Travel

Henry Ford's inspiring Greenfield Village

If you think about the places or trips that inspired you to travel, you probably don’t have to look too far beyond your own backyard.

Maybe it was a weekend on Mackinac Island? Or a week on a Lake Michigan beach? A trip to Chicago? For me, the seminal moment was closer to home: a field trip to Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

That third-grade adventure transported me far from the classroom and my neighborhood of cookie-cutter ranch homes to a new world – a historical Disneyland. I had spent most of the spring reading dusty biographies of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank and Abraham Lincoln, and suddenly there I was traipsing through the farmhouse of Ford’s boyhood and a rural Illinois courthouse where a young Lincoln argued cases.

Ford’s outdoor museum breathed life into the 19th century and stoked a lifelong passion for history and travel. And while I’ve ventured far since, I return to Greenfield Village every year and look forward to its opening every spring.

One of the cool things about the outdoor complex is that it never remains staid. There’s always something new. This year a coaling tower was built for the Weiser Railroad. The Pottery Shop in the Liberty Craftworks district has been renovated, and this marks the first full year of operation for the Donald F. Kosch Playground. The historically themed playscape opened last fall and includes a boardable 1931 Ford Model A truck and a 20-foot-long boiler tunnel kids can climb through. What fun.

It always amazes me to hear locals say they haven’t been to the Village in years. That’s too bad, because a lot has changed. About a decade ago, the Village underwent a major refurbishment. Old-fashioned lampposts were installed. Thousands of trees were planted. A new entrance was created. And perhaps most importantly, the hodgepodge of historical structures were grouped into themed districts. Ford’s boyhood home, for example, is among a series of buildings called Henry Ford’s Model T, which traces his life from humble beginnings to the founding of his global company. You can even take a ride in a Model T.

Greenfield Village is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, visit thehenryford.org.

Greg Tasker
Greg Tasker is Detroit News Arts and Entertainment Editor and has been writing about travel for more than a decade. His travel stories have appeared in AAA Living, Frommer's Budget Travel, Scouting, AMC Outdoors, Vermont Life and Island Life.