Meadow Brook Hall is an impressive house in Rochester Michigan that showcases the wealthy lifestyle of car industry leaders in the early 20th century. When you visit this historic site at Oakland University, you’ll see what the rich lived like during America’s Gilded Age.
If you’re into history, architecture, or just looking for something different to do, Meadow Brook Hall has plenty to offer. Take a guided tour to learn about the details of the house and its interior design, and check out the special exhibits to find out more about the people who lived there.
When you visit Meadow Brook, it’s like traveling back in time to experience the luxury of the past!
History of Meadow Brook Hall
Meadow Brook Hall is a mix of history, luxury, and cultural importance. Exploring this place teaches you about one of the largest historic home museums in the United States. Also, you’ll get insight into the life and legacy of Matilda Dodge Wilson and how she played a big part in creating this remarkable estate.
Matilda Dodge Wilson
Visiting Meadow Brook brings you closer to understanding the powerful influence that Matilda Dodge Wilson had during her life.
She was the rich widow of car pioneer John F. Dodge and used her money and power to turn the estate into a symbol of elegance and generosity. Her second marriage to Alfred G. Wilson led to a time of wealth and big ideas, which resulted in the estate growing and later becoming a center for culture and education.
Additionally, Matilda was heavily involved in the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club, and she was even the first female Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. Perhaps most notably, though, Matilda is the co-founder of Oakland University.
When the then-farmland was originally purchased by John Dodge, it was a full 320 acres (which he acquired for the whopping price of $50,000). Unfortunately, John would not live to see the now famed home built. Due to complications from an illness contracted while traveling, both John and his brother passed in 1920.
After John’s passing, Matilda and the couple’s three children left Michigan to spend the next few years in France. Tragedy befell the family once again when the youngest of the Dodge children, Anna Margaret, passed away from measles upon the return trip. A heartbroken Matilda sought refuge in the Presbyterian church and soon found love with a deacon there — lumber baron Alfred Wilson.
The two wed quickly in 1925 and would come back from their honeymoon and quickly embark on the construction of Meadow Brook Hall, which lasted from 1926 to 1929.
The house is massive at 88,000 square feet (making it the third-largest historic home in the nation) and has 110 rooms. It was more than just a home. It was a display of incredible craftsmanship and design from the era.
“I got so turned around simply trying to find the entrance that the (wonderfully courteous) woman manning the front desk came out into the courtyard to find me and put me on the right path. Though my sense of direction is, admittedly, worse than others, I can imagine I am not the first visitor to lose their way.”Hayley Serr, Awesome Mitten contributor
If you’re interested in architecture, you’ll love the Tudor Revival style of the mansion, which was designed by Detroit firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls. The couple had very specific notions regarding the character and style of the estate and even had an architect accompany them on their honeymoon throughout Europe to take note of their favorite stylistic elements.
For this reason, the immense home has a very personal feel. One of the most notable features is the intricate wood carvings. Though ornate and lavish, the carvings are extremely unique.
In the game room, there are images of cards, billiards, and dice carved into the wall above the entrance. In Alfred’s study, the panels around the room depict stages in his life — from his childhood to college to his marriage to Matilda — all with a playful nature.
In the library, each wall features carvings of writers, artists, musicians, or philosophers that the family enjoyed. Plus, the nursery featured tiles depicting different nursery rhymes.
The Wilsons threw lavish parties often, including a surprise 21st birthday party for Frances at which Frank Sinatra performed. And, it was not just the parties that displayed the luxury of the Wilson home. Matilda’s office was done in completely flawless pine, sets of sheets were woven through with 14-karat gold thread, and all guest rooms had circular silver safes.
On special tours, you can see some of the hidden features throughout the mansion. For instance, Alfred, a notably shy man, had a secret staircase put in so that he would be able to sneak off from the hustle and bustle of the parties thrown by Matilda.
Likewise, Frances Dodge had a staircase to a private playroom above her bedroom, while Daniel Dodge had a ladder to his private playroom. Matilda and Alfred also adopted two children of their own — Richard and Barbara — though they didn’t benefit from being old enough to have private playrooms.
Things to Do at Meadow Brook Hall
The main thing to do at Meadow Brook Hall is tour the mansion and gardens. However, the property hosts numerous festivities and private events throughout the year.
Guided Tour Experiences
A tour of this estate will show you the elaborate design and history of one of the grandest homes in the nation. But there’s more to see than just the mansion.
The estate has 37 other buildings, beautiful gardens, and vast pastures that all tell the story of the Dodge and Wilson families. Practically every part of the estate is open for tours.
Starting with the House Tour, you will walk through the three main living levels of this National Historic Landmark. The architectural magnificence of each room tells part of the Dodge-Wilson family’s story.
The adjoining gardens are just as impressive, with well-manicured landscapes and hidden pathways that were once used by some of America’s most influential families.
If you want to see parts of the house that aren’t usually open to visitors, the Behind-the-Scenes Tour is for you. This special tour takes you to the servants’ quarters and other rarely seen areas, giving you a different view of the estate. You even get to see the China Vault, which houses vintage liquor from Prohibition.
For an even deeper experience, book the two-hour Revealed Tour — a combination of the House and Behind-the-Scenes tours. You get to see hidden spaces, including secret staircases, and much more on all four floors of the mansion.
Tours & Dining Packages
For a truly unique visit, consider booking one of the aforementioned tours with a catered meal. There’s no better setting in which to have a gourmet meal in Rochester Michigan!
Seasonal Events & Programs
Meadow Brook Hall hosts a variety of themed events throughout the year to show off the estate’s beauty in every season. Whether you’re interested in the blooming gardens of spring or the festive holiday decorations of winter, you’ll find special events designed to celebrate each season.
Meadow Brook in Bloom
In the spring, the gardens are full of color for the Meadow Brook in Bloom event. It usually happens in June and is a great chance to see the gardens at their best. The garden tours focus on the history and flowers of the gardens.
Winter Wonder Lights
During the holiday season, the property becomes a dazzling wonderland of lights. It’s a striking experience that allows you to engage in the beauty of winter.
From late November until almost Christmas, you can immerse yourself in the holiday spirit at the annual Holiday Walk. It lets you see over 50 beautifully decorated trees, including a big Poinsettia tree made from 150 live plants. Each room is turned into a holiday scene for a magical experience.
On top of the holiday lights and decorations, guests can hear carols played over the famed Aeolian organ — the largest player organ in a residence, which boasts 4,600 pipes running throughout the house — and even visit with Santa Claus.
Meadow Brook Hall has been named one of the best holiday historic home tours in the USA.
OU Day & Nights
A longstanding holiday tradition, OU Night is an event where the Oakland University community can experience the estate for a special rate (upon showing university ID, of course). The Holiday Walk and Winter Wonder Lights events are open to the university students and staff, as well as their guests.
Before you leave, consider taking a little bit of the estate with you. The museum store is open all year to purchase snacks and drinks, garden items, postcards, books, toys and games, apparel, and souvenirs and gifts. Discounts are available during the holidays.
Weddings & Private Events
Meadow Brook Hall offers a historic and fancy backdrop for weddings and private events. With a variety of elegant indoor and outdoor venues, you can choose the perfect setting that matches the scale and style of your celebration.
The sophisticated Ballroom is ideal for lavish receptions, catering to a large number of guests. If you prefer an intimate setting, smaller rooms — like the Garden Room or the Conservatory — are great choices for family gatherings and private dinners.
The estate’s grounds offer stunning outdoor venues that fuse historical grandeur with natural beauty. The Rock Garden and Garden Tent are ideal for large weddings and receptions because they can accommodate extensive guest lists. And, the manicured gardens are beautiful for dinners and unique cocktail hours.
At Meadow Brook Hall, your curiosity about history and architecture can find a nurturing ground through educational outreach programs specifically designed to engage different age groups and learning interests.
The enriching youth programs immerse kids in hands-on historical experiences. They cater to various age levels and align with educational standards to create fun and informative outings.
The adult workshops focus on the estate’s history, architecture, and cultural trends of the eras that the estate has witnessed. These workshops can expand your understanding of local heritage and historical preservation.
More Tips About Visiting Meadow Brook Hall
Meadow Brook Hall welcomes you throughout the year with varying opening hours depending on the season, so we recommend double-checking those hours before your visit. You can purchase tickets for individual tours or opt for a membership for added benefits.
The mansion and grounds are committed to being accessible to all visitors. Ramps and elevators are available for those who need them, and you’re encouraged to contact the staff ahead of your visit if you have specific needs.
At the core of Meadow Brook Hall are the volunteers who have generously given hundreds of thousands of hours of service to keep the estate open to the public. Gardeners, tour guides, and event workers are always welcome to get involved.
All volunteers get educational and training opportunities, a magazine subscription, community event discounts, and museum shop discounts.
FAQs About Meadow Brook Hall
What types of tours are available at Meadow Brook Hall?
Meadow Brook Hall offers self-guided tours and group tours, as well as special event tours all year.
Can visitors take photographs while touring Meadow Brook Hall?
Yes, you can take photos at Meadow Brook Hall for personal use. Also, you can book a professional photo session on the grounds and in the gardens.
What are the options for hosting events at Meadow Brook Hall?
Meadow Brook Hall serves as a stunning venue for various events — from weddings to baby showers to corporate gatherings.
What is the historical significance of Meadow Brook Hall?
This hall is not only a National Historic Landmark but also the former residence of Matilda Dodge Wilson, an influential figure in the automobile industry. Its construction between 1926 and 1929 is a testament to the luxury of the early 20th century.
How many rooms does Meadow Brook Hall have and are they accessible during the tour?
Meadow Brook Hall boasts an impressive 110 rooms, and you have the chance to experience the luxuriousness of this estate, with many rooms accessible to visitors.
Create a Remarkable Memory at Meadow Brook Hall
When planning a visit to Rochester Michigan, Meadow Brook Hall offers a memorable experience steeped in history, architecture, and natural beauty. Tours provide insight into the automotive aristocracy and Tudor Revival architecture that make the estate stand out as one of the finest examples of America’s past.
Whether you’re immersing yourself in the richness of the property’s history or enjoying the stunning grounds and gardens, your visit to Meadow Brook Hall will be a highlight of your time in Rochester.
Thank you to Hayley Serr for her contributions to this article.