’s magical. We want people to come out with their families.”

There are other things to do over the holidays, as well, including the traditional holiday tours of the house, which run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 5. House tours are also available on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Admission to a house tour or the Winter Wonderland Weekends includes admission to Santa’s Workshop, where little ones can make a craft, see who’s on the naughty/nice list, write a letter to Santa or even watch a holiday film.

“One of (the Ford family’s) traditions was watching movies in the gallery (in the main house),” Fitzpatrick said.

And at press time, a few spaces remained for some of the Candlelight Strolls — indoor and outdoor holiday tours accompanied by live music from 5-7:30 p.m. Dec. 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28.

The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore, between Vernier and Nine Mile Road. Admission to Winter Wonderland Weekends is $10; admission to other events and tours varies. For reservations or more information, visit or call (313) 884-4222.