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Smiling woman in pink dress and white bonnet holds a tray of food in a large room with low ceilings and long wooden tablesServer shows off an array of pastries at Eagle Tavern, 2007. Photograph by Michelle Andonian. / THF54295


April 1, 1982, was a momentous day in Greenfield Village! That was the day that Eagle Tavern opened to the public. It was our first historic dining experience—the result of months of research, recipe selection and testing, and interpretive planning. How did all this come about?

Black-and-white photo of people standing outside and on the first- and second-story balconies of a long wooden building with many columns
Historical presenters and food service staff pose in front of Eagle Tavern to celebrate the new dining experience, 1982. / THF237355

The Food Committee


It started when we took a chance on a young museum leader named Harold Skramstad, who became our president in 1981. Faced with a severe financial crisis at the time, Skramstad built a case around our “world-class” status and “unique historical resources.” This led to the creation of our first mission statement, which focused upon the process of change in America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation. Following that, Skramstad created several task forces and committees, each charged with developing plans to carry out our mission through a variety of public programs. This included the mysteriously named Food Committee. It turned out that this committee—comprised of curators, food service staff, and interpretation specialists—was charged with exploring ways to bring our food offerings in line with our overall interpretive framework.

Man in suspenders and cap stands in front of cart filled with baskets, with two children nearby
Food vendor in Greenfield Village. / THF133689

Soon, new food experiences began to appear. Through the Food Committee’s collaborative efforts, vendors hawked fruit and penny candy from rolling carts like those that had been seen on urban street corners a century ago. At the Covered Bridge Lunch Stand (now Mrs. Fisher’s), visitors could partake of turn-of-the-century picnic lunches. With the help of diner expert Richard Gutman—who informed us that we possessed the last remaining lunch wagon in existence—the Owl Night Lunch Wagon was overhauled to look more like a late-19th-century lunch wagon, featuring a more historic menu. But Eagle Tavern became our “crown jewel,” as we proposed turning this historic inn into a sit-down full-service restaurant with period food and drink.

What had the building been like before this?

Clinton Inn


Woman stands in front of long, two-story building with columns
Ella Smith, the final owner, in front of the inn on its original site in Clinton, Michigan, circa 1905. / THF110475

In 1927—searching for a stagecoach tavern for his Village Green—Henry Ford found and purchased this imposing 1830s-era inn. From Clinton, Michigan, it was situated along what once had been the main stagecoach road between Detroit and Chicago. Over the years, the inn had gone through several proprietors and name changes, from Parks Tavern to Eagle Tavern to the Union Hotel to Smith’s Hotel. When Henry Ford had the building reconstructed in Greenfield Village, he gave it the generic name Clinton Inn.

Enclosed carriages drawn by horses outside a two-story building
Carriages waiting for passengers at Clinton Inn. / THF120768

From 1929 into the 1950s, the building served as a cafeteria for students attending the Edison Institute schools. Ford enlarged the back of the structure for that purpose. When Greenfield Village officially opened to the public in 1933, Clinton Inn became the starting point for public carriage tours.

Orange paper with image of two-story white building at top and small calendar page below; also contains text
1950 calendar for Greenfield Village, featuring Clinton Inn. / THF8882

In the 1950s, the building transitioned from a student lunchroom to a public cafeteria. That was still its use when I first started working at The Henry Ford (then called Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village) in 1977. Also when I started, Clinton Inn’s so-called “colonial kitchen” was used for fireplace cooking classes as part of the institution’s Adult Education Program.

Why Eagle Tavern?


Why did we choose the Eagle Tavern era to interpret? To establish a date for the historic dining experience, we looked to primary sources, as we do when we research all of our historic structures. These sources, which help us uncover the esoteric details of the past, included probate records, property deeds, tax and census records, and local newspapers. Through this research, we found that a farmer named Calvin Wood ran this tavern from 1849 to 1854, with his wife Harriet, Harriet’s daughter Irene, and additional hired help from town or the neighboring countryside. In keeping with the patriotic spirit of the time, Wood named the place Eagle Tavern.

We decided that we liked this early 1850s date. Not only did we have decent documentation on Calvin Wood, but it was also an interesting era for changes in cooking ingredients and cookbooks (both more available than before) as well as public dining practices and customs (toward more choices for individual diners, better table etiquette, more formalized meals and menus, and more specialized table settings).

The 1850s date also dovetailed with our new mission statement—about change over time—in larger ways that were transforming the entire nation at the time. These included social movements like temperance, abolition, and women’s rights; advancements in transportation, from horse-drawn vehicles to speedy railroads; and improved communication networks, as the telegraph swiftly brought the latest news to the public. Significant national events like the California Gold Rush and the Mexican War were also impacting many people’s lives.

Horses and carriages passing on a road in front of a long, three-story building with a row of trees in front; also contains text
A variety of horse-drawn vehicles passing in front of a Middletown, Connecticut, tavern, 1842–47. / THF204148

Engraving of railroad car with people visible at front and back and through the windows
Michigan Central Railroad car, 1848. / THF147798

Researching the Food


My primary task in creating the Eagle Tavern dining experience was to find out what and how people ate during this era. I delved deeply into period sources looking for clues to these questions, including travelers’ accounts, etiquette books, merchants’ account books, newspaper ads, and historical reminiscences.

Within these sources, I found several quite eye-opening entries, like that of Isabella Bird, a British traveler who described this meal placed in front of her at a Chicago hotel in 1856: “…eight boiled legs of mutton, nearly raw; six antiquated fowls, whose legs were of the consistency of guitar-strings; baked pork with “onion fixings,” the meat swimming in grease; and for vegetables, yams, corn-cobs, and squash. A cup of stewed tea, sweetened by molasses, was at each plate…The second course consisted exclusively of pumpkin-pies.”

It’s probably good that we didn’t take these accounts completely literally when we developed the Eagle Tavern dining experience!

From these research sources, I learned that tavern fare would have come from a combination of local farms (especially, in this case, Calvin Wood’s own farm), from the fields and woods of the surrounding area, and using ingredients that would have been purchased from local merchants.

Spiral-bound page with text and image of wooden table set with food and drink
A cold plate featuring chicken salad, pictured in the 1988 Eagle Tavern Cookbook. / THF121002

The primary components of a tavern meal would have consisted of meat, vegetables and fruits (in various forms), and breadstuffs. Meat was the predominant component of the tavern meal, served in much greater quantity than today. Often, two or more meats were served at one meal. Pork, the staple food of many midwestern settlers, was the most popular meat, served in a variety of forms—including roasted, salted, baked, and as bacon, smoked ham, sausage, or spareribs. Chickens, easy to raise on farms, lent themselves to many dishes. They also could supply eggs. In fact, Lansing Swan, traveling through Sturgis, Michigan, in 1841, wrote: “We had an excellent dinner, warm cakes, tea, etc. bacon and eggs. I have eaten them until I am ashamed to see a hen and can hardly look a respectable porker in the face.”

Beef contributed to a portion of the tavern meals, as did wild game and fish from local lakes and rivers. Oysters were also popular at the time, packed on ice and transported in barrels from the East coast.

Spiral-bound page containing text and photo of chopped and whole vegetables on wooden surface
An array of vegetables for Eagle Tavern dishes, pictured in the 1988 Eagle Tavern Cookbook. / THF121001

As for vegetables, root crops lasted throughout the year and they stored easily. Potatoes were especially popular, as described in this southern Michigan meal by Charles Hoffman in 1833: “…hot rolls, tea, large pieces of pork swimming in its gravy, and a plate of potatoes that pulverized when you touched them.” Cabbage, onions, turnips, and carrots were other root crops frequently found in the research. Less hardy vegetables, like tomatoes and cucumbers, were served in season or preserved as catsups, sauces, or pickles. Pumpkins, squash, and corn were usually served in season or preserved for later use.

Fruits were served fresh in season, dried, or made into preserves, sauces, or pickles. Of these, apples were most frequently used as they were incredibly versatile—preserved, cooked, or baked into numerous dishes. Peaches, pears, apricots, grapes, and berries of all sorts were also found in the accounts. Wild strawberries were specifically called out several times by traveler Lansing Swan, in 1841. In Ypsilanti, Swan “got an excellent supper for 25 cents and many large delicious strawberries with rich cream.” Farther west, in Jackson, he happily remarked that he was, “Just in time for tea with strawberries and cream.” In Niles, he and his companion “came in time for another strawberry repast and a rich one it was. We had a new dish, ‘Strawberry Short Cake,’ very fine indeed.” And before leaving Niles the next morning, he partook of one last “strawberry breakfast.” Raisins, dried figs, prunes, currants, and citron were listed in grocery store ads and could be purchased.

Red pottery bowl containing a variety of muffins and bread rolls
A variety of muffins and rolls served at Eagle Tavern, 2007. Photograph by Michelle Andonian. / THF54331

Breadstuffs contributed substantially to tavern meals, mentioned often in travel accounts as a meal accompaniment—but not always with approval! For example, Cyrus Bradley, dining in a tavern between Detroit and Pontiac in 1835, remarked: “The milk was sweet, but the bread was dry and stale and as it began to saturate, the little red bugs rose, kicking most lustily, to the surface, where they were immediately skimmed off and most barbarously committed to the flames.”

Wheat flour and cornmeal were processed at local mills and could be used for baking breads, rolls, biscuits. Charles Hoffman, in 1833, remarked that Michigan had the “best wheat bread in the world.”

Creating the Menus


From all of these accounts, I created a master list of dishes and ingredients. Then I perused every historic cookbook I could find. Fortunately, the number of printed cookbooks was on the rise by the mid-19th century, although measurements, cooking times, and temperatures were not precise—which is why so much recipe testing had to be done. Within the pages of these cookbooks, I searched for recipes that were specifically referenced in historic accounts, those that seemed regional, and those that included ingredients on my researched ingredients list.

Blue cover that contains text as well as line drawing of children working around a cooking pot suspended over a fire
The Good Housekeeper, from 1841, was one of several cookbooks perused for possible recipes. / THF120853

I organized my collected recipes by type—for instance, entrees, pastries, soups, vegetables—and then spent innumerable hours with the food service managers at Eagle Tavern debating and selecting the final recipes. The managers brought up constraints that I would never have considered as a curator—including modern cost and availability of ingredients as well as the durability of certain dishes on the steam table that was still being used from the old cafeteria setup. Probably our most animated conversations related to how adventurous we thought modern visitors would be in trying things that were different and unusual—like mock turtle soup and beef tongue! Once determined, the agreed-upon recipes were tested by food service cooks (this predated having chefs on staff) who, after weeks of testing, invited us to a grand two-day food tasting.

Page with text in multiple columns
Elaborate Bill of Fare for Thanksgiving Day, 1847, at the Adams House in Boston, Massachusetts. / THF147797

At the same time, I searched for examples of historic menus from the era to see what constituted a tavern meal. As it turned out, most tavern meals started with soup and ended with a dessert course of dried fruit and nuts. (The phrase “from soup to nuts” must have originated at this time!) The Eagle Tavern menu, or “Bill of Fare,” was laid out much like the historic menus of the time but included a simpler selection of dishes that were regionally and seasonally appropriate. Today, the Eagle Tavern Bills of Fare still follow these guidelines.

Menu with some printed and some hand-written text
Eagle Tavern’s first Bill of Fare, Spring 1982. / THF123845

The Dining Experience


According to travel narratives of the era, tavern dining was fast and furious. For example, one traveler in Chicago in 1836 wrote: “…every man for himself, and none for his neighbor; hurrying, snatching, gulping, like famished wildcats; victuals disappearing as if by magic.” Partly, this was because there were often more patrons than space at the one “common table” in an inn. To resolve this, diners often took turns eating, as James Logan described in a hotel in Detroit in 1838: “Very little conversation took place, each individual seemed to hurry on as fast as possible, and the moment one finished he rose and went away. There was not change of plates, knives, or forks, every thing being eaten off the same plate, excepting pudding, which was taken in saucers.”

For the Eagle Tavern dining experience, we knew we were not about to recreate James Logan’s experience! But how, we wondered, could we simulate the concept of the “common table” for modern visitors? Fortunately, because of the spacious cafeteria area that Henry Ford had added to the building back in the 1920s, we found that we could furnish the space with not one but several tables that simulated communal dining. It also gave us the option of seating people at separate tables if additional privacy were desired.

Black-and-white photo of table setting with plate, fork, knife, napkin, cup, and saucer on wooden table
The Eagle Tavern table setting was also the result of historical research, found in Catherine Beecher’s 1850 Domestic Receipt Book. / THF147807

Today’s dining experience at Eagle Tavern is much like it was back when we first created this experience almost 40 years ago. To me, Eagle Tavern was—and still is—one of the best historic dining experiences around!


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

Eagle Tavern, restaurants, research, Michigan, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, food, by Donna R. Braden, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

In 1927, Greenfield Village was “born,” as Henry Ford began to acquire buildings and move them to Dearborn for his historical village. The first building Ford bought was the Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), which came from the village of Clinton, Mich., about 45 miles west.

thf237242
Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) on its original site in Clinton, Mich., mid-1920s. THF237242 


The dilapidated 1831 stagecoach inn had stood on the Chicago Road in Clinton for almost 100 years. Ella Smith, its owner, still lived in the badly deteriorated building. As Henry Ford’s agents stood inside the crumbling structure, they worried it might collapse. One of Ford’s assistants observed, “There was only one man in 4,000 that would consider it anything but a pile of junk.” Yet, Henry Ford’s vision and resources assured that this early 1830s inn--built when Michigan was still a territory--survived.

thf123744
The Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) in Greenfield Village, August 1929. THF123747


By summer 1929, the inn stood--restored--on the village green, as Greenfield Village continued to take shape around it.

You can find more Eagle Tavern artifacts in our digital collections.


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Learn more here about The Henry Ford's history as we celebrate our 90th year

THF90, Eagle Tavern, Greenfield Village

EI.1929.730_Eagle_Tavern

We’re continuing with the project we started this summer, digitizing materials related to our historic buildings in Greenfield Village. This week, we’ve added images of Eagle Tavern. Today, Eagle Tavern is a great place to have a historically authentic meal or beverage (either temperance or non-temperance). However, when Henry Ford acquired it in 1927 from its original location in Clinton, Michigan, the building was in a state of deep disrepair. This sheet shows this poor condition from a couple of different angles. Visit our collections website to view nearly 100 artifacts depicting or related to Eagle Tavern.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Eagle Tavern, Michigan, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, food, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl, beverages

Earlier this year Mother Nature Network posted a story about root vegetables with the headline “the most underappreciated produce.” While root vegetables might not have the glossy, shiny look of other produce finds in the grocery store today, they’re a staple for winter cooking and an important part of our diets for hundreds of years.

What is a root vegetable? Potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, rutabagas, beets, onions, garlic and yams are all root vegetables.

In the 18th century, fellow root vegetables skirrets and Jerusalem artichokes were common in many diets, along with the above offerings. During this time period, Americans’ palates were very explorative and diverse and included many takes on root vegetable preparation.

Take for example radishes. While radishes can often be found in our salads today as a small garnish, centuries ago they were grown to have large roots to consume. On the opposite hand, however, about 20 years before the Civil War, the carrot had primarily been viewed as a field crop; something you’d give to your horse to eat, not something to enjoy as a snack.

Families stored their vegetables in cellars or even in the ground during cold, winter months. From soups to stews and more, having a good supply of vegetables to choose from allowed the cook to experiment with different dishes.

Root vegetables would be cooked and dressed as part of the meal; eating them raw was unheard of, and is actually a relatively new way of enjoying them. Often times the vegetables would be cooked over an open fire with that day’s meat selection on a game roaster. Spices were added to the cooking for additional flavor.

As Americans diets and palates changed after the Civil War, the diversity in what we consumed changed into a less-exciting offering. Gone were the creative uses families a generation early had enjoyed.

At The Henry Ford today, we work hard to show our visitors what life was like for families who relied on what they created themselves; root vegetables are obviously a big part of that. Not only can you visit our homes and learn more about how a family, like the Daggetts, Firestones or Fords, prepared items like root vegetables in their own kitchens, you can taste them for yourself at one one of our restaurants.

If you’re curious to learn more about recipes including root vegetables, try looking at:

  • “The Compleat Housewife” by Eliza Smith
  • “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons
  • “The Frugal Housewife” by Susannah Carter
  • “The Art of Cookery” by Hannah Glasse
  • The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a step out of your comfort zone and try a new-to-you root vegetable. When you try something new, make sure to tell us what you thought of it and how you prepared it. To get you thinking, try these recipes for chicken fricassee with root vegetables and braised rabbit.

    Chicken Fricassee with Root Vegetables
    INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 chicken breasts, large dice
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 2 cups root vegetables, medium dice (parsnips, rutabaga and sweet potato)
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • TT salt & pepper
  • 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
  • METHOD

  • Sauté chicken in butter in a hot large skillet until brown, take out of pan, reserve.
  • Add onions, root vegetables, thyme and bay leaf to pan and cook through.
  • Add white wine and reduce by half then add the cream, chicken and nutmeg and simmer for 6-8 minutes until chicken is cooked thorough and sauce thickens.
  • Season with lemon, salt and pepper, top with parsley.
  • Can be served with buttered noodles or other favorite side.
  • Eagle Tavern's Braised Rabbit
    INGREDIENTS

  • 1 whole rabbit, 2.5-3 pounds
  • As needed all-purpose flour
  • Oil or butter to brown
  • 1 cup Spanish onion, large dice
  • 1/2 cup carrot, large dice
  • 1/2 cup celery, large dice
  • 1/4 cup turnip, large dice
  • 1/4 cup rutabaga, large dice
  • 1 cup red skin potatoes, large dice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 6 cups chicken or rabbit stock
  • TT salt and pepper
  • METHOD

  • Remove legs and arms off of rabbit with a sharp knife.
  • With a large knife or cleaver, chop off rib cage and tail portion for stock (if time permits roast these portions until brown and add to simmering chicken stock for bolder flavor).
  • Heat a braising pan or Dutch style oven until warm, season and dust rabbit pieces with flour and add slowly to pan to brown. By adding too quickly you will shock the pan and not allow proper browning and the rabbit may stick to the pan.
  • When rabbit has been nicely browned, take out of pan and reserve on a platter.
  • Add onion, carrots and celery, cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat then add remaining vegetables, potatoes and herbs, cook for 4-5 minutes more.
  • Add the rabbit back into the pot and then the stock.
  • Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for 1.5 hours or until the leg portions are tender and fall off the bone.
  • When tender add salt and pepper, taste adjust as needed.
  • Divide into four bowls and enjoy.
  • Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

    Greenfield Village buildings, restaurants, Greenfield Village, Eagle Tavern, recipes, by Lish Dorset, food

    When you think of drinks at Eagle Tavern, does a classic cocktail come to mind? Many guests are often surprised to find that not only does Eagle Tavern serve some of the tastiest food from mid-19th-century Michigan, but also serves a selection of delicious alcoholic beverages from the time period. From punches to mint juleps, a meal at Eagle Tavern is definitely complete with a cocktail. However, if you're more temperance-minded, we do have several effervescing drinks to choose from, too, on our menu in the restaurant.

    Photo by Doug Coombe for Yelp.com

    Earlier this summer we hosted a historic-themed cocktail party in Eagle Tavern for Yelp.com members. They got to try a few of our favorite cocktails while enjoying Eagle Tavern fare and the sounds of Picks & Sticks. That night we had our guests try the Calvin, Maple Bourbon Sour, Mint Julep, Raspberry Shrub and even a Firkin offering. If you're curious to try a drink from the Eagle Tavern bar, try one of these recipes during your next happy hour.

    Raspberry Shrub from Eagle Tavern

    The Calvin from Eagle Tavern

    Maple Bourbon Sour from The Henry Ford

    Need some inspiration to help you start mixing? Here are some offerings from our online store:

  • Mixes
  • Cherry Shrub
  • Ginger Shrub
  • Strawberry Shrub
  • (To see more photos from our Yelp Evening of Historic Cocktails, take a look at their Flickr photo set.)

    Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

    Eagle Tavern, recipes, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, events, by Lish Dorset, beverages