Ford Edgewater Assembly Plant - Site Description

The former Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant is located in the southern area of the Borough of Edgewater, Bergen County, New Jersey. Designed in 1929 by Albert Kahn (see more about him at the Richmond Plant here), the preeminent American industrial architect, the plant was commissioned by the Ford Motor Company shortly after the purchase of the land. The property, which contains 38 acres, is bordered by the Hudson River to the east, the site of the former Corn Products Refining Company to the south, River Road to the west, and the tracks of the New York, Susquehanna, and Western Railroad to the west and north.

The former assembly plant includes the following components: the access overpass from River Road; the podium beneath the assembly building; the assembly building; the power substation; the boiler house; the oil house; the water tower; and the tank pond.

When the Ford Motor Company purchased the Edgewater site in 1929, they acquired 38 acres of open unimproved land and water. In order to have access to the site across the railroad tracks, Albert Kahn designed an overpass for both motor vehicles and pedestrians connecting River Road to the assembly plant. However, before the plant could be built, the land had to be reinforced with piling systems to support the weight of the modern building. These pilings were capped, forming continuous beams on which concrete columns were built to serve as footings. The continuous slab of the first floor was built upon the top of these columns. The other structures in the complex and the larger section of the main assembly building are built on dry fill.

The triple pedimented main assembly building is 1500 feet long and 360 feet wide, with the long axis running roughly east-west. Most of the building has two floors, bringing the total area inside the building to approximately 950,000 square feet. The rectangular building is divided by rows of steel columns set twenty-five feet apart. Thus, the building is 60 bays long and 12 bays wide with a sixty degree wide central hall which runs the length of the building. The exterior is punctuated by pavilions, separated by expanses of glass, steel and brick curtain walls.

The power substation is located to the west of the assembly building. here, the electrical supply for the entire complex was received and routed to other structures. The structure is one-story high and was designed like a miniature pavilion in three dimensions, using cut limestone detailing and the decorative brickwork pattern seen on the other two buildings.

Sited to the north of the assembly building, the boiler house is the easternmost of the row of subsidiary structures. The exterior is identical to the northeast and southeast corner pavilions of the assembly building, but is free-standing and capped by a tall circular smokestack. Kahn's designs indicate an octagonal smokestack as first choice, but include a "radical" design as an alternate. For reasons unknown, the alternate was built. The interior is one large, full-height open space.

When built, the boiler house contained three boilers which occupied the western half of the building. The eastern half contained three air compressors, two heaters, and two water circulating pumps. All of this machinery extended downward into the basement where it connected with an underground tunnel leading to the assembly building. A large exhaust system leading to the smokestack and support system for the smokestack were built over the boilers.

The oil house, located immediately to the west of the boiler house, is a low one-story, rectangular structure with three bay-wide pedimented east and west ends. This building is less significant than the assembly building, boiler house or power substation, and this is evident in Kahn's use of a simplified design vocabulary. Differing from that of the assembly building and the boiler house, the decorative trim on the oil house is cast concrete instead of limestone, and the pediments do not have any decorative pattern in the cream-colored brickwork.

The interesting aspect of this structure involved the machinery inside. The floor plan was laid out with two larger rooms at the east and west ends, flanking a smaller central room. Behind is a loading dock and railroad spur. The west room, oil storage room, contained large storage tanks; two for enamel, four for fuel oil and four for gasoline. The east room, tank room, contained smaller tanks; three for motor oil, four for enamel, two for used enamel, two for axle grease, and one for fuel oil. The fuel oil tanks the both rooms had internal steam coils to make the liquids more fluid. These liquids flowed through pipes into the center room, pump room, which contained sixteen paint mixers and a variety of pumps: two for enamel, one each for fuel oil, motor oil, thinner, and axle grease. Various finishes were mixed and then pumped into circulating pipe systems through an underground tunnel into the second floor of the assembly building where the spray painting was done.

The machinery inside this structure was sophisticated for its time. Ford saw to it that only the most modern and advanced assembly equipment was installed in the plant, rendering it significant in terms of the automobile manufacturing industry. however, once the machinery was removed, only the complex as a whole can be viewed as technologically significant. Without its equipment, the oil house is merely a shell of a building.

The water tower is situated between the boiler house and the oil house. it is a standard industrial type: a large steel container raised on four steel legs with a central drain pipe. The water tower was not specifically designed by Albert Kahn, although the required pilings, caps, footings and slab were. The water tower is not architecturally or technologically significant.

The tank pond is located to the west of the oil house. The pond consists of an oval concrete bowl set above ground, inside which two large fuel tanks have been placed. The concrete bowl is designed to contain any spill, overflow, or leak from the fuel tanks. The concrete bowl was designed by Kahn, but not the fuel tanks. Neither is significant. The concrete retaining wall appears to be in good condition, though. Like the water tower, the two tanks are rusting.