The Great Car Museum Tour: Greenfield Village

Dearborn, Michigan
Saturday, July 22, 2006

Greenfield Village is a real trip.

One man’s vision of the good old days, it was set up by Henry Ford to preserve what he remembered as being the America of his youth.

Small town. Bucolic. Rural. Agricultural. And probably a fantasy.

About 22 years later, Walt Disney created Main Street at Disneyland. Ford may have done a better job creating an fantasy world of the past.

Bicycle
Friendly folk are dressed in period costume.

That said, it’s not an amusement park, but correctly billed as a living history center. As much as possible is authentic… visitors ride in actual Ford Model Ts, carriages, a train pulled by a steam locomotive and other vehicles from the early 1900s. Close to 100 buildings, parks, greens and wide streets covering 80 acres.

Some buildings are recreated, others are originals, such as the collection of farm houses. Staff — what Disney calls “cast members” — ride vintage bicycles, play games with visitors, talk about exhibits and even protest for women’s suffrage.

The craft shops employ real artisans, creating pottery, weaving, printing and doing other work that would have been done in the period.

I visited on a Saturday in July. On a day when Disneyland was probably overflowing with people, as you can see by the photos, attendance at Greenfield Village was sparse to say the least. As I’ve said before, the Detroit area isn’t much of a tourist destination.

I enjoyed my visit to Greenfield Village and would like to return. The caretakers of Mr. Ford’s vision—some call it a fantasy—have evolved it into a truly unique and relevant living history site. The next-door Henry Ford museum has many items similar to what’s here, but seeing cars running, presses printing, people living (even if they’re acting) in the period, is fascinating.

Stop by if you get the chance.

ford shop
Henry Ford’s original machine shop has been recreated.
Preservation of original crafts methods are a big part of Greenfield Village. This is in the pottery shop.
Preservation of original crafts methods are a big part of Greenfield Village. This is in the pottery shop.
Model T Hack
Model T “Depot Hack” takes visitors around the park.

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