I remember distinctly my first visit to Meadowbrook Hall. I was just shy of twelve years old when my parents told me we were going on a tour of a mansion about thirty minutes away. I remember thinking it couldn’t be that bad, and I was quite sure, we would be stopping by Dairy Queen on the way home. Home at the time was my maternal grandmothers house, which was filled with an endless amount of books, but that’s another story 🙂 We were waiting to move into our home a few towns over.
It was a long driveway with a few twists. As my dad navigated us towards the mansion, I remember the anticipation I felt. I had my nose plastered against the backseat, side passenger window. We passed what was Matilda Dodge Wilson and her husband, Alfred’s smaller home where they lived a short period of time during the Great Depression and Alfred’s later years. Finally, we came to an opening just before the parking lot, my dad stopped briefly and we all took in the view.
I knew from this moment, I would come back to visit as often as possible for the rest of my life.
We parked, walked from the lot into the courtyard where the extensive garages are. It only made sense, Matilda was automotive aristocracy. I can only imagine what it felt like to have your pick of the greatest cars in the 1920’s.
To give you a little history on this magical place, trust me I could go on and on. Meadow Brook Farms property was originally used as a country home and weekend getaway for John and Matilda Dodge and their children, Frances, Danny, and Anna Margaret. Matilda was heavily involved in arts and culture in and around the Detroit area, active in public service and philanthropy, including what would become a lifelong involvement with the Salvation Army and the Presbyterian Church. John and his brother Horace were successfully building up Dodge Motor Car Company. After 13 years of marriage, John Dodge passed away during the influenza epidemic along with his brother Horace, and not long after, Anna Margaret passed. Matilda was age 37.
After John passed, Matilda continued her charity work. It was at church where Matilda met Alfred Wilson and in June of 1925, the two were married. In 1925, Matilda and Anna Dodge, widow of Horace Dodge, sold their holdings in the Dodge Motor Car Company for $146 million, becoming heirs to one of the largest fortunes in the U.S. This fortune not only built one of America’s finest residences and country estates, it also supported numerous Detroit charities and organizations, and made possible the founding of Oakland University. (Some excerpts taken from MeadowbrookHall.org *Blueprint and Driveway view of Hall, picture 1 and 2*)
Meadow Brook Hall (88,00 square feet, 110-room ) was built by Matilda Dodge Wilson, and her second husband, Alfred Wilson, who was a lumber broker. Matilda and Alfred adopted two children, Richard and Barbara Wilson. This expansive property was a working farm that Alfred and Matilda were actively working. In 1957, Matilda and Alfred donated their 1,500 estate, including Meadow Brook Hall, and $2 million dollar endowment to Michigan State University to form a branch campus in Oakland County, a branch that would become Oakland University in 1963. The Wilsons continued to live at Meadow Brook Hall and their smaller home on the property until both passed away; Alfred in 1962 and Matilda in 1967.
As an adult, the visits are still magical. It is something that several generations of my family have enjoyed. A few of my paper creations remind me of Meadowbrook Hall, and makes my heart happy. My husband and I visited one Christmas, it is still one of the fondest memories. It was lightly snowing, the beautifully lit trees lined the courtyard, and the Charlie Brown song, Christmas Time is Here was broadcast at the entrance. It was perfection. He won major Christmas brownie points for that. The neatest thing about this property is the rich history and the happenings surrounding it. So many stories of the coming out parties, a young Frank Sinatra performing in the ballroom (swoon). The family’s original furniture has been preserved. It feels like you are truly experiencing life in their home as they did. It mimics the Downton Abbey feel. One of my neighbors grew up about a mile away from Meadowbrook Hall and was friends with the young Richard. Hearing his stories about being a boy playing with the horses and on the farm equipment was amazing. Once he sat in the breakfast nook having a snack. Unfortunately, Wesley passed away a few years ago. Like I said I could go on and on. You can visit the site here http://meadowbrookhall.org – there are stories, pictures of the interior, and a deeper history surrounding the family and property. I just scraped the surface.
Here are a few more pictures of the beautiful architecture and gardens. I plan on going back this summer to explore all the nooks and crannies.
And we did get the Dairy Queen on the way home!
With much love,