Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Firestone Farm


(This particular chapter is mainly about the house the Firestones lived in. The barn and other outbuildings are in the next chapter (scroll to the bottom for the link). I must also 'warn' the reader that there are quite a few pictures of the Firestone Farm in this chapter of the blog. I hope you enjoy them!)

The Firestone Farm was originally built by Peter Firestone in 1828 in Columbiana, Ohio (just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border), and is now a gem among gems inside Greenfield Village. Among the family members living there in the latter half of the 19th century was young Harvey Firestone, the grandson of Peter, who would later gain fame and fortune in the tire industry and became a close friend of Henry Ford.
Original photo taken in the early 1880's
During the 19th and into the 20th century, the Firestones raised a large flock of sheep, with wool being their 'cash crop,' but they also harvested oats, hay, corn, and wheat. In 1965, nearly thirty years after Harvey's death, his descendants and the local historical society restored the house and opened it to the public for tours, but because of the farm's remote location, it failed to attract many visitors.
In 1983, Harvey's two surviving sons, both in their 70's, gave the house and barn, together with furnishings and a sizable endowment for maintenance, to Greenfield Village as a way to keep the memory of their father.

Disassembling the buildings and reconstructing them some two hundred miles away took over two years. During the dis-assembly and reconstruction, however, the crew made a very interesting discovery: a note tucked beneath a staircase, signed, dated, and hidden by none other than 14 year old Harvey himself, inadvertently revealed the date of the 1882 restoration!

The Firestone Farm, as it stands now in Greenfield Village, is a living history re-creation of life on a farm of the 1880's in Eastern Ohio, and has been restored to look as it did in 1882, when Harvey's parents remodeled the house to give it a more modern look. The wallpaper and furnishings throughout the house show what was considered stylish during the Victorian era. The next four pictures show the 'best room' - the parlor - showing the phenomenal job the curators did:

The parlor was used mainly to entertain special guests. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison visited and, no doubt, sat in this parlor.

The goal of Greenfield Village is to have the visitor, upon entering the farm, feel as if they had stepped back in time. In the house, barn, and fields, there is always work to be done. But, the workers here do not take on the roles of the Firestone family members.

~Sadie at the Organ~
She did a wonderful job performing a period tune for us!

They, instead, try to give the patrons an immersion experience, back to the 1880's, which seems to begin from the moment the visitor steps onto the gravel walkway leading to the house. Creating this immersion experience is the ultimate way to use the site to its fullest advantage.

The curators went to the extreme to perfect this 'experience.' Their methodology was to decide, as accurately as possible, what the Firestone family would have had or would have done.

The curators focused on the people from 1880's eastern Ohio, then 1880's midwest, then 1880's north, etc., until they were satisfied that they had re-created life as once lived.

The Dining room, below, is just off the kitchen.


Upon entering the side door, the patron will see all presenters in period clothing. These docents may not portray an actual person from the past, but their appearance, actions, and manner of speaking will evoke the past. They bring the 1880's to life in such a way that, although it is not in a 1st person presentation (as the presenters do at Colonial Williamsburg), the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of Firestone Farm truly give the visitor that time-travel experience - more than any other building in the Village. The patron is able to watch and ask questions while the presenters do the daily activities and chores. Upon repeated visits, one can see many of the chores change throughout the year: spring planting and cleaning, summer chores with crops and livestock, and autumn harvesting as well as winter preparations.

Visitors can even sit down in a Victorian chair in the sitting room and relax by looking at pictures through a stereoscope......or warm themselves beside the fire in the fireplace.

Having a warm by the fire at Christmas Time

A true 'Immersion experience.'The kitchen is the center of activity year-round, and the presenters show this well.

Period correct meals are prepared each day on a coal-burning stove - expect to be told to "be careful, the stove is hot" as you enter the room.

The recipes, clothing, furnishings, and kerosene lamps are all typical of farm life in the American midwest during the 1880's.

Yes, the presenters eat what they cook!

Monday is laundry day on the farm, and the presenters at Firestone wash their clothes like they did in the later Victorian era, using lye soap, water heated over a fire or on the stove, and a washboard. The clean clothes are hung outside on a clothesline to dry.


On Sundays I have seen the female docents work on needlepoint or another craft.


Not a Greenfield Village presenter, but my wife, here, is relaxed and feels right at home while she is crocheting at the Farm during the Civil War Remembrance

In keeping with the tradition of the farm, usually around the Christmas season some of the Firestone Farm hogs are butchered. This was an exciting time for farm families for it provided meat and lard for the coming year. Visitors can see the Farm staff scraping the bristles from the carcass, removing the entrails and carving the carcass into chops, hams, bacon, etc. This will take place in the cellar and kitchen. They will then cure the meat with salts, sugars, and brine solutions.

And one can find how they converted hog fat into lard for cooking or making soap.
The butchered meat and lard will be used in their presentations throughout the coming year.


In the cellar the patron will find the curing meat hanging from the ceiling.

Also, in the cellar, much of the 'messiest' work is done, such as soap carving.


This is also where the coal for the stoves are kept.
The second floor is, unfortunately, closed to the public, due to, I believe, the fire marshall of Dearborn being concerned of a fire exit.

But, I have been lucky enough to visit this rarely seen by the general public area. It is every bit as beautifully decorated as the first floor.
Here, a statue of a deer sits on a hall shelf.

Below are a couple pictures of the master bedroom where Harvey's parents slept:

And next we have some shots of Harvey's room

And we can't forget grandma's bedroom

and grandma's private sitting room...

...all presented as it once was in the 1880's.
Once a year, on the 4th of July, the presenters enjoy a special treat: homemade ice cream from a hand-crank ice cream maker. Visitors are not allowed to taste the food but it certainly looked good!
 
The folks at Greenfield Village and Firestone Farm take pride in accurately depicting life as it was once lived. The experience at the Farm is perhaps the finest example of living history I have witnessed yet. And the presenters here do an amazing job in their presentation. They interact wonderfully and patiently with the constant flow of visitors entering throughout the day.
Actually, I believe that in the way the Firestone Farm is presented would be exactly what Henry Ford would want, for he said back in the 1920's: "History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."
Yes, they do harrowing here - - - -


If you see no other building inside the Village, this is one that should not be missed. As stated in the Daggett Farmhouse chapter, historical presenting at its finest!
From an upstairs window


(To learn of the Firestone barn, yard, and other outbuildings, please click HERE)













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2 comments:

Beth said...

wonderful tribute Ken!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Beth!
A labor of love.