Greenfield Village, founded by Henry Ford in 1929, is a tribute to the genius and accomplishments of scores of Americans, whose perseverance and hard work realized a way of life undergirded by Christian principles of liberty and sparked by the free enterprise system.
Henry Ford himself defined his goals for Greenfield Village as follows:
When we are through, we shall have reproduced
This fascinating story, conceived and nurtured in the
mind of Ford, is related through original landmarks, building, monuments,
memorials, objets d’art; and priceless rare treasures, documents and symbols
which bring America’s rich history and culture to life. Interestingly enough,
assembling a complete set of McGuffey Readers was the first collecting effort of
Henry and Clara Ford.
The earlier homes of the ancestors demonstrating their
The village green, with its church, inn, town hall, school,
The humble homes and workshops of American industrial
(4) The industrialization of America.
This incomparable legacy of America’s origins and development spans approximately 260 acres, set aside in Dearborn, Michigan, by Henry Ford to house more than 100 structures moved to this site from original settings nationwide.
Sad to say, Greenfield Village has undergone a radical change in recent years, like so many other historical sites across America. The following is quoted from a letter received on May 3, 1989, from Gillian Daroczy, a young woman who grew up in this vicinity, and whose formative years were molded by the cultural and historic significance of Greenfield Village:
“. . .One important concern is the lack of “living” interpreters in the building. And the need for those who are, to give their renditions more details. Heavens, if you didn’t come loaded with questions and just happened to be shy, you would go away quite empty, the interpreting was that ‘brief.’ I mentioned to the gentleman yesterday that there are so many human interest stories revolving around Henry Ford, there’s little reason for a host of highlights not to be share as you’re walking through his home….My favorite home, that of the Wright Brothers, was another one of the brief encounters through the house. The guide seemed to wait for me to question rather than come forth with an armload of information. I ran into the same thing at Noah Webster’s home and Ford’s. I know there are many more this way also. I’ve seen it change to many times. You could once at least peer into a room and comfortably look over things while a guide interpreted the building for you. Now there’s a tape that plays constantly. The flow of traffic if practically “nil” – which is sad. It proves a few things to me: (1) the house feels ‘empty,’ (2) we’re still in the mode of ‘hurrying’ through life as we hurry from one empty building to another so we can say – have we done them all? (3) in the process of becoming tired by walking into and out of the homes, only to be blocked off by an impersonal wall of glass that shouts distrust, and listening to a recording that is too lifeless to answer any questions there might have been – there’s a feeling of disappointment. How many times will one of us want to continue to return to be disappointed? The fact is that we keep these ‘living’ museums alive by our investment in them. Personally, I’m beginning to feel really cheated and it bothers me.
Maybe it is because I’ve grown up with the Village and Museum and I’ve seen it interpreted differently. The special events continue, yet there’s something missing today that’s important. The over-all flavor. Nor one Model T passed me on the road. Not one horse and carriage. I can see modern cars parked now behind the Eagle Tavern – and that never was. Also outside the Armington and Sims Millyard is this sign:
‘19th Century living shops and
foundries required large
In the cities today we’re surrounded by an influx of waste scattered about that we can’t seem to go without and here we’ve recreated some more. I suppose this is so we know what it used to look like when we finally clean things up!
To me, it deflects from the purpose of the mill – what was being developed on the ‘inside.’ Many of these buildings were without interpreters. I had the feeling myself of wanting to pass them by to get to something more lively – at the same time, aware there was much these mills and factories could teach if they had a ‘living’ voice.
Remember when I mentioned that Sir John Bennett’s Jewelry Store which Ford brought from London was now used as the bakery? Well, not only is jewelry no longer displayed or sold here, but the huge mirror gracing what was once a beautiful shop, now reflects the vision of soda fountain style tables and chairs where you can eat too! Very tacky. I dread to think what is in store for the Sarah Jordan Boarding House – flower garden was done away with some time ago in favor of a vegetable garden because it was deemed necessary to a ‘boarding home’….The Old Swiss Watch Repair Shop, which in the latter years has been another gift shop, now has a little sign on it stating, ‘Not an interpretive building.’ … It’s right in the middle of what is one of the prettiest streets set out there; along with Noah Webster’s home, the Ann Arbor home displaying Greek Revival Architecture and also Stephen Foster’s home, among others….
We all have a duty to preserve our heritage….
Henry Ford also created this treasure trove to preserve the old because America was changing so rapidly. He saw it as a wonderful teaching tool. My next door neighbor, once a guide for many years at Greenfield Village, spoke with me about the conversations she had with Henry Ford when he used to sit by the Menlo Park exhibition. They would often talk while she was on break in between the groups of visitors. She tells me how happy he was in feeling satisfied that things may change in the world, but that the Village would always be there, unchanged. It was protected.
Now if we can only protect the interpretation from being updated so much that we leave gaps in the roots of our heritage….The William Holmes McGuffey School wasn’t interpreted….As yet, I haven’t retrieved any old postcards.
I would say that we have to be keenly aware of the subtle changes made to our history, to speak up to those responsible and put them right back on their toes….”
I have allowed Miss Daroczy to write a large portion of this chapter, because it could not be better expressed than by her testimony. As a lifelong resident of Dearborn, a teacher and a former guide at Greenfield Village, she has witnessed its decline from a thriving, inspiring experience into history, to a lifeless, depersonalized ‘instant walkthrough.’ Many modern museums have taken the same route as that taken by countless history classes across the nation: where history is taught as names, dates, places and other facts to be committed to memory, with very little understanding of the cause and effect of history. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary defined ‘history’ as:
An account of facts, particularly of facts
And he compared it to ‘annals’ which he defined as:
Annals relate simply the facts and events of each
Today’s museums and history books alike have
deteriorated from histories to mere annals. Many Americans sense that something
has gone awry, but they are not quite certain what has happened. As this book
has attempted to prove, it has not been the result of mere happenstance or lack
of understanding, but a deliberate and well-planned attack upon the nation to
discredit and destroy all that has made this country great.