From the vault: 'A Village Called Greenfield' from 1969

By Alexa St. John

Where can Metro Detroiters ride in a Model-T or go on a carriage ride, practice basket weaving and play traditional games, have a taste of old-style candy and get a 19th century school lesson all in one day?

Coined the “America of yesterday,” Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., is a local epicenter for exploration as founder Henry Ford aimed to emphasize the importance of history throughout the property.

Opened in 1929, Greenfield Village was and continues to be full of educational opportunities and traditional activities for schools and families alike.

This WWJ-TV (which later became WDIV) special from 1969 focuses on the magic behind “A Village Called Greenfield” during its 40th anniversary.

“Serves the present while preserving the past”

This video showcases the milestone anniversary of the Village – which coincided with the 90th anniversary of the Thomas Edison lamp – along with a number of the exhibits that have remained popular throughout the museum’s past 88 years.

In 1969, when the video was filmed, two hundred acres of land were dedicated to the site, where almost 100 original and reconstructed buildings from parts of the U.S. and Europe had been brought to provide visitors with an authentic taste of history. Now the Village sits on 250 acres.

Intended to “advance the cause of education,” the National Historic Landmark constructed by Henry Ford became America’s first outdoor museum and was at first, more commonly known as the Edison Institute – a series of exhibits dedicated to the namesake-inventor’s innovations and popular historical artifacts.

Buildings to see

When visiting Greenfield Village, time steps back 100 years as the site is full of antiquity, complete with old-style vehicles, woodworking demonstrations, farm life and a general store.

The video highlights the “country fair of yesteryear,” where visitors can nurse a lamb or milk a cow. Popular outdoor shows captivate audiences. Of course, children love to visit the general store – which was originally built in Waterford, Mich. in 1854 – where traditional penny candies sit in jars on the counter. However, adults can appreciate the store’s coffee mill, which freshly grinds coffee beans in a matter of minutes.  

Another unique feature of the general store is its sale of American flags – family flags could be purchased only after they were cut individually from a “boat” of flags.

Popular landmarks

Because the property has nearly 100 historically significant buildings, the video highlighted some of the most noteworthy ones.

For example, the Scott Settlement School – built in 1861 on Warren Avenue east of Southfield – moved to the Village in 1929 where quickly after, traditionally-taught classes begun. Complete with antique school desks and a blackboard, students would learn at the schoolhouse for many years to come.

Another significant building is the Logan County Courthouse. Originally built in 1840 as the first courthouse of Logan, Ill., the building was also brought to the Village in its premiere year to showcase the courtroom in which President Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Not too far over is the Town Hall – a 19th century building for local and government affairs, which arrived at the Village years later.

There are a number of homes in the Village that were brought to the property to represent a traditional residential area of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ford wanted to show the way of life that Americans inherited from Europe.

The oldest of American homes in the Village called Greenfield shown in this episode is the Plympton House, which dates back to the 17th century. It is said this Sudbury, Mass., home was introduced to the site to demonstrate the simpler ways of life which Americans used to live and thrive.

Examples of these ways of life – now considered foreign in contemporary society – include the use of trades in 17th century homes and shops. Programs such as glassblowing, printing, candle making and blacksmithing dominated American life until the Industrial Revolution. Visitors have been able to see these trades being practiced at the Village since its opening.

One of the more elaborate but necessary trades in American life included clothing making, which involved a series of steps from carting the cloth to spinning, looming by hand and weaving.

A more renowned home Ford brought to the village is the Noah Webster House. This house, originally built in 1822 in New Haven, Conn., was where the starting point of dictionary writing began. Webster worked on multiple versions of the popular dictionary in this home, and it was later moved to the site in 1937.

 

Edison’s significance

Because Ford greatly appreciated Edison’s ingenuity, he wanted to ensure Edison’s contributions to the industrial revolution and modern society were acknowledged in the village.

Mrs. Sarah Jordan’s boarding house was the first residence lighted by Edison’s incandescent lamp, the episode states, which led to it being brought to the village. Another key building, brought from New Jersey, was the Menlo Park Laboratory, where instruments and tools demonstrate the development of innovations such as phonograph, microphone and telephone transmitter.

Timeless experience

When this episode was recorded, the museum had nearly 1,400,000 annual visitors. Now, Greenfield Village brings in 1.7 million annually to continue to experience a part of history. From working on a farm to learning historic cooking methods to riding in a Model-T or learning artisan trades, visitors can get a taste of history daily from mid-April to the end of October every year, and then in limited hours with the colder months and holiday season. (The village is closed from January 1 to the beginning of April each year.)

Now expanded to 250 acres containing 26 million artifacts, Greenfield Village currently has this episode’s historical buildings open, along with special exhibits within the Ford Rouge Factory and the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Daily tickets to the Village cost $20.25 for youth 3 to 11 years old, $24.50 for seniors 62 years and over and $27 for general admission.

The Village called Greenfield has continued to pursue Ford’s mission since 1969: to “advance the cause of education,” and will continue to do so for years to come.

For more information about the village, click here.

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