Model T assembly plant gets new life with the help of Notre Dame alum

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Elon Musk’s Tesla Model 3 was introduced with much fanfare late last month as the first 30 buyers of the first mass-produced, all-electric car received “keys” to their new cars. While it was a typically vainglorious Musk event that in this case touted his Model 3 as a revolutionary world game-changer, another game-changing car received a much more subtle introduction — in 1908.

“Ford thought its [Model T] was an evolutionary model, but it really was a revolutionary model,” said Nancy Darga, executive director of the Piquette Avenue Plant museum, in a recent article posted by the online news site Quartz.

Darga, along with a number of other “Ford-ophiles,” including 1973 Notre Dame alum Mike Skinner, have been working tirelessly for more than 20 years on preserving the memory of Henry Ford’s Model T and the plant from which it was introduced more than 100 years ago.

Skinner, who conducts plant tours and serves on the board of the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, which manages the facility, said that unlike Musk and his Model 3, Henry Ford’s introduction of the Model T was bit more demure.

Ford Model Ts await final assembly at the Detroit Piquette Avenue plant.

When they rolled out of the Piquette Avenue plant in Detroit in October 1908, “there was no invite for the press,” Skinner said in Quartz. “They just shipped them to the dealers.”

Today, you can visit that birthplace of the Model T, the first car ever to be mass-produced, at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, which is open now and turning into yet another symbol of Detroit’s ability to invent, innovate and rebound.

No bulldozer zone

Visitors can walk the plank floors worn smooth by hundreds of workers and thousands of cars, see Henry Ford’s office as well as his early successes and false starts.

And you can learn how volunteers saved one of the world’s most significant industrial buildings — a multi-year process that began in 1997 when the city of Detroit changed the zoning around the historic Ford plant.

When Detroit preservationist Jerald Mitchell suspected that bulldozers might not be far behind, he got the Henry Ford Heritage Association involved to examine how they might save the building.

Three years later, a group of historians, preservationists, and Model T enthusiasts incorporated the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and purchased the building. When it first opened to the public as an historic site, it was called the T-plex. Today, it operates as the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.

The plant is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Public tours leave at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Private and group tours are available by reservation only.

“Restoring this plant inside and out has been a labor of love for me and for our entire team of volunteers,” said Mitchell, founder of the restored Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, when the initial work on the restoration was completed in 2008. “The restored facade is a huge and exciting step that brings the place back to life. It shows that we truly respect what Mr. Ford did here and ensures that the memories will live on.”

The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2006. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and listed as a Michigan State Historic Site in 2003.

More information on the plant and how to join a tour of the facility is at http://www.fordpiquetteavenueplant.org/.


Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school’s upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation’s best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame’s middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate “World Schools.” NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.

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