Saturday, March 04, 2017

Greenfield Village, 1954

Today I have some nice vintage photos of Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Please see this post from 2015 for some info about this amazing place that I want to visit someday!

Greenfield Village was arranged very much like a small town (or, er, village) with streets and avenues. There was a chapel, and historic houses, an old steam train, a Netherlands-style windmill, and lots more. 

Take a look at this vintage souvenir map to get a better idea of what it was like in the old days!

I don't know if this sleepy road had a name (the maps don't help, or I should say they don't help me), but it appears to be an approximation of a "typical" American street. I am guessing that it was here that you might have found Luther Burbank's birthplace, the McGuffey birthplace (as in William McGuffey, author of the famous "McGuffey Readers"), and the Mattox family home (Amos and Grace Mattox were descendants of slaves, and they lived in this home during the Great Depression). 

This photo shows the "Clock Tower" - a replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall - which was built in 1929. The man in charge of building the replica wanted to correct some architectural errors that are present in Independence Hall, but Henry Ford insisted that it be built as an exact duplicate, errors and all. So "...the columns. that protrude from the brick are out of line by a few inches and the windows are off center and not at the same height". 

I wonder if Walter Knott insisted on preserving these same errors when his replica of Independence Hall was built?

Henry Ford was a great admirer of Thomas Edison, and had worked for the inventor at the Edison Illuminating Company's "Station A" in Detroit in 1896. While this is a replica of that building, it has been reduced in scale and includes features from other Edison facilities. Hey, I can live with it!

I'll have more from Greenfield Village in a future post.


Nanook said...


I love the map - it's so folksy and fun. The light green car in the last image is a 1949 Ford. (It could be a 1950 - I need a bit more resolution for certainty), but I'm calling it a 1949 model year.

Eat your heart out Celebration-! This may be the 'real deal'.

Thanks, Major.

Mike said...

I used to live in Michigan and visted there several times starting in early childhood. At one point my wife and I even had annual memberships with unlimited visits. There was also a Suwanee Riverboat reminiscent of river boat rides at Disney. Thanks for this blast of my past.

I just now looked up the Suwanee and found this whole blog which I hadn’t previously known about - all about Greenfield Village!

Unknown said...

Great stuff, Major. Just one more stop for my meander across the country trip.

Steve DeGaetano said...

As most may know, Greenfield Village played a significant role as inspiration for Disneyland--from it's quaint townscape to its riverboat to its steam train. Walt and Ward Kimball spent two days exploring the museum in the summer of 1948 on their way home from the Chicago Railroad Fair, and Walt jotted down copious notes afterward on the train trip home. A few days later, he composed an internal memo - the very first time he would describe his "Mickey Mouse Park."

Chuck said...

I always enjoy a side trip to Greenfield Village, Major!

In the first photo, we are looking southeast down Christie Street at the corner of Christie and Main. On the left is the post office & apothecary (same structure) from Phoenixville, Connecticut (number 22 on your map). On the right is a reproduction 1870-80s tintype studio (number 21 on your map), literally built the day before Greenfield Village's grand opening on October 21st, 1929.

Father down the street on the right, across Cheapside Street, is Town Hall (number 65), an "artist's (or maybe 'architect's') impression) of an early-1800s Greek Revival civic building. It faces the Village Green across the street and to the left, which is situated between Michigan and Middlesex Avenues (Michigan and Cheapside were slightly offset from each other).

Further down on the right, beyond Middlesex Ave, is a cluster of historic buildings associated with Thomas Edison. Based on the location, it appears to be the machine shop.

Moving back across Christie Street to the left, beyond the Village Green, you can catch a glimpse of a cluster of structures, a grouping of slave cabins (number 34). Very few slave cabins have been preserved, and it's remarkable that Henry Ford did this in the late '20s, '30s, and '40s as part of an exhibit on African-American contributions to American history that included a memorial to George Washington Carver.

Major, part of the reason the maps aren't helping you is that buildings and streets have been moved and renamed since these photos were taken. While Christie Street has retained its name, every other street in this photo has been renamed. The Main Street in this photo was torn up, and a new street, State Street, was laid out at about a 30° angle to the north off of the old alignment. Cheapside and Michigan were slightly realigned to make a continuous street and renamed Main Street. Middlesex Ave on the right side of this photo is now the northeast portion of Washington Blvd, and Middlesex to the left is now Post Road. The post office and tintype studio were moved elsewhere on property to make room for a pavilion events center and a playground, respectively.

The bus parked in front of the Clock Tower in the second photo is a 1938 Flxible Clipper. It's wearing the livery of Chambers Sight Seeing of Detroit. While they don't appear to be in business any longer, I did learn that they were founded in 1916.

Many thanks to E. Michael Gannon for providing that link to the "gfv1929" blog!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I was wondering if you would be able to ID that car with only 1/3 of it showing! I also wonder why it was there in the middle of Greenfield Village; seems hard to believe that it belonged to a visitor.

E Michael Gannon, I sure wish I could have seen the place as it was years ago. I’ve seen that blog (while researching my two G.V. posts), but it is a great one!

Patrick Devlin, if you go, take lots of pictures.

Steve DeGaetano, I did mention the Walt connection in my 2015 Greenfield Village post, but you went into much more detail. It’s fun to look at things like the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair and see how many concepts look so familar to Disneyland fans.

Chuck, you did your “Chuck thing”, hooray! Thank you for all of the great info. I know that this place is in your neck of the woods (more or less), hopefully you have visited it often? I’m surprised how much you can glean from that first photo, to me most of the buildings are kind of hard to discern. I knew about the slave cabins, but you are right, it IS remarkable that Henry Ford included them in his town, especially considering some of his unfortunate views about some other people. Interesting that entire streets and buildings have been moved around - seems like a lot of work, but I guess when you’re Henry Ford, you can afford to do whatever you want. Thanks again for all of your research (I assume it was research and that you didn't just know all of that stuff!).

Chuck said...

Major, I've actually only been to Greenfield Village twice (1977 & 1993; see my comments on your 2015 post), but it did leave a big impression.

My comment today was largely research-based, but having fairly clear memories of parts of Greenfield Village and a passing interest in mid-century buses ("Hey - that looks like a Flxible. A Clipper, maybe? Let me look it up...") helped me focus where to look. The changes at Greenfield Village really threw me for a while, though. This 1968 map was a real help.