Greenfield Village opens Saturday with changes for social distancing

Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News

It’s no ordinary village, but the mundane tasks of spring cleaning: sweeping, weeding, painting and sprucing things up for visitors are wrapped up, and Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village is ready to reopen for another season.

Greenfield Village opens its gates to the public on Saturday, and visitors should expect some changes as they stroll the 80-acre complex of historic buildings. Many of the changes have been in place since the Dearborn historical complex reopened to the public last summer, following statewide shutdowns because of the pandemic.

Thomas Edison's statue dons a mask in Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

For subscribersGreenfield Village as you've never seen it before

Hours have been reduced — at least for spring — and visitors will find some buildings closed and limited access to rides. Visitors must wear masks both inside buildings and while strolling the grounds. Masks can be removed while eating or drinking. Social distancing requirements are in place as well.

 A few popular events — including the annual Motor Muster in June — are expected to return, but with some changes and attendance limits

“Please know, as we prepare to open the village gates, we are keeping a close watch on the rise of COVID cases throughout our state and the safety of our guests, staff, students and volunteers remains our highest priority,” Patricia E. Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford, said an announcement this week.

The Henry Ford, she said, is striving to balance safety concerns while also trying to provide a meaningful and immersive experience for visitors.

Historic structures

While visitors will be free to explore the Village’s tidy streets, some buildings will be closed, some will be open for self-guided walk-throughs, and some will be staffed with costumed interpreters. Some history presentations, however, will take place from windows, doors, porches or outside, to maintain social distancing requirements.

Structures open for self-guided tours include the Plympton Family Home, Robert Frost Home, Cotswold Cottage, Heinz House and George Washington Carver Memorial. A few buildings that were closed last year — J.R. Jones General Store, Cohen Millinery and Menlo Park Laboratory — will be open this season. The Menlo Park Lab was restored and reorganized and visitors will be allowed to walk through the first floor of the building.

Staff will be on hand at the Logan County Courthouse, Henry Ford Birthplace, Wright Home, Menlo Park Complex, and others.

Visitors will find something new as they walk through the Noah Webster Home, where the editor and author lived when he published his famous American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828. The family’s formerly sparsely furnished dining room has been redone to reflect Webster’s more active life at the time of the interpretation, in 1835.

“Our research has shown that the Websters never really retired. We thought they had retired from society and weren’t doing anything. That’s not true,” said Jim Johnson, director of Greenfield Village and curator of historic structures and landscapes. “They had lots of family around the dining room is set for a family meal.”

Astute visitors will notice a new structure under construction, an open-air pavilion that served as the main building of the Detroit Central Farmers Market. The foundation has been set for the market at Washington Boulevard and Junction Street, near the roundhouse. A scaled-down version of the original Detroit market is expected to open in 2022.

As in the past year, eating options will be limited. A Taste of History restaurant and Frozen Custard will be open (cones and sprinkles return as options after being off the menu last year). Visitors also will find food for pickup and takeaway at food stalls. There are lots of places to eat outdoors in the Village.

Mrs. Fisher’s Southern Cooking will open on special occasions, and the Eagle Tavern will reopen for limited service, beginning in May.

Historic rides

 Model Ts won’t be rolling out from behind the Ford Motor Co. for spins around the Village — at least for now — but they will be positioned outside for demonstrations, peeks under the hood and photographs. The Mack Avenue plant will be open for walk-throughs.

The train roundhouse at Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, April 7, 2021.

The village’s trains will operate with limited capacity. Passengers will be spaced out, seated in every other row. The village has a new passenger car, which will be added to steam locomotives on busy weekends to accommodate guests. Masks must be worn on rides.

Horse-drawn carriages will be clopping along streets but rides are available to members only, with the purchase of passes. The 15-minute round trip begins at the general store.

The Herschell-Spillman Carousel will be open for rides, with limited passengers each time around. Masks must be worn and staff will sanitize the hand-carved figures between rides. The Village playground also will be open.

Annual events

Some traditional events will return, including Motor Muster on Father’s Day weekend, Historic Base Ball and the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball. Those events were canceled because of the pandemic last year.

Later in the year, Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village and Holiday Nights — presented in modified forms last year — will return. Officials have not decided the fate of the popular “Salute to America” with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, held over Independence Day.

Motor Muster, a long-running historic vehicle show, returns June 19 and 20. Following CDC Guidelines, The number of vehicles — muscle cars, glamorous classics, motorcycles and bicycles representing the 1930s to the 1970s — will be reduced. Display areas will be roped and staked to maintain distances of six feet or more. The popular “Pass-in Review” parade on Main Street and Washington inside the Village will return.

The Village will celebrate Arbor Day with low-key programming. Members of the forest service will be on hand and tree-related activities are planned.

The spring schedule mirrors the first phase of the reopening of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village last July after the historical complex had been closed for a few months because of statewide shutdowns.

The pandemic marked the first time the historic village did not open in the spring since the 1930s. Weather-related issues have caused short-term closings in the past but nothing like a pandemic.

“It’s all new territory,” Johnson said.

Opening Day in Greenfield Village

9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday , April 17

9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday

20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn

(313) 982-6001

Admission: $28, adults; $25.25, senior citizens; $21, youth, ages 5-11; free, children 4 and under