• The Ford Piquette Plant (… Opens Today!)

    by  • April 1, 2010 • History • 4 Comments

    In 1908, the first Model T rolled off the assembly line in Detroit at the Ford Motor Company’s Piquette Plant. The plant, which opened in 1904, was only open for a few years — in 1910, Ford moved production to its bigger and more famous Highland Park Factory — but history pushed forward pretty irrevocably in that skinny brick building at Milwaukee Junction.

    piquette plant

    I did not know a thing about the Piquette Plant until a couple of weeks ago, when Single Barrel Detroit asked me to come down there for a video shoot with Computer Perfection. And it especially surprised (and delighted) me to learn that the Piquette Plan today is lovingly kept in shape and open for visitors as the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex — T-Plex for short. And it’s full of gleaming Model Ts and other Piquette-era Fords. It hasn’t been repainted since 1910, the floors are original, and its 350+ handcrafted triple-pane windows have been loyally restored. (You can even adopt one.)

    piquette windows

    I have started to think of this blog as a blog about pre-automotive Detroit, for lots of reasons. One very honest reason is that I’ve never been interested in cars. Another might be that I don’t come from a Detroit auto-industry family; my grandparents and great-grandparents were poorer than that — immigrant farmers, scrap cart pushers, flop-house builders, sugar runners and professional holders of odd jobs. And I think this is a history that is told far less often —settler-era Detroit (and its suburbs), a wilderness tamed by venturers, gamblers, and the pioneer imagination.

    But it was hard to walk the long, chambered halls of the Piquette Plant without feeling a little reverent. This was the place, the incubator of Detroit industry, the beginning of Detroit as an idea, the spot that all of those photo essays of our broken-ass fallen city flow back to. Without the Model T, it never would’ve come to this. I may not be descended from car-building stock, but would my ancestors have bothered to come to Detroit at all without Henry Ford? I don’t know. And even though I don’t know anything about these cars, they’re beautiful to look at and the building itself is a gem.

    piquette model t 1914

    I don’t want to expound too much, since I will be writing more about this when the videos come out, and since there’s not a lot to expound upon when it comes to Ford. If you’re a Detroiter, you probably have a lot of mixed-up crazy feelings about Ford — the man, the myth, the motor vehicle — and I’m not going to sway them for you too much.

    So here are a few photos I took, and a reminder that the T-Plex opens for the season today.

    piquette longshot

    A Piquette Factory long shot, featuring some friendly members of Computer Perfection.

    piquette model t firetruck

    This 1921 Model T firetruck! is pretty much the best. Close up:

    piquette model t firetruck

    spokes

    Parts and labor.

    piquette parts fw

    piquette ford tractor

    A Model T Pullford conversion tractor. Henry Ford, born on a farm, thought machines were better suited for the back-breaking hard labor of agriculture.

    piquette 1915 maxwell

    A 1910 Maxwell Model AA. Maxwell Motor Company was an early forerunner of Chrysler Corporation.

    piquette ford experiment room

    At the back of the factory floor is Henry Ford’s “Experiment Room,” where designs and developments were cooked up, blueprints were unfurled, schematics were scribbled on a chalkboard and Henry Ford sat in this rocker and came up with his best ideas.

    4 Responses to The Ford Piquette Plant (… Opens Today!)

    1. April 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      Hey Night Train, funny you should write about this. I was bicycling in that neighborhood today and stopped to talk to a fellow that was taking exterior pictures of the T-Plex. We ended up having a long conversation on – believe it or not – the airplane industry. The man I was talking with was a filmmaker from Dearborn and he was looking for an industrial site in that neighborhood where, as he explained it, the airplane was born because of the availability of Ford engines. He went on to explain how the original airplane complex burnt down and Henry Ford helped them rebuild in Dearborn.

      He was very curious about the T-Plex and he was asking me about what was inside. I suggested he do a walk through and he was surprised because he didn’t realize it was open. The irony is that we were standing in front of the “Museum is open, enter here sign.”

      Charlie

    2. amy
      April 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm

      Oh! That is ridiculous. And wonderful. Do you know if he found the site he was looking for, or the name of the company? Because now I’m curious.

      I’ve got a bike with my name on it in the works in a super secret downriver bicycle laboratory, and I’m really looking forward to exploring the city on two wheels in a few short weeks. I think chance meetings like this (with people and places!) happen with more ease when you’re moving slower, out in the open and not worried about parking if you want to stop and check something out.

    3. April 2, 2010 at 8:07 am

      I don’t think he found the site. I suggested he talk with the folks at the T-Plex, they would probably have some info. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the company/person he was talking about.

      Once your bike is unveiled, perhaps we’ll run into each other (not literally) on our two-wheel journeys.

    4. abby and alayna
      March 23, 2014 at 10:01 am

      We would like to buy the building because we want to make it a hotel for animals. We think we can make this work. We are about to get a part time job at Walmart. We are going to help the animals in need and keep them until we can find them a descent home. We would like to give a big thank u if you say yes. We are very mature and we know we can make it work. We have saved 2 animals today. We have 5 dogs are self’s.’we know how to train,

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