One of my family’s favorite places to visit for the holidays is Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. While the visit doesn’t include getting on a cruise ship or airplane, it does involve a long car ride to the Detroit suburbs. We have found it worth the drive and usually it turns into a fun weekend away.
Henry Ford himself named this location “The Edison Institute” after Ohio native, Thomas A. Edison, who he treasured as great friend and considered a “practical” genius. Edison had encouraged Ford when he was developing his automobile. After Ford experienced financial success with the Model T, he was able to pursue a number of avocations and was very interested in preserving history.
In 1920, Ford was determined to start a museum that would emphasize industrial history to give people a true picture of the development of America. That idea took form in two parts. One part would be an exhibit hall to display inventions and artifacts that reflected technical and cultural progress. The second part would be an adjacent village of residential, commercial, and industrial architecture that would show how these objects were made and used.
The complex opened in 1933 to include over 255 acres. The Henry Ford Museum shows the growth of transportation from the first U.S.-made engines to an expansive automobile and early plane collection. You can step on Rosa Park’s bus or look inside a Presidential limousine. The Americana found at the museum includes everything from Edison’s violins, dollhouses, telephones, clocks to early street signs and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
Greenfield Village is an 80-acre outdoor complex which begins with an entrance that is a replica of Independence Hall. Over 100 buildings make up the village which has four working farms, a railroad, and authentic Model T Fords to ride. Performers and artisans complete the experience. The Village includes mostly original buildings such as Orville and Wilbur Wright’s bicycle shop and home, Henry Ford’s birthplace, the Illinois Courthouse where Abraham Lincoln first practiced law, Noah Webster’s home where he wrote the first dictionary, Robert Frost’s house, Luther Burbank’s birthplace and office, and William McGuffey’s birthplace and school. The attention to detail that the movers made will overwhelm you. Wallpaper was recreated if damaged. If plaster walls had to be torn down, the plaster was ground up and reused on the house. Dirt was dug up from the foundations of the buildings and was put down before the house was reassembled.
The Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village remind me of a living snow globe. The streets are lit by lantern and gas lights with costumed carolers and horse-drawn wagons passing by. You can strap on a pair of ice skates and glide across the ice. Chestnuts really are roasting on an open fire while many of the homes are recreating holiday meals. Curators are on duty to tell you about the buildings and the way holiday celebrations were observed during its time. Artisans are printing cards, blowing glass, and making holiday pottery. Just when you’ve had enough mulled wine and your hands are starting to freeze, Santa and his live reindeer come jingling up to the village green. The evening ends with everyone joining in the singing of a couple of favorite carols and capped off by fireworks. You leave with lots of holiday spirit and cheer.
If you are interested in going, check their website, theHenryFord.org for more details. It usually always sells out so be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance. The complex can seem overwhelming so they have an app available that you can download to preplan your tour. Factory tours are available during the week also.
Marci DeWitt owns a local travel agency, Anchor and Away Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise. She can be reached by email at mdewitt@DreamVacations.com.