Sunday, February 13, 2011

Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village


( I must 'warn' the reader that there are quite a few pictures of the Firestone Farm in this posting. I hope you enjoy them!)

The Firestone Farm was originally built by Peter Firestone in 1828 in Columbiana, Ohio (just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border), and is now a gem among gems inside Greenfield Village. Among the family members living there in the latter half of the 19th century was young Harvey Firestone, the grandson of Peter, who would later gain fame and fortune in the tire industry and became a close friend of Henry Ford.

During the 19th and into the 20th century, the Firestones raised a large flock of sheep, with wool being their 'cash crop,' but they also harvested oats, hay, corn, and wheat. In 1965, nearly thirty years after Harvey's death, his descendants and the local historical society restored the house and opened it to the public for tours, but because of the farm's remote location, it failed to attract many visitors.
In 1983, Harvey's two surviving sons, both in their 70's, gave the house and barn, together with furnishings and a sizable endowment for maintenance, to Greenfield Village as a way to keep the memory of their father.

Disassembling the buildings and reconstructing them some two hundred miles away took over two years. During the dis-assembly and reconstruction, however, the crew made a very interesting discovery: a note tucked beneath a staircase, signed, dated, and hidden by none other than 14 year old Harvey himself, inadvertently revealed the date of the 1882 restoration!

The Firestone Farm, as it stands now in Greenfield Village, is a living history re-creation of life on a farm of the 1880's in Eastern Ohio, and has been restored to look as it did in 1882, when Harvey's parents remodeled the house to give it a more modern look. The wallpaper and furnishings throughout the house show what was considered stylish during the Victorian era. The next four pictures show the 'best room' - the parlor - showing the phenomenal job the curators did:

The parlor was used mainly to entertain special guests. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison visited and, no doubt, sat in this parlor.

The goal of Greenfield Village is to have the visitor, upon entering the farm, feel as if they had stepped back in time. In the house, barn, and fields, there is always work to be done. But, the workers here do not take on the roles of the Firestone family members.

~Sadie at the Organ~
She did a wonderful job performing a period tune for us!

They, instead, try to give the patrons an immersion experience, back to the 1880's, which seems to begin from the moment the visitor steps onto the gravel walkway leading to the house. Creating this immersion experience is the ultimate way to use the site to its fullest advantage.

The curators went to the extreme to perfect this 'experience.' Their methodology was to decide, as accurately as possible, what the Firestone family would have had or would have done.

The curators focused on the people from 1880's eastern Ohio, then 1880's midwest, then 1880's north, etc., until they were satisfied that they had re-created life as once lived.

The Dining room, below, is just off the kitchen.


Upon entering the side door, the patron will see all presenters in period clothing. These docents may not portray an actual person from the past, but their appearance, actions, and manner of speaking will evoke the past. They bring the 1880's to life in such a way that, although it is not in a 1st person presentation (as the presenters do at Colonial Williamsburg), the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of Firestone Farm truly give the visitor that time-travel experience - more than any other building in the Village. The patron is able to watch and ask questions while the presenters do the daily activities and chores. Upon repeated visits, one can see many of the chores change throughout the year: spring planting and cleaning, summer chores with crops and livestock, and autumn harvesting as well as winter preparations.

Visitors can even sit down in a Victorian chair in the sitting room and relax by looking at pictures through a stereoscope.A true 'Immersion experience.'The kitchen is the center of activity year-round, and the presenters show this well.

Period correct meals are prepared each day on a coal-burning stove - expect to be told to "be careful, the stove is hot" as you enter the room.

The recipes, clothing, furnishings, and kerosene lamps are all typical of farm life in the American midwest during the 1880's.

Yes, the presenters eat what they cook!
 Monday is laundry day on the farm, and the presenters at Firestone wash their clothes like they did in the later Victorian era, using lye soap, water heated over a fire or on the stove, and a washboard. The clean clothes are hung outside on a clothesline to dry.

On Sundays I have seen the female docents work on needlepoint or another craft.



Not a Greenfield Village presenter, but my wife, here, is relaxed and feels right at home while she is crocheting at the Farm during the Civil War Remembrance

The second floor is, unfortunately, closed to the public, due to, I believe, the fire marshall of Dearborn being concerned of a fire exit.

But, I have been lucky enough to visit this rarely seen by the general public area. It is every bit as beautifully decorated as the first floor.
Here, a statue of a deer sits on a hall shelf.

Below are a couple pictures of the master bedroom where Harvey's parents slept:

And next we have some shots of Harvey's room

And we can't forget grandma's bedroom

and grandma's private sitting room...

...all presented as it once was in the 1880's.
The folks at Greenfield Village and Firestone Farm take pride in accurately depicting life as it was once lived. The experience at the Farm is perhaps the finest example of living history I have witnessed yet. And the presenters here do an amazing job in their presentation. They interact wonderfully and patiently with the constant flow of visitors entering throughout the day.
Actually, I believe that in the way the Firestone Farm is presented would be exactly what Henry Ford would want, for he said back in the 1920's: "History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."
Yes, they do harrowing here - - - -

If you see no other building inside the Village, this is one that should not be missed. As stated in the Daggett House chapter, historical presenting at its finest!


~And now, let's go out and visit the yard and outbuildings of Firestone Farm:

Being that Firestone Farm is a real working farm, the presenters can be found working the land seasonally, just as it was done in the 19th century: tilling, harrowing, planting, and doing all of the other chores typical of the era. It is a living history re-creation of life on a farm of the 1880's in Eastern (Columbiana) Ohio, and the presenters who work the farm have done a marvelous job in their presentation of this life.Numerous livestock call the farm home, including draft horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, and the aforementioned sheep. Some roam about the barnyard freely, while the larger animals are fenced in.
But, one can get close to them as they walk into the barn out back. Beware, however: the odors of a country farm are prominent!
The barn is known as a Pennsylvania-German bank barn, one of the most common barns built before 1880. They are known as bank barns because one side of the barn is built into the side of a hill, allowing wagons to be driven into the upper floor while the animals were kept in the lower level.

This bank barn, built in 1830, was efficient because large amounts of grain and hay could be processed and stored in the upper level and tossed down to the lower level as needed for cattle feed.
It was moved to Dearborn, Michigan and restored in Greenfield Village when the other outbuildings and the house were brought there in 1983.

The visitor is welcome to stroll through both levels of the barn, taking in the sites (and smells!) of rural life gone by.

Springtime at Firestone Farm is the time for plowing the fields. The workers always take the time to answer any questions visitors may have. As you can see, the farm yard covers quite a bit of ground.



Just off to the side of the house is the dairy barn.

Yes, it is also the place where the presenters get there water, just as the Firestones did 150 years ago.

Here a presenter explains how churned butter is put inside the dairy barn to set before it can be used in cooking.

And behind the main house is the necessary, better known today as the outhouse.

The chicken coupe was a necessity of any farm, and many homes as well.

Eggs were collected daily by the women and younger children of the family.

Visitors can also see some of the seasonal cooking crafts, such as apple butter making.

The presenters here, by the way, truly make this visit a wonderful experience, no matter how many times one visits and asks questions! Yes, I'm talking about myself here as the visitor!

During the Autumn time of the year, the workers at the farm can be found harvesting the crops from the kitchen garden. A kitchen garden is self-explanatory in that what is grown in this plot of land is what the women of the house will use for cooking and canning in the kitchen.

The picturesque setting during the autumn can immerse the visitor like few other places can.

It is also this time of year that they butcher their pigs to salt and store for the winter. The Village has a professional butcher do the actual killing, but then it's up to the workers of Firestone to actually cut the meat up, salt, and store the meat.


In keeping with the tradition of the farm, usually late November some of the Firestone Farm hogs are butchered. This was an exciting time for farm families for it provided meat and lard for the coming year. Visitors can see the Farm staff scraping the bristles from the carcass, removing the entrails and carving the carcass into chops, hams, bacon, etc. This will take place in the cellar and kitchen. They will then cure the meat with salts, sugars, and brine solutions.

And one can find how they converted hog fat into lard for cooking or making soap.
The butchered meat and lard will be used in their presentations throughout the coming year.
In the cellar the patron will find the curing meat hanging from the ceiling.

Also, in the cellar, much of the 'messiest' work is done, such as soap carving.


This is also where the coal for the stoves are kept.


It is quite the busy household during this late fall period at Firestone Farm!

Although they didn't in 2010, the Christmas Season was also celebrated at Firestone in much of the way that it had been in the 1880's. the cozy, homey feel is evident in the following photographs.

Sadie treats the visitors in Firestone Farm to period Christmas music on the 19th century pump organ.

The dining room is set for the Christmas meal.

Workers and visitors alike are encouraged to sit by the warm fire.

During the winter, Greenfield Village closes its gates. This is the time of year the workers clean and prepare for the following tourist season, so it's a rarity to see the inside all snow covered. But I have friends that work there inside the Village and they have been kind enough to take photos for me for my blog. Here is my favorite amongst those taken at Firestone Farm in the winter.


By the way, just because the Village is closed does not mean the farm is left vacant for four months; care for the animals is done daily by the farm workers - even on holidays.

The Firestone Farm and barn truly make for an authentic living history experience. One can spend hours watching and speaking to the presenters. This is probably my favorite area of Greenfield Village.

If you enjoyed this posting, I have many more like it in my tribute to Greenfield Village - just click here for more time-travel experiences!






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3 comments:

Stephanie Ann said...

The photos are great!

David B. Weber said...

This is wonderful..sorry that I just now discovered your blog. I lived on another part of Firestone Farms- the Test Center for new tire design testing, about 1.5 miles away from the Homestead. I went in the home many times as a child and teenager, often roaming through there all by myself when I was beyond the "Don't touch!" stage of supervision! My aunt was a volunteer guide through the house. She,my father and their 10 brothers and sisters grew up on the farm beside the Firestone Homestead, and were local playmates of the Firestone sons when they visited. (They liked it when the Firestone boys came, because they always had lots of firecrackers with them!) My dad helped, in 1933, Harvey Sr. to put the first rubber tire on a tractor. He and son Ray remained friends throughout their lives.
Thanks for some wonderful memories this morning!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you, Dave, for a great comment! To think you were able to tour the homestead and live next to the place before they moved it back in the 80's - that is really something!