Ford-Owned Hotel Has Outlasted the Airport it was Built to Serve by 90 Years

Jan 25, 2024

The city of Dearborn, Michigan, home to Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters and expansive campus, is full of connections to Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. And the famed Dearborn Inn is no exception. Henry Ford and Edsel Ford were deeply connected to the nascent aviation industry in the 1920s and ’30s, which led to the creation of one of the first U.S. hotels built specifically for air travelers.

Designed by Albert Kahn and built in a Georgian architectural style, the hotel was modeled after the New England inns of that era, which the Fords favored. Intended to accommodate travelers and pilots as well as visitors to the Ford campus, the Dearborn Inn opened in 1931 across Oakwood Boulevard from the Ford airport. In addition to guest rooms, there was also a coffee shop, dining room facilities, ballrooms, beauty shops, retail spaces, and expansive gardens on the 23-acre site. The Inn was described as “the most perfect hotel structure of its type in America” by hotel architects of the time. 

While the airport closed to commercial flights in 1933 following Ford Motor Company’s departure from the aviation industry, the hotel continued to welcome guests of nearby attractions such as The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village. The Inn added a touch of what guests would see at the museum: Five reproductions of notable Americans’ homes, including those of Patrick Henry and Edgar Allan Poe, were built in 1937 and arranged in a village-like setting. A larger-scale production of 18 homes had been planned, but the onset of World War II stalled the project. The hotel complex also includes a dormitory building that once housed the inn’s staff. 

The Dearborn Inn was a popular social destination in its early years, and over time its star-studded guest book has grown to include names like Walt Disney, Ed Sullivan and boxer Jack Dempsey. Its roots were showcased in at least one of the activities offered to guests in the early years: A Ford Tri-Motor plane was available for patrons to reserve for sightseeing trips to Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The hotel also earned acclaim as one of the nation’s first with air conditioning, boosting business in the hot summer months.

Property changes hands

Ford Motor Company would eventually donate the Dearborn Inn to the Edison Institute, the non-profit organization which operates The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, in 1953 as an additional means of revenue. An expansion in 1960 added two buildings known as the Motor House. The two motor lodges added another 54 rooms to the complex and provided more space for families, bridal rooms and special living areas. 

The hotel and its accompanying colonial homes were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and shortly thereafter the Inn underwent multi-million-dollar renovations that increased its capacity to 222 guest rooms and added conference-style meeting spaces. Two years later, Ford announced it was buying back the Inn in order to preserve the location and maintain its historic importance and charm. The luxury hotel underwent another multi-million-dollar renovation in 2007. 

Today, the Dearborn Inn is owned by Ford Land and operated by Marriott, which has been managing the hotel since 1989. While the hotel is currently closed for renovations, it remains a popular retreat for travelers and an in-demand venue for weddings and other events.

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