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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

July 2005 Issue

Authentically Refabricated
Henry Ford's Greenfield Village adjusts to modern times.

By Gary W. Cramer

Authentically Refabricated
© Balthazar Korab Photography Ltd.

If the dissonance of strolling from an early 1600s Snowshill, England, forge to the Wright brothers' late-1800s Dayton, Ohio, cycle shop within a matter of minutes doesn't cause visitors to flee, then the administrators of Greenfield Village shouldn't worry about losing them intellectually. However, losing them physically was once such an issue at the Dearborn, Michigan, tourist attraction that the desire to make trip hopping across historical eras and locations more progressive than discursive fueled a recent village-wide makeover.

Industrialist Henry Ford started this collection of buildings and artifacts following the Chicago Tribune's publicly scorning his seeming ignorance of history. Opened first as a school in 1929, the overall complex of Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, both of which represented the inventiveness and heritage of down-to-earth Americans, went public in 1933. Ford soon commissioned Chicago landscape architect Jens Jensen to create a master plan for the 85-acre-plus village portion. Jensen turned in the plan, developed with his son-in-law, Marshall Johnson, in December 1935.

In this country, rivers were once the physical barriers that helped define the shape of communities and separated settlements. Today, roads like I-215 play that role.

Sixty-five years later, leaders of the organization considered that original plan so important that they spotlighted it in the criteria set before the four landscape architecture firms invited to vie for the project of restoring the village. The balancing act between the need for modern amenities and faithfulness to history is apparent in how Christian Overland, director of Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, describes the attraction. Vignettes from 300 years of history and many geographical locations distinguish the village from the "one place at one time" approach of such heritage-oriented competitors as Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, Overland says.

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