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Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and the Weiser Railroad ~ October 4th, 2009

by Elizabeth Guenzler

The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, was the destination for this day. I knew next to nothing about Henry Ford prior to this visit but came to admire and respect his life's work and was amazed at the breadth of his collection and vision.

Henry Ford Museum History

Although Henry Ford became one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful industrialists, he never forgot the values of the rural life he had left behind growing up on a farm. His interest in collecting began in 1914, as he searched for McGuffey Readers to verify a long-remembered verse from one of his old grade school recitations. Soon, the clocks and watches he had loved tinkering with and repairing since childhood grew into a collection of their own. Before long, he was accumulating the objects of ordinary people, items connected with his heroes and from his own past, and examples of industrial progress.

In 1919, Henry Ford learned that his birthplace was at risk because of a road improvement project. He took charge, moving the farmhouse and restoring it to the way he remembered it from the time of his mother's death in 1876, when he was 13. He and his assistants combed the countryside for items that he remembered and insisted on tracking down. He followed this up by restoring his old one-room school, Scotch Settlement School; the 1686 Wayside Inn in South Sudbury, Massachusetts (with a plan to develop a "working" colonial village); and the 1836 Botsford Inn in Farmington, Michigan, a stagecoach inn where he and his wife Clara had once attended old-fashioned dances. These restorations gave Ford many opportunities to add to his rapidly growing collections while honing his ideas for his own historic village.

In the early 1920's, Henry Ford moved his growing hoard of antiques into a vacated tractor assembly building. The objects fit every description. Large items hung from rafters; smaller ones sat on makeshift benches and racks. Watches and clocks hung along the wall. Henry and his wife Clara enjoyed sharing their relics with others. Once people learned Ford was collecting objects for a museum, they flooded his office with letters offering to give or sell him antiques. Ford also sent out assistants to help him find and acquire the kinds of objects he felt were important to preserve. Goods intended for the museum arrived in Dearborn almost daily -- sometimes by the train-car full. By the late 1920's, Henry Ford had become the primary collector of Americana in the world.

Greenfield Village

Ford's historic village was to be organized around a village green, to include a courthouse, town hall, church, general store, tavern and school. Homes were installed along a road beyond the green. Industrial buildings, such as a carding mill, sawmill and gristmill were made operational. A centerpiece of the Village was the re-creation of the Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory complex where Thomas Edison had invented his electric lighting system. Henry Ford engaged Ford Motor Company draftsman Edward J. Cutler to draw up plans. The first buildings began arriving in 1928. Labourers dug foundations, reconstructed buildings, cleared trees, laid out roads and hauled supplies through muddy fields. Some buildings were designed right in the Village, at Ford's request.

While Cutler labored in the muddy fields of Greenfield Village, architect Robert O. Derrick was designing a large indoor museum adjacent to the historical village to house the objects Ford had collected. Derrick suggested that the facade should resemble Independence Hall and related buildings of Philadelphia, with a large "Exhibition Hall" in back. Since Henry Ford had rejected the notion of storage rooms, nearly everything had to be exhibited out in the open. The twelve-acre museum contained a glorious assemblage of stuff. To Ford, that assemblage represented the evolution of technological progress.

For nearly a decade after the museum officially opened to the public in 1933, visitors found it a work in progress. The exhibits would not be completed until the early 1940s. Henry Ford decided on October 21st, 1929 as the dedication date for his new museum and village -- marking the fiftieth anniversary of Thomas Edison's first successful experiment with a suitable approach to manufacturing an incandescent lamp. The night of the "Light's Golden Jubilee" celebration, crowds cheered as President Hoover, Edison and Ford ceremoniously arrived in a train pulled by an 1850's locomotive. After an elegant dinner in the museum, the three men went out to the restored Menlo Park Laboratory in Greenfield Village. There, the 82-year-old Edison re-created the lighting of his incandescent lamp. The event was broadcast live over national radio. Henry Ford named his new complex The Edison Institute of Technology, to honor his friend and lifelong hero Thomas Edison.

Henry Ford didn't consider Greenfield Village finished upon opening. He continued to select homes, mills and shops that he felt best reflected the way Americans had lived and worked, or that were associated with famous people he admired. Individuals even began to offer Ford historic structures for his Village. By the mid-1930s, several Village shops were staffed by people demonstrating traditional craft skills, including glassblowers, blacksmiths, weavers, shoemakers and potters. Visitors to Greenfield Village not only had the pleasure of watching the craftsmen work, they could also buy samples of their hand-crafted products. Craftsmen like brick makers and sawyers supported the Village restoration efforts. By the early 1940's, Greenfield Village had grown to over 70 buildings.

Early on, Henry Ford's vision for his Museum and Village was to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students. His philosophy of education was "learn to do by doing". He believed that "by looking at the things that people used and how they lived, a better and truer impression can be gained than could be had in a month of reading." It was a way of learning that Ford had experienced during his own childhood, and the way, in fact, that he himself learned best. In Henry Ford’s Edison Institute schools, students would learn not only from books, but also from objects and hands-on experiences.

Henry Ford's School

In September 1929, Henry Ford's Edison Institute school system began at Scotch Settlement School in Greenfield Village, with 32 grade school children. Students were taught using both traditional and progressive methods. Standard academic subjects like reading, arithmetic, geography and science were at the core of their studies. Pupils also used the artifacts and many of the historic buildings in the village for practical learning. Girls learned housekeeping skills while boys got experience operating machinery. Only when visitors pressed for regular access was the Village formally opened to the public. Ford made it clear that, despite the presence of paying guests, there was no place off-limits to the schoolchildren. As the original students grew older, grades and buildings were added to accommodate them and other students who attended the school. A high school with classrooms in the Museum was added in 1934, with the first graduating class in 1937. The Edison Institute of Technology -- a work-study engineering college -- was added in 1937, with classes and labs in the Recreation Building (later called Lovett Hall). Many historic buildings in Greenfield Village accommodated full-time student activities. It was "education through experience" everywhere. At its peak in 1940, 300 students were enrolled in the Edison Institute Schools. This school system also came to include rural schools in other parts of Michigan and other regions of the United States as well as in England and Brazil.

Our Visit

Bob, myself and Chris checked out of the Baymont Inn in Mount Pleasant and after breakfast at Bob Evans, and I drove us down to Dearborn.

The wrought iron sign that greeted us.

The entrance gates to Henry Ford Museum.

The statue of Henry Ford (1863-1947).

The tower which is the entrance to the museum.

The National Historic Landmark plaque.

Greenfield Village plaque.

The flower garden, parrt of the Josephine E. Ford Plaza.

The fountain at the entrance area.

The water wheel between Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

A mallard duck on the spillway in the pond area where the water wheel is located. We were met by Carrie Nolan, Manager of Film and Media Relations and she took us to the roundhouse where Matthew Goodman, steam mechanic and hostler, would give us a tour.

The Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee roundhouse plaque.

The front of the replica Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee roundhouse.

General Roundhouse information.

The board for running the Weiser Railroad.

The 1897 4-4-0 No. 7 that was Henry Ford's personal locomotive. It was restored in 2012.

"Edison", based on an 0-4-0 switcher locomotive built about 1870 by Manchester Locomotive Company. Henry Ford purchased the switcher from Edison Portland Cement Company in 1932 and had it rebuilt into a 4-4-0 wheel arrangement by staff at Ford Motor Company's Rouge locomotive shop.

Engine of the 1927 Plymouth switcher.

Roundhouse view.

The 1947 speeder that was recently restored and is used for track inspection after storms.

Detroit and Mackinac caboose, built 1912, undergoing restoration.

A hand car. We were then taken to the mezzanine level.

Michigan Central 4-4-2 8085 as seen from the mezzanine level of the roundhouse.

Builder's plate of Michigan Central 4-4-2 8085.

Looking down upon 4-4-0 1 "Edison". Next we were taken outside.

Part of the roundhouse, a replica of the 1884 Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee roundhouse at Marshall, Michigan. Parts were acquired by the Henry Ford Museum in 1992 and it was re-constructed using site plans and original photographs.

Naval Ammunition Depot 45-ton switcher 1 outside the roundhouse.

Detroit River Tunnel 120-ton crane 1, which was never used in that operation.

Detroit and Mackinac 0-6-0 8 (ex. C.A. Pinkerton {Detroit and Mackinac} 8, exx. A. Fivenson Iron and Metal Co, exxx. Huron Portland Cement 6, nee Michigan Alkali 8). The Detroit and Mackinac rebuilt the locomotive during the 1970's and it ran on a limited basis for their railroad employees until the steam locomotive, three passenger cars, and a caboose were donated to the museum in 1979.

The front of the steam engine.

The Greenfield Village water tank which can hold 3,900 gallons.

One of the vintage cars that travels the grounds. No modern vehicles are allowed.

Restored Chesapeake and Ohio boxcars.

The rear of the replica 1884 Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee roundhouse at Marshall, Michigan, which operated until 1930. Parts were acquired by the Henry Ford Museum in 1992 and it was re-constructed using site plans and original photographs.

Smith Creeks Depot plaque.

The Smiths Creek depot. It was then time for our first ride on the Weiser Railroad.

The history of the Weiser Railroad.

Calumet-Hecla Mining Company 0-6-4T 3 "Torch Lake", ready for the 10:00 departure. It was built by Mason-Bogie in 1873 and is the oldest continuing operating steam engine in the country. The three of us boarded the train and took seats in the last car.

One of the open passenger cars used on the Weiser Railroad.

The train curving on its way around Greenfield Village.

We passed a horse-drawn carriage.

The Ackley covered bridge from Cape Cod which is now at Greenfield Village.

The Noah Webster Home.

The lake and Henry Ford Academy buildings.

The train returned to Smiths Creek Depot and we took pictures of each other in front of the newest steam engine we had just ridden. Next it was off to explore the Henry Ford Museum itself. But we would have another ride before the day was done.

The main area I was interested in seeing was the railway section; in particular the huge Allegheny. Here is Chesapeake and Ohio 2-6-6-2 1601.

The information sign about the Allegheny steam engines.

Chris in the engineer's seat.

A replica of the DeWitt Clinton; the original was built in 1831.

Atlantic and Gulf 4-4-0 3 "Sam Hill" built 1958.

Canadian Pacific wedge snow plough 400859.

Bessemer and Lake Erie 2-8-0 154 built 1906.

Bangor and Aroostook coach.

The eagle and flag painting on the side of the BAR coach caught my eye. Since automobiles, aeroplanes and other parts of the collection hold no appeal to me, I did not visit those areas. However, if you want to see what else is housed in the Henry Ford Museum, here is the link to Chris Guenzler's story. Henry Ford Museum

A Michigan map with cities and notable attractions/industries. I was so taken with this that I bought a mug with this diagram on it.

The Michigan Cafe sign.

The very clever display of all the components of the Model T.

The Home Art section - furniture, bureaus, et cetera.

Chairs in the Furntiure of America section.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts clocks. For me, it was this area that was the most interesting, after the railway section of course! After lunch and when we had seen everything we wanted, we returned to the Weiser Railroad for another ride.

The wig-wag crossing signal.

Windmill on the Greenfield Village grounds.

Band stand.

Looking through the front of the passenger car to the steam engine.

The steam train starting off from the station midway through our second ride.

"Torch Lake" performing a blowdown in the forest.

Working its way around the loop.

One of the signals of the Weiser Railroad. All signalling of the 2.5 mile loop is maintained by the Canadian National Railway.

Another vintage car passing our train.

The track of the Weiser Railroad curving in front of our train.

Old-time baseball being played at Walnut Grove.

Henry Ford Academy Village Campus, housed in former railroad cars.

Another of the signals along the Weiser Railroad.

The roundhouse and water tower. The train returned to the station and we detrained then visited the gift shop before leaving. We drove Chris to the airport for his flight back to California and Bob and I stayed overnight and flew home to Seattle the next day.

Even though there were parts of the Henry Ford Museum that did not interest me, to say I was impressed by the museum and Greenfield Village is an understatement. What an incredible collection of 300 years of American history and it is somewhere everyone should visit, and I would definitely go back.