Exploring Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan – Part II

Greenfield Village – Stony Creek Mill Pond

I was pretty enamored with Greenfield Village, so I decided to spend another day exploring and write a second blog post as well. From the layout of the Village to every building and exhibit, I found much to be captivated by. Lovingly maintained and staffed by enthusiastic volunteers, this is the best living history museum I have seen on my travels. I think it is even better than Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia which is heavily visited and one of the more famous living history museums. I believe It is natural in exploring attractions to find at least a few things that could be improved or are not visitor friendly. After two days at Greenfield I stopped to think what could be better and couldn’t come up with anything significant. There was plenty of room to roam around and even get away from crowds, the staff were engaging, the historical sites informative and attractive. Even the food, often a downer at many of these kinds of places, was quite good. We ate two decent lunches here and the baked potato with chili meal I had at the “Taste of History” Restaurant featured the biggest, nicest potato with tasty chili I have ever eaten. I think Luther Burbank who the meal honored would be pleased at how his potato was featured.

Greenfield Village has a historical section called “Porches and Parlors” where you can see the homes and learn about the lives of ordinary and not so ordinary people that changed America. Here can be found the homes of Robert Frost, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, Noah Webster and William Holmes McGuffey. Perhaps my favorite home in this section was the home of Mr. Webster, the Webster dictionary author. This became an interesting visit as I knew almost nothing about him.

Noah Webster home – built in 1823

Webster and his wife Rebecca lived here in their later years in New Haven, Connecticut. It was here in 1828 that Webster wrote his famous dictionary, “American Dictionary of the English Language.” A room upstairs is filled with spelling books (the famous blue back speller) and dictionaries that Webster wrote. The American Dictionary was the last dictionary written entirely by one person. The aim of the dictionary was to capture distinctively American words and spellings and included about 70,000 words. Webster added many technical and scientific words such as vaccination as well as common “Americanisms.” He included only one word that he made up himself – “demoralize.”

Webster’s most famous dictionary

Henry Ford and his wife liked the style of this 1619 English Cotswold Cottage so they had it dismantled in England and brought back to Greenfield. They also brought the barn to go with it. I thought this home was the most delightful of all the homes in the Village. It was set in an English style garden with many blooming plants and flowers.

Me looking out from Cotswold Cottage

Outside of the Susquehanna Plantation two actors portrayed life as slaves using songs, stories and quite a bit of audience participation. They were quite animated as the photo below shows. This Civil War era home was part of a 700 acre plantation of the Maryland Tidewater region. The home of the Carroll family, they grew 700 acres of tobacco and wheat and owned 65 slaves.

Actors at the Susquehanna Plantation
Susquehanna Plantation – a tired worker sits among the tobacco plants

I have always had a fondness for windmills and this one from Cape Cod, Massachusetts is claimed to be the oldest in the United States. The wind moved the sails of the windmill to operate the grain milling machinery inside.

Farris Windmill – built in the mid 1600’s

Amos and Grace Mattox, descendants of slaves raised their family in this Georgia farmhouse during the depression years of the 1930’s. The volunteer told me a story about how Mr. Ford came upon this house while traveling the back roads of Georgia. He wanted to buy it for Greenfield Village but Mr. Mattox wouldn’t sell. He kept trying though and eventually after Mattox passed away, his family agreed to sell and the home was moved to the Village in 1943. This was one of a group of homes Mr. Ford obtained to represent “African American progress from bondage through redemption to world recognition.”

Mattox Home – built around 1880

The authentic insulation of newspapers on the walls and cardboard on the ceiling gave the rooms a very homey feeling.

Mattox home interior

If you have visited any historic schools, you probably have seen the McGuffey Readers on desks, popular in frontier school houses. In 1800, William Holmes McGuffey was born in this stark looking log cabin built in the late 1790’s in southwestern Pennsylvania. Ford was a big fan of the McGuffey Readers and decided to purchase this home in 1937.

The Edison Complex is a major highlight of the Village. Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, once located in New Jersey was the first of its kind in the world. This is where Edison made his most important inventions, especially the incandescent light bulb. On October 22, 1879. Edison tested a bamboo filament which lasted over 30 hours. The laboratory remains just as it was when Edison worked here. It was truly amazing to see where this famous inventor spent so much of his time.

Thomas Edison’s Laboratory where he developed the lightbulb

The biggest surprise for me though was the phonograph machine that Edison developed in 1877 using wax and tinfoil strips. The machine was used for recording and playing back either voice or music. Edison voiced the words from the song, “Mary had a little lamb” on his phonograph and today at Greenfield, a volunteer demonstrated recording the same song and playing back the results. I can’t quite wrap my head around how using these elements produced such clear words – this is quite an invention!

Volunteer at Edison’s lab speaking the words from Mary had a little lamb on the phonograph cylinder.
Playing back the words after recording

In the year 1919, Henry Ford learned that his birthplace was at risk to be destroyed due to a road improvement project. He decided to move the farmhouse and restored it to how it was before his mother’s death when he was 13 years of age. He filled it with either original or similar furnishings that he remembered from his boyhood. In 1944, the building was moved to the Village. This home was the beginning of Ford’s work to bring more buildings to Greenfield and preserve them for others to enjoy. Today there are almost 100 historic buildings located here.

Henry Ford was born here in 1863

I hope you enjoyed reading about a little of what Greenfield Village offers. There is so much more to see here that I haven’t written about. It is definitely a must see destination! Has anyone been here and would like to share thoughts on your experiences? Would love to hear about them!

More Henry Ford to come in my next blog as I explore the Henry Ford Museum located next to Greenfield Village.

One more ride!

2 thoughts on “Exploring Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan – Part II”

  1. Wow a truly mind blowing project. Was there a lot of information as to how these buildings were moved? An incredible display of how different peoples lives have been through the years. So glad this history is preserved. Hopefully people continue to recreate and volunteer!

    1. Hi Matt! There wasn’t much information on the moving of the buildings, more on the history of the individuals that lived there. There were docents on hand in the buildings to answer some of those type of questions. But yes, that is something I hadn’t thought a lot of, the difficulty in transporting the buildings. And to think that it was important enough to take apart a Cotswold farmhouse and send it across the ocean to Greenfield. I am also glad that it was preserved. Would be a fun place to volunteer I think – if I lived in the area I would be looking into it.

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