Greenfield Village bills itself as “an 80 acre time machine.” Operated by the Henry Ford Museum, the village includes over 80 historical buildings that were brought to Dearborn. The village also includes trains and authentic Model T Fords, historical re-enactors, and artisans. The performance and craft of the performers and artisans completes the experience created by the historic structures, machines, and exhibits.
Henry Ford took collecting to a whole different level.
Fascinated with innovation and ingenuity, Ford started by collecting books and small
technological items such as watches and clocks as a young man. His collection
grew to include everyday objects from rural families to objects that exemplified
industrial progress. In 1919, Ford started acquiring entire historic buildings,
starting with his endangered family home and one-room school house. By the late
1920s, plans were in place to turn his collection into a public museum and
outdoor space dedicated to telling the story of American people through their
everyday tools and their incredible inventions. Ford said that, “When we are
through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived; and that, I think, is
the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”1
Greenfield Village (and the nearby Henry Ford Museum) opened on October 21,
1929, purposely chosen by Ford because it coincided with the fiftieth
anniversary of his hero Thomas Edison’s successful invention of the
incandescent light bulb.
Ford continued collecting and using his vast wealth to
expand the village for years. Today, there are more than 83 historic structures
on the sprawling Greenfield Village complex. The village is divided into seven historic
“districts” focusing on farm and domestic life, craftworks and early
manufacturing, transportation, and business. Knowledgeable interpreters at most
sites demonstrate the tools and trades used throughout America’s early history,
from skills such as tin-punching to baking to animal-husbandry.
An entire district is taken up by the recreated Menlo Park
lab complex, where Thomas Edison tested and perfected his many inventions. “Main
Street” district, designed to feel like the center of a typical bustling American
town, includes many authentic historic buildings. One of these is the Wright
Brothers’ Cycle Shop, where they experimented with flying machines in the back
room. Another is the Logan County Courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln practiced
law before becoming President. The “Porches and Parlors” district contains the
private residences of several significant people, such as poet Robert Frost, dictionary-creator
Noah Webster, pioneer George Washington Carver, and Henry Ford himself. In
addition, several homes such as the Hermitage Slave Quarters and the
Susquehanna Plantation, tell the story of slavery in the US.
To get around the 80-acre village, visitors can walk or take
a ride in a horse-driven shuttle, a steam-powered train, or an authentic Ford
Model T car or AA bus. Dining options include several taverns and family-style
restaurants that use 19th century cooking techniques to give guests a taste of
authenticity. Stores sell old-fashioned gifts and food or handicrafts like
pottery, textiles, and metal-works made by artisans on site.