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Davey's Work Flourishes at Henry Ford Estate


Davey's long-term relationship with the Henry Ford estate dates back to the early 1900s when the company did tree cavity work on a huge bur oak. The story, featured in Davey's employee publication, The Bulletin, also details the work done today on the estate.


Posted on: Oct. 4, 2012

Past industry leaders John Davey and Henry Ford have something in common: They’re innovators.

Although Henry and Clara Ford did not want a lavish home, the nature lovers paid much attention to their new landscape. Many trees and other native plants took root on several areas of the property, arranging the private nature haven the Fords desired.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Estate

The couple had settled into their new home by 1916. But evidence within the woodwork of one ancient tree on the site suggests Davey was there first.

A huge bur oak tree is located in the lower level of Fair Lane, near the Rouge River in Dearborn, Mich. It stands within one of many prairie openings among the trees of the Michigan forests, where it is believed Native Americans once camped. But the tree also marked the centerpiece of Ford’s vegetable garden at his estate until the garden’s removal upon Mrs. Ford’s death in 1950.

The bur oak tree is a living witness to the property’s past. In fact, it was among 21 American trees and plantings to be recognized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s “Landslide” program as a “Hero of Horticulture” in 2007.

Today, the approximately 300-year-old bur oak stands roughly 65 feet tall and nearly 16 feet around as one of the few remaining bur oak trees of its age in southeast Michigan.


More than five years ago, Davey’s South Detroit staff found a 1911 invoice detailing tree care services Davey performed on the bur oak. But a recent storm helped confirm Davey’s presence on the property more than 100 years ago.

The storm broke off a portion of the bur oak’s trunk and revealed a cement-filled cavity bolted within the trunk; the physical evidence supported the written records Davey had already found.

Because Davey was one of the first tree care companies to perform cavity fillings during the early 1900s, both South Detroit Sales Arborist Tom Holden and District Manager Tom Swearingen assume Davey performed the work. “Cavity filling is really interesting to learn about,” Holden says.

Europeans introduced the United States to cavity-filling techniques in the beginning of the 20th century. Today, tree cavities are best treated by leaving the cavity open and taking other measures to help improve the overall health of the tree.

Since the late 1980s, Davey’s South Detroit R/C crew has returned to the estate to perform several other tree services. In addition to Holden’s periodical tree inspections and last year’s storm cleanup efforts, Foreman Gary Ouellette treated some of the estate’s elm trees for Dutch elm disease.

Foreman Chad Allen has also pruned some trees, while Trimmer Daniel Cardwell and Foremen Jake Swearingen and Eddie Bennett have visited the estate numerous times to provide other tree care services, depending on the level of storm damage and the plant health care issues that have arisen. “We usually perform tree work about every two years,” Holden explains.


Now that the estate welcomes public visitors, landscape maintenance and preservation is even more important than before. “I feel privileged to be taking care of the trees Ford planted way back then,” Holden says. “Now, they’re huge trees – about 100 years old – but they’re part of the original design, which is interesting.”

Nearly 100 years after the Fords began calling Fair Lane their home, the legacies of Davey and Ford remain relevant within their respective industries. Ford’s interest in nature survives within the nature preserve and hiking trails that exist on the property. And with Davey’s help, Fair Lane Estate staff and volunteers have helped preserve Ford’s landscape for many years. As Holden says: “It’s a really beautiful landscape.”

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