Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Greenfield Village - America's Hometown

Eagle Tavern on the Village Green

In the summer of 1896, in a shed behind his house on Bagley Avenue in Detroit, Henry Ford finished his first experimental automobile, the Quadricycle, and took it for a test drive around his neighborhood.

In Dayton, Ohio, Orville Wright waited on customers at the Wright Cycle Company while his brother Wilbur worked in the back room on the mechanics that would lead to the world's first successful airplane.

Charles Steinmetz, who revolutionized the use of alternating current, spent that summer writing and studying in his newly-built cabin retreat overlooking Viele's Creek near his home in Schenectady, New York.

Not long ago a friend and I visited all three of these buildings. While we were at it, we stopped by the Illinois courthouse where Abraham Lincoln tried law cases; Thomas Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratories; and from a less glorious part of American history, the Savannah, Georgia Hermitage Planation slave quarters.

It's a quintessential American journey, but you don't need to hit the open road for Detroit, Dayton, Schenectady or Savannah to see these buildings. You'll find them all - along with dozens of other original structures that document 300 years of American history - at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The 80-acre village, dubbed America's Hometown, is a National Historic Monument.

Greenfield Village was the creation and passion of Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and a life-long proponent of the rural way of life. Ironically, the good-paying factory jobs on Ford's assembly lines were responsible for the movement of large numbers of people from farms to big cities. Ford spent millions of dollars and personally scoured the countryside to find buildings and objects for Greenfield Village and the adjacent Henry Ford Museum. His aim was to document the everyday life of ordinary Americans and show how technology changed their lives.

When Greenfield Village was dedicated in 1929, President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Orville Wright and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. were among the dignitaries in attendance. Albert Einstein spoke by radio from Germany.

It was Einstein's theory of relativity that gave credence to the idea that time travel might be possible. In the century since, many theories have been proposed, but to date time machines remain the purview of science ficition.

Time travel may never be possible, but for a wonderful glimpse into the past, at least into America's past, visit Greenfield Village. In addition to historic buildings, there are craft demonstrations, dramatizations of historical events, period restaurants, shops, a steam railroad, Model-T excursions and a 1913 Herschell-Spillman carousel where you can ride a horse, a lion or even a big green frog.


Have fun,

To see my photos of Greenfield Village, click here.

For more information on Greenfield Village, click here.

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Oh, I love traveling to places like this! Thanks for the tour--I've never been to Greenfield Village. And I have only been to the "real" Menlo Park Edison lab site in NJ of those you mentioned here. What a unique idea Ford had, and yes--as you said, how ironic that his own business helped change our nation--in many ways! Sounds like that was a really interesting trip!

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