As mentioned in my previous Henry Ford post, Henry Ford’s failures in Alabama were not the end to his development aspirations. Around the same time Ford was attempting to remake Muscle Shoals for the future, he was preparing to bring the past to Dearborn, Michigan.
As early as 1905, Ford began collecting the historic or interesting objects that would eventually end up in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (originally called the Edison Institute). This collecting took a sudden turn in 1919, when he found out his childhood home was in danger of demolition. He used his considerable funds and power to move the house wholesale out-of-the-way of danger. Rather than refurnishing or modernizing it, he restored the interior to match his memories from 1876, when his mother died. This apparently started a bug for restoration that would grow into the second half of the Henry Ford Museum: Greenfield Village.
The Village and Museum were dedicated in 1929, but Ford continued to collect and refurbish buildings up to his death in 1947, and the Village continues to grow. It’s worth noting that nobody “lives” in Greenfield Village. It is, however, an incredible experience in the history of architecture and innovation in the United States, as is the main Henry Ford Museum (which features Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, something I will definitely be writing about).
I’m breaking down the features of Greenfield Village into a few broad categories, which also happen to overlap quite a bit. I also can’t mention every building in the Village, so please let me know if there’s something I’ve missed that you really love!
Henry Ford’s Life
As mentioned, the first building to join Ford’s collection was his childhood home. This was followed only a few years later by the one-room Scotch Settlement School, which he attended as a boy. Originally, he operated it as an experimental preschool before being moved to Greenfield Village.
Other pieces of Henry Ford’s life here include the workshop where he designed his experimental Quadricycle, the lunch wagon he ate at as an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company (still serving today), and a scaled-down recreation of his original factory. The Village also features rides on Ford’s Model T and Model AA buses.
Innovation and Industry
Ford’s collecting began with memorabilia of his hero and friend Thomas Edison, so it’s only right that Edison be featured heavily in Greenfield Village. An entire section is dedicated to Edison’s work, including his Menlo Park complex, and the botanic lab from Fort Myers, Florida, which he established with Henry Ford’s help. The Sarah Jordan Boarding House, where several of Edison’s Menlo Park employees lived, is located exactly the same distance from the laboratory that it was in New Jersey. It was one of the first homes wired for electric lights. Also featured is the Edison Illuminating Company’s Station A, featuring the original Jumbo Dynamo.
Perhaps more surprising in the Edison collection is the inclusion of his grandparents home, all the way from Ontario.
Edison isn’t the only innovator featured though: two buildings pay tribute to the Wright Brothers, their home and bicycle shop, and Henry J. Heinz’s (as in the condiment company) house makes an appearance, as does the home of Noah Webster (from the dictionary). One of, in my opinion, the most interesting, is the George Washington Carver Cabin. Based on Carver’s memory of the slave cabin where he was born, the interior features wood from every state.
George Washington Carver’s isn’t the only former slave lodging in the Village. Two of the 52 original quarters from the Hermitage Plantation in Georgia have taken up residence there, as did the house from the Susquehanna Plantation from Maryland. One other notable historic building is the Logan County Courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln practiced law.
Other Buildings and Features
There are a great many other buildings and spots of interest in Greenfield Village that I don’t have time to talk about, but I’m going to add just a few of my favorites here.
- The Phoenixville Post Office was bought by one of Ford’s agents, sight-unseen, in Connecticut.
- Dr. Alonson B. Howard’s office, where several of the beams still have visible markings from when they were labeled for reassembly in the village.
- The birthplace of William Holmes McGuffy, creator of the Eclectic Readers, early textbooks which Ford read as a schoolboy.
- A dedicated craftwork section, with machine shops, printing presses, a sawmill, and glass, pottery, and weaving shops.
- An entire working farm.
- A dedicated laboratory for experimenting with soybeans.
Greenfield Village is an incredible place, chock full of bits and pieces of history too large to fit in any other museum. I can’t recommend a visit there highly enough.
Author’s Note: All images are the author’s. Most research from The Henry Ford Official Handbook.