Museum Hopping: Greenfield Village

Today’s museum field trip takes us to beautiful Dearborn, Michigan. We’re visiting Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village to explore American history, as told through our lifestyles and innovations. There is so much to show you that I think we should start with a map so you can understand the scale of this place:

As you can see, the outdoor museum is spread across many acres, (90 acres, to be exact, with another 150 acres of fields and pastures surrounding the museum.  You can spend all day exploring the exhibits and still have more to see. Before we start wandering around, let me give you a little back history of how this place came to be.

History Collector

In the 1920’s, automobile entrepreneur Henry Ford decided that he wanted to preserve “Americana” for future generations. He toyed with preserving a few dubiously historic buildings in Massachusetts before he really hit his stride. Ford started collecting buildings related to American industry and innovation and moving them, piece by piece to Michigan.

Henry Ford, circa 1919 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Once each building or house arrived in Michigan, he had it reassembled in an area designed as its own village. (A “village” that sits in the middle of a huge swath of “green” “fields”. See how he did that?) All of these buildings came together to form a large village of structures spanning the 3 centuries of American life.

Greenfield Village was officially founded in 1929 as an educational and historic landmark. When viewed as a whole, it can be quite misleading as a representation of American history. It is too clean, too socially stable, which real American life has never been.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

However, there is little doubt that most of these buildings would have fallen to ruin if left in their original locations. Without the collector’s instinct of a man with Henry Ford’s time and money, modern Americans would have little opportunity to stand in and look at the daily life and work of many great innovators.

What To See

Greenfield Village has over fifty historic buildings to see and tour. All of these buildings are populated by either costumed actors or modern-day artisans creating real products using old techniques. (You can even buy their beautiful wares at the gift shop later.)

The village is further sub-divided into several “neighborhoods”. Some of the buildings focus on industry and some are homes which allow you to step into everyday life of a certain period. Just to add one more layer to your visit, you can also choose to travel in several modes of transportation around the park.

There are so many buildings and homes to see that it is hard for me to make a definitive list of must-sees for you. As usual, it is frowned upon to take interior pictures of houses and museum buildings. Nevertheless, here are few of my favorites that you should see for yourself:

  • The Firestone family farm (yes, the tire brand Firestones)
  • The 18th century farm (lots of live animals to see at work)
  • The General Store
  • The Milliner’s shop (where you can try on hats)
  • Poet Robert Frost’s house
  • The Heinz farmhouse (you can smell all 57 spices about a block away)
  • The Eagle Tavern ( you can eat a meal here, too)

  • Dictionary author Noah Webster’s house
  • Henry Ford’s family farm
  • The Windmill
  • Logan County Courthouse (where Lincoln practiced law)
  • The Boarding House
  • The Glass Shop (with real blown glass craftsmen at work)
  • The Cider Mill
  • The Wright Brothers Cycle Shop (birthplace of the airplane)
  • Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory (birthplace of the light bulb)

Great Events

Greenfield also hosts fun events throughout their calendar year that are a fun chance to bask in the community of bygone eras. While I haven’t been to all of these myself, I cannot overlook how fun they sound.

  • Car Shows: It will probably not surprise you to know that Greenfield Village hosts great historic car shows. (It would be odd if they didn’t.) There are several shows on the annual calendar, which allow you to choose between your favorite era of cars.

  • Historic Baseball Games: These are played using the 1867 rules with seating on a grassy hillside overlooking the field. As they advertise it: “No cussing. No spitting. No millionaire players. Just baseball.” You can learn more about the teams right here and about their playing season right here. If you visit in August, you might be lucky enough to catch the World Championship Games. Batter, up!

  • Ragtime Street Fair Weekend: This annual music festival features live music on multiple stages by jazz musicians from all over the country. Fresh summer food is served and dancing is encouraged as the park stays open late to enjoy the syncopated melodies.

That concludes our tour of Greenfield Village for today. Before we leave though, I thought you might like to browse around the extensive museum gift shop, which you can visit right here. Also, consider exploring their lovely historic art shop, which you can link to directly right here. You might find a lovely image to art to the art in your home!

Unless otherwise noted, pictures in this post come from the Greenfield Village Museum. You can learn more details about the museum and plan your own visit by exploring their beautiful website right here.

What would you explore first at Greenfield Village? Have any of you visited Greenfield Village? Do have any tips you would like to add? Leave a comment!

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Posted on July 22, 2011, in Museum Hopping. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Just looking at the photo of the lab, you can almost smell the wood and age of the place. I hope on days like today they’ve put in air conditioning!

    I think I’ll have to plan a trip in the spring for my family. My kids (and my husband) would love the old cars. We might have to check out the baseball, too. Very cool.

  2. My brother went to college in Decorah, IA, home of the Vesterheim Museum, which chronicles Norwegian-American pioneer history. They also have transported buildings from all over the Midwest in a macro museum: an old barn, a church, and a one-room (sod?) house from the prairie.

    Greenfield Village has taken that plan to the extreme! I’ve never been to a museum of houses and buildings. What a great idea. I’d love to see the General Store. I love historic labels and products. I imagine it’s set up like it was when it was in business.

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