School that Ford built makes move to new home in Livonia

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A schoolhouse built by Henry Ford found a new home Tuesday after crews maneuvered it along a 14-mile route to Livonia’s Greenmead Historical Park.

“I think it went remarkably well,” said Linda Wiacek, program supervisor at Greenmead. “There was a lot of lines, a lot of utilities that had to be moved. In the beginning there was a live wire as they started out. That was a hold up. Once the power was off, it was zoom, zoom, zoom.”

Perrinville school prepares to turn north on Inkster Road as it moves to Livonia’s Greenmeade Historic Park.

Perrinville, built in 1937, was initially called Nankin Mills School, according to Wiacek. It was located in a village called Nankin Mills in what is now Westland.

Perrinville now is set to join Greenmead’s “historical village,” made up entirely of relocated structures that played key roles in Livonia’s past. It will have to be refurbished before it is available to the public for field trips, rental space and archival research.

“It’s going to be a multipurpose building,” Wiacek said.

The big move was made possible after years of planning and fundraising.

“We have a lot of retired teachers with our volunteer force (at Greenmead),” Wiacek said. “It’s an expensive proposition, and funds were generated through activities at Greenmead — no city of Livonia funds. We do accept donations, too.”

Several Westland and Livonia roads were closed at 9 a.m. Tuesday as authorities moved the schoolhouse. The move was complete around 6:30 p.m.

The Perrinville School, previously at Joy and Farmington in Westland, made the trek to Greenmead at 20501 Newburgh in Livonia.

“(Henry Ford) built (it) for the men that were working at the Nankin Mill. Their children were educated there,” Wiacek said. Before the school was built, area students’ only other option was a dangerous trek across a river to another schoolhouse.

“It was rather state of the art at the time; it wasn’t a typical one-room school,” Wiacek said of Ford’s creation. “It had a machine shop, a sewing room, and there was a garden. It had a lot of niceties that normal one-room schools did not have.”

The brick school with a slate roof also was two stories, Wiacek said.

Kathie Glynn of the Livonia Preservation Commission takes photos of the school as it heads north on Inkster Road.

Ford sold the building in 1946 to the Nankin Mills School District “for one whole dollar,” Wiacek said.

It later was transferred to the Livonia school system and renamed Perrinville in 1959. Additions were added that year and in 1960 and 1964, but all have since been demolished, leaving the original structure.

“There was talk of demolishing (the original structure) but people stepped forward and went into the saving process,” Wiacek said.“It’s part of Livonia’s history and it’s a wonderful tribute that Henry Ford built it for those children.”

The 95-acre Greenmead Historical Park originally was an 1820s homestead for Michigan pioneer Joshua Simmons, according to the property website. It still includes the original farm complex along with picnic facilities and recreational areas.

The property was bought by the city in 1976 and serves as a “multifaceted recreational and cultural facility” hosting special events throughout the year.

Officials created the “historical village” at Greenmead to help preserve locally significant structures “that would have been lost to development at their original locations,” officials said.

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.

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Detroit News Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed to this report.