I took the above five pictures at Greenfield Village. (from the top): (1) Christmas at the Daggett Farmhouse (2) inside the general store (3) The Ford Farm (4) Dinner at the Eagle Tavern (5) A Colonial Scene - all homes in this shot were built prior to the 19th century.
As mentioned in other blogs I have written, I love visiting Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The collection of old homes and structures is second to none: where else, in one area, can you visit the original homes of the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Daniel Webster, Harvey Firestone, and Stephen Foster? There are other historical structures placed there as well: the building where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, the shop where the Wright Brothers built their first-to-fly airplane, and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park complex (can you say electric light, phonograph, and “hello”?). Then there are the odds and ends buildings, showing great examples of life as lived in past centuries: Sarah Jordan Boarding House, which was the first home lit by electricity, Daggett, Plympton, and Giddings houses – all from the colonial period; Adams, Chapman, and the Ann Arbor houses – great examples of Victoriana; two 19th century schoolhouses, Smith’s Creek train depot, a general store, a carriage stop, and even a stone cottage from 17th century England. And so much more.
It’s a history lover’s dream!
I do, however, have a number of complaints of late:
First off, I am not fond of the streets, curbs, and sidewalks that were installed a few years ago. The modern concrete really took away the step-into-the-past ambience that the Village once had. I was told it was for those in wheelchairs, but the previous set up worked for over 70 years.
Second, the Disney feel that was given to the place (Model T rides galore and the entrance ticket booth) does not help with the stepping-into-the-past experience either.
Third, they’ve taken away public candle dipping (we always made our own candles every summer and used them during Christmas), the steamboat ride – always a favorite -, and the Colonial Days festival, which was a yearly highlight for me and my family.
Now for the good stuff about Greenfield Village:
1) They still have Civil War reenactments every Memorial Day weekend (although the constant running of the Model T’s takes away from the historical accuracy).
2) Their Christmas celebrations are the BEST anywhere (it used to be called “12 Nights of Christmas,” and is now called the more politically correct “Holiday Nights”- as if any from the Jewish or muslim faith would ever come to this event knowing what it actually is).
3) Hallowe’en in the Village.
4) The fact that they pride themselves (rightfully so) on historic accuracy in their presentations (except for said Model T rides during the Civil War weekend).
Now, what would Ken change if he were suddenly put in charge? Well, first thing, correct the wrongs that I listed above. Then I would open each house – get rid of the dog-gone plexi-glass in many of the buildings – and have 1st person presenters ala Colonial Williamsburg. At least on the weekends.
I would also get an original layout of the Village from an old guide book and re-arrange the buildings back to what Henry Ford originally planned. I’d also bring back the cobbler shop, the cooper shop, the Plymouth House, get a working smithy to show the craft of a blacksmith, and truly keep the Village where Mr. Ford intended – pre-20th century.
Because I am a perfectionist and an amateur social historian, my complaints seem to be making Greenfield Village out to be much worse than it actually is. But, it’s because I still have such a love for the Village (there’s that Passion for History again!), and these so-called changes and “improvements” (when they really aren’t improvements at all) are very hard to take. If it ain’t broke, as the saying goes, don’t fix it.
It's still a great place to go for American history - you would do yourselves a favor to visit Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum (I’ll write about the museum another time).
In a future blog, I’ll write about some of the neat GFV items I have collected.