As I walked down the tree-lined streets, past grand old homes and shop buildings from the small-town USA of yesteryear, the famous names followed me: Ford, Edison, Firestone, Wright, Heinz, Carver and so many more. So many more names of influential Americans whose ingenuity at the turn of the 20th century altered the course of life and history for all of here and around the world. At Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, their lives and work are preserved for all of us to marvel at and remember.
A horse-drawn wagon clip-clops down the road, then on its heels a Model T Ford whizzes past. A few blocks down we come across the garage where Henry Ford built his first automobile. How amazing a ride in a Model T must have been to those folks used to sitting behind a plodding team of horses!
In the Firestone farmhouse — yes, the tire people — they’re baking bread in a wood-fired stove. It’s 89 degrees outside and 300 degrees standing next to that stove.
In another building, they weave fabric on a hand-operated loom. The woman working at the loom tells us it took three full days just to string the loom before they could start making fabric.
In another part of the village, glassblowers are hard at work. It feels like it’s 600 degrees in there. It becomes clear that work was really work back then and often involved a great deal of discomfort. What a contrast to the climate-controlled environments we have today.
Outside, a steam train blows its whistle and click-clacks down a track from which it can’t deviate. Then another Model T whizzes by, able to turn, circle, and go wherever it wants. What freedom that car must have meant to people who were used to following the dictates of a train schedule!
Then we find ourselves inside Thomas Edison’s lab. Our modern life wouldn’t be possible without his inventions: the light bulb, phonograph, telegraph, and the distribution of electricity to name a just a few. I glance at the smart phone in my hand and realize its the great-grandchild of Edison’s inventions.
The historical buildings, artifacts and famous names on display at Greenfield Village are too numerous to mention. There’s an old tavern where you can eat, a hat shop, print shop and wagon shop to name a few. Most buildings are not reproductions, but the originals, dismantled, transported and reassembled in the name of history. The park covers 80 acres and 300 years of time.
Henry Ford wasn’t just the father of the modern automobile. He was also a wise man who knew bringing his automobile to the masses would change the way of life in America. He wanted to preserve the simpler life he remembered from his childhood and the history of the industrial revolution. So he collected artifacts, tools and buildings, and brought them to Greenfield Village. Today, thanks to his foresight, we can experience what life was like before modern inventions. We can also learn about the people who made our current lifestyles possible through their genius and hard work.
Around the corner from the home of the Wright Brothers, whose work led to us being able to board a plane and fly around the world, sits the home of ketchup magnet Henry J. Heinz. We use ketchup every other day at our house. Without it, my kids wouldn’t eat. Standing there, I feel awed by and grateful for these inventors who make my life easier today. Even for something as simple as bottled ketchup.
Know Before You Go to Greenfield Village:
- Open mid-April through December 31st. Check website for exact days and times.
- Save 10 percent if you purchase tickets online ahead of time.
- Even more savings are available with a package that includes admission to Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford Museum and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.
- Dearborn is located just outside of Detroit, Michigan.
- There is a children’s playground inside Greenfield Village.
- The village has several on-site restaurants.
- You can take a ride in a Model T and on a steam engine train.
- The village is huge. You’ll need a full day to see everything.
Disclosure: Greenfield Village provided me with admission to facilitate this story about my personal experience. All thoughts and opinions are my own.