by Donna Klein
Holiday Walking Tour at Meadow Brook Hall
Each Thanksgiving, we go over the river and through the woods and eventually arrives in Rochester Hills, Michigan to share the holiday fun and food with about 30 members of our family. We were looking for something other than shopping to do on Friday and much to our delight, about 10 of us from Michigan and New York headed over to Meadow Brook Hall for their annual Holiday Walk. Touring the estate was quite the experience, and one I’ll remember for a long time!
The original property was a 320 acre farm that was the weekend retreat of John and Matilda Dodge. Matilda was the widow of John Dodge, a founder of the Dodge Brothers Motor Company. John and his brother Horace died months apart in 1920 contracting the flu and pneumonia while in New York City for an auto expo. Five years later, their widows sold the company to an investment bank for $146 million, splitting the payment in half. Matilda married Alfred Wilson, a lumber businessman, in 1925.
The 320 acre farm grew to become a 1,500 estate after their marriage. Construction of Meadow Brook Hall took place from 1926 through 1929 and cost nearly $4 million. The Wilsons live at Meadow Brook Hall for 38 years, hosting many family and social gatherings. The home, its collections, cottages, and farm buildings, as well as all of the property and $2 million was donated to found what is now Oakland University in 1967.
It’s free to walk around the outside of the property, but the tour of the home is worth the price of admission. Once inside, it is easy to get lost and one can easily spend a whole day exploring every nook and cranny of many of the 110 rooms in this 88,000 square foot Tudor Revival mansion that are open to the public.
The tour begins on the lower floor where a fountain flows all summer long (since this was the end of November, it’s shut down for the season). The ballroom shows a continuous film demonstrating the fox trot and two-step that was popular during America’s Jazz age. A hidden room revealed from an opening in one of the hand-carved wall panels shows where a projectionist sat when a movie was shown for guests. There are hidden closets and stairwells all over this building. Exquisite carved wood adorns every corner of the home. Gargoyles, griffins, and dragons watch and protect the home from many vantage points.
Most of the home’s interior were designed in the Tudor-revival style. A few rooms reflect other styles. The dining room and Matilda’s study are decorated in 18th-century Neo-classical style. Frances’ (Matilda’s daughter with John Dodge) bedroom was decorated in American Colonial style. My favorite was Matilda’s room, which was decorated in 18th-century French Rococo, as was the French bedroom (for guests).
Everywhere you look at Meadow Brook Hall you experience what it was like to be part of the lifestyle of the American Industrialists of the early 20th century. Tiffany art glass, Stickley furniture, famous paintings, porcelain, and more can be enjoyed during your visit. I so enjoyed seeing the clothing worn by the Wilsons; formal gowns worn for dancing, dining, and other special occasions, as well as men’s formal wear of the day.
Tours run year-round, so if you can’t get to Meadow Brook Hall for the Holiday Walk, there are plenty of other opportunities to visit. I’m looking forward to going back during late spring to experience the grounds in bloom!
Visit the Meadow Brook Hall Web site for more information on the home, the grounds, and the tours.
There is also a lot of information for your perusal about the Dodge Brothers out there. Here is one source. Matilda is a member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, and you can find out more about her at their Web site.