(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?
(This is not to say, however, that local communities shouldn't preserve the past. Read on to see my point).
My second case in point centers on one of my very favorite buildings inside Greenfield Village: the Firestone Farm.
|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.|
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, including indoor and out door chores for both the men and the women.
|The ladies of the Firestone Farm cook the dinner for the family.|
|The saved-from-demolition Noah Webster home|
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!!|
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.
The same can be said for the two Wright House buildings - the home and the Cycle Shop: both would have certainly been raised and/or forgotten about if Ford hadn't removed and restored them from Dayton, Ohio to his Village.
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, many of their presentations need work. This is not necessarily the fault of the presenters, by the way, and I'm not saying they have bad presenters. I just feel that they have not been trained properly. When a visitor walks inside the Firestone or Daggett homes at Greenfield Village they will get the overwhelming feeling that they have stepped through a portal through time, for the presenters are working at making the homes come alive by actively doing household work - inside and out - of the period.
Although the Crossroads presenters who work at the gristmill or the train conductors near the station do a very fine job indeed, there is no such quality from many of those who man the homes at Crossroads.
It's walking around outdoors where Crossroads really shines, for, as stated above, the lay out is very authentic.
|A wonderful old-time scene from Crossroads Village|
How cool would it be to take a horse & carriage ride through the dirt roads of Crossroads Village?
I realize that in order to do some of this the entrance fee may have to go up a bit, but what a difference it could/would make to this beautiful historical place!
|The 1850 Mason Tavern in Crossroads Village|
You see, though it may seem that I am knocking Crossroads Village, I actually am not. I love this place! It's just that I love history so much, and when I see such a fine opportunity to represent and preserve history as Crossroads has, I just want to grab it with both hands and run with it! It's because of this 'feel' of walking around in the midst of this very authentic looking village that I hope one day they will learn how to present history in a better and more historically accurate manner. (Just look to your gristmill operators and train conductors to see how well it can be done!)
There are those who feel that localized preservation, however, should not occur due to financial reasons - "a competition for (government) resources." In other words, the larger museums want the money and feel the so-called 'lesser' historic house museums are taking too much of what they shouldn't have. To that I say what an injustice to future generations because of some seemingly pompous attitudes of the present in preserving the past.
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.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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.