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Machine with multiple rollers arranged in an arch shape with a conveyor belt filled with wool leading up to it

THF91531 (photographed by John Sobczak)

Carding mills became extremely popular in 19th-century America because the machines used in them mechanized the laborious hand process of straightening and combing wool fibers—an important step in preparing yarn and making woolen cloth. Customers were happy to let others handle this incredibly tedious job while using their own skill and creativity to control the final product.

Two wooden paddles
Before carding mills, farm families prepared wool by hand using hand cards like these. / THF183701

Between 1840 and 1880, Michigan farmers raised millions of sheep, whose wool was turned into yarn and woolen goods. The Civil War, especially, caused a demand for wool, as it became the raw material for soldiers’ uniforms. Afterward, while the highest quality woolen broadcloth for men’s clothing was still imported from England, a growing number of wool mills (mostly small and local, but some larger ones, especially in New England) produced lower-end woolen goods like flannel (for work shirts, summer coats, and overcoat linings), men’s and children’s underwear, blankets, and rugs.

Sheep graze on a grass lawn with a white house surrounded by a white picket fence in the background
Sheep graze outside of Henry Ford’s boyhood home in Greenfield Village / THF1937

Farmers who raised large flocks of sheep might sell their raw wool to local merchants or to dealers who shipped it directly to a small wool mill in the local area or a large wool mill in New England. But most farm families raised a modest flock of sheep and spun their own wool into yarn, which they used at home for knitted goods. They might also take their spun yarn or items they knitted to their local general store for credit to purchase other products they needed in the store.

While sawmills and gristmills were the first types of mills established in newly-formed communities, carding mills rapidly became popular—particularly in rural areas where sheep were raised. While the tradition of wool spinning at home continued well into the 19th century, machine carding took the tedious process of hand carding out of the home. Learn more about the mechanization of carding in this blog post.

Etching of machine with multiple rollers arranged in an arch shape; also contains text
Faster and more efficient carding machines replaced traditional carding methods in the 19th century. / THF621302

At the carding mill, raw wool from sheep was transformed into straightened rolls of wool, called rovings—the first step to finished cloth. Faster and more efficient carding machines at these mills replaced the hand cards traditionally used at home (by women and children) for this process. Through the end of the 19th century, carding mills provided this carding service for farm families, meeting the needs of home spinners.

Conveyor belt with wool on it, headed for a machine with a series of large rollers
“Picked” wool that has been loosened and cleaned, ready to be fed into a carding machine / THF91532 (photographed by John Sobczak)

Young Henry Ford was a member one of these farm families. Henry fondly remembered accompanying his father on trips to John Gunsolly’s carding mill (now in Greenfield Village) from their farm in Springwells Township (now part of Dearborn, Michigan)—traveling about 20 miles and waiting to have the sheared wool from his father’s sheep run through the carding machine. There it would be combed, straightened, and shaped into loose fluffy rovings, ready for spinning. The Ford family raised a modest number of sheep (according to the 1880 Agricultural Census, the family raised 13 sheep that year), so they likely brought the rovings back to spin at home, probably for knitting.


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

Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, making, Henry Ford, home life, agriculture, manufacturing, by Donna R. Braden

Head and torso of man with beard/sideburns around the edge of his face, wearing jacket

Dr. Alonson B. Howard, Jr. in his early 40s, 1865–66 / THF109611

Since 1963, Greenfield Village has been home to the office of a country doctor named Alonson Bingley Howard, Jr. This modest, red-painted building was originally located near the village of Tekonsha, about 15 miles south of Marshall in south central Michigan. Back in 1855, Dr. Howard set up his medical practice inside this building, which had begun life as a one-room schoolhouse. After Dr. Howard’s death in 1883, his wife, Cynthia, padlocked the building with all its contents inside.

Room with one window and shelves covering almost all visible wall space, containing bottles, jars, papers, books
Interior of Dr. Howard’s office on its original site before its move to Greenfield Village, ca. 1956 / THF109609

There it remained, undisturbed, until the 1930s, when Dr. Howard’s great-grandson, Howard Washburn, began to take a deep interest in the building’s history. He not only sifted through his great-grandfather’s papers and medical books, but also collected reminiscences from those who still remembered him. Washburn was ultimately instrumental in the move of the building to Greenfield Village, which occurred between 1959 and 1961.

Small red building with white trim set on green lawn with trees, roads, and a streetlamp nearby
Dr. Howard’s office in its location in Greenfield Village since 2003. / THF1696

During a major renovation of Greenfield Village in 2003, Dr. Howard’s office was moved to its current location on the Village Green. The building’s history received new scrutiny and the interior was refurbished to the era of his medical practice in the early 1860s.

To prepare for a September 2020 filming of an episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, I had the opportunity to revisit and expand upon our knowledge of Dr. Howard’s background, medical practice, and the community within which he lived and worked. By looking at new sources and asking new questions, a more nuanced picture than ever before emerges.

Meet Dr. Howard


During the 1830s and 1840s, white settlement grew by leaps and bounds in southern Michigan. Those particularly prone to “emigration fever” at the time came from New England and upstate New York (following the path of the Erie Canal, completed in 1825). The emigration of the Howard family to Michigan followed a typical pattern of white settlement to the area.

Portrait of man in suitcoat, jacket or vest, and tie, sitting with hands crossed on knee, in intricate frame; also contains text
Dr. Howard’s father, Alonson Howard Sr., ca. 1860 / THF237220

Alonson Howard Jr. was 20 years old when his family (parents and six siblings) emigrated from Sweden, New York (about 19 miles west of Rochester) to Michigan in 1843. The Howard family settled in Tekonsha Township, Calhoun County, Michigan. Alonson Sr., 45 years old at the time of his family’s emigration to Michigan, purchased farmland for all seven of his children. This farmland was located on a flat, heavily wooded plain of the St. Joseph River called the Windfall section (so named because of the “chaos” of fallen timber that had not been cleared). The family farm was appropriately named Windfall Farm.

Three buildings among trees along a road
The office can be seen at left, along the road in front of Windfall Farm, 1956 / THF237140

In 1844, Alonson Jr. married Letitia Cone (1823–57), whose family had emigrated to Michigan from upstate New York during the 1830s. They had three children: Ella (1846–48), Herbert (1849–63), and Truman (1852–1923). In the 1850 census, Alonson Jr. referred to himself as a farmer.

Framed portrait of woman in dress with hair in two long coils on either side of her face, holding a young child
Dr. Howard’s wife, Cynthia, holding daughter Letitia (named after his first wife), 1865-66 / THF237222

Sadly, Alonson Jr.’s wife, Letitia, passed away in 1857. In August 1858, he married Cynthia Coryell Edmunds (1832 or 1833–99). Her family, originally from New England, had emigrated to Calhoun County in the 1830s by way of New York, Canada, and Ohio. According to family reminiscences, Cynthia was greatly loved by both family members and neighbors. She was “an easy housekeeper,” an excellent cook, a gentle, loving person, and an indulgent stepmother to Truman and Herbert. Family lore recounts she feared the Howard relatives might think she had been neglectful of Herbert when he tragically died of measles (a deadly infectious disease at the time) in 1863.

Four children with glum expressions
Alonson Jr. and Cynthia’s four children, ca. 1870. Front, left to right: Mattie, Camer, and Letitia; rear: Manchie / THF109605

Four children were born to Alonson Jr. and Cynthia: Manchie (1861–1921), Letitia (1864–1936), Mattie (1865–1940), and Camer (1868–1936). According to family history, both Manchie and Camer were named for Native American friends of their father.

Man with hair brushed back and white beard, wearing jacket
Dr. Howard, ca. 1880 / THF228450

As the decades passed, Alonson Jr. seems to have increasingly chosen medical practice as a full-time occupation over farming. In the 1860 census, he was still listed as a farmer, but by 1870, he was listed as a physician and, in 1880, a physician and surgeon. He passed away on October 12, 1883, of arteriosclerosis (then called softening of the brain, now known as hardening of the arteries). There were no effective remedies for this at the time.

According to reminiscences, Dr. Howard was remembered fondly by many as an intelligent, dedicated, forceful, and vigorous man who could be blunt and abrupt with adults when he detected affectation or pretense. He had a keen sense of humor and a lifelong love of learning.

Dr. Howard’s Medical Practice


Metal stethoscope
Physician’s folding stethoscope, ca. 1880 / THF152868

The unhealthiness of daily life in the mid-19th century may well be the most striking division between people’s lives in the past and how we live today. People did not yet realize the connection between unsanitary conditions and sickness. Nor did they understand the nature of germs and contagion and that diseases were transmitted this way.

As a result, infectious diseases were the leading causes of death at the time. These often reached epidemic proportions. Newborns might get infections of the lungs or the intestinal tract. Children were vulnerable to diphtheria, whooping cough, and scarlet fever, while the ordinary viral diseases of childhood—measles, mumps, and chicken pox—might turn deadly when followed by secondary bacterial infections. Adults might contract the life-threatening infectious diseases of cholera, typhoid fever, yellow fever, bacterial dysentery, pneumonia, malaria (or “intermittent fever”), and “the ague” (pulmonary tuberculosis, also called “consumption”). Women faced serious risks with repeated childbirths. Accidents were frequent killers; tetanus was a deadly threat.

Rectangular yellow paper package (similar to a wrapped bar of soap) containing decorative edging and text
Patent medicines, like these ca. 1880 Anti-Bilious Purgative Pills, were easily available, but they could contain dangerous, toxic, or habit-forming ingredients. / THF155683

American medicine was changing tremendously during the period in which Dr. Howard practiced, and approaches varied widely. Three types of medical practice vied for popularity: conventional (based upon the ancient Greek philosophy that the body’s system was made up of four circulating fluids or “humors”—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile); homeopathic (a rather controversial approach which asserted that whatever created a disease would also cure it); and botanic (which utilized natural materials such as herbs, plants, bark, roots, and seeds to cure the patient). Those who could not find or afford a local doctor might try an off-the-shelf patent medicine, a family remedy, or a recipe found in a book or periodical.

Receipt on letterhead with handwritten list of items, quantities, and prices
Invoice from 1881 to Dr. Howard, showing the variety of equipment and ingredients that he purchased from this Detroit company. / THF620460

Dr. Howard did not stick to one type of medical practice. Instead, he chose from all three prevailing approaches based upon what seemed to work best for each illness and patient. This type of approach, referred to as “eclectic,” was quite popular at the time. Like other country doctors, Dr. Howard not only treated patients with the usual illnesses, cuts, burns, and animal bites, but he also performed surgery, obstetrics, and dentistry. In addition, he made his own pills and remedies—decades before the pharmaceutical industry produced commercial drugs and the Food and Drug Administration was established to approve them.

Black leather saddlebag filled with vials
A physician’s saddle bags, 1850-1870, used while visiting patients on horseback / THF166959

Although there were several physicians listed in local records, Dr. Howard’s account books list scores of patients who lived in Tekonsha Township and the surrounding countryside; larger towns like Marshall, Battle Creek, and Coldwater; and smaller communities like Jonesville, Burlington, and Union City. According to reminiscences, he was "out docktering" as much as he was in the office, “riding the circuit” from place to place around the region. He apparently visited patients during the week, sometimes staying overnight to tend the ill. He traveled by horse, and after 1870, by railroad. His office was open on weekends and story has it that, on those days, horses and buggies were lined up and down the road as patients awaited his services.

Native American Connections


No stories are more beloved in family lore than those that recount the friendship between Dr. Howard and the Native Americans who lived in the local area. According to reminiscences collected by Howard Washburn, Dr. Howard “cultivated a wide friendship with Indians at the Athens Reservation and learned how to use herbs and roots in treating illness.” Reference has already been made to the naming of two of his children after Native American acquaintances.

Page with handwritten cursive text
A page from Dr. Howard’s handwritten recipe book, 1864–68, reveals that his remedies included natural materials gathered from the local area. / THF620470

Washburn’s collection of reminiscences includes the following:

[Dr. Howard] used many roots and herbs, these were gathered for him from the woods on his farm and from around Nottaway Lake. He was friendly with the Pottawatomie [sic] Indians who had land there and over near Athens. He liked to have Indians gather herbs for him as they were more skilled and careful. Some of his recipes were Indian recipes and he had many friends in the tribe.

Charlie Hyatt of Tekonsha, who claimed to be part Indian, was living in 1950 and once called on us purposely to tell us that the Doctor had taught him the skill of herb gathering and had given him a book on herbs. He said that his mother was a Pottawatomie [sic] and that she and many others in the Tekonsha area supplemented their incomes by gathering herbs for Dr. Howard.


Dusty room containing furniture and a number of casks or barrels on their sides with handwriting on the tops
The photograph of these casks, taken in 1956 when the building was still in its original location, reveals the names of several extracts that Dr. Howard concocted for various remedies—many from plants and roots gathered in the local area. / THF109607

I became curious about these reminiscences because of the generally accepted—though, admittedly, white settler-based—perspective that the Potawatomi had virtually disappeared from the area by that time as a result of President Andrew Jackson’s notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830. These questions drove further research, ultimately leading to a richer, more substantive view of Potawatomi history in the area, Potawatomi-white settler connections, and conjecture about the friendship between Dr. Howard and local Potawatomi.

To make way for the ceaseless push of white settlement during the 1820s and 1830s, the U.S. government attempted to forcibly expel the Potawatomi from the area by means of a relentless series of treaties—totaling some 30 to 40 in all! A particularly significant one was the 1833 Second Treaty of Chicago, in which the U.S. government promised the Potawatomi new lands and annuity supplies in exchange for their removal over the next several years from southern Michigan (and portions of adjacent states) to reserved lands farther west (these lands and supplies were, for the most part, later reduced, delayed, or completely eliminated). At the time, the Potawatomi were told they could remain on their land until it was needed by white settlers, though much of the land had already been sold by then, as farmers and developers were eager to acquire land. Continued and renewed pressure for forcible removal of the Potawatomi persisted through the decade.

Not surprisingly, many Potawatomi were unwilling to relocate to unfamiliar territory farther west. Some fled to Canada, while others avoided relocation by taking refuge in remote places and becoming skilled at evading capture. Still others escaped north to join their “cousins”—the Odawa and Ojibway—in northern Michigan and Wisconsin.

When U.S. government agents finally left during the 1840s—assured that they had accomplished their task of successfully removing the Native Americans from the area—many Potawatomi quietly returned, unannounced and uncounted, to their old homes. The so-called Athens Reservation that is referred to in the Dr. Howard reminiscences is one such place. In 1845, with treaty annuity money, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi purchased 80 (some sources say 120) acres on Pine Creek, near Athens, in Calhoun County. Influential chief John Moguago (1790–1863) led this effort. The band used the term “reservation” to denote land they had reserved for themselves, not land reserved for them by the U.S. government.

Corner of room with shallow wood shelves filled with baskets, bottles, and jars
For the 2003 installation in Greenfield Village, many of the contents of Dr. Howard’s original jars and bottles were recreated from ingredients listed in his recipe book—including dried plants, herbs, roots, bark, and seeds that would have been collected in the local area. / THF11280

Potawatomi who stayed on or returned began settling in—working out means of remaining permanently in the area, finding places to live, and searching for ways to earn a livelihood. They found support among local white citizens, who were by this time secure in their ownership of the ceded Potawatomi lands. The Potawatomi worked aggressively to demonstrate their ability to live among Anglo-Americans—seeking alliances with white merchants and actively pursuing white settlers’ help in purchasing land with their annuity monies. Meanwhile, contact with white settlers did not fundamentally alter their subsistence economy of horticulture (corn, beans, and squash), hunting, fishing, and collecting wild plants for food and healing. This was likely the scenario around the time that Dr. Howard was practicing medicine and might explain his friendship with them.

The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi is still going strong today. On December 9, 1995, after a long, emotional road, the band was finally recognized by the U.S. government as an independent nation with its own self-government. This recognition opened many avenues for them to take care of their people and continue to work toward a prosperous government. Today, their homeland headquarters are at the Pine Creek Indian Reservation (previously referred to as the Athens Reservation), but the band also maintains 300 additional acres of land adjacent to the Reservation, and satellite offices in Grand Rapids, where members live, as well as in Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Ottawa, Kent, and Allegan Counties.

Conclusion


These are just a few of the stories we have uncovered about this building in Greenfield Village and the country doctor who practiced medicine here back when the building was located in southwestern Michigan. We continue to engage in new research and uncover new stories about Dr. Howard, his practice, and his community.

 

  • In 2013, several descendants of Dr. Alonson B. Howard Jr. made a pilgrimage to Greenfield Village to visit this building--read the story of their visit here.
  • The web site of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi can be found here.



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

by Donna R. Braden, Michigan, healthcare, Dr. Howard's Office, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village

Decorated Christmas tree in corner of room with wrapped and unwrapped items underneath

Christmas tree in the Wright Home during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village. (Photo courtesy Jim Johnson)

During Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, we really enjoy showing how Americans would have celebrated Christmas in the 19th century. In almost all the houses, we use historical primary sources to try to glean out descriptions of what people may have done—but we have almost no concrete visual evidence. However, one huge exception is the Wright Home, the family home of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

We know from various sources that in 1900 there was a big homecoming in Dayton, Ohio. Reuchlin Wright, one of Wilbur and Orville’s older brothers, was returning home from living apart for a very long time, slightly estranged. In celebration, the family decided to put up their first Christmas tree. Wilbur and Orville, who were amateur photographers but probably as good as any professional of the time, documented some of that process.

Within the last decade, we have been able to access a very high-resolution image of the Wright family Christmas tree image from the Library of Congress, and the details just leapt out at us. This photograph, which we know was taken in 1900, documents exactly how the Wright Brothers designed and put up their Christmas tree. We examined all the minutiae in the photo and have attempted to recreate this tree as exactly as possible.

Decorated Christmas tree in corner of room with wrapped and unwrapped items underneath
Wright Home Parlor Decorated for Christmas, Original Site, Dayton, Ohio, circa 1900 / THF119489

The toys, the various ornaments—it's all in line with what's typical in the time period. So if you look at the tree in the Wright Home, you’ll see it lit with candles—this is not an electrified house yet in 1900. There's a variety of ornaments designed to hold candies and similar things. It has strung popcorn, which would have been homemade, but it also has store-bought German tinsel garland, glass ornaments (either from Poland or Germany), and all kinds of additional decorations that may have been saved from year to year. There's a homemade star on top that has tinsel tails coming off it.

For many years, we just had a low-resolution, fuzzy photograph of the tree, and we reproduced things as faithfully as we could—for example, what appeared to be a paper scrap-art angel. The first glimpse of the high-resolution photograph absolutely flabbergasted us, because front-and-center on the tree is a little scrap-art of a screaming, crying baby. It must have been some sort of inside joke within the family. We were able to reproduce it exactly as it would have looked on the tree.

GIF cycling through two images, one black-and-white and one in color, each showing part of a Christmas tree with a large ornament of a screaming baby
The screaming baby scrap-art on the Wright Home Christmas tree, both in the original photo and during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.

In keeping with tradition, the tree is also covered with gifts for different members of the family. It seems that the adult gifts were hung unwrapped on the tree, whereas many of the children's things were either wrapped or just placed under the tree, based on the photograph. For example, on the tree, we see a pair of what are known as Scotch gloves—you would have found examples of these in Sears catalogues of the early 1900s. There's also a fur scarf, toy trumpets, and even a change purse, all hung on the tree.

GIF cycling through two images, one black-and-white and one in color, showing part of a Christmas tree with plaid gloves hanging on it
Scotch gloves hanging on the Wright Home Christmas tree, both in the original photo and during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.

Beneath the tree, the arrangement of toys and gifts is quite fun. There’s a pair of roller skates, a little toy train, tea sets, furniture sets, and all kinds of different things geared specifically toward all the Wright nieces and nephews who would have come to visit on that Christmas morning.

There's also a wonderful set of photographs associated with the tree after Christmas. For example, there’s one of Bertha Wright, one of Reuchlin’s middle daughters, in the next room over, sitting playing with her toys. She's clearly been interrupted in her play, and you can see that in the expression on her face: “Okay, let's get this over with.”

Girl in white dress sitting cross-legged with somewhat grumpy expression on her face
Bertha Wright, Age Five, Niece of the Wright Brothers, Daughter of Reuchlin Wright, circa 1900 / THF243319

There are also photos outside the house, featuring the sleigh (which is prominent under the tree in the high-res photograph, stacked with books). Behind them in all these photographs is a little fir tree—the tree that was inside the house for Christmas has now been placed out there and propped up in the corner, probably for the winter season.

Two children sit on a sleigh in snow in front of a door; another boy stands nearby in front of a tree
Milton, Leontine, and Ivonette Wright at Wright Home, Dayton, Ohio, circa 1900 / THF243321

During Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, we have a wonderful large high-resolution blow-up of the tree photograph set up in the Wright Home for our guests to compare-and-contrast with the recreated tree in the corner. Be sure to stop by the Wright Home to see it on your next Holiday Nights visit!

Large framed black-and-white photograph showing a Christmas tree on an easel in a room
The original historic photo of the Wright family Christmas tree, displayed in the Wright Home during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village. (Photo courtesy Brian James Egen)


This post was adapted from the transcript of a video featuring Jim Johnson, Director of Greenfield Village, by Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

photographs, home life, Wright Brothers, events, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Ellice Engdahl, by Jim Johnson, Holiday Nights, holidays, Christmas, research

Wooden box with lid flipped back, text and images inside lid, packets inside box and some outside box

Hiram Sibley & Co. Seed Box, Used in the C.W. Barnes Store, 1882-1888 / THF181542

Several million guests have seen a reproduction Sibley seed box, based on an original box in our collections, in the J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village since 1994, when the box became part of the reinterpreted interior. Commercial seed sales of pre-packaged vegetable and flower seeds began in earnest during the 1860s, and by the mid-1880s, Hiram Sibley & Company advertised itself as the world’s largest seed company. That might be true. Sibley, who made his fortune as executive of the Western Union Telegraph Company, invested in farms and packing houses in several states and engaged in seed trade in several foreign countries. His entrepreneurial bent warranted more exploration, as did the details of the seed packets, all stowed carefully in the box in the General Store.

The reference photograph in our collections database for the original seed box showed a box with seed packets. The accession number, 29.1987.18.1, indicated that this was an early addition to The Henry Ford’s collections—the first number, 29, means that it was acquired in 1929. The second number indicates that it was in the 1,987th lot acquired that year, and the third number indicates that the box was the 18th item in the 29.1987 grouping. In fact, as research ultimately disclosed, our collections included the box, plus 108 original seed packets and a Sibley & Co. Seed catalog.

My need to know more started a chain reaction. First, this object had been in the collection for 90 years. It has known provenance: Accession records indicate that it was purchased with other items from a store in the tiny, rural, upstate New York community of Rock Stream. The Barnes family—Charles W. and then his son, Alonzo S.—operated the store. Alonzo died in 1929, which may have precipitated the sale. Our registrars researched and catalogued all parts of the set. We also acquired archival documents—a map of the town from the time the Barnes family operated the store and two postcards of the town—for our collections to add context around the seed box.

Black-and-white image of houses and trees along dirt road; printed and handwritten text
Main Street, Rock Stream, New York, 1908-1910 / THF146163

Filling in details about seed packets required further reconnaissance. This required removing the seed box from exhibit at the end of the 2019 Greenfield Village season. Our Exhibits team moved the reproduction box and the authentic seed packets it contained to our conservation labs. Conservation staff removed the packets, checked for damage, then cleaned and prepared the packets for digitization. In the meantime, Collections Management staff located the original box in collections storage and moved it to the conservation labs for cleaning.

Once the packets were cleaned, they were moved to our archives, where the packets were imaged. After the box was cleaned, Collections Management staff moved it to the photography studio. The individual seed packets, once imaged, also were moved to the photo studio. There, the packets rejoined the box, fitting into compartments spaced to accommodate “papers” as well as multiple-ounce “packets” of seeds. The final photograph above shows the rejoined box and original seeds – cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, eggplant, onion, pea, rutabaga, tomato, turnip, and other vegetables.

GIF rotating through a number of seed packets with images and text
Some of the individual seed packets that were digitized. See them all in our Digital Collections.

After the photo session, the seeds returned to the reproduction box, the box was sealed with its Plexiglas top to protect them, and Exhibits staff returned the box with its contents to the General Store in Greenfield Village.

It is important to note that the investigation, relocation, cleaning, digitizing, photography, and cataloging all occurred between January and March 2020, before COVID-19 closed the museum and delayed the opening of Greenfield Village. During that closure, between March 15 and July 9, the digitized records became part of numerous blogs written to meet the needs of patrons seeking information about food sources, vegetable gardening, food security—and about tomatoes!

It may seem difficult to justify the amount of time required from so many people to digitize one box and its many seed packets during the process. Each staff member involved in the process had to juggle numerous competing projects to make time to attend to the box and its packets. However, their work created invaluable digital resources that have already enhanced several of our blog posts. We may never know how many people were inspired to plant their own vegetable garden during a year of uncertainty partially, or wholly, because of “How Does Your Vegetable Garden Grow?,” or who just had to have a BLT after reading “Multiple Takes on Tomatoes.”

This is what digitization can do, and this is the effort that it takes. We all do it in the spirit of life-long learning.

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COVID 19 impact, photography, collections care, research, Greenfield Village buildings, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, by Debra A. Reid, digital collections, digitization

Here’s a quick story from the somewhat strange, but definitely true, files of a Collections Specialist, Cataloger, at The Henry Ford.

Recently, I was cataloging some photographs in our collection from the original site of the Susquehanna Plantation. This white house with a deep porch, now located in Greenfield Village, was originally located in the tidewater region of Maryland.

Long white house with sloped roof and open porch
Susquehanna Plantation in Greenfield Village. / THF2024

Some of our photos of the house when it still stood at its original site came from families who lived near the plantation. There are two photographs that include a woman with a rather unique name. She was born Rose Etta Dement in 1902 in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. When she married George Leonard Stone in 1919 or 1920, her name became Rose Etta Stone.

Group of about seven people in and on a truck
Edward "Buster" Pussler, Malcolm Morris, Rosalie Pussler, Earl Stone, Wilhelmina Morris, Rose Stone, Helen Morris, and Mary Ruth Stone Woodburn Posing on a Truck, 1934. Here, Rose is pictured third from the left, sitting in the truck. / THF249737

Five women posing for photo in front of a house
Margaret Jones Dement, Agnes Ward, Elizabeth Russell, Viola Russell, and Rose Stone Standing in Front of the Susquehanna House, 1936. Rose is on the far left. / THF249739

When I was cataloging these two photos and doing some research on the people on Ancestry.com, it amused me to come across such a name. Obviously, the Rosetta Stone language learning software was far from existence in the mid-1930s when these photos were taken. It is possible this family knew of the actual artifact called the Rosetta Stone, which helped archaeologists decipher ancient languages, and got a nice little laugh when Rose Etta Dement married George Stone.

You never know what quirky treasures you’ll find among the digitized artifacts at The Henry Ford. Check them out for yourself here.

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digital collections, #digitization100K, digitization, by Shannon Rossi, Greenfield Village buildings, photographs, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, research


Man in blue button-down shirt and khaki pants walks along wooden fence with large white banner reading "Coming Soon: The Vegetable Building from Detroit's Central Market"

An amazing thing happened during the spring and summer of 2020, while The Henry Ford was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of dedicated individuals formed a new donor society, the Carver-Carson Society, and raised more than six times what was needed to bring back to life the Detroit Central Market in Greenfield Village.

How in the world did they do this?

Well, prior to the pandemic shutdown, The Henry Ford was still $200,000 shy of reaching its $5 million fundraising goal. The Henry Ford has always had big plans for the market, which was built in 1860 and is considered one of the oldest surviving urban farmer's markets of its kind in the country. The Henry Ford's vision is for the market to become a world-class convening center and hub of innovation by attracting farmers, food entrepreneurs and thought leaders to help educate and engage the public on critical issues, including food security, regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability. That vision was in danger of being significantly delayed when The Henry Ford had to close its doors in March. This all changed when a group of dedicated donors answered the call to support the market project by forming the Carver-Carson Society and creating plans for The Henry Ford's first-ever virtual fundraiser, Farm to Fork.

Screenshot with 1-2 video chat participants in each of four quadrants

On August 20, 2020, Farm to Fork aired live over Vimeo, creating a virtual show filled with interviews, films, cooking demonstrations and engaging conversations. The event was co-chaired by Emily Ford, Lauren Bush Lauren and The Henry Ford's president and CEO, Patricia Mooradian, and raised over $800,000. This thought-provoking and entertaining event helped not only to cross the fundraising finish line but to surpass its original goal.

One of the highlights was the first Carver-Carson Conversation, featuring an intimate conversation moderated by Debra Reid, curator of agriculture and the environment. Special guest panelists included legendary chef and restaurateur Alice Waters; her daughter, designer and author Fanny Singer; event co-chair Lauren Bush Lauren; and Melvin Parson, a community farmer and The Henry Ford's first Entrepreneur in Residence. Their lively discussion touched on important issues around food security, food equity, regenerative farming and the need for local food environments and farmers. We plan to have many more Carver-Carson Conversations, both virtually and in person, in the future.

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food, COVID 19 impact, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, agriculture, The Henry Ford Effect, philanthropy

As Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, I’ve worked on many Greenfield Village building makeovers since I started here in the late 1970s. Today I’m going to take you behind the scenes to five of my favorites.

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THF237357 / Historical Presenters outside Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, circa 1982

The 1980s and 1990s were an exciting time here, as we upgraded many Village buildings that had long been unchanged. The history and presentations of many of them were inaccurate, like the presenter outfit and penny candy in this general store image of 1965.

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THF126771 / Historical Presenter and Visitors in the General Store, Greenfield Village, 1965 / Photographed by Philippe Halsman

We looked at sources that many historians used—probate records, census records, local newspapers, old photos (like this one of Firestone Farm). These helped us uncover more accurate stories about the people who had lived and worked in these buildings.


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THF115221 / Firestone Farmhouse at Its Original Site, Columbiana, Ohio, circa 1876, Robert, Harvey and Elmer with Grandmother Sally Anne Firestone

Eagle Tavern, constructed in the 1830s, was one of the first buildings we tackled. In 1927, Henry Ford found this by-then-dilapidated building (see photo) in Clinton, Michigan, brought it to Greenfield Village, and located it on the Village Green.


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THF237252 / Eagle Tavern at Its Original Site, Clinton, Michigan, 1925

Ford enlarged the back of the building to use as a student cafeteria for his Edison Institute schools. You can see the addition behind the carriages lined up for tours, which left from here when the Village first opened to the public in the 1930s.

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THF120768 / Horse-Drawn Carriages outside Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), Greenfield Village, 1929-1950

When I started working at the museum in 1977, Clinton Inn was still a cafeteria, but for visitors. Here’s a photo of visitors lunching there back in 1958.


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THF123749 / Visitors Lunching at the Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), Greenfield Village, 1958

The so-called “colonial kitchen” was also used for fireplace cooking classes as part of the museum’s Adult Education Program. I took several of these classes back then—but, alas, I don’t seem to be in this particular photograph!


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THF112256 / Colonial Cooking Class Held at Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) in Greenfield Village, 1978

In 1981, I joined a new Food Committee, to better align our food offerings with our overall interpretation. We proposed turning this historic building into a sit-down restaurant with period food and drink. Our idea was accepted, and we got to work.


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THF54290 / Server at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Delving into historical research, we settled on the year 1850 for interpreting the building’s role as a roadside way-station and community hangout (like this 1855 print). In 1850, the place was called Eagle Tavern, run by a farmer named Calvin Wood.

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THF120729 / Mail Coaches Changing Horses at a New England Tavern, 1855

To find out what and how people ate at that time, I looked at travelers’ accounts, etiquette books, and historic cookbooks. The chefs tested historic recipes. We sampled them to create each seasonal menu—like this, one of our first “Bills of Fare.”

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THF123845 / Menu from Eagle Tavern, Greenfield Village, 1982, "Bill of Fare"

Eagle Tavern opened in April 1982, with staff dressed in some of the Village’s first-ever historically accurate clothing. This photo, taken when our dream of establishing a historic restaurant became a reality, still fills me with pride! (You can find more content related to Eagle Tavern on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation episode page and YouTube clip.)

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THF237355 / Historical Presenters outside Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, 1983

When I started at The Henry Ford in Summer 1977, the far end of Greenfield Village was undergoing a big change. The 18th-century Connecticut home of antiques collector Mary Dana Wells had just arrived and was being rebuilt using hand construction methods.

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THF133332 / Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, circa 1978

The building was initially called the Saltbox House (an antiquarian’s term referencing its shape, as seen in this photo before the home was moved). Indeed, the early focus here was on interpreting the architecture and Mrs. Wells’ rare antique furniture.

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THF236282 / Daggett Farm House--Earlier Site, Exterior--Item 33

Now that you’ve seen the colonial “saltbox” shape of the exterior, here’s an interior shot of Mrs. Wells’ antiques when she lived there.

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THF236130 / Daggett Farm House at Its Earlier Site, Union, Connecticut, 1951-1977

In 1981, I joined an interdepartmental task force to enliven Village buildings. At the Saltbox House, we decided to highlight colonial-era household activities. The house soon came alive with the sights and sounds of cooking, cleaning, and spinning wool.

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THF136883 / Activities Inside the Connecticut Salt Box House (now Daggett Farmhouse) in Greenfield Village, 1989

Meanwhile, our research revealed that a family named the Daggetts had lived there during the 1760s, the period of our interpretation. From Samuel Daggett’s rare account book, we could reconstruct what the Daggett family did at their farm during that time.

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THF54170 / Presenter Working at Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Over time, the interpretation at the house moved from simple demonstrations of domestic activities to a more accurate recreation of the lives and livelihood of the Daggett family. Eventually, the house was renamed the Daggett Farmhouse.

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THF16439 / Presenter Working at Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, April 2006

I think of Firestone Farm as our greatest building makeover and I was involved with it from the beginning. In 1983, the museum was first offered Harvey Firestone’s boyhood home, located in Columbiana, Ohio. Here’s a 1965 photo of it on its original site.

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THF115233 / Firestone Farmhouse at Its Original Site, Columbiana, Ohio, 1965

Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone became friends, business associates, and members of a small group called the “Vagabonds,” who traveled around and went camping together. Ford often visited the Firestone family homestead in Columbiana, Ohio.

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THF124714 / Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford at Firestone Farm, Columbiana, Ohio, 1918

Curator of Agriculture Peter Cousins (shown on the right here) proposed that this farmhouse become the nucleus for a year-round, authentically recreated “living history” farm. He was instrumental in thoroughly documenting the farmhouse and barn.

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THF138464 / Construction at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, May 1985

Meticulous research went into furnishing the farmhouse rooms. This dim black-and-white photo of a corner of the parlor from 1898 provided important clues to how this room looked when Harvey’s parents, Benjamin and Catherine Firestone, ran the farm.

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THF242498 / Firestone Farm--Original Site--Interior--Parlor--Item 8

Based upon that photo, other photos of parlors of the period, and actual furnishings from that era, here is how that corner of the parlor was reconstructed when the farmhouse was reconstructed in Greenfield Village.

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THF53032 / Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

My task was researching the cooking and other domestic activities and supplying the appropriate equipment for the kitchen and pantry. Here’s a glimpse at what that kitchen came to look like later, with presenters getting the midday meal on the table.

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THF53126 / Presenters Working at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

In June 1985, Firestone Farm was officially “reborn” in Greenfield Village. Here’s a photo of the dedication, with President Gerald Ford speaking. (You can find more content about Firestone Farm on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation’s episode page and YouTube clip.)

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THF242136 / Firestone Farm--Dedication--Item 32

New research in the early 1990s revealed that this rural Georgia home in Greenfield Village had housed several generations of the Mattox family—an African American family who, through determination and hard work, owned and maintained their home and land.

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THF68734 / Mattox Family Home

Reopened in 1991, the Mattox House depicts the 1930s era, when Amos (shown here, ca. 1910) and Grace Mattox—descended from enslaved African Americans—raised their two children. Life was hard but the family proudly affirmed that there was “always enough.”

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THF135142 / Portrait of Amos Mattox

My primary job here was to furnish the kitchen and prepare the space for cooking programs. I used many of the great oral histories that the project team had initially collected, gleaning information about the Mattox family’s cooking and eating habits.

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THF53399 / Mattox Family Home in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

In 1992, Rosa Parks visited the Mattox House, furnished like similar homes at the time with newspapers covering the front room walls to insulate against cool Georgia nights and winters. (You can find more content about the Mattox Family Home on our The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation episode page.)

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THF123775 / Rosa Parks Visiting Mattox House in Greenfield Village, 1992

My several years of experience with historical research, artifacts, and interpretation came in handy when, in 1990, I became the lead curator on a makeover of the general store on the Village Green.

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THF54366 / J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Henry Ford originally wanted a general store to complete the buildings he had envisioned for his Village Green. He found the perfect store in Waterford, Michigan (as shown here), purchased it, brought it to Greenfield Village, and had it rebuilt in 1927.

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THF126117 / J.R. Jones General Store (Just Before the Move to Greenfield Village), Original Site, Waterford, Michigan, 1926

Ford then sent agents out to obtain historic store stock. One of the items they sent back was a storefront sign with the name Elias A. Brown. Elias Brown had run a store in New York, not Michigan—leading to a lot of confusion for visitors over the years.

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THF138605 / Elias A. Brown General Store in Greenfield Village, October 1958

We began researching the store’s history in Waterford and found that it had changed proprietors nine times! We decided that James R. Jones, the 1880s storekeeper (pictured here), was our best choice to interpret. His name replaced Elias Brown’s out front.

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THF277166 / Portrait of J.R. Jones, circa 1890 / back

Further research led us to specific customers, the choices of goods people might have purchased, and the role of general stores in local communities—as seen by this “community bulletin board” we later created in the store from local announcements and ads.

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THF53768 / J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Wanting the store interior to look like a real working store—filled with lots of duplicate and like-new items—we used both real artifacts and accurate reproductions. By the time we were done, the store was stocked with some 5000 items!

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THF53774 / J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

The J.R. Jones Store opened in 1994, shown here with our first vintage baseball team, the Lah-de-Dahs—named after a team from Waterford back in the 1880s. When visitors walk inside the store today, they’re still blown away by the store’s interior! (Check out more content about the J.R. Jones General Store on our website and a YouTube clip from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.)

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THF136301 / "Lah-De-Dahs" Baseball Team in Greenfield Village, Spring 1994

Well, this just touches upon the makeover stories of a few buildings in Greenfield Village. We continue to uncover new research and new stories. I hope you enjoyed this brief virtual visit to Greenfield Village and plan to make a real visit soon!

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THF16450 / Presenters Working at Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, April 2006


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

#THFCuratorChat, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Donna R. Braden, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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The Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Roundhouse in Greenfield
Village. (THF2001)

Symbolic Structure
Apart from the ubiquitous small-town depot, there may be no building more symbolic of railroading than the roundhouse. At one time, thousands of these peculiar structures were spread across the country. Inside them, highly-skilled workers used specialized tools, equipment, and techniques to care for the steam locomotives that powered American railroads for more than a century.

Today, only a handful of American roundhouses are still in regular use maintaining steam locomotives. Visitors to The Henry Ford have the rare opportunity to see one of these buildings in action. The Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Roundhouse is the heart of our Weiser Railroad, the steam-powered excursion line that transports guests around Greenfield Village. Our dedicated railroad operations team maintains our operating locomotives using many of the same methods and tools as their predecessors of earlier generations.

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Workers pose outside the Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Roundhouse on its original site in Marshall, Michigan, circa 1890-1900. (THF129728)

Roundhouses were built wherever railroads needed them, whether in the heart of a large city or out on the open plains. In 1884, the Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Railroad constructed its roundhouse in Marshall, Michigan – the approximate midpoint on DT&M’s 94-mile line between the Michigan cities of Dundee and Allegan. Larger railroads operated multiple roundhouses, generally located at 100-mile intervals – roughly the distance one train crew could travel in a single shift. The roundhouses on these large railroads served as relay points where a new locomotive (and crew) took over the train while the previous locomotive went in for maintenance.

inside-view
Roundhouses gave crews space to work, but also kept locomotives and equipment within easy reach, as seen in this 1924 view inside a Detroit, Toledo &
Ironton Railroad roundhouse. (THF116641)

Circular Reasoning
Railroads embraced the circular roundhouse design for a variety of reasons. It allowed for a compact layout, keeping the locomotives and equipment inside closely spaced and within accessible reach. The building pattern was flexible, permitting a railroad to add stalls to an existing roundhouse (or remove them) as conditions warranted. The turntable – used to access each roundhouse stall – simplified trackwork and didn’t require multiple switches to move locomotives from place to place.

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Not all “roundhouses” were round. See this
example from Massachusetts, photographed in 1881. But round structures offered decided advantages over rectangular buildings. (THF201503)

Likewise, the single-space stalls and turntable allowed for convenient access to any one locomotive. Long, rectangular service buildings required moving several locomotives to extract one located at the end of a track. (If you’ve ever had to ask people to move their cars from a driveway so that you could get yours out, then you’ll recognize this problem.) The turntable had the added benefit of being able to reverse the direction of a locomotive without the need for a space-consuming “wye” track.

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People made the roundhouse work, like this man at the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton’s Flat Rock, Michigan, roundhouse photographed in 1943.
(THF116647)

A Variety of Trades
Of course, roundhouses were more than locomotives, turntables, and tracks. Their most important feature was the variety of skilled tradespeople and unskilled workers who made them function. Boilermakers, blacksmiths, machinists, pipefitters, and more all labored within a roundhouse’s stalls. Large roundhouses might employee hundreds of people. The environment was noisy and smoky, and much of the work was dangerous and dirty – emptying ash pans, cleaning scale from boilers, greasing rods and fittings – but it had its advantages. Unlike train crews who worked all hours and spent long periods away from home, roundhouse workers enjoyed more regular schedules and returned to their own beds at the end of the day.

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Roundhouses faded after the transition from steam to diesel, illustrated by this 1950 photo taken at Ford’s Rouge plant. (THF285460)

Roundhouses Retired
With the widespread adoption of diesel-electric locomotives following World War II, the roundhouse gradually disappeared from the American railroad. Diesels needed far less maintenance than steam engines, and required fewer specialized skills from the crews that serviced them. Following dieselization, a few roundhouses were modified to maintain the new locomotives, while others were put to other railroad uses. Some were preserved as museums, and a few were even converted into shopping centers or restaurants. But most were simply torn down or abandoned.

The Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Roundhouse followed a similar pattern of slipping into disuse – though in its case, it was more a victim of the DT&M Railroad’s failing fortunes than the transition to steam. After a series of acquisitions and mergers, the little DT&M became a part of the Michigan Central. The much larger MC had no need for DT&M’s Marshall roundhouse, and the new owner repurposed the structure into a storage building. In 1932, the roundhouse was abandoned altogether. It was in a dilapidated condition by the late 1980s, when The Henry Ford began the process of salvaging what components we could. After many years of planning and fundraising, the reconstructed DT&M Roundhouse opened to Greenfield Village guests in 2000. Clearly, the building itself is rare enough, but it’s the work that goes on inside that makes it truly special. Today, the DT&M Roundhouse is one of the few places in the world where visitors can still observe the crafts and skills that kept America’s steam railroads rolling so many years ago.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village buildings, by Matt Anderson, railroads, Michigan, Greenfield Village

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THF151617

Just before the official dedication of his museum and historical village in 1929, Henry Ford decided he wanted a tintype studio added to the village. Ford’s staff worked feverishly to construct and furnish this building in one day! It was designed to look like a small tintype photographic studio from the 1870s and 1880s. Last minute details, including curtains hastily brought from the home of Ford’s photographer and hung at the windows, helped complete the look.

The Greenfield Village Tintype Studio has three rooms:

  • A dressing room or “primping” room where customers got ready for their picture
  • The studio or “operating room,” originally equipped with head rests (to hold people’s heads still so the picture wouldn’t come out blurry), posing chairs, cameras, and a painted backdrop. Large windows provided maximum light for the photographer.
  • The darkroom for preparing and developing the tintypes

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Ford’s staff built this tintype studio in one day—just in time for the rainy dedication of Greenfield Village on October 21, 1929.
THF139188

Tintypes, the popular “instant photographs” of the mid-1800s, could be produced in a matter of minutes at a price the average American could afford. This quick, affordable process gave more people than ever before the chance to have a real likeness of themselves.

Though tintypes became less popular as new and better forms of photography replaced them, traveling tintypists found work at country fairs, summer resorts and other vacation spots as late as the 1930s. One such tintypist was Charles Tremear, who eventually gave up photography and went to work for Ford Motor Company in 1909. When Henry Ford heard that Tremear had been the “last wandering tintypist in America,” he transferred him to Greenfield Village.

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Charles Tremear, the “last wandering tintypist in America,” ran the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio from 1929-1943. THF132794

Charles Tremear ran the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio from 1929 until his death in 1943. The studio was a popular destination. Tremear produced more than 40,000 tintypes during his tenure, including many of celebrities. Joe Louis, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford numbered among the famous people who posed for tintype portraits in Greenfield Village.

Though tintypes are no longer made in the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, it's still a great place to learn more about the tintype process and practice some poses. Selfies are welcome!

photography, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village

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The Mattox Home in Greenfield Village
THF68734

Through furnishings and presentations, the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village tells the story of one family living in rural Georgia in the 1930s. Read on to discover more about the community in Bryan County (where the house was originally located), learn about the Mattox family, and get an inside look at how they lived.

Amos and Grace Mattox
Amos Mattox, probably born around 1889, grew up in this house during the harsh years of Southern segregation. He and his wife, Grace, married in 1909.

The home in Greenfield Village is shown as it would have been during the 1930s, when the entire country was in the grip of the Great Depression. Low prices and little demand for farm products created a crisis for farmers throughout the country, and many abandoned their land. Amos and Grace Mattox maintained their resourceful lifestyle, keeping up a vegetable garden, livestock, and fowl to feed themselves and two young children, Carrie and Amos, Jr. To supplement the family’s income, Amos worked at various jobs—as a laborer for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railway and at the local sawmill, and as a shoemaker, carpenter, and barber. He also served as a deacon at the Bryan Neck Baptist Church. The church had been founded by his grandfather Amos Morel, a formerly enslaved steam engineer who, in the 1870s, purchased the land the Mattox home stood on. Like his grandfather, Amos Mattox sold parts of his family’s land when he needed cash.

Grace Mattox is remembered by her children as a busy and meticulous homemaker. In addition to daily chores, she canned fruits and vegetables, cared and provided for elderly and sick neighbors, crocheted, did “fancy work” embroidery, and made her home as cozy and attractive as possible. A devoted mother, she encouraged and supported the education of her two children, walking a mile to and from their school daily with a “proper hot lunch” for them.

Although life was hard, the Mattox family proudly affirmed that there was "always enough."

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A copy of the only known photograph of Amos Mattox, Sr. THF135142

African American Community Life in 1930s Bryan County, Georgia
Sixty-five years after the Civil War, coastal Georgia was a land of sleepy towns, cypress swamps, moss-hung trees, oxcarts, horse-drawn wagons, and a few cars. Among long-abandoned crumbling mansions stood small farmhouses scattered about on what were once extensive holdings of plantation land but were now mostly small individual farms—some privately owned like the Mattox home and property, but most rented on the share system. Following the breakup of the large plantations after the Civil War, members of the same family tended to settle close together on the same land where they had lived when they were enslaved. A generation later, this was still true of the Mattox family. Amos Mattox, Jr., remembers his Uncle Henry living within “hollerin’ distance” and his Uncle Charlie living 5 to 10 minutes’ walk away. In the absence of telephones, close neighbors could be hailed by shouting.

What we know about the Mattox family comes from record searches and oral interviews. When Henry Ford acquired the Mattox home in 1943, there were still many people alive who could recall their youth on the very land on which their descendants lived. Elderly, formerly enslaved neighbors like “Aunt” Jane Lewis were links to the past for children like Carrie and Amos Mattox, Jr.

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Henry Ford moved the Mattox Home to Greenfield Village in 1943. He can be seen in this photograph (far right) with Grace Mattox (in the doorway) and others at the home on its original site. THF123296

Like 89 percent of rural homes in 1930, the Mattox home lacked electricity and running water; kerosene lamps provided light. However, the Mattoxes owned a battery-operated radio and a hand-cranked phonograph. Amos, Jr., and Carrie could recall few leisure activities, but many occasions when the family worked together, farming, gardening, canning, and doing the wash. Most work was done outside, with seats provided on porches and under grape arbors. Houses were hot and close inside, and were used mainly for sleeping, bathing, or as shelter from the rain. In the evening the Mattoxes read from the family Bible.

Neighbors allowed their livestock, cattle and hogs, to range freely on common ground in the forest (families notched their animals’ ears with distinctive markings to prove ownership). After butchering a hog, the Mattoxes would smoke the hams for a few months in the chimney of their home. According to Amos, Jr., the chimney, made of clay and sticks, occasionally caught fire. To extinguish the fires, a member of the family climbed on the roof and poured water down the chimney.

Health care was poor and infant mortality high. Grace Mattox gave birth to six children, only two of whom survived past infancy. Often, community members would take shifts caring for a sick person night and day. Grace Mattox was instrumental in organizing home nursing for her local community.

The Mattox family’s social life, like that of their neighbors, centered around the Bryan Neck Baptist Church and the prayer house associated with it. The prayer house was about 150 feet from the Mattoxes’ home. They attended prayer meetings in Bryan Neck Baptist Church every other Sunday morning at daybreak. On alternate Sundays and Sunday evenings, as well as on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, they walked to the prayer house. The whole community was thought of as one family, including mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, and close friends. They celebrated holidays together, cared for one another in times of sickness and crisis, shared their surplus produce, and encouraged and supported one another in their daily lives.

The Mattox Home in Greenfield Village
In 1943 Henry Ford brought the Mattox home to Greenfield Village. After the purchase he agreed to let the Mattoxes continue to live on the property, built the family a new house, and bought new furnishings for it. Since no written agreement was found regarding the continued use of the property after the death of Henry Ford (1947) and his wife, Clara (1950), the Mattoxes were, sadly, evicted by the new owners, the Southern Kraft Timberland Company.

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View of the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village, showing the vegetable garden and the birdhouses made from gourds THF45319

Exterior and Grounds
Bryan County, Georgia, lies in a swampy region of the Low Country. People living in this area usually maintained yards of swept dirt to prevent the growth of vegetation and keep mosquitoes and snakes away from the houses. Residents swept fancy designs into the dirt to make the yards more attractive, especially around holidays. People also fashioned birdhouses from gourds to attract purple martins, which feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects. The birdhouses at the Mattox home, as well as the roof repaired with a cast-off sign, are examples of the family’s ingenious use of available resources.

Vegetable Garden
Most of what the Mattox family produced was for their own use. In their vegetable garden the Mattoxes raised corn, sweet potatoes, rice, peas, beans, tomatoes, and okra, as well as collard, mustard, and turnip greens.

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Rear view of the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village (the grape arbor is visible at right) THF1967

Grape Arbor
In the warm climate of coastal Georgia, families spent much of their lives outdoors. The Mattoxes’ grape arbor provided a cool, shady space for household chores like laundering or food preservation. Amos Mattox made wine from the native Southern scuppernong and muscadine grape varieties grown there.

Chicken Yard
The Mattox family raised chickens, hogs, and goats for their own use. The chickens and goats were confined in the yard near the house, while the hogs were allowed to range freely.

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Interior of the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village THF53390

The Home
That Mattoxes covered their interior walls with newspaper for both insulation and decoration. Photographs taken in the 1930s and 1940s show that this was the norm rather than the exception in small rural homes in the South.

Much of the furniture now in the home was owned by the Mattox family. The mirror on the wall originally belonged to Amos Mattox’s grandfather, Amos Morel. Needlework scattered through the rooms represent Grace Mattox’s sewing and decorating skills. Over the mantel is a copy of the only known photograph of Amos Mattox, Sr. Pictures and fans with representations of religious themes and the family Bible reflect the strong religious grounding of the family. A checkerboard with bottle caps as game pieces and homemade dolls show how the family overcame the constraints of limited means.

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Mattox Home kitchen THF53400

The room attached to the rear of the home contains the kitchen and dining room, often used as the children’s bedroom. On the woodburning cookstove, Grace Mattox prepared meals for her family and dishes to bring to church suppers and community celebrations. The family worked together to prepare canned goods that could be stored on shelves in the kitchen for use throughout the year.

Explore the Mattox Family Home for yourself in the Porches & Parlors district in Greenfield Village.

Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, African American history