Time travel doesn't always have to entail sci-fi gimmicks and fancy technology, especially if you happen to visit Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.
The 80-acre village started as an idea in the mind of Henry Ford to showcase his vast collection of Americana and show how Americans through the years worked and played. The emphasis here, predictably enough, focuses on the idea of American progress--how technology changed, and changed the country, during the Industrial Revolution and beyond.
Ford's beliefs and biases determined much of the early development at Greenfield Village and the indoor Henry Ford Museum on the same campus. That means that the village and museum, like other museums offering "recreated" historic environments I've visited, offer visitors a somewhat candy-coated version of history. Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum have made some strides in recent years toward offering a more balanced view of some of the stories presented at the institutions--most notably exhibits related to the African-American experience in America.
Ford began collecting historic objects in the early 1900s. Ford definitely seemed like a guy with big ideas, so it doesn't surprise me that he began collecting big things--like buildings, trains, and large machinery. Ford worked to plan a themed historical village in Sudbury, Massachusetts, in the early 1920s. Ford's idea didn't take root in Massachusetts at that time, and he began planning his project for a site in Dearborn, Michigan.
Ford built the village in the late 1920s, dedicating the complex on October 21, 1929--mere days ahead of the catastrophic Stock Market Crash of 1929. The dedication date was the 50th anniversary of the incandescent light, developed by Ford's good friend Thomas A. Edison. President Herbert Hoover and Edison dedicated the project, but it took four more years for the Edison Institute complex to open to the public.
Initially, the village consisted of relocated or reconstructed buildings from throughout the United States that Ford felt important in telling America's story. Birthplaces, homes or workplaces of Ford, Edison, Luther Burbank, and Wilbur and Orville Wright--many of them men who Ford admired and/or knew as personal friends--were among the structures Ford included in the collection. Today, the village has more than 80 restored historic structures.
Today, the Edison Institute is the largest indoor-outdoor history museum campus in the United States. Visitors can stroll through the village and tour homes, but there is so much more to do at Greenfield Village.
Special weekend events like classic car shows and historic reenactments where you might see a Civil War battlefield encampment, ride Thomas the Tank Engine, or catch a vintage 1860s baseball game with the village's own Lah-De-Dahs team happen throughout the season. Visitors can tour the village via a variety of vehicles, like taking a three-mile ride on open-air railroad cars drawn by a vintage steam locomotive or touring the town in a chauffeur-driven restored Model T car. Kids of all ages can hop aboard the village's 1913-era carousel that features horses, chickens, cats, dogs and frogs.
We particularly enjoy eating a meal at the village's Eagle Tavern, where costumed wait staff serves meals from an 1850s menu of fare in a restored 1831 stagecoach stop that originally stood in Clinton, Michigan. We also enjoy visiting the Liberty Craftworks district to see artisans at work, using traditional methods to make many of the gifts that end up in Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum stores.
Greenfield Village is open seven days a week from mid-April through early November, and weekends from early November through late December. Out-of-town visitors should realize that visiting the village is an all-day proposition, and that single-day admission is pricey enough that purchasing a membership good for both the village and museum may make far more sense if you plan to visit multiple times in a given year.
We like having a membership so we can dash in for a couple of hours if we wish to just see a special exhibit, take a few photos or take a nice walk and have lunch.
© Dominique King 2009 All rights reserved