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DEARBORN - When Ford Motor Company decided it was time to get the test vehicles off the local streets of Dearborn, the company turned to a large, mostly open tract of land near its Dearborn Engineering Lab.
The Dearborn Test Track opened July 30, 1937, on the property of the Ford Airport. Once the airport ceased operation in the late 1940s, the test facilities began to expand and many more testing operations were added by the early 1950s.
Since the test track bordered the Greenfield Village historic site on Village Road, it became clear that the company needed a barrier between the facilities and the public space.
In 1951, a wall was erected to ensure that Village attendees did not accidentally end up on one of the test track roads interfering with the professional drivers and their test procedures. Another reason for the wall was to prevent onlookers from previewing new vehicle designs, as that became an increasingly important part of post-war vehicle success.
As with many of the previous projects undertaken by Ford in the first half for the 20th century, this was not just any ordinary wall.
This was a serpentine wall that was patterned after the ones designed by Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia in the 1800s. However, unlike the serpentine walls in Virginia, this wall was 7,100 feet long.
At the time, it was believed to be the longest brick serpentine wall in the world.
It was constructed by Campbell Construction Company of Detroit and it contained more than 400,000 bricks. The curves of the wall had six-foot radiuses that remained constant throughout the entire 7,100 feet.
The strength of the serpentine structure was such that one row of four-inch bricks were used throughout the entire run. There also were no supports or expansion joints added to the wall, as the serpentine form was believed to be designed to compensate for expansion and contraction as well as any other type of stress that would typically need reinforcement.
The test track serpentine wall, which is still in use today, has brought safety, security and beauty to Village Road for more than 60 years.