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Detroit: Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford

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The collection of unique vehicles, planes, and machinery inside the Henry Ford Museum are well worth the trip to Detroit to see, but the exhibit outside the walls of the museum is even more remarkable.  A long time ago, Henry Ford decided to create a perfect American village here, and fill it with the homes, shops, and workplaces of some of the world’s most incredible people.  The result is Greenfield Village, a 240-acre outdoor museum (only 90 acres are actively used by museum guests), where visitors can walk in the footsteps of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Abe Lincoln, and the Wright Brothers.

Henry Ford’s Home

Henry Ford’s birthplace and boyhood home is one of the first houses you’ll see, as you begin your walk through Greenfield Village.  Ford grew up in this farmhouse in Springwells Township, Michigan, along with his five brothers and sisters.

Ford is said to have put an incredible amount of effort into restoring every detail of the house, to the way he remembered it from his childhood…

… including an 18-month, country-wide search for the exact dining-room stove.

Back outside…

… are two factories that made products that changed the world.  The Ford Motor Company building (on the left) is a recreation of Henry Ford’s first factory, which started producing cars in 1903.  Across the street…

… is the Wright Brothers Shop, built in 1875, and moved here from Dayton, Ohio.  Money they made from building and repairing bicycled helped fund their aviation experiments.

Without a doubt, the most outstanding attraction at Greenfield Village is Thomas Edison’s Invention Factory: his Menlo Park Complex, moved here from New Jersey.  These buildings were constructed here in 1929, but contain some structural elements from the original buildings.

The first floor of the laboratory/factory is filled with machinery, all of which is powered by a system of belts, connected to an overhead drive shaft.  Edison’s dynamos were assembled and tested here, making this the first electric generating plant in the world.

Old-style Edison light bulbs add to the authenticity of the building.

Be sure you go upstairs…

… to see Edison’s laboratory.  Once again, Henry Ford painstakingly recreated every detail, right down to the chemicals in jars on the shelves.

Edison himself paid a visit to the recreated lab, saying it was almost accurate — except in reality, it was never this clean.

You’ll notice a lonely chair, sitting in the middle of the floor.  Edison sat here, when visiting the lab to re-enact the invention of the light bulb, in 1929.  Ford gave his employees instructions to nail the chair to the floor, as soon as Edison stood up.  They did, and the chair hasn’t moved since — even during a restoration project, when the rest of the floor was replaced.

Back outside, there’s plenty more to see, including…

… the Rocks Village Tollhouse (1928, Massachusetts) and Ackley Covered Bridge (1932, Pennsylvania)…

… the Susquehanna Plantation (1835, Maryland)…

… the Plympton Family Home (earliest parts from 1640, most of the structure was rebuilt in the early 1700’s, Massachusetts)…

… the Farris Windmill (mid-1600’s, Cape Cod)…

… the Daggett Farmhouse (1754, Connecticut)…

… (complete with a flower and vegetable garden in the back yard)…

… Cotswald Cottage (early 1600’s, Chedworth, England)…

… Robert Frost’s Home (inside a recording of Frost reading one of his poems plays on a loop — 1835, Ann Arbor, Michigan) …

… the Mattox Family Home (1880, Bryan County, Georgia)…

… the William Holmes McGuffey Schoolhouse (built here in 1934, nearly 100 years after McGuffey’s first textbooks were published)…

… and yes, you can go inside and sit on those comfy seats! …

… and McGuffey’s birthplace (1790, Washington County, Pennsylvania).

My walk around Greenfield Village eventually brought me back around to the Village Green — part of the complex that was overseen by Henry’s wife, Clara.  The Mary-Martha Chapel was built here in 1929.  “Mary” was Henry’s mother, “Martha” was his mother-in-law.

There’s also a more refined school house on the Green — the Scotch Settlement School (1861), where Henry Ford attended classes as a child.

There are re-enactments inside this one-room schoolhouse, several times a day, that allow visitors to play the role of school children.  I wasn’t there at the right time, so all I could do is peek through the closed doors into the classroom.

You can also walk inside the J.R. Jones General Store (1857, Waterford, Michigan)…

… to see shelves filled with every necessity, just as they would have been a century and a half ago.

I was almost out of time, and I was getting ready to leave Greenfield Village, when I came across…

… the Edison Illuminating Company’s Station A, the power plant where Henry Ford worked (and eventually became chief engineer).  This building is a smaller-scale recreation of the original…

… filled with the equipment that generated electricity to light some of the earliest bulbs.

One of the newest structures in Greenfield Village is a short walk away from the power plant, along the railroad tracks:

It’s the Detroit Toledo and Milwaukee Roundhouse, built in 2000 using many of the original elements of the original roundhouse (circa 1884) from Marshall, Michigan.

Getting Around

It’s possible to see everything in Greenfield Village by foot, but it’s much more fun to catch a ride.  The streets are filled with Model T’s, Model A’s…

… and horse-drawn Omnibus shuttles.  Unlimited rides cost $10.

The Henry Ford Museum is open 7 days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Greenfield Village has similar hours, but only during the summer — and during the shoulder seasons, it may only be open Friday-Sunday.  A tour of the Ford Rouge Factory is available Monday through Saturday, with buses departing every 20 minutes, starting at 9:20 a.m.  Admission to the Village + Museum or Factory is $29.50 for adults, $21 for children (2011 prices, check for updates here).

I really did push my visit to Greenfield Village to the last possible minute, and I was still finding more attractions that I didn’t have time to properly see.  But, the plane wasn’t going to wait for me, so I eventually admitted to myself that the trip was coming to an end, and drove to the airport.  Total mileage for this 4-day loop around Lake Erie: 931.5 miles.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from my hotel in Southfield to the Henry Ford Museum (using a variety of roads, since M-39 was shut down), then on to DTW Airport.

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