Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I Saw Old Autumn in the Morn (A Fall Visit to Greenfield Village)

Autumn aglow
You know, some people complain an awful lot when cooler weather strikes. They now have to wear jackets, the leaves need to be raked, winter is right around the corner... And yet, these same complainers also tend to be very active this time of year: they head out to cider mills, go on hay rides, take part in Hallowe'en activities, enjoy nature walks, high school football games...
Me? I am a Fall person (in case you hadn't noticed), and I so look forward to this time of year more than any other season. I've been this way a lifetime - there's no changing me now.
Away from the metro-Detroit area, Michigan is mostly a rural state, and fall color tours are in great abundance and demand. But, to me, nothing emits an Autumn flavor like historic Greenfield Village. No, it's not necessarily rural, for it represents a Village from days of old, showing houses and buildings from the 1600s through the early 1900s in a more, shall we say, period urban setting. But there are wonderful examples of ruralness such as Firestone Farm and Daggett Farm. So there is a little bit of everything for the fan of fall AND the fan of history. To top it off, the trees throughout Greenfield Village give off exuberant colors, and with the historic homes in the background, it is the perfect storm of autumn.

With that being the title of this posting states, I did visit the Village on a couple of October mornings...
...are you ready to go back?

The birthplace of Henry Ford: the automobile magnet was born inside this house 
in July 1863, just a few weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, at which one of his uncles was wounded. It was the last house Ford personally moved to his Village before he died. It was also the first preservation he had done, years before when it was still in its original location.

From the kitchen doorway of the Ford home peaking out toward the kitchen garden. It is fall and the fruits of the labor of growing a sustainable garden are looked forward to and enjoyed.

See the school?
See the steeple?
One teaches students,
the other teaches all people.

Though the Mattox House was originally built around 1880 in Georgia, it now gives a fine representation of the lives of a poorer southern black family eking out a life in the earlier part of the 20th century.
I love the scenario created here with the inclusion of an old Model T sitting in the front yard. 

For the past few years I have been studying farm life of the 18th and 19th centuries, and I have to say I find it fascinating. To think all of what our ancestors had to do to survive! And it took the entire family to make it work, for each member was just as necessary as the other to ensure success.
Each season of farm life has its own chores and jobs, but none were as rewarding as harvest time in the fall. But these cooler months weren't only about food - it was also about winter preparation.
Corn shocks at Firestone Farm:
Firestone Farm pre-dates the era of the silo, when corn stalks were chopped up and made into a slightly fermented feed known as silage. So instead, the corn stalks were chopped and fed as fodder to the animals.
Gathering the stalks into shocks had an important purpose. The inside stalks, sheltered from the elements, retained their nutritional value for quite some time and the actual shock made a handy manageable portion for the farmer to haul from the field for his cattle. The corn was either picked before shocking, or at the time the shock was pulled from the field.

To most folks a scene like this would probably be boring to watch for more than a couple minutes, but I sat for quite a long time watching the farmers at Firestone Farm load the wheat straw onto the horse-drawn wagon. Just the sight of this chore drew me into their world of the 1880s.
The straw here has no nutritional value, so it could be used for a variety of things, including banking the house against the winter wind, bedding for animals in pens and stalls, or even stuffing a mattress.

I followed the wagon with the loaded straw back to the farm. Again, this is something that may be a bore to many but, in all honesty, watching the 1880s in action (so to speak) gave me sort of a sense of peace. I don't know...seeing a slower (albeit harder) pace tends to keep me grounded.

From the side of the Firestone barn, one can see the wagon a-waiting to be emptied, as well as the heirloom apple tree orchard the distance.
Firestone Farm is a real historical working farm, and those who work here actually grow the fruits and vegetables they will eat - and they do eat seasonally here - as well as butcher their hogs and salt & dry the meat, usually after the Christmas season. This is what you see the 'family' eating during the open season from April through November.

Meat to last the year.
Isn't this picture cool? It came from the Firestone Farm coloring book. I'm not sure if it's still available, but I bought multiple copies so each of my kids could have one.
To some this may be gross, and some readers may say, "Ken! Must you post this?" but let's face it - in pre-WWII America this was common place. In fact, in the 1960s and 70s my father was a meat cutter/butcher and he was quite busy during the fall/hunting season, and it helped me to understand at a very young age where my food came from.

Hey - - there the Daggett Saltbox House, sitting amidst God's beauty!
I took this photo of the Daggett House a few years back, and it's got to be one of my favorite fall-depicting images. 

As I stepped out of the kitchen buttery door, what you see here in this picture is exactly what I saw upon looking to my right. 
I wonder what Samuel and Anna Daggett would think about so many of us loving the home he built and the presenters remembering them over 250 years later? Would they be proud or embarrassed?
Confused maybe?
A scene right out of America's colonial past...that could be Samuel right there!

Now, these next few photographs are based around the birthplace of famed horticulturalist Luther Burbank (think the Burbank Potato - - yep, that's him!). It's truly unfortunate that Greenfield Village does not utilize this wonderful example of early 19th century Americana in a more proper way. Instead of "dressing it up" in the era of when Burbank lived here - or even during the time it was built...1800 - it is used mainly, it seems, for arts & crafts projects for visitors. It's almost treated as if its in the way for them - they just don't seem to know what to do with it.
Well, I say bring it back to its original glory and allow visitors to enjoy it for the historical home it is.
The 1800 home of Luther Burbank is set in picturesque surroundings and really shines when flanked by the beautiful fall colors.

Luther Burbank was born in this house, originally located in Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1849. He was the son of a farmer and maker of brick and pottery.
According to his own account, his reading of Charles Darwin's Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication in 1868 proved the turning point in his career, causing him to take the production of new species and varieties of plants as his life's work.
He died in 1926.

Re-discovered in 1936, Henry Ford's architect, Ed Cutler, and about 50 boys from the famed Wayside Inn schools dismantled Burbank's birthplace during that fall and winter. Interestingly, a later owner of the house split the frame structure in half and constructed a brick building in the middle. Ford bought only the two original wings. By early summer of 1937, the Burbank House, now put back together as it once was, had found a new home in Greenfield Village.

The next few pictures center on the Eagle Tavern, built in 1831 in Clinton, Michigan.
When Henry Ford was planning out his Village, he wanted to have a village green similar to those he had seen in New England, and bordering this green would be a church, a town hall, a general store, and a tavern.

I'm not sure why the outdoor lamps encircling the green were on, but I'm glad they were, for they did add to the whole ambiance of recreating the past.

And so did the horses and omnibuses. But...if you look closely you can see four lit lamps in this picture, almost giving the feeling of evening rather than late morning.

I have commented numerous times before that the Eagle Tavern, though built in 1831, could easily pass for a tavern built years earlier, during America's Revolutionary War era. And here is my proof: The Raleigh Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, with its latest restoration addition - a porch - and directly below we have a picture of the Eagle Tavern
Above photo of the Raleigh Tavern courtesy of Susan McCall
Below photo of the Eagle Tavern by me
The Eagle Tavern beautifully restored...

One of my favorite scenes occurs when I step into the 1831 Ackley Covered Bridge, for what awaits the visitor on the other side is pure autumn magic...

On a particular warm fall day, a ride in a surrey was a welcome respite from all the walking. And then seeing the corn shocks at Susquehanna as the horses clip-clopped around the bend gave me the same sight and sound experience of times long past.
The same scene from a different angle not too long after my ride.
Americana history abounds in this picture, with the white picket fence and the homes of Robert Frost and Noah Webster shining in the back ground.
The wondrous season of autumn in itself has a tendency to make everything look old...wooden...and, dare I say, traditional. Many houses in my neighborhood have fireplaces, and on these cooler days one can see smoke billowing out of the chimneys. 
"So why do you go to Greenfield Village to enjoy the fall then, Ken?" you ask.
I really can't tell you why for certain, except that I immerse myself into it because it is history and, thus, historical. I do the same whether I am practicing the craft of living history, reading a history book, or watching a quality period movie or TV series. Seeing the Daggett Home, Firestone Farm, McGuffey Cabin, or any number of the historic structures relocated here engulfed in the reds, golds, orange, browns, and even a touch of left over green leaves brings out the best of autumn...of old autumn...and I can almost see what our ancestors did.
Because it's Greenfield Village, that's why!
Again, that's the way I am and the way I've always been.
And I'm not going to change.
Need I say more?

Until next time, see you in time.
Crossing the bridge through time...

To read about Fall Flavors Weekend at Greenfield Village, click HERE
To experience a time-line journey through autumn at Greenfield Village, click HERE
To learn about autumn harvest in Colonial times, click HERE
For a general overview about harvest time in the 18th & 19th centuries, click HERE


Deanna Rabe said...

I love history and this is an amazing village. Next time I'm in Michigan I'll have to check it out!

Jules said...

I absolutely loved Greenfield Village when we went on a class trip, many moons ago. I haven't been in over 30 years to say the least. I think next time I am home (Lansing area) for a visit I will have to head to Detroit not just to visit family but also to visit the Village again. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures and reminding me of what I love most: living history!