History at The Hall
Experience Meadow Brook From Home
Meadow Brook Hall’s new History at The Hall series will provide digital resources, stories, virtual tours and inspiring quotes to help our community continue to learn and engage from home.
The Sewing Room
History at The Hall: While many avid DIYers have been busy sewing costumes for Halloween, few are sewing or altering clothes on a daily basis. In Matilda’s day, it was important to have a Sewing Room and seamstress on staff to alter, repair and adjust gowns, clothes, and household items.
Today, the Sewing Room is part of our Behind-the-Scenes tour and features a dressmaker’s doll built to Matilda’s size, along with sewing machines, thread and a number of household cleaning brushes that are original to the house. Since there was no such thing as a “convenience” store at the time, Matilda bought many products, from brushes to liquor, in bulk. She may have been a little too prepared, since we still have such a great many of these objects upstairs in storage!
The Story of Matilda’s Portrait
Without question, the Christopher Wren Dining Room is one of the most beautiful rooms in The Hall. It is also home to the elegant portraits of Matilda and Alfred Wilson. Both paintings were created in 1927 by society portrait painter Louis Betts. Each painting shares a significant insight into the personalities of the Wilsons, and today we’ll examine Matilda’s portrait. The story goes that Matilda did not have a dress made for this painting, but rather fashioned a piece of cloth around herself to create an elegant gown full of movement. The more likely scenario is that Matilda sent a photograph of herself and a scrap of the fabric to Betts, who imagined the dress. In either case, we do still have the fabric depicted in the painting in The Hall’s extensive Textiles Storage. Additionally, the painting of Matilda is interesting because there are storm clouds behind her, which likely represent the challenges and changes of her lifetime, and she wears no jewelry. The lack of jewelry makes Matilda appear more approachable and demonstrates that although she was an extremely wealthy woman, she still had an air of unworldliness.
The Pump Operations on the Estate
Although it is not especially glamorous, Meadow Brook Hall’s well and pump operations were a modern feature of the estate that added to its comfort and self-sufficiency. John Dodge installed the first new well/pumping station in 1908 at Meadow Brook Farms, and the Wilsons added four more pump houses as they developed the property for The Hall. Two of the 10,000 gallon pumping stations are close to the mansion. The first is located in an underground room beneath the family garage and the second is a standalone building near Knole Cottage. The 140-square-foot brick pump house near Knole Cottage featured leaded-glass windows and double doors that were originally adorned with Tiffany insets that were repurposed from the Grosse Pointe house John and Matilda Dodge were building before John’s death in 1920. Located 18 feet below gr ound level is the well pump, a sump pump and blower – all of which are still operable though not in use today.
Delphine Dodge Wins the President’s Cup
Horace Dodge was a man of many interests, which included competitive boat racing. Both his children Horace Jr. and Delphine (cousins to Frances and Danny Dodge) shared his passion, with Horace Jr. exploring motor boat mechanics and piloting and Delphine reaching celebrity status as a daring racer. As one of the first women in the sport, Delphine made plenty of waves and achieved an historic victory in the President’s Cup Regatta, an annual race on the Potomac River. Delphine was awarded the President’s Cup trophy from President Calvin Coolidge on the lawn of the White House in 1927. Both siblings found success, joy and fulfillment on the water without hindering their friendship, even across years of intense competition. And to this day, the names Horace and Delphine Dodge are still synonymous with boat racing, particularly for those still speeding on the Detroit River.
The Christopher Wren Dining Room Plaster Ceiling
One of the most unique and striking features of Meadow Brook Hall is the incredible carved plaster ceiling in the Christopher Wren Dining Room. The elaborate plaster ceiling was created by Corrado Parducci, a Detroit architectural sculptor born in Italy, and his assistants. In order to protect the plaster from the extremes of Michigan’s climate, it was cast and carved in 16-square foot sections, which are suspended by wires from the ceiling to prevent cracking and allows it to expand and contract. It took a team of artisans 6 months to complete. The ceiling depicts several classical elements including angels frolicking among vine tendrils with fruit, flowers, and stalks of wheat and a beautiful Acanthus leaf decoration in the central oval.
The Pegasus Statue
Meadow Brook’s iconic Pegasus Fountain is one of the most distinct elements of the estate. It is an octagonal-shaped pool filled with turquoise-colored Pewabic tile and star-shaped inset tiles designed by Italian-born Detroit artist Corrado Parducci (who created the intricate carved plaster ceiling in Meadow Brook’s Christopher Wren Dining Room).
Originally surrounded by five beds of evergreens, the Pegasus Fountain is today a favorite setting for weddings and special celebrations. The striking Colt Pegasus bronze sculpture was created in 1949 by Avard Fairbanks, an artist tied to the Dodge legacy. Fairbanks was commissioned by Walter P. Chrysler to design the ram logo that is still used today for the Dodge brand of automobiles.
The “Peanut” Swimming Pool
Heat Wave! The Dodge and Wilsons cooled off in the summer months with a splash at their peanut-shaped pool that was built around 1936. It featured extensive landscaping with birch trees, Chinese juniper, and honeysuckle, along with slate pavers, a garden wall and babbling waterfall feature, which was Matilda’s favorite place on the estate.
As always, Frances was the life of the (pool) party by hosting a 5 a.m. pool party for her friends after a film premiere in Detroit. She even had bathing suits imported from France–specially selected to complement each guest’s hair color.
The pool was a gathering place for the family and their staff and was also important to the community: Matilda hosted swim lessons for women employed at Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company as she had never learned to swim. Rochester Boy Scout troops were given weekly access to the pools to learn to swim; and after Matilda Wilson’s death, the peanut pool was used by OU faculty and their employees.
Matilda’s Canadian Ancestry
In honor of National Canada Day on July 1, we’re exploring Matilda Dodge Wilson’s Canadian roots.
She was born Matilda Rausch in Walkerton, Canada in 1883 and was the daughter of German immigrants George and Margaret Rausch. The family moved to Detroit soon after Matilda was born and by 1884, her father owned and operated a saloon and her mother ran the boarding house next door.
Matilda attended Detroit public schools and graduated from Gorsline Business College before becoming secretary to John and Horace Dodge in 1902. It was not until her marriage to John Dodge in 1907 that she became a U.S. citizen.
Matilda was a self-made, modern woman of the 20th century who lived an all-American success story–who built a legacy as a businesswoman, preservationist, art collector, horsewoman, farmer and philanthropist throughout the community she supported.
Antiques Roadshow at Meadow Brook
It may be more recent history, but we are celebrating the anniversary of our Antiques Roadshow filming in June 2018.
Three thousand eager antique owners poured onto the grounds of Meadow Brook Hall for the ﬁlming of PBS’ most-watched series, Antiques Roadshow.
The show selected The Hall as a ﬁlming location for its 23rd season premiere in 2019 as part of a new format change — moving ﬁlming sites from conference centers to historical locations. The experience was a unique one for friends of The Hall, and made for an incredible TV episode full of antiques, surprises and plenty of history!
The Historic Bed from Matilda’s Family
The story of how Meadow Brook Curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski learned about and eventually found and acquired the antique Eastlake-style bed that Matilda Dodge Wilson was born in takes several years and several turns.
She first caught a hint of the piece about six years ago when viewing a 1981 archival interview between Meadow Brook staff and Matilda’s younger sister. Three years ago, she was reviewing an old docent guide from the 1970s and began to learn a little more about the characteristics of this specific bed.
Then in 2018, when Antiques Roadshow came to Meadow Brook Hall, she actually connected with a vistor and local history buff who had an interesting item in his possession! Through an old shipping label and a custom adjustment to the headboard, Madelyn was able to identify the bed as the one Matilda was born in in 1883.
Watch the video to learn the whole story!
The Dodge Brothers Exhibit
More than a century after founding Dodge Motor Company, the Dodge brothers are still household names. Their work changed the game for quality in automotive engineering. John and Horace Dodge left a lasting legacy–and some incredible vehicles behind.
Last summer, Meadow Brook Curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski put together an extensive exhibit on the Dodge Brothers, which featured original artifacts that ranged from John Dodge’s toolbox to vintage cars, advertising memorabilia and more.
In this video, Madelyn shares stories from the brothers’ lives and work and highlights some of the most rare and remarkable items in our collection. Watch our video highlighting our 2019 Dodge Brothers exhibit and the Dodge brothers’ work and impact on the auto industry.
Dodge and Wilson Family Pets
It’s National Pet Month and to celebrate, we’re sharing some favorite stories about the Dodge and Wilson family pets.
While they had several beloved dogs (Cleo, Sunday, Linda and Goldie, to name a few!), they also loved horses and even more exotic animal friends. When Frances took her World Tour in 1934, she returned with her own beloved pekingese dogs to start her new kennel (plus their new kennel maid), along with a zebra, four donkeys and Pete the Turtle, a pet for her younger siblings Richard and Barbara.
Pete the Turtle was a great favorite with the children, but brought new challenges for the maids who had to keep carrying the slow-moving reptile around after them!
Meadow Brook Hall is considered one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival architecture anywhere. The incredible architecture was one of the major driving forces into establishing The Hall as a National Historic Landmark in 2012.
Tudor architecture arose in the late 1400s through the end of the 1500s that blends some characteristic Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements. Tudor-revival architecture sprang up in the 1800s in England and has enjoyed some level of popularity since.
Some of the more striking Tudor-revival features at Meadow Brook include the building’s overall asymmetric shape, along with the exquisite brick-work laid out in a variety of patterns, carved stone doorways and capitals, clustered chimneys with decorative brickwork and portions of half-timbered walls with occasional carved decoration.
The Trunk Room
The Dodge and Wilson family loved to travel-and did it in style! Over the years, they had homes in Arizona, Maine and New York. They also took family vacations and enjoyed traveling to see horse races and sometimes hit the beach.
that travel required a serious collection of luggage and trunks, which were built to sustain all sorts of rough handling by boat or plane or train. Now the family’s original luggage is housed in Meadow Brook’s fourth floor in the “trunk room.”
With 110 rooms to choose from, you may be surprised to learn that the trunk room was Matilda’s favorite room in the house. It satisfied her sense of organization to see things so neatly ordered and tucked away.
The Christopher Wren Dining Room
One of the most impressive rooms in The Hall is the Christopher Wren Dining Room. Designed in the neoclassical style of famed English architect Sir Christopher Wren (best known for Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London), the dining room utilizes Greek and Roman elements such as symmetry, fluted pilasters (flat grooved columns) and doorways with pediments.
Several of the Great Estate’s most beautiful paintings hang in the dining room, including large portraits of Matilda and Alfred Wilson by Louis Betts in 1927. When fully extended, the dining room table extends from chandelier to chandelier and comfortably seats 40.
Visitors to the dining room are immediately struck by the incredible and intricate plaster ceiling that was created by Detroit architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci. The ceiling itself is a unique work of art worthy of further exploration in the coming weeks!
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the Dodge Family, Part II
In a follow up to Meadow Brook Hall Curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski’s 1918 Influenza Pandemic video, we learn about the death of John Dodge.
In January 1920, the men behind the biggest car brands (Dodge Brothers, Ford, Olds, Chevrolet) gathered for the New York Auto Show. Unfortunately, in the midst of a global pandemic, this was not a wise choice. Having suffered from tuberculosis earlier in his life, John was especially susceptible to the deadly flu. His death was a big blow for the auto industry.
You can imagine the impact John’s life had on others by their response to his death, which included a 300+ person escort for John’s casket when it arrived at the Detroit train station to a line down Woodward Avenue for Dodge Motor Company employees to view his body.
Detroit City Councilman John C. Lodge said John Dodge was “One of Detroit’s foremost citizens, a man who has done more towards the upbuilding of the City of Detroit than any man I can think of.” Learn more about this remarkable man, his life and death in Madelyn’s video.
Knole Cottage – The “World’s Finest Dollhouse”
Quite simply, Knole Cottage is the dreamiest playhouse of all! It was built for Frances Dodge for her 12th birthday in 1926 – making it older than Meadow Brook Hall! Knole Cottage is perfectly built to ¾ scale, (including 3/4 scale bricks!) and comes complete with appropriately scaled furniture, textiles, decorative art, and even fully functioning electric appliances and running water.
Not only is the enchanting six-room cottage the perfect place for a young girl to play, but it was intended to teach Miss Dodge the art of homemaking, including managing a checkbook. Knole Cottage was so unique, it was even featured in the newspapers upon completion, called the “World’s Finest Doll House.”
Between 2016 and 2018, Knole Cottage underwent a significant restoration, with generous support from the Matilda R. Wilson Fund for the exterior work and from Gretchen and Ed Adler for the collections and interiors.
Barbara Wilson’s Wedding
No one is quite so lovely as a blushing bride. Barbara Wilson, daughter of Alfred and Matilda Wilson, married Thomas S. Eccles at Meadow Brook Hall in a beautiful ceremony on June 27, 1953.
Much like the stylish society wedding of her older sister Frances, the ceremony took place in the Living Room, followed by an elegant reception in the Great Hall featuring a decadent pyramid cake.
Barbara wore an ivory silk satin gown with French Alencon lace, and carried a spray of white orchids. Matilda wore a turquoise silk taffeta gown and Frances’ daughter Judy was a bridesmaid.
To learn more about present-day weddings at Meadow Brook, visit meadowbrookhall.org/weddings.
Photos are courtesy of the family of Barbara Wilson Eccles.
Meadow Brook Hall and the Founding of Oakland University
In 1957, Matilda and Alfred Wilson donated the entirety of Meadow Brook Hall, its grounds, estate and outbuildings, along with $2 million to found what would become Oakland University.
In a special OU From Home video chat, Meadow Brook Curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski shares a number of stories and anecdotes from the early days of OU, including calling Matilda the “godmother” of Oakland University, student invitations to parties and tea at Meadow Brook Hall, and a glamorous prom-and gift of a diamond ring-for the first graduating class in 1963.
Watch the full video below!
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the Dodge Family, Part I
The scale and scope of today’s COVID-19 pandemic bears a striking resemblance to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that was incredibly contagious and deadly–and had a deep impact on the Dodge family.
Meadow Brook Hall’s curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski talks through some of the similarities (stay-at-home orders, closure of schools, theaters and churches) and differences (be grateful that spittoons are no longer a normal fixture) in the first of a two-part pandemic video.
John Dodge’s older sister Delphine was an active force for good during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, working to support the Red Cross, fundraising for important organizations and organizing volunteers to make face masks.
Find out more about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and its disastrous consequences on the Dodge family in the next video, coming soon!
Meadow Brook’s Library is at once one of the more frequented rooms by the Dodge and Wilson family and a universal favorite for visitors to The Hall.
The room is filled with American oak paneling that features portraits of famed philosophers, writers, musicians and painters from Plutarch and Marcus Aurelius to Rembrandt and Mark Twain. The refectory table is from the early 17th century and the carpet and drapes are original (although the gold velvet is a replica).
The books themselves were part of Matilda’s library and are original to the house. Matilda was an avid reader of diverse subjects that range from art and architecture to horticulture and animal husbandry. Many of the books in the Library still contain little slips of paper Matilda used to mark her place, notes and thoughts.
Architecture and Design
Meadow Brook Hall was designed by the architect William E. Kapp of the firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (in business today as Smith Group Incorporated). He worked closely with Alfred and Matilda (principally Matilda!) Wilson to make sure that every detail of the Hall reflected their tastes, interests, and activities.
It is representative of the lavish living and entertaining lifestyles of the 1920s and was a passion project for Matilda. Her original instructions to the architect were that Meadow Brook was to be large enough to provide living space for 4, dinners for 40, and parties for 250.
It took three years and about $4 million to construct The Hall, which is considered one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival architecture and was named a National Historic Landmark in 2012.
Meadow Brook’s Iconic Chimneys
Meadow Brook Hall is known as one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival architecture. It’s chimneys are one of the most remarkable features of this home.
Their design was based on the favored home of King Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn, Hampton Court in Surrey Country England. There are 39 chimneys in 14 groupings, all of which have been uniquely and intricately designed.
The chimneys enhance the historic home’s design by adding balance and versatility to the large horizontal structure.
Frances Dodge’s Wedding
Meadow Brook has a legacy of hosting beautiful wedding celebrations. Today we are sharing details of one of our most famous historic weddings.
The wedding of Frances Dodge to James (Jimmy) B. Johnson Jr. on July 1, 1938 was the social event of the season, and one of the most iconic weddings ever to take place at Meadow Brook Hall. With a 13.5 foot train and a gorgeous gown of the palest blue silk, Detroit’s glamour girl’s nuptials went down in history.
The celebration was also a dream come true for Matilda, who had Meadow Brook’s grand staircase designed with Frances’ wedding day in mind. She was escorted down the stairs and aisle by her brother Dan. Frances and Jimmy were wed in the Living Room at an altar set up near the fireplace.
Approximately 500 guests attended the wedding reception, which featured receiving line in the Library, refreshments served from the Dining Room, and a performance by the local swing band the Sophisti-cats. The band played as the guests danced on a specially constructed outdoor dance floor. By all accounts, it was a great party!
Alfred’s Games Room
Alfred’s Games Room is the perfect retreat for playing cards, shooting pool and more. The room was styled after an English pub and features a raised alcove or “heckler’s corner” for observing the games.
The custom woodworking and decor of this room reflect the gaming theme throughout, from a chess piece frieze above the paneling to pool cues and balls, a checkerboard, dice, dominoes, cribbage and cards. Even the doors are complete with custom hinges decorated with the suits of cards.
The Games Room was most often used by Alfred to entertain friends. After dinner in the dining room upstairs, the ladies would retire to the living room and the men would come downstairs to the Games Room, where they could play cards and shoot pool or billiards.
The Knot Garden
Meadow Brook is renowned for its lush landscape and 16 stunning gardens.
Seen here is the Knot Garden, a formal parterre garden with a striking geometric design formed by boxwood hedges. The Knot Garden is a later addition to the gardens at Meadow Brook, created by the Garden Club to honor the architectural history of this Tudor-revival home.
Knot gardens are formal gardens traditional to England, first found during the Tudor reign of King Henry VIII. They are symmetrical, ordered and balanced, meant to complement and enhance the architecture of the home, as well as to evoke the patterns found on the wood paneling, plaster ceilings and needlepoint found within. Traditionally planted with aromatic plants and herbs, our carefully-tended boxwood edges have a sweet smell when warmed up by the sun.
Meadow Brook Hall
Spanning 88,000 square feet, 110 rooms and 1400+ acres, Meadow Brook Hall is the fourth largest historic house museum in the nation. It was constructed between 1926 and 1929 in near-secrecy to the tune of $4 million.
Meadow Brook Hall is the historic home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of automobile pioneer John Dodge, and her second husband, lumber broker Alfred Wilson, along with their children Frances, Dan, Richard and Barbara. Like all families, the Dodge and Wilsons experienced their share of joys, fun and celebrations in their home, along with challenges and tragedies.
In 1957, the Wilsons donated the entire estate and $2 million to found what eventually became Oakland University. Here is The Hall and estate as it appeared in the late 1950s.
Matilda’s private bathroom is at once luxurious and elegant.
The most stunning feature is the rare Rookwood tile mural over the tub. The mural illustrates the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan. In the story, Zeus, king of the gods, lusted after Leda, a beautiful mortal. To get close to her, he disguised himself as a swan. One of the children resulting from their liaison was Helen of Troy.
The bathroom includes a small closet for a foot bath (where Pete the turtle was washed!) and a separate closet for the toilet. Matilda did not have a shower head because she and many women at the time had their hair washed and dressed by their beauticians.
The Tiffany Chandelier
The striking stained-glass chandelier over the Aeolian organ is an original piece by renowned American artist & designer Louse Comfort Tiffany.
It depicts a Grapes and Lattices pattern and was probably first hung in Matilda and John Dodge’s home on Boston Boulevard in Detroit.
Interestingly, it did not hang in the Hall in Matilda’s time. Tiffany went bankrupt and out of fashion and the lamp was tucked away. It was found in a storage area and installed over the organ in the early 1970s and is a showpiece of our collection today!
Prohibition and the China Vault
Did you know that Prohibition made it illegal to buy or manufacture alcohol but not to consume it? John Dodge had a significant collection of alcohol that kept the family in spirits throughout the prohibition years.
Go behind-the-scenes with Meadow Brook Curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski in one of our vaults that is now filled with china and vintage alcohol-including a great stockpile of John Dodge’s favorite Saratoga Whiskey.
Meadow Brook’s two-story Gothic-inspired ballroom has the kind of soaring interior you find in late medieval halls and churches.
It features Gothic arches, half-timber wood and plaster work, and wolf grotesques (fantastic animal sculptures) that were adapted for indoor use. The stained-glass windows depict Music, Literature and Entertainment, and Drama and were made specifically for this room by J. Scott Williams.
One unique element of the stained glass is that it was designed to be viewed without distortion from both the inside and outside. Most stained glass windows are created to be viewed indoors only.
The Sun Porch
The Sun Porch is one of the prettiest, brightest and universal favorite rooms in The Hall.
The floor is made of Tennessee limestone and the wood beams are Sound Wormy Chestnut. The wing chairs and rattan furniture are original as well. The room contains some souvenirs from the family’s global travels including big majolica pottery jars from Italy and large green urns from Alhambra, Spain.