By: Charlene Mixa
Ford Captures the Nations Past
Henry Ford was a mastermind with innovations that changed the world. One of America’s greatest industrialists, he introduced mass production of the automobile which was only a stepping stone to his achievements. An astute businessman, he was also a visionary recognizing the importance of education and preserving our history for future generations. In the late 1920s Ford founded Greenfield Village as an educational and historic landmark. Today visitors to the Detroit area can experience the life and times of America’s leaders reflected through their homes, buildings, schools, laboratories, and shops at Greenfield Village. Plus visitors can take a Ford Rouge Factory Tour to learn and watch how automobiles are built today.
A few years ago we spent a full day touring the Henry Ford Museum with its phenomenal collection of historical artifacts. It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday as we get our tickets to Greenfield Village. Stopping by the entrance’s elegant fountain we review the literature and plan our visit. The map is an excellent guide showing the 7 Historic Districts and how the districts wind around the Village’s Main Street. Especially helpful are the listings of the Places to See in each District with recommended stops and activities.
In creating Greenfield Village, Ford actually moved the homes, workshops, stores, schools, etc. of famous American’s to the Village. If he couldn’t obtain the original building, he made an exact replica. Our first stop is the Henry Ford Model T District which traces the life of Henry Ford from his childhood through the founding of the Ford Motor Company. Walking through the farmhouse where Ford was raised in Springwells Township, Michigan, we learn Ford quickly determined farming was not for him. At the age of 16 he set out for Detroit to begin his famous journey in the automotive industry. At the replica factory where Ford’s first automobiles were built a scene of a reporter interviewing Henry Ford takes us back to this era and the excitement the automobile brought to the country. Several visitors line up for a fun, test rides in a restored Model T.
Walking along the wide pathways, we stop to view buildings and storyboards to gain insight into both the individual and building. At the Edison at Work District is the Sarah Jordan Boarding House, which provided housing for Edison’s unmarried workers close to the Menlo Park Laboratory. In 1879 it was the first building to be lighted by Edison’s incandescent light bulbs. The “idea factory,” is Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory where a docent shares how Edison created the phonograph and actually gives a live demonstration on an original phonograph. Upstairs, are some of the old light bulbs and a docent explains the challenges of finding the proper combination of materials to generate continuous light. Touring the various Thomas Edison buildings is an inspiration on the man and the impact his inventions had on our lives in the past as well as today.
There is so much to see and do! Each step brings excitement and insight into the lives of America’s historical figures. We could go on and on about each building and its legendary owner but it would become a book so we’ll share the highlights on Greenfield Village. The Wright Brothers home is decked out in red, white and blue bunting and the Wright Cycle Shop is considered the “birthplace of aviation”. At the Working Farmswe sense what life was like on a 1880s farm. We tour the 1840’s Susquehanna Plantationin Porches and Parlors. A docent explains plantation life including how marriages came about, women not being allowed to own property, along with the work done by the slaves around a plantation. In the Noah Webster home we find he was an activist for the standardization of both the American language and the education system. Of course we know about the Webster Dictionary, but we didn’t know Webster also published his revision of the Bible.
All Aboard! Hopping on the steam-powered train, we get an even better perspective of the vastness of Greenfield Village. At Railroad Junction we watch the only working late 19th-century roundhouse in the Midwest. Visitors should take the train ride early on a visit to get acclimated and gain excellent information on things to do that day. At Liberty Craftworksskilled artisans practice authentic period crafts and trades. At the 75 year old “Sandwich Glass Plant” an artisan demonstrates the glass blowing process from start to finish. We found it astounding to watch as the glass blower heats the glass in a furnace and spin it into shapes. The center of the Village is huge plaza bordered by Main Street that bustles with automobiles and is lined with numerous shops and eateries. Special buildings of the George Washington Carver Cabin, the Scotch Settlement School which Henry Ford attended, and a Courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law are along the plaza. There are numerous activities, events, and exhibits to interest visitors of all ages. We overhead an eight year old girl describing Greenfield Village. On the phone with a friend she enthusiastically states, “Have you been to Greenfield Plantation? It’s fantastic!” In an era of cell phones, game-boys, Wii and theme parks how refreshing to hear a youngster excited about a place that is preserving our history.
Our accommodations during this visit were at the Best Western Greenfield Inn is conveniently located a few miles from Greenfield Village and is just off Interstate 94 at Exit 206. Featuring a distinctive Victorian architecture and old world charm, it had all the modern conveniences of free high speed internet, a fitness center, indoor swimming pool, whirlpool, and sauna. A nice touch was the complimentary guest lending library. Our king room had a comfy four-poster bed, a great reclining chair for unwinding, large desk for planning our day, refrigerator and microwave. On a multi-week we appreciated the guest laundry.
Any visit to Detroit must include Greenfield Village, the Henry Ford Museum and a Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Each of the venues is education and fun. Visitors of all ages will enjoy learning the history of America’s leaders, seeing how people lived in the past and experiencing a modern manufacturing plant. Activities are planned to assure young and old will leave with not only a “smile” from the fun but also a sense of “pride” for America’s achievements.
If you go:
Best Western Greenfield Inn, 3000 Enterprise Drive, Allen Park, MI 48101 313 271-1600; www.bestwesterngreenfield.com
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, 211 W. Fort Street, Suite, 1000, Detroit, MI 48226; (313.338.7648); www.visitdetroit.com
The Henry Ford, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, MI 48124-5029; 313.982.6001 or 800.835.5237; www.thehenryford.org