"Ghost of Abraham Lincoln" in Logan County Courthouse for Halloween in Greenfield Village, 1982 / THF146345
Our beloved Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s been a fascinating journey to have been involved from nearly the beginning, eventually leading the team that plans and produces this very complicated and detailed guest experience.
Throughout the entire history of the event, the true star of the show has been Greenfield Village after dark. I know of no better palette for our amazing creative team to have at its disposal to work magic year after year.
The year 2020 and its COVID-19 pandemic will be looked back on as a turning point for not only the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program, but for all of The Henry Ford. The need for a safe environment and the resources available have forced the team to take a fresh look at the event and view things from a very different perspective. We are excited and invigorated by the plan we have brought forth and we hope our guests are too.
The Beginnings of Halloween in Greenfield Village
The Greenfield Village Halloween program began as an experience shared through our Education Department’s catalogue of classes and courses. This new concept of a family-based, Halloween-themed experience was first developed as a scary wagon ride experience, with stops and treats at various buildings in Greenfield Village. There were other fun seasonal activities, including dunking for apples, a costume parade and contest, and refreshments in Lovett Hall. The wagon ride was carefully planned out and tapped into Village stories, going as far as having as having a staff member’s child on board as a designated kidnap victim--a sign of the different times that were the early 1980s.
"Trick or Treat" at Wright Home in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146356
This program was presented on an ambitious scale. It was offered one night only and served a remarkably large audience. It was wildly popular and showed what future possibilities and demand lay ahead for the Halloween season. (You can read more about this very first Greenfield Village Halloween program here.)
A series of events led to the next phase of the Greenfield Village Halloween program. The Tylenol poisoning scare in the fall of 1982 changed people’s view of the safety of trick-or-treating. This, combined with new staff and reorganized Village Programs and Special Events departments, brought forth the novel idea of opening Greenfield Village at night as a safe place for trick-or-treating. Thus, the foundation for Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village was born: the basic format of the program we have used until now.
This first Village trick-or-treat Halloween program drew an unexpectedly huge crowd of over 5,000 people. No control measures for timed or paced entry times were put in place and the event was open to the public. As expected, the supply of treats ran out quickly and drastic measures had to be put in place to try and keep pace. I remember working at the first treat stop, the Loranger Gristmill. We gave out handfuls of loose candy corn (a nice thematic connection to the gristmill). I remember it being a very chaotic experience and the porch of the gristmill being coated in smashed candy corn, which could not be seen—only felt—under my feet. In the light of the following day, I was amazed to see single pieces of candy corn that had been pressed out to the size of my hand, still retaining their original shape and color!
"Trick or Treat" at Heinz House in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146374
Many lessons were learned that opening weekend. Moving forward, Halloween in Greenfield Village became a members-only event and entry times were established to slow and control the flow.
Developing the Program in the 1980s and 1990s
Halloween would remain a members-only event for the next 20 years. The first few years, Halloween only took place for one weekend in October. This would continue through the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the still members-only program would expand to two weekends and eventually three. During this time, staff were allotted a certain amount of free tickets, but were required to show up on a set day and time and stand in a very long line to get their tickets. Member tickets for the limited number of program days typically sold out very quickly.
In the first era of the program, there was a lot of emphasis put on the treats and their thematic connection to the Greenfield Village sites from which they would be given out. Different treats were picked out each year.
The inside of the brochure for 1983’s “Family Halloween in Greenfield Village” lists the thematic connections for each building treat stop. / THF146311
Connecting the trick-or-treat path were a variety of Halloween-themed vignettes or interactions, associated with historical events and characters with a nod to scary stories of the past. The effects were low-tech and, in some cases, took inspiration from the emerging haunted house industry. First seen in the 1970s, these haunted houses were grassroots amateur efforts, often sponsored and produced by local Jaycees, Elks, and other fraternal organizations as fund raisers. They relied on cheap scare tactics that involved being jumped out at, grabbed, and sometimes gory scenes. For years, we used some of these very same techniques. The Ackley Covered Bridge was notorious for this.
"Gorilla" on Ackley Covered Bridge during Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146372
When it came to infrastructure, the Greenfield Village of the 1980s and 1990s basically resembled the Greenfield Village of 1929. There were very few, if any, streetlights and limited access to power to add additional lighting. Until the restoration of 2003, Halloween in Greenfield Village was very dark. Because of this, the jack-o’-lantern pumpkin path played an important role in lighting the way through the experience. A continuous thread to today’s program is the large number of hand-carved and candlelit jack-o’-lanterns that line the path—though now, they serve more to create ambience and atmosphere. Over 1,000 pumpkins are now hand-carved each week to achieve the continuous path.
Volunteers Carving Pumpkins for Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village, October 1981 / THF146327
Throughout the 1990s, the Family Halloween program, still a members-only event, continued to grow in popularity and had become a yearly tradition for many. Creative collaborations between the Special Events, Village Programs, and AV teams continued to improve the experience, and serious work and experimentations began with lighting and visual effects. A huge breakthrough was the discovery that Tim and Tom, the Firestone Farm black Percheron horses were decent riding horses. It was not long before the Headless Horseman made his debut in the front fields of Firestone Farm. He was soon joined by Ichabod Crane and a Halloween in Greenfield Village favorite was born.
By 2001, though the sophistication and fit and finish of Halloween in Greenfield Village had evolved dramatically from its early years, there was still great potential for growth. Previously, costuming had mainly been reworked or cast-off bits and pieces from the period clothing inventory, décor was minimal, and aside from the hundreds of pumpkins on the jack-o’-lantern path, the main emphasis remained on treats.
The New Millennium Brings a Turning Point to the Program
Workers Laying Conduit in Greenfield Village during Infrastructure Restoration, January 2003 / THF133585
In 2002, the big news around Greenfield Village was the impending massive infrastructure restoration that would begin to take place in the fall. The Village would close at the end of September and not reopen until the following June. Halloween would take a hiatus that year as the huge project gained steam. This would be a turning point and a newly imagined program soon emerged, keeping in step with the newly imagined Greenfield Village.
By the summer of 2003, a cross-functional team began planning the work. The team very quickly established a back story that would guide what the new Halloween would and would not be. The shock and gore, now so prevalent in haunted houses, was removed from the mix. Instead, there was a move toward a family-friendly experience that would rely on the power of Greenfield Village after dark and scary and adventure-based stories that fuel the imagination and Halloween spirit.
Another important inspiration was Halloween party guides, published from the early 1900s through the 1950s, in the collections of The Henry Ford. These handbooks gave endless advice on how to decorate, what games to play, what food to prepare and serve, and a whole host of other miscellaneous tips on how to throw the best Halloween party. Among the most useful and inspirational were the series of yearly Bogie Books, published by the Dennison paper and party goods company from 1912 through 1935. These pamphlets were filled with illustrations, some in color, that featured the huge array of crepe paper and other party products produced by the Dennison Manufacturing Company. Elaborate costumes and party décor were shown—along with the list of Dennison products one would need to replicate the awe-inspiring ideas featured. The colors, textures, and techniques guided our teams in both costuming and decorating throughout the Village.
Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 / THF96746
Trick-or-treating would remain the main vehicle for moving guests through the experience on a set path, but the look and feel of the treat stations would begin to change dramatically. The Period Clothing Studio became very involved and began to design a spectacular series of costumes to bring the gothic, fairytale, and adventure storybook characters to life—with a nod to costumes of the 1910s and 1920s. By 2005, these characters would become the treat station hosts, with their own stages and stage lighting. Other favorite characters, like the Woman in White, the Dancing Skeletons, the live scarecrow, and, of course, the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, made triumphant returns with new costumes.
Costume Studio Preparing for Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 2005 / THF12490
Another significant change at this point was the shift from Hallowe’en being a members-only event to a public event. Members still had first-pick when ticket sales opened, as they do now, but after a certain date, the public was invited to purchase tickets. As the popularity of the event continued to grow, so did attendance capacities.
The creative work to improve costumes, set designs, and theatrical lighting continued. Through the 2010s, staged theatrical performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other fun, but dark fairytales, such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” were added to the mix. To set up the live Headless Horseman experience, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was also performed. Along with the dramatic presentations, live Halloween-themed musical performances featuring a vampire trio, the Potion Sisters, and a musical pirate review rounded out the offerings. To top it off, the Top Hat Side Show became a fixture on Washington Boulevard, anchoring the 1920s carnival theme in that area.
The Top Hat Side Show performing at Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village for the first time in 2015. (Photo by KMS Photography)
By 2019, the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village experience had hit its full stride and welcomed a record number of guests. There were now several different ways to experience the program with the addition of evening dining opportunities, including the children-themed “Fairytale Feast” and the 1850s Eagle Tavern Harvest Supper.
Rethinking Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020
Signage outside the main entrance of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in March 2020, announcing the closure of our venues due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy Ellice Engdahl)
Planning for the 2020 Hallowe’en program was well underway when the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt—and along with it, the entire summer calendar of Greenfield Village special events. As we cautiously reopened the Village and Museum over the Fourth of July weekend, The Henry Ford continued to learn and understand how safety measures should work, what the scale of program offerings needed to be, and what the future might bring. By the end of the summer, it was clear that we could consider a Halloween program in October. We knew it would need to be reimagined and presented in a very different way in order to comply with safety measures while at the same time allowing our guests to have a fun and enjoyable experience.
Based on decades of experience in planning and producing large scale public events, the Hallowe’en planning team took a fresh look at the program. It was immediately apparent that the entire concept of lining up for treats would have to be eliminated. Without the need for a set prescribed route, new possibilities opened, and the Holiday Nights model of enjoying the evening at one’s own pace and experiencing program elements in any order became the logical approach. Greatly reduced attendance capacities and timed entry would ensure a safe experience. Unfortunately, we were not able to offer our evening dining experiences this year, but happily, many familiar and favorite characters and experiences made a return.
A witch and the Hallowe’en Express welcome guests to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020. (Photo courtesy Jim Johnson)
A very exciting addition for 2020 is the Hallowe’en Express, a brand-new Halloween-themed train ride that makes a round trip excursion from the “Brimstone” Station at the front of the Village. Guests encounter all sorts of sights and sounds along the way. The presence of a live steam locomotive in the Village, with an eerie whistle created just for this occasion, adds an entirely new dimension to the overall experience for our guests.
Over the past 40 years, Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village has steadily grown and evolved. There have been many turning points in its long history, and 2020 will rank among the most significant. New beginnings can often be viewed as painful endings, but the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village planning team is fully embracing this new beginning and is very excited to share the path we have taken.
Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes at The Henry Ford.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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 Nationepisode page and YouTube clip.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’sepisode page and YouTube clip.)
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.
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.”
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.
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’sInnovation Nation episode page.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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!
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.
J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, 2001 (THF138628)
The Waterford Country Store—as it was initially called in Greenfield Village—was the first building to arrive in the Village. Re-erected on the Village Green in 1927-28, it was soon joined by other buildings—a schoolhouse, courthouse, tavern, town hall, and chapel—that to Henry Ford all symbolized America’s spirit of community. New research in the 1990s revealed that, between the time the store was built in 1856-57 and the time Henry Ford brought it to Greenfield Village in the 1920s, nine different storekeepers had operated a general store out of this building. A reinstallation of the building in the 1990s refocused the store’s furnishings and interpretation on the era of 1882 to 1888—when J.R. Jones ran the store in Waterford, Michigan.
This is an interior view of the stocked, fully functional store in 1925, when the August Jacober family operated it in Waterford, Michigan. The Jacobers were the last family of proprietors to run this store before it was brought to Greenfield Village.
This photograph depicts the general store in Waterford, Michigan, just before it was removed to Greenfield Village in 1926. According to Jacober family descendants, this store was raised on skids in the street because the family was building a new brick store on its original site. Ford likely saw the old store, had his agents arrange to purchase it around August 1927, and then had it moved to Greenfield Village.
Store exterior in Greenfield Village, 1958 (THF138605)
When Henry Ford first envisioned a Village Green as the centerpiece of his recreated village in Dearborn, the general store was situated and reconstructed on what would become its permanent location. The Elias Brown sign that hangs out front in this 1958 image came from upstate New York. During this time, the store was known as the Elias Brown General Store.
Store interior in Greenfield Village, 1965 (THF126771)
To furnish the building with authentic general store artifacts from the past, Ford sent agents in search of unsold stock that might still remain in old general stores. Their finds primarily came from stores in upstate New York and New Hampshire. By the 1960s, as seen in this image, the interior was furnished not only with old store stock but also with penny candy that visitors could purchase.
Store exterior, 1994, with vintage Lah-de-Dahs baseball team posing in front (THF136301)
Research in the 1990s led to a new, more accurate historical interpretation of this store as it existed in Waterford, Michigan, during the 1880s. This era was chosen to represent a transition in stores—from old-fashioned displays of pickle barrels and flour bins to shelves stocked with more modern products like canned goods and brand-name items. A new sign with the name of the proprietor of this store in Waterford during the 1880s—J.R. Jones—replaced the old Elias Brown sign over the front entrance.
Store interior, 2008, with historically-dressed presenter (THF53771)
Use of period photographs, account books, and inventories led to the choices of stock for the store. Presenters in this building—dressed in accurately-researched historic clothing—tell the stories of J.R. Jones, the customers who shopped here in the 1880s, and the products they might have purchased.
Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Greenfield Village’s historic buildings were not Henry Ford’s first preservation effort. Ford’s restoration of his own childhood home in 1919 set him on a preservation path. And it was just the beginning. Soon Ford began to restore other buildings.
In 1919, Henry Ford contemplated the importance of his own birthplace when a road improvement project required the farmhouse be either moved 200 yards from its original location or be torn down.
Henry Ford birthplace after it was moved 200 yards and restored, 1923. THF255378
Ford on the porch of his restored childhood home in 1923. THF96278
Ford decided to move the house and restore it to the way it looked at the time of his mother’s death in 1876, when he was 13 years old. For Ford, the project was personal--he took charge of the birthplace restoration, meticulously re-creating the details of the house.
Ford’s assistants placed this advertisement in the Detroit News in the fall of 1922. THF136552
After an 18th-month-long search, a Starlight stove like the one Ford remembered from childhood took its place in the restored Ford birthplace.THF255596
Ford worked hard to find original or similar furnishings. For 18 months, he searched for a Starlight stove like the one in the dining room when he was growing up. Ford’s staff contacted stove manufacturers and dealers and used the network of Ford Motor Company branch offices and automobile dealers to comb the country. When nothing turned up, his staff even placed advertisements in Detroit newspapers--though not revealing that it was Henry Ford who wanted the stove. After a nationwide search, Ford’s desire for a Starlight No. 25 was satisfied at last. He found one in a small Michigan town, paying $25 for it. Piece by piece, Henry Ford was re-creating his childhood home as he remembered it.
Sunday parlor in Henry Ford birthplace, 1923. THF96899
When the restoration of Ford’s childhood home was complete, people were awestruck by its authenticity. It seemed remarkable to him, and others, how a re-created environment could catapult one into another time and place.
In 1923, Ford bought and preserved the red brick Scotch Settlement School he had attended as a child. Henry Ford kept the building on its original site while he supervised every detail of its restoration.
Henry Ford’s restoration of his birthplace had received extensive press coverage. Not surprisingly, Americans deluged the wealthy man with pleas of assistance for preservation projects of their own. Although Ford turned down most requests for assistance, a few caught his fancy.
The Wayside Inn in the mid-1920s, after its restoration. THF132883
Henry and Clara Ford periodically visited the Wayside Inn, whose doors had been opened to the public. By 1927, however, Henry’s attention increasingly turned to his plans for his historical village and museum in Dearborn.THF 98987
Ford agreed to assist in the restoration of the 1686 Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, west of Boston. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had made the inn famous in his Tales of a Wayside Inn. The author’s “Psalm of Life,” read by Ford in the McGuffey Readers of his youth, was among the industrialist’s favorite inspirational verses. Ford purchased the inn for $65,000, restoring and furnishing it at significant expense. He bought up much surrounding land and even diverted the Boston Post Road to keep automobile traffic from ruining the bucolic setting.
Presentation Drawing, "Proposed Development of a Colonial Village of South Sudbury, Massachusetts," 1926 THF58202
Ford clearly contemplated even grander plans for the Wayside Inn and its surrounding property. A “Proposed Development of a Colonial Village of South Sudbury, Massachusetts…done at the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture” in 1926 shows a “village” composed of the Wayside Inn, houses, a church, a mill, and other buildings. Although the plan was never realized, Ford may have been working out ideas that were later revealed in Greenfield Village.
Botsford Inn in Farmington, Michigan, 1925. THF108707
Musicians’ Stage in Botsford ballroom, 1925. THF108709
Closer to home, Ford refurbished the old Botsford Inn on Grand River Avenue in Farmington, Michigan, in 1924. The inn had once served 19th-century travelers en route from Detroit to Lansing. Ford’s staff sought out old-timers who remembered the inn in its heyday and used their recollections to help furnish the place. Ford added a maple floor to the ballroom and, for a while, held old-fashioned dances there.
Ford had turned down a request for funds to restore Williamsburg, the colonial-era Virginia capital. He was more interested in creating his own village closer to home, which would include buildings from different time periods and places. In 1927, Ford began to gather buildings for what would become Greenfield Village.
Scotch Settlement School being reconstructed in Greenfield Village, 1929. THF138711
Ford birthplace being moved to Greenfield Village, 1944. THF136562
Two of Ford’s early preservation projects would find their way into Greenfield Village. During the summer of 1929, Scotch Settlement School was dismantled and moved as Ford’s historical village began to take shape. Ford’s birthplace would be the last building moved to the village during his lifetime. By the 1940s, the city of Dearborn was growing up around the Ford family homestead, and the house required 24-hour security protection. In January 1944, the home was cut in two and hauled by truck a few miles from the Dearborn farmstead to its new location in Greenfield Village.
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.
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.
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.
The Logan County Courthouse, a fixture on the Village Green in Greenfield Village, will has reached the milestone of having been here in Dearborn for as many years as it was in Postville, Illinois - 89 years.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village, which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Lincoln epitomized Ford’s view of the “self-made man,” and he made a significant effort to collect as many objects as possible associated with him. By the late 1920s, Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
It has taken nearly all the 89 years to achieve this, but an original feature, long absent from the courtroom is making a return. The bar now stands again. Using the original set of spindles, we have re-created our interpretation of what the rail, or the bar, that divided the courtroom may have looked like in the1840s. By referencing images of other early 19th century courtrooms, and studying architectural features represented in Greenfield Village, a typical design was created.
The stories associated with the Logan County Courthouse are fascinating. As it turns out, the story of how the original spindles from the original bar finally made their way back into the courthouse is fascinating as well.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s. There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them, but very few of these were the real thing. For Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Lincoln seemed unlikely.
But, by the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in very run-down condition, described by some as “derelict.” It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for taking over the care of the building. Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Ford’s intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over.
This image shows the state of the building when it was first seen by Henry Ford’s staff in late August of 1929. Not visible in the large shed attached to the rear of the building. THF238386
The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as stating that, “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination. By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people."
Henry had made his case and the courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln. Immediately following the final negotiations, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed to purchase the land. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die on September 19, just as the last bits of the old courthouse were being loaded for their journey to Greenfield Village.
Reconstruction, which included the fabrication of many of the first-floor details and a new stone chimney and fireplaces, began immediately. In roughly a month’s time, the building was ready for the grand opening of Greenfield Village on October 21, 1929.
Nine years later, in 1938, Eugene Amberg sent a letter to Ford describing an interesting discovery. Mr. Amberg was a native of what was now Lincoln, Illinois and worked as a railroad ticket agent. He had a great interest in the local history and was a collector of local artifacts. As he writes in the letter dated February 8, 1938:
Several years ago, you purchased the Old Postville Court House here in Lincoln, Ills from Mrs. T Beach. At the time the Court House was made into a dwelling the railing that separated the judges desk from the main court room was torn out by my father (John Amberg) who was doing the remodeling, this he stored in the attic of his home, recently my mother died and while cleaning out the attic we came across these spindles, which are the original 28 spindles that the hand railing rested upon. The hand railing was of walnut, out of which was carved some arm rests that are now on some of the pews in St. Mary’s, a church here.
Would appreciate a line from you as to whether or not you would be interested in these spindles, have had numerous offers for them, inasmuch as they are part of the original court house I feel they should be with it, in your Dearborn Village.
Dated February 7, 1938, this is the initial letter from Gene Amberg to Henry Ford offering the 28 original spindles for sale. Despite several letters back and forth, a price could not be settled upon, and the transaction never took place. THF288006
This drawing was sent by Gene Amberg, as a follow-up to his first letter offering the spindles for sale. The artist, Mary Katherine, was Gene’s 14 year old daughter. THF288012
Negotiations evidently faltered, as a price was not agreed upon, and the spindles were never sent. Fast forward 71 years to 2009 when an email arrived from Carol Moore and her brother, Dennis Cunningham, the grandchildren of Eugene Amberg. They had no idea that their grandfather had begun this process, and were amazed when we produced the original correspondence from our archival collection. As it turns out, their story was almost identical to Eugene’s. As Carol wrote their mother, “Patricia Amberg Cunningham died March 1, 2008. While cleaning her house in Delavan, Illinois to prepare for sale, we found 28 old wooden spindles and a newspaper article believed to be from the Lincoln Courier indicating that the spindles are from the original Postville Courthouse in Lincoln, Illinois. It is our desire to donate them to the original Postville Courthouse.”
She was very familiar with Greenfield Village, and had visited the courthouse here. Jim McCabe, the Buildings Curator at the time, gladly accepted the donation.
Clipping from the Lincoln Courier ca. 1934, noting the 28 spindles from the “old Postville courthouse” in the possession of Gene Amberg. THF288016, THF288017
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and the county offices moved to a new courthouse. After a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter.
Understanding the local history helps to also understand the changes that took place to the building. It explains how and why portions of the building were altered, parts removed, and eventually separated.
By the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior. The most significant of these was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, it was lifted off its original limestone foundation, and the original single limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation were created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves.
This is the earliest known photograph of the Logan County Courthouse taken some time between 1850 and 1880. This photograph shows the building in its second location, 80 feet forward from its original foundation, at the crest of a small rise. The original window and door configuration remain intact. The original single stone chimney, now restored to the left side of the building, has been replaced by two internal brick chimneys designed for cast-iron heating stoves. Though not visible in the photograph, the building now sits on a new brick foundation and cellar. The items sitting near the doorway speak to the building’s new life as a store. THF132074
By 1880, the old courthouse had been converted from a commercial building into a private dwelling, and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed. Later, a porch was added to the front entrance, and a shed addition was added to the rear. Photographs taken in September of 1929 during the dismantling, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build.
This post 1880 view of the Logan County Courthouse shows its transformation into a two- family dwelling. Note the single doorway is now two, the second now taking the place of a former window opening. THF238350
This image shows further remodeling of the front of the building. This photo ca.1900 shows the addition of recessed covered porch with some decorative posts and millwork. This is the iteration in which the building was found when it was sold to Henry Ford in September of 1929. THF238348
These three images show the re-modeled interior of what was the original courtroom, now serving as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor. These photos were taken by Henry Ford’s staff just prior to the dismantling of the building in September of 1929. THF238580
The sub-divided first floor courtroom. THF238600
View of the cellar entrance under the stairway in the sub-divided courtroom. THF238598
We have no evidence that tells us what if any interior changes Mr. Kahn may have made when he relocated the building around 1850. The earliest photograph we have of the building shows it in its new location, but except for its new brick chimneys, it retains what appears to be its original door and window configuration. We can only assume that Mr. Kahn had kept the rail in place, which may have proved useful in the building’s new configuration as a store and post office. No photographs of the original courtroom exist and extensive changes made first in 1880, and then when the building was dismantled and reconstructed in Greenfield Village, further comprised any original evidence.
This view of the dismantled second floor shows matching trim and chair rail connected directly to the studs indicating this as the originally installed woodwork from 1840. The wall partition studs are also notched to meet the ceiling joists, showing that they are also part of the original framing configuration of the second floor. All the trim work, including the doors were made of walnut. THF285571
Based on the evidence we do have about these changes, it is very likely that at the time of the building’s conversion into a private dwelling, around 1880, the decorative hand-turned spindles and walnut hand rail would have been salvaged as the first floor of the building was sub-divided into a duplex. As stated in the family history, the walnut top rail was re-purposed and used in St. Mary’s Catholic Church (which burned in 1976), and the spindles saved for a future project.
Analysis of the original spindles showed that they were poplar, a wood commonly used for turning and as a secondary wood in the mid-19th century. Based on what we knew, we decided to use a combination of woods for the reconstruction of the bar rail. Walnut was used for the top rail and column caps, and the remainder of was done in poplar. Though refinished in 1929, the original walnut trim throughout the building was used as a guide for the color and sheen of the final finish. Reproduction hardware, again based on the existing hardware, mainly on the second floor, was used to mount the center gate.
Mose Nowland, conservation team volunteer at The Henry Ford, works on the design rendering for the bar. (Photo by Jim Johnson)
Mose Nowland and other members of The Henry Ford Conservation Team with the newly installed bar. (Photo by Bill Pagel)
The design of the physical installation of the rail and gate was robust. Each of the support columns is supported within by a steel post that runs through the floor joists and into the cellar floor. With over a half million guests visiting Greenfield Village each year, we thought this important. The design also offers some degree of protection to the original spindles that are centered within the top and bottom rail. This is a permanent installation, and we wanted to be sure it would stand up to the test of time.
Views of the newly re-created bar at the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village. (Photos by Jim Johnson)
A huge thank you to Mary Fahey and Dennis Morrison for stewarding the project. Also to Mose Nowland, our extraordinary volunteer with The Henry Ford’s Conservation Team, who lead the charge in creating the design, and produced beautifully detailed drawings. Ken Gesek, one of our Historic Buildings Carpenters, built the rail, Cuong Nguyen and Tamsen Brown, with the help of the rest of the THF Conservation Team, oversaw the restoration of the original spindles. Tamsen also developed the formula to match the stain and finish to the existing woodwork in the courthouse. Jason Cagle, from the Painting Staff, skillfully applied the finish. Many other people worked to move the project forward as well.
This true team effort resulted in the original spindles finally being reunited with the Logan County Courthouse after an absence of nearly 140 years.
Logan County Courthouse as it appears today in Greenfield Village. (Photo by Jim Johnson)
Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.
Logan County Courthouse Spindle Accession File, 2009.111, items 1-28, Archival Collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
Logan County Courthouse Building Files including original correspondences, records, photographs prior to dismantling in September of 1929, photographs of dismantling process, September 1929, reconstruction photographs, Greenfield Village, September 1929, 19th century photographic images, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
The Herald, vol. 5 n.3, The Edison Institute Press, March 4, 1938.
Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1840 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1850 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
Stringer, Lawrence B, The History of Logan County, Illinois, A Record of its Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Pioneer Press, Chicago, 1911.
“The Story of the Purchase of the Logan County Courthouse and its Removal to Greenfield Village by Mr. Henry Ford, as told in the columns of the Lincoln Evening Courier, 8/19/29-10/21/29”, compiled by Thomas I. Starr, Aug 1931. Logan County Courthouse Building Files, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
This year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the George Washington Carver Memorial in Greenfield Village. There is not a great deal of specific information about this project in the archival collections, but here is what we do know.
Henry Ford’s connections and interest in the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute began as early as 1910 when he contributed to the school’s scholarship fund. At this time, George Washington Carver was the head of the Research and Experimental Station there.
Henry Ford always had interests in agricultural science, and as his empire grew, he became even more focused on using natural resources, especially plants, to maximize industrial production. He was especially interested in plant materials that could be grown locally. Carver has similar interest, but his focus was on improving the lives of southern farmers. His greatest fame was that of a “Food Scientist”, though he was also very well known for developing a variety of cotton that was better suited for the growing conditions in Alabama. Through the decades that followed, connections and correspondences were made, but it would not be until 1937 that the two would meet face to face.
Through the 1930s, work and research began to really ramp up in the Research or Soybean Laboratory in Greenfield Village. Various plants with the potential to produce industrial products were researched, but eventually, the soybean became the focus. Processes that extracted oils and fibers became very sophisticated, and some limited production of soy based car parts did take place in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as a result of the work done there.
In 1935, the Farm Chemurgic Council had its very first meeting in Dearborn. This group, formed to study and encourage better use of renewable resources, would meet annually becoming the National Farm Chemurgic Council. It was at the 1937 meeting, also held in Dearborn, that George Washington Carver, and his assistant, Austin Curtis, were asked to speak. Carver was put up in a suite of rooms at the Dearborn Inn, and it was here that he and Henry Ford were able to meet and discuss their ideas for the first time, face to face. During the visit, Ford entertained Carver at Greenfield Village and gave him the grand tour. Carver was also invited to address the students of the Edison Institute Schools. Carver would write to Ford following the visit, “two of the greatest things that have come into my life have come this year. The first was the meeting with you, and to see the great educational project that you are carrying on in a way that I have never seen demonstrated before.”
It was at some point during the visit that Henry Ford put forth the idea of including a building dedicated to George Washington Carver in Greenfield Village. It seems that he asked Carver about his recollections of his birthplace, and went as far as to ask for descriptions and drawings. Later correspondence from Austin Curtis in November of 1937 confirm Ford’s interest. It was determined by that point that the original building that stood on the farm of Moses Carver in Diamond Point, Missouri had long been demolished. Granting Ford’s request, Curtis would go on to supply suggested dimensions and a sketch, to help guide the project. The cabin was described as fourteen feet by eighteen feet with a nine- foot wall, reaching to fourteen feet at the peak of the roof. It included a chimney made of clay and sticks.
A 1937 rendering of the birthplace of George Washington Carver based on his recollections. No artist is attributed, but it is likely this was drawn by Carver. THF113849
It would not be until the spring of 1942 that the project would get underway. The building, very loosely based on the descriptions provided by Carver, would be constructed adjacent to the Logan County Courthouse. In 1935, the two brick slave quarters from the Hermitage Plantation, had been reconstructed on the other side of the courthouse. The grouping was completed with the addition of the Mattox House (thought to be a white overseers house from Georgia) in 1943. As Edward Cutler, Henry Ford’s architect, would state in a 1955 interview, “we had the slave huts, the Lincoln Courthouse, the George Washington Carver House. The emancipator was in between the slaves and the highly- educated man, It’s a little picture in itself.”
There are no records beyond Henry Ford’s requests for information as to how the final design of the building, that now stands in Greenfield Village, was determined. An invoice and correspondence does appear requesting white pine logs, of specific dimensions, from Ford’s Iron Mountain property. There is also an extensive photo documentation of the construction process in the spring and early summer of 1942.
Logs in place, roof framing in process, spring 1942. THF285285
Newly Completed George Washington Carver Memorial, Early Summer, 1942. THF285295
In the end, the cabin would resemble less of a hard scrabble slave hut, and more of a 1940s Adirondack style cabin that any of us would be proud to have on some property “up north”. It was fitted out with a sitting room, two small bedrooms (with built in bunks), a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. It was furnished with pre-civil war antiques and was also equipped with a brick fireplace that included a complete set-up for fireplace cooking. As an interesting tribute to Carver, a project, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, provided wood representing trees from all 48 states and the District of Columbia to be used as paneling throughout the cabin. Today, one can still see the names of each wood and state inscribed into the panels.
Plans had initially been made for Carver to come for an extended stay in Dearborn in August of 1942, but those plans changed and he arrived on July 19. This was likely due to Carver’s frail health and bouts of illness. While the memorial was being built, extensive plans were also underway for the conversion of the old Waterworks building on Michigan Avenue, adjacent to Greenfield Village, into a research laboratory for Carver. The unplanned early arrival date forced a massive effort into place to finish the work before Carver arrival. Despite wartime restrictions, three hundred men were assigned to the job and it was finished in about a week’s time.
George Washington Carver would stay for two weeks and during his visit, he was given the “royal” treatment. His visit was covered extensively by the press and he made at least one formal presentation to the student of the Edison Institute at the Martha Mary Chapel. During his stay, he resided at the Dearborn Inn, but on July 21, following the dedication of the laboratory and the memorial in Greenfield Village, just to add another level of authenticity to the cabin, Carver spent the night in it.
George Washington Carver and Henry Ford at the Dedication of the George Washington Carver National Laboratory, July 21, 1942. THF253993 Edsel Ford, George Washington Carver, and Henry Ford, Carver Memorial, July 21, 1942. THF253989
George Washington Carver at fireplace in Carver Memorial, July 21, 1942. THF285303
George Washington Carver seated at the table in Carver Memorial, July 21, 1942. THF285305
The completed George Washington Carver Memorial in Greenfield Village c.1943. THF285299
Beginning in 1938, Carver began to suffer from some serious health issues. Pernicious anemia is often a fatal disease and when first diagnosed, there was not much hope for Carver’s survival. He surprised everyone by responding to the new treatments and gaining back his strength. Henry and Clara visited Tuskegee in 1938 for the first time, later, when Henry Ford heard of Carver’s illness, he sent an elevator to be installed in the laboratory where Carver spent most of his time. Carver would profusely thank Ford, calling it a “life saver”. In 1939, Carver visited the Fords at Richmond Hill and visited the school the Fords had built and named for him there. In 1941, the Fords made another visit to Tuskegee to attend the dedication of the George Washington Carver Museum.
During this time, Carver would suffer relapses, and then rebound, each time surprising his doctors. This likely had much to do with his change in travel plans in the summer of 1942. Following his visit to Dearborn, through the fall, there was regular correspondence to Henry Ford. One of the last, dated December 22, 1942, was a thank you for the pair of shoes made by the Greenfield Village cobbler. Following a fall down some stairs, George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943, he was seventy-eight years old.
Carver Memorial in its whitewashed iteration, c.1950. THF285299
It was seventy-five years ago, that George Washington Carver made his last trip to Dearborn. His legacy lives on here, and he remains in the excellent company of those everyday Americans such as Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford, who despite very ordinary beginnings, went on to achieve extraordinary things and inspire others. His fame lives on today, and even our elementary school- age guests, know of George Washington Carver and his work with the peanut.
Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford.
Bryan, Ford, Friends, Family & Forays: Scenes from the Life & Times of Henry Ford, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2002.
Edward Cutler Oral Interview, 1955, Archival Collection, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
Collection of correspondences between Henry Ford and George Washington Carver, Frank Campsall, Austin Curtis, 1937-1943, Archival Collection, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
George Washington Carver Memorial Building Boxes, Archival Collection, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
The Herald, August, 1942, The Edison Institute, Dearborn, MI
As we look forward to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017, our guests and staff alike enjoy reconnecting with our amazing array of historic buildings. Each of them not only represent different periods of American history, they also hold so many fascinating stories. Among the more interesting, are how they came to have new lives here in Greenfield Village. The Logan County Courthouse’s story is among my favorites.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
Logan County Courthouse as it stands today in Greenfield Village.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s.There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them. But very few of these were the real thing. For Henry Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Abraham Lincoln seemed unlikely.
Logan County Courthouse September of 1929.
But, in the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Henry Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building, was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in run down condition, described by some as “derelict”. It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for funding the restoration, and taking over its on-going care and maintenance.
View of rear section of building with shed addition, September 1929
Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Henry Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Henry Ford intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over. The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as saying “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination.
View of side currently adjacent to Dr. Howard’s Office, September, 1929. This view shows evidence of filled in window openings. The window currently behind the judge’s bench was restored.
By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Henry Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”
Views of partitioned first floor, summer 1929.
The courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln, and by September 6, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed, and the newly purchased land was secured by Ford’s staff. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die a week later, on September 19th.
The dismantling and discovery process was closely covered by the local newspapers, and as the building came apart, its original design was revealed.
Beginning as early as the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior of the building. By 1880, the building had been converted from a commercial building into a dwelling and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed and eventually, a covered porch was added to what is now the main entrance, and a shed addition to the rear. But, the most significant change, was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot.
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and after a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office within. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, the old limestone foundation was left behind, and the original limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation was created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves. This took place before 1850.
The oldest know photograph of the Logan County Courthouse c.1850-1880. The original door arrangement remains in place.
Photographs taken in September of 1929, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build. The oldest photograph of the courthouse shows it on its second site with its original window and door arrangement still in place, but with new brick chimneys. The photo dates from between 1850 and 1880.
It was some of the older inhabitants of the area that alerted Henry Ford’s staff as to the original location of the foundation. Once located, the original foundation revealed the dimensions of the original first-floor fireplace. All the stones were carefully removed and shipped to Dearborn. The courthouse rests on this foundation today. The local newspaper also reported that while excavating the foundation, a large key and doorknob were found at the edge, aligned where the front door would have been located.
View of side that currently faces Scotch Settlement School, September, 1929. Shadow of original stone chimney is visible. Patched sections of siding show that originally, the stone would have been flush with the siding until approximately the top third, which would have extended out from the building like the entire chimney currently does. The window and door are late additions.
By September 20th, the building, consisting of two car loads of material, was on its way to Dearborn. Reconstruction in Greenfield Village began almost immediately at a frenzied pace. Finishing touches were still being applied right up until the October 21st dedication of Greenfield Village. Edward Cutler oversaw the final design elements needed to restore the building along with the actual work of reconstructing it. All the first- floor details, including the fireplace, mantle, and judges bench had to be re-created. The first-floor interior trim was reproduced in walnut, and was based on the original trim that survived on the second floor. The second floor, using a large amount of original material, including flooring, was also restored to its original appearance. Even the original plaster was collected, re-ground, and used to re-plaster the interior walls.
Views of the excavated original foundation, located 86 feet back from building’s second location. Lower view shows foundation for the original fireplace. September, 1929.
Based on the oldest of the original photographs, all new windows and exterior doors were also reproduced. Where possible, the original exterior walnut siding was also restored, and re-applied to the building and secured with brass screws.This was not a period technique, but rather a solution by Cutler to ensure the original siding with its worn nail holes, would stay in place.
The result was a place where Henry Ford could now display, and share his collection of Lincoln associated artifacts, including the most famous of all, the rocking chair from the presidential booth in Ford’s theater where Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865.
Re-construction well under way in Greenfield Village on October, 2, 1929. The building would be complete for the October 21, dedication. The Sarah Jordan Boarding House can be seen in the distance.
The completed Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village as it appeared for the October 21 dedication.
The newly unpacked Ford’s Theater rocking chair in the Logan County Courthouse, January of 1930.
The interior of the completed Logan County Courthouse c.1935. It featured a display of Abraham Lincoln associated objects including Springfield furniture and the rocking chair from Ford’s Theater.
From 1929 until the mid-1980s, the building was left almost untouched as a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.
It was not until the mid-1980s that the research material was re-examined, primarily for preparations for much needed repairs to the now 50 plus year old restoration. In 1980, prior to the restoration work, the Lincoln assassination rocking chair was removed from the courthouse and placed in Henry Ford Museum. In 1984, the building underwent a significant restoration and was re-sided, the first- floor flooring was repaired, and extensive plaster repair and refinishing took place. In addition, a furnace was added (inside the judge’s bench), to provide adequate heat.
The interpretation of the building also was redefined and was re-focused away from the Abraham Lincoln shrine and more toward the stories of the history of our legal system and the civic lives of Americans in the 1840s. Gradually, many of the Lincoln artifacts were removed to appropriate climate controlled storage or display in Henry Ford Museum.
That brings us to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017. The Logan County Courthouse has now stood as long in Greenfield Village as it did in Postville, 88 years. It has had an interesting and storied history in both locations. Both the curatorial team, and the Greenfield Village programs team are excited to continue the process of ongoing research and improving the scholarship of the stories we tell there. We are working on some projects to accomplish just that for the near future and are looking forward to sharing all the details.
In the late 1880s, German immigrant Engelbert Grimm had a building designed by local architect Peter Dederichs, Jr., which was then built along Michigan Avenue in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Grimm sold and repaired watches, clocks, and jewelry for more than four decades on the ground floor of this building, and lived with his family on the second floor. After the death of the store’s founder, customer Henry Ford acquired both the contents of the store and, later, the building itself, which now stands in Greenfield Village as Grimm Jewelry Store.
You could argue that one of the most visible buildings in Greenfield Village is Martha-Mary Chapel, standing as it does at the end of the Village Green, with its columns in front and high steeple. However, unlike many of the other buildings in the Village, the Chapel is not a historic building that was moved from elsewhere, but was built in the Village in 1929. Henry Ford wanted to recreate a typical village green and therefore had the Chapel (a characteristic building for a green) built, and named it after both his own mother, Mary Litogot Ford, and his wife Clara’s mother, Martha Bench Bryant. Some of the fixtures on the building came from Clara Ford’s childhood home, adding another layer of personal resonance. We’ve just digitized more than 100 images of the Chapel taken over its nearly 90-year history, including this classic shot from 1935—browse them all by visiting our Digital Collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.