The Wilson Foundry and Machine Co

Rob recently posted a photograph to his instagram of the urns and planter boxes in the front of my house. You can see that photo here:  Rob’s instagram page  A reader asked for more detail on those urns, and the story behind them. You can barely see one of the four in the right hand side of the picture above, just about buried in petunias.  As it happens, there is a story behind those pots, that dates back 88 years.

Some 23 years ago, my good friend Frech knew I was looking to move closer to a building and property that I had purchased that would become Detroit Garden Works. He called and insisted that I go look at a house for sale just 2 miles from the shop. I made an appointment with the sales broker, and arrived 20 minutes early.  I had a lot of time to look at those cast iron urns. I had never seen any urn quite like them. There were two at the front door, and two more at the driveway entrance. I fell for them head over heels. I am embarrassed to say that I had decided to try to buy the house before I ever set a foot inside. I loved those pots.

I have spent some time since then, researching them, as I have never seen any garden urns quite like them.  There was a long ways to go from the inquiry to an answer. I knew from the seller that the house was built by the owner of a foundry in Pontiac, which would eventually become a foundry for General Motors. I was able to determine that the Wilson Foundry and Machine Co, was established by A. R. Wilson. He was actually a huge help to Willys, helping to pull them through an economic down turn that threatened to bankrupt the company. He was a manufacturer amply endowed with vision.

His foundry would become the largest major supplier to Willys International, of cast iron engine blocks and parts. None of their parts were welded together from individual pieces of steel.  Each part was cast from molten steel poured into a sand mold. That process is complicated, and astonishing.

Though I am not a historian, I did find that Mr. Wilson had a son, Charles E. Wilson, who was the assistant general manager of the Wilson Foundry and Machine Co. A University Of Michigan publication from the 1920’s, part of which is pictured above, confirmed that a Charles E Wilson, who graduated in the U of M class of 1923, at one time lived in my house. I purchased my house from two men who had done an incredible job of keeping up a house of great age. They did give me lots of materials they had collected on the history of the house, all of which were lost during a flood in my basement.  But I do remember them telling me that the father, A.R. Wilson, built my house as a wedding gift to his son and daughter in law. The house is solid concrete block, finished in brick, copper and limestone.  The construction was commercial grade. Though I live but a block off a major roadway, my house is quiet inside. It stays cool well into the summer, and stays warm well into the winter.

The old paint on the pots was peeling, and faded.  I decided to have Buck media blast them, to remove all of the paint. I was shocked to see that the bare steel was gray. Raw cold rolled steel is dark. Literature from the Wilson Foundry speaks of their castings being “gray metal”. Once I saw them in their stripped state, I knew that the Wilson Foundry designed and cast them specifically for his son’s home. I have searched high and low for any cast iron urn that resembles mine. I have never found anything like them. They are incredibly thick cast iron, and incredibly heavy.

Once the countless layers of old paint came off the urns, the stamp of Wilson Foundry and Machine Co was easy to see.  Of course I believe that my four pots were more than likely the only garden urns ever produced at this foundry devoted to engine blocks for Jeeps. The urns and the planter boxes were powder coated 30% gloss black.  The finish should last a very long time.

My house is registered with the US data base of historic homes. But it was pure instinct on my part to speak for the house that was a home for these urns.  24 years later, I am happy for my decision. The Branch Studio made 8″ tall square steel bases for the urns, so they would sit up and stand out in the front yard landscape. They also made me almost 60 feet of planter boxes in between those urns  in which I could plant whatever I fancy in all of the seasons. The assembly is a container designer’s dream come true.

The boxy Branch base was set under the hexagonal urn base, and on top of the original brick and limestone pillars. A few weeks ago removed an old scraggly hedge of taxus densiformis, so my planter boxes could be seen from the street.

In place of the yews is a short but deep hedge of Green Gem boxwood.  A lower layer of landscape is so much better in front of the planter boxes.  I am so pleased that those gorgeous urns have become a major feature of my front yard landscape.

urns and boxes

the view from the sidewalk

The urns float just above the old boxwood flanking the front walk. I like the look. The boxes are planted with nicotiana mutabilis, nicotiana alata lime and petunias. No fancy plants – just a fair number of them.

Those urns and boxes read just fine, even from across the street.

Every day, I come out this front door with Howard.  He is not able any more to navigate the stairs to the basement. So I put him on the front porch, drive the car around to the front, and pick him up. It takes him a while to get to the curb. I don’t mind this. I have the Wilson Foundry and Machine Company urns to look at. The landscape here has a history. It has evolved significantly over the past 88 years, and these pots are part of that.

 

Comments

  1. Davina Jaynes says

    I love this story of your home and the pots. Both your home and the pots are so beautiful.

  2. This is a fantastic post and I haven’t read a single one of them that I haven’t liked. I appreciate the love you have for your home and the way you share its beauty with us is a bonus. Those urns are gorgeous as is the makeover– along with the hedge revamp, it is all superb!

  3. Barbara LeTarte says

    What a great story and a truly incredible house! You’re a good steward!

  4. So interesting! When you bought your house, did you have to make sure the urns were included?
    They look stunning with the hedges and the long planters.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Karen, there was never a discussion of the urns. I am sure they felt that those urns belonged with the house. best, Deborah

  5. Michaele Anderson says

    Such a fascinating read…no such thing as too many interesting details. As others have already expressed, your ownership of your home and those gorgeous urns was meant to be.

  6. This entry to your house, this aspect, spectacular. Thank you.

  7. Deborah, I really like the look of the deep hedge of Green Gem boxwood, it really shows all of that beautiful Wison Foundry and Branch work, WARNING: I plan to do a drive-by to see this in person. Thanks for sharing!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dan, of course you are welcome to take a look any time. Thanks for the letter. all the best, Deborah

    • Hi Debrorah
      Have been following your lovely blog with great interest for a couple of years now. I am finally living back home across the river from you, just south of Windsor Ontario.
      We have built a modest mid century modern-esque ranch and would like to keep the beautiful front lawn as the showpiece with Green Gem boxwoods as a border around the driveway and the terraced steps. I would like to keep them trimmed very small and full, about 12″-15″ wide and 15″ tall. is this realistic? Is this the right plant for the job? I just love the lush green colour!
      Thanks for sharing all your knowledge and creativity.

      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Luane, Green Gem boxwood is a slow grower. Whether you could keep them at 15″ tall over time-I cannot answer that. I have some in landscapes that are 40″ tall by 40″ wide. Perhaps you should research dwarf boxwood. all the best, Deborah

  8. Marguerite says

    It is always a delight to read what you choose to share with us, thank you so much. And a big kiss and pet for Howard.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite, he is old, and has arthritis.We do what we have to for an aging beloved pet. best, Deborah

  9. Charisse Andrews says

    I would have purchased the home for the urns as well! I so enjoy learning the history behind homes and special objects like your urns. They found a good home with you for sure! I also went to Rob’s Instagram and what did I see but 2 Berger Picards! I read every post of yours but somehow I missed the addition of a new pup. Both Gary and Wigley are very handsome. Thanks for the history Deborah.

  10. Annmary Magdowski says

    Your home and urns and their story is so amazing! I love that you have taken the time to investigate and share this great historical information. You were meant to choose this lovely home! Annie Magdowski

  11. I love those hexagonal bases- they give a hint as to the planters origins. Really lovely.

  12. Dianne McKinnon says

    Great story and beautiful view. You are truly blessed.

  13. Donna Thibodeau says

    Fascinating story! The house is once again in good hands.

  14. Nancy Zichterman says

    This post is one of my favorites! What a great history your home and the urns have enjoyed, and you are the perfect owner for this property. Love this story and the pictures.

  15. Jennifer Sauer says

    Fantastic information. Thank you for sharing. The connection to the foundry is one I’ll share with my husband – a great intersection of our two separate interests/hobbies – gardens and automobiles! ☺️

  16. What wonderful insight you have to have chosen that home and now to share your piece of heaven as you do with us! Thank you

    Haven’t made it to Detroit Garden Works as often this year but these pictures along with your stories help feed my need to experience beauty!

    Hope your day is brightened as you have brightened mine.

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