It was probably one of the first big outdoor museums in the United States -- by 1929 Henry Ford had acquired enough buildings and artifacts to create a village which had never existed in the real world, but which captured elements of many different periods of American history. Today, in the company of Weaving exhibit several thousand fast-moving schoolchildren, we explored Greenfield Village. Elsa's family had come here on vacation in the forties; what would it be like today?
To reach Greenfield Village, we drove past an impressive array of Ford plants, research labs, test tracks, and administrative buildings. The red brick Dearborn Inn is now a Marriott Hotel, situated on grassy acres across the street from the museum complex, which is now simply named The Henry Ford, and has added an IMAX theater to its repertoire.
Greenfield Village is designed in three major areas: working farms, complete with animals, gardens and smells; stores and factories, including the Wright Cycle Shop and the backyard workshop where Henry Ford built his quadracycle, the fore-runner to the Model T; and historic houses moved to Dearborn and reassembled. Around the perimeter runs a train with a most impressive whistle!
We began with the gristmill, its power wheel turning prettily in the stream, and soon reached the weaver's shop, which has a half-dozen looms including a display example of a Jacquard loom, punched cards and all. In many of the buildings throughout our tour, costumed guides explained details of their trade or their daily life. Ford's Quadracycle
Soon the streets of Greenfield Village were dotted with old Fords, and even some horse-drawn vehicles; for an extra $10 visitors may have unlimited rides on all the means of transportation. There's even a steamboat on the lake, open only in summer.
In the Detroit millinery store we were told by the costumed storekeeper that the school attendance this day was 5600; and that the Eagle Tavern was open for lunch to adults only. We walked past dozens of buildings and read the signs -- an Illinois courthouse where Lincoln practised; Burbank's office from Santa Rosa; Edison's workshop, and a statue of Edison; slave quarters from a southern plantation; the Ontario home of Edison's Loyalist grandparents; a belt-driven machine shop where a young boy used a lathe to make a tiny brass candlestick. The colonial Plympton home from Sudbury, Mass. interested us, but we found out when we looked at our computer genealogy files that the Plimpton in our family was from Dedham, Medfield and subsequently, Deerfield. A Cotswold cottage
The houses were all furnished with items from the period when they were built, spanning 300 years. The prettiest was the stone Cotswold cottage, one of the few houses (perhaps the only one) from outside the United States. It is being restored, so we only saw the outside, but we found it quite appealing. Next to the house is its matching stone barn and next to that, the Cotswold forge.
As it turned out, we had strolled around and seen what we wanted to see in a couple of hours, so we never did try the food at the Eagle Inn. We wondered what kind of draw Greenfield Village would have after school was out; we rather think the kids would prefer roller coasters to this historic outdoor museum. Another thought which crossed our mind is how complex and bewildering it is to comprehend the size and intensity of the American Industrial expansion in the twentieth century, especially when faced with the exodus of labor-intensive industries to overseas factories with lower labor costs. And the story of The Henry Ford doesn't carry forward to the modern period of computer software and biotechnology.
As our Ann Arbor friends told us, everyone should visit The Henry Ford once.