Ford gives preview of recovered Michigan Central Depot artifacts

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Ted Ryan, heritage brand manager, Ford Archives, stands with a clock face in Dearborn on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, which once adorned the exterior of the Michigan Central Train Station. Ryan showed many items which will be displayed at the Michigan Central Station's Winter Festival on Jan. 18-27.

Dearborn — When Ford Motor Co. announced in June its purchase of the Michigan Central Depot, calls began to come in from people who had artifacts from the 1913 historic building.

On Friday, the automaker offered a preview of recovered items, including a large iron clock face, elevator call buttons and tickets. The early look comes as Ford prepares to showcase most of the artifacts during its 10-day winter festival beginning Jan. 18 in front of the train station. 

“They can serve as inspiration,” said Ted Ryan, Ford archives and heritage brand manager, of the items. “It’s too early to say if they’ll be reused, but if you know what something looked like even if you don’t recreate it exactly, it gives you an inspiration. A design guide, a design basis to move forward.”

The festival comes a month after Ford began the first of three phases of renovation work on the building that in 2022 will serve as an anchor for the company's $740 million Corktown campus for its autonomous technology and electrification departments.

Leslie Armbruster, archive manager for Ford, estimates that 30-40 items have been recovered so far. They're stored at the Ford Motor Co. Archives in Dearborn. The items will be displayed in a festival exhibition done in conjunction with the Detroit Historical Museum, she said. 

The return of the artifacts first began in June when a man called the Henry Ford Museum to say that he had an iron clock face he’d taken from the train station. After a series of cryptic text with the auto company, the man, who wanted to remain anonymous, led workers to pick up the clock outside a Corktown building near the train station, Ryan said.

“The fact that this person had this passion for the building led us to put this bigger call out for people to donate materials,” he said.

Another man who returned sconces from the building said that he took them from the building in late 1989, Ryan said. This was one year after the station closed its doors when the last train departed for Chicago. The man said that by the time he had gotten to the building much of the materials were gone.

“I think it’s important to note that because they have a passion for the building that’s why they’re taking these things,” Ryan said. “They’re not just taking them just to take them, but it’s a passion for what the building is and what it meant to them.” 

Other returned artifacts that will be on display are office lamps, ornate staircase finials, a fire extinguisher and a railroad spike. White and pink tickets gifted to Ford Motor Co. would grant passengers travel to destinations, including Youngstown, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Syracuse, New York. 

In the collection is a postcard dated March 1916 that features an image of the “New Michigan Central Station.” In the handwritten message, an uncle thanks his niece in Maine for thinking of him on his 72nd birthday. He tells her that he is headed from Detroit to Chicago the next day.

Armbruster said it's exciting to be surrounded by the artifacts. 

“As archivists, we’re passionate about history,” she said. “As Ford archivists, we’re passionate about Detroit, the area and Dearborn. To be involved in the project where these things will be returned and will be utilized.

"A lot of what we do is not available to the public because we’re a private institution. To have an opportunity to show the public kind of what we do, where some of these cool things come from and where they’ll live eventually, it’s really exciting."

Ford is asking that anyone with items from the station call (313) 845-3673.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN