Sunday, February 13, 2011

Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village

~Updated February 2018~
Firestone farm, where life is always in the early 1880s
Firestone Farm on its original site
in Columbiana, Ohio circa 1776.
We see grandmother Sally Anne with
Robert, Harvey, and Elmer.
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.
It was in 1983 that 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 alive.
Here's the note from 1882!
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. And because of this the visitor will find themselves almost in a time-travel experience.
You see, 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, those who present here do not take on the roles of the Firestone family members. They, instead, try to give the patrons a sort of immersion experience by way of a combination 1st and 3rd person mannerisms, taking them back to the 1880's through sight, sound, smell, and touch of 1880s farm folk and life by way of engulfing them in the chores and jobs of the period, including cooking, cleaning, plowing, etc., yet speaking and teaching in our modern day, which works perfectly. This all begins from the moment the visitor steps onto the gravel walkway leading to the house, and nearly all signs of the present day fade into the background and your five senses revert to another time and place. Creating this unique experience is the ultimate way to use the site to its fullest advantage.
Welcome to Firestone Farm!
Won't you come in?
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.
Most of the activities inside the home take place in the kitchen, just as was done in the 19th century.
The ladies of the farm discuss the meal of the day
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.
Yes, they really do cook on the old coal stove
and all presenters partake in the fine meal served... you can see here!
The recipes, clothing, furnishings, and kerosene lamps are all typical of farm life in the American midwest during the 1880's.

And here are a few video clips of the excitement in the Firestone Farm kitchen:

The next four pictures show the 'best room' - the formal parlor - showing the phenomenal job the curators have done on their 1880s decor. The really awesome thing about this room is that most of what you see here are Firestone family originals, including the furniture, family Bible, lamps, and pictures:
The formal parlor
The front room of many of the homes in the Victorian era, referred to as the formal parlor, was by far the most important room in the house. The most money was spent on its furnishing and decorating, the most consideration given to decorating and design. This was the room in which celebrations such as Easter and Christmas would take place, the room where special visitors such as a visit from the preacher would see, after all, and was a most important reflection of who the family was. The popular furnishings were reproductions and influences of earlier styles; some of the most popular styles at that time were American Empire (massively large and heavy dark wood furniture in a relatively plain style), Gothic Revival (arches on furniture, spool turnings, carvings and other embellishments that resembled highly stylized leaf patterns), Rococo Revival looking back at 18th century France with ornate carvings of fruits, flowers, birds (along with heavily gilt mirrors and marble table tops). Cast-iron furniture had also become popular by the 1860s. Beginning during the Civil War, Renaissance Revival style became fashionable (with large furniture with lots of ornamentation).
The formal parlor
We speak of popular styles because the industrialization of manufacturing had made machine-made, mass-produced furniture and household furnishings made available to the middle class the latest fashions. this was also the era when many women’s magazines began to appear, explaining the latest styles.
~Formal Parlor: Sadie at the Organ~She did a wonderful job performing a period tune for us!
In the book "Farmer Boy," Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote stories based on her husband Almanzo's early life on an 1860s farm. There is a scene in the story about a time when Almanzo's parents left for a few days and left their children on their own, entrusting them to be on their best behavior. At one point, sister Alice said she was going to sit in the parlor and eat pound cake.
Almanzo thought that wouldn't be any fun. But Eliza Jane said, "You'll do no such thing, Alice. You know very well the parlor's just for company."
The formal parlor
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 needed.
The formal parlor
They did this by focusing on the people who lived in 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.
And it is because of this thorough research that gives us, the visitor, such an amazing experience at this house.

In the next two photos we see the dining room, which is just off the kitchen.
The dining room
The presenters do not eat in this area. This is another room that holds some of the actual dinnerware once belonging to the Firestone family, and originally used by them in this very room, including the table, chairs, dishes & silverware, and the corner cupboard.
The dining room all decorated for, what looks like, an Easter meal.

One of the very cool things that visitors can do is sit down in a Victorian chair in the sitting room and relax by looking at pictures through a stereoscope or warming up by the fire in the fireplace. Obviously, what is here are not original Firestone furnishings, but, instead, are replications. However, being in the sitting room (which is comparable to today's front room/TV room) helps to give the visitor a feel for the past rather than just reading about it or seeing it strictly as a hands off display inside a museum.
An afternoon in the sitting room after a hard day of chores is a fine way to spend time.
The sitting room

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. I was very lucky a number of years back to have the opportunity to visit the second floor.
Please do not ask for a tour, for this no longer happens.
Heading upstairs...
As you will see in the photos here, the second floor is every bit as beautifully decorated as the first floor. And, once again, most furnishings up here are Firestone family originals.
Harvey's bedroom is on the right and the room at the end is Mr. & Mrs. Firestone's room.
Here, a statue of a deer sits on a hall shelf in the upstairs hallway
Harvey's bedroom
Harvey's bedroom

The bedroom of Mr. & Mrs. Firestone
The bedroom of Mr. & Mrs. Firestone

Now, let's head down the other hall to grandma's bedroom... 
I see grandma's room!

Grandma has her own sort of sitting room attached to her bedroom. A place of her own.

And here are grandmother's sleeping quarters.
Yes, she has a warming stove next to her bed.

Peeping out the window at the front of the hall...
Looking down at the front entrance from the 2nd floor window.
As you can see, the upstairs portion of Firestone Farm is just as beautifully and authentically decorated as the lower level.
So, let's head back down the stairs and see what else this Victorian farm house has for us to see.
Going down stairs...

My experience at Firestone Farm is perhaps the finest example of living history I have witnessed yet. I believe this is the way that 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 - - - -

~And now, let's go out and visit the yard, outbuildings, and livestock of Firestone Farm:
If you look close you can see a presenter with a pitchfork full of hay.
Hauling hay...

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 the land by way of horse and plow, harrowing (see the picture above), 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.
And, yes, the farmers always make sure to walk over to the visitors at the fence to explain the chores in greater detail, and they are always willing to answer any questions. These guys are amazing in their historical farming knowledge.
Firestone barn.
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.
A look inside the barn - -
The visitor is welcome to stroll through both levels of the barn as well as the barnyard, and take in the sites (and smells!) of rural life gone by.


...and sheep.
Sheep shearing commences as the weather warms.
Sheep being herded into the heirloom apple orchard at Firestone Farm.
The apple orchard, which pretty much all farms would have had, are historic as well. And each fall visitors can take a tour of these heirloom orchards and learn of the varieties no linger used or known about by most in modern society.
It was a very well-informed tour by very knowledgeable tour guides.
 This orchard is filled with a number of 19th-century and earlier varieties of apple trees, and we were able to see a wide selection of red, green, brown, yellow, and speckled apples growing upon them. Names like Rambo (around 1640), Baldwin (1740), Maiden's Blush (early 1800's), Belmont (late 18th century – one of Johnny Appleseed’s favorites!), Roxbury Russet (from before 1649 - possibly America’s oldest apple), and Hubbardston Nonesuch (early 1800’s) can be found there. They all have different characteristics, flavors, and ultimately were used in different ways, either for sale, or for the family’s own use. With such a large amount of apples, there was a need for storage, and those not carefully packed away in sawdust were made into apple butter, apple sauce, pies, dowdies, dumplings, fritters, and cider.
This is a much anticipated part of celebrating the fall at Greenfield Village. And guess what? We even get to taste many of the ancient apple varieties!

Springtime at Firestone Farm is the time for plowing and harrowing 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.
Spring plowing.

I was lucky enough to be able to plow behind a team of horses!
This was definitely a highlight of my "historical/living history" life.

Here is plowing in action:

And here is a disc harrow in action:

This 1880s farmer looks to be using a horse-drawn grain drill, which distributed seeds quickly and evenly and then covered them over. Grain drills were a  vast improvement over spreading the seeds by hand.

We even get to watch a steam powered threshing machines, which would have been used at a much greater cost of course. Since most farmers could not afford to purchase a thresher, a group of farmers would pool together and the thresher's owner would visit each farm and thresh...for a price.
A 1904 Westinghouse Threshing Machine in use at Firestone Farm.

A farmer's work is never done - -

Just off to the side of the house is the dairy barn.
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.
It's your turn to clean it out!

The chicken coop was a necessity of any farm, and many homes as well.
Chicken coop...or hen house...
Eggs were collected daily by the women and younger children of the family.
Inside the chicken coop
Gathering eggs

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

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.
Monday is laundry day.
Younger children are handed the washboard and put to work.

Another lost sight in our modern day: clothing hanging on the clothesline to dry
Using the 1880s dryer.
The presenters here, by the way, really do make Firestone Farm a wonderful and unique 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.
Here's a clip of a presenter working in the kitchen garden:

Working in the kitchen garden

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

Autumn harvest in the cellar
November on the farm
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.
Butchering time! Unfortunately, this is not for the public's eyes.
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.
In the cellar
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.
Carving soap
This is also where the coal for the stoves are kept.
Fuel for the furnace
It is quite the busy household during this late fall period at Firestone Farm!

Although they haven't in a few years now, 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 treated 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 it 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 
(taken by Doug Grosjean).
By the way, just because the Village is closed for the winter 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. It's probably the most "living" part of the entire historic complex.
The back of Firestone Farm
History presented as it should be - - - gotta love it!

As mentioned, it was in 1983 that the house, barn, and furnishings (along with a sizable endowment for maintenance) was given to Greenfield Village as a way of keeping the accomplishments and memory of the Firestone family alive. And ever since the reconstruction took place in 1985, literally millions of visitors have entered this once off-the-beaten-path historical home and have learned, through sight, sound, smell, and even touch (for it is a living history home now, and even has items in the sitting room that are hands-on for visitors) about mid-western farm life in the late 19th century, including indoor and out door chores for both the men and the women.
Such a gift.

Until next time, see you in time.

Information on the formal parlor came from THIS site
To learn more about farming in the 19th and 18th centuries, please click HERE

~   ~   ~


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!

The Victorian Girl said...

What a great presentation! It definitely makes me want to go there! Firestone Farm & Greenfield Village are going on the bucket list.