(The above came from a Detroit Free Press newspaper article from, I believe, the early 1980's.)
I've heard this argument countless times during discussions. I've also read newspaper and magazine editorials concerning this practice. And it never ceases to amaze me that some can't see the forest for the trees.
|The Halfway School House from 1872. Restored and preserved in the middle of the city of Eastpointe, sitting only a few yards from where it originally stood|
So, is it reasonable to ask that if historical structures stand alone or are located in remote regions, who will travel to see them? And if only a few patronize such historic places, how then will they be maintained with such little income?
|The Firestone Farm is now a working farm where the year 1882 comes to life for the public. It's like a step back in time.|
Though it was built originally in Columbiana, Ohio in 1828 (and remodeled in 1882), the Firestone family lived here throughout the first half of the 20th century. It was in 1965 that it was decided to restore and open it for tours to the public as a museum. But because of the farm's remote location, it failed to attract many visitors.
In 1983, Harvey Firestone's two surviving sons, both then in their 70's, gave the house, barn, and furnishings (along with a sizable endowment for maintenance) to Greenfield Village as a way of keeping the accomplishments and memory of their father 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.
|The saved-from-demolition Noah Webster home|
Another dilapidated old eyesore, the Logan County Courthouse - where future President Abraham Lincoln had practiced law in the 1840's - was all but ignored and forgotten by the residents of Lincoln (formerly Postville), Illinois. As the Free Press article states: (The courthouse) never aroused much local interest. But once word got out that Henry Ford was looking at it, the local population suddenly decided they owned a historic gem and demanded to keep it.
Ford actually gave the town the opportunity to keep it but they could not raise the funds to properly restore it. Ford had little choice; he also knew where it would continue to receive the proper care, and he knew that wasn't going to happen in the town of Lincoln.
The curator of the Lincoln collection for the state (of Illinois), James Hickey, approves of Ford's action. "I have no doubt the building would have been lost had Ford not removed it."
And now the "pre-presidential" occupation of Abraham Lincoln is not only remembered and passed on, but told in one of the actual buildings where it happened!
|Inside the Logan County Courthouse: Now, this is the place to hear the stories of Abraham Lincoln's lawyer accounts!|
The Eagle Tavern and the Susquehanna Plantation were both close to being razed before Ford rescued them, thereby preserving pieces of American history that would have been lost.
And not just American history of some famous person, but a bit about everyday life of the average citizen of the mid-19th century.
|The was how the Eagle Tavern looked before Henry Ford preserved and restored it...|
|...and thank God he did! What a gem!!|
Something else to think on...
of the multiple structures that were part of the demonstration Thomas Edison gave on New Year's Eve 1879 to show the world his electric light, only one remains, for all others have been torn down: the Sarah Jordan Boarding House.
Yep - it's in Greenfield Village, preserved for all the world to see for generations to come.
Then there were a few gifts - yes, gifts - that were given to the Institute:
~ besides the Firestone farm mentioned above, there is the 1740 Daggett Farmhouse, where the owner, Mrs. Dana Wells, just wanted to see the house she purchased and lovingly restored and cared for preserved for future generations.
~ The Smith's Creek Depot, the place where Thomas Edison, as a young boy, was thrown off the train for setting the baggage car on fire during one of his experiments. In 1929 the Grand Trunk Railroad presented the depot to Ford for his new Village.
|(from left) a school house, Logan County Courthouse, and Doc Howard's Office - three buildings from the 19th century that are now preserved for generations to come and learn|
But Ford's Greenfield Village, the first of its kind in North America (according to the New World Encyclopedia) is not the only game around. At around the same time as Ford was building his museum, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia was also being restored and rebuilt. Of course, most of the buildings here were already in place, but many had to be rebuilt from written descriptions or old photographs, while others, updated over the years (one even became a gas station!), had to be restored back to their original colonial style.
Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts formed a similar idea as Greenfield Village, except they present life as it was in only the early part of the 19th century. There is also Connor Prairie in Indiana, which does mid-19th century, Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan shows mid-to-late 19th century, and Charlton Park - also in Michigan - is late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are numerous other open-air museums around the country where ancient structures have found new locations and, thus, new life.
|A very authentic-looking 19th century scene at Crossroads Village|
However, their presentation needs work. I'm not saying they have bad presenters, necessarily; they just have not been trained properly. Whereas when one walks inside Firestone or Daggett they will get the overwhelming feeling that they have stepped through a portal through time, there is no such feeling at Crossroads. There they are just presenters, usually following some of the myths that have been ingrained in the brains of modern man.
In order for true preservation to happen in a place such as this, they will need to delve deeper into historical fact of social history, allow the presenters to do some living history, and, dare I say it? - include a few horses and farm animals.
I do enjoy visiting Crossroads, almost as much as Greenfield (although it's a bit far for me to go more than a couple times a year), and I hope that one day their true and original vision will return and history will, once again, be restored there as it should.
Preservation has come a long way since the days when Henry Ford was laughed at for buying up old blacksmith shops, school houses, and everyday citizen's homes to move to his museum. When he began this venture, few believed that old buildings were worth saving unless they belonged to someone famous like Mount Vernon or Monticello. Or that collecting the furniture and tools of everyday life had any value.
I say, Thank God for Henry Ford's curious and refreshing hobby in collecting Americana, for, in my opinion, if it wasn't for the uprooting of buildings from their original sites, thereby stripping them of their historical context, there would be little historical preservation to be had, thereby losing so much (too much) of our American History.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
On a bit of a side note, I'd like to add that I believe that those who do living history by way of reenacting or in a more first person atmosphere (including presenters at museums), those who learn and perform period crafts (such as spinning, tatting, quilting, etc.), musicians and singers who perform period music authentically, and those that study the everyday lives of people from eras before our time are, in no small manner, also preserving history.
The one thing, however, we must make sure of when it comes to history is that we do not allow our modern biases and modern beliefs to interfere with our historical presentations. Too many tend to place their 21st century thought patterns onto people and actions from eras long past - or sometimes even not that long ago - and give a more biased, politically correct, or even (way too often) a Hollywood version of the past.
As I've said many times before...RESEARCH!! The answers are there, waiting to be found.