Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate

St. Clair Shores, MI—Merit Award, Residential-Larger than 1 Acre


Geoff Graber
Graber & Associates, LLC
Chesterfield, MI



The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House Estate is comprised of historically significant buildings and grounds that make a connection to art, design, history and environment.  Jens Jensen, one of America’s foremost landscape designers and conservationists, designed the Ford House garden landscape between 1926-1932.  Jensen was known for his use of native plants, the sense of vast open space and the play of light and shadow.  A comprehensive master plan was recently put in place to restore, reconstruct, and rehabilitate the Estate.  The first phase included site improvements including the infrastructure and replacement of the irrigation system.  This is the first major alteration to the estate in 25 years, and the largest construction project since the home was built.



The existing irrigation had been installed primarily in the late 1970’s, with portions remaining from the 1920’s and 1930’s.  No portion or parts from the existing system was worth salvaging, and a new system was planned for the site.  DR 17 PE4710 HDPE was used for the mainlines and submains, installed using directional bore in areas where mature tree root zones could not be compromised by trenching.  The site was grouped into five general hydrozones, each installed with hydrometers and soil moisture sensors.  Quick coupling valves were liberally placed throughout at the gardener’s request.  A two-wire control system with web-based capabilities and flow management provides the system management team the required level of system control to maintain the Estate grounds.

A new wet well and pump station were installed, using Lake St Clair as the water source.  The installation included a new wet well, variable drive pump station and suitable filtration.  Lake St Clair is part of the Great Lakes waterway and water use withdrawals are subject to annual reporting to the State of Michigan.



  • Provided plans, specifications, details and construction observation services for the new irrigation system for approximately 50 acres of the 87-acre Estate grounds
  • Met with on-site maintenance and gardening staff to better assess system requirements and needs
  • Prepared plans, specifications and details for bidding and construction
  • During installation, closely coordinated irrigation work with the other on-site contractors who were simultaneously replacing the site infrastructure
  • Made on-site visits 3-4 days per week and provided weekly reports, including photographs, to document the progress. Attended monthly progress meetings with the Owner
  • Collected as-constructed documentation of the installation using a sub-meter GPS unit
  • Prepared final record drawing using collected data



The historical significance of the site impacted many of the design considerations.

The site remained open for public use during construction.  Signage and barriers directing visitors away from areas of active installation was utilized.  Ongoing communication with the irrigation contractor and special event staging operators was required to keep the site safe for visitors and to maintain the project schedule.



To view project images, click HERE