Retro Roadtrip: Michigan

“The Henry Ford” began in 1929 as a small museum to house the collections of the automotive pioneer and collector extraordinaire. After multi-million-dollar renovations to infrastructures and attractions were completed in 2004, The Henry Ford has arguably become the best living-history indoor/outdoor attraction in America. While it’s a non-profit educational institution not affiliated with Ford Motor Co., several Ford family members are board members and the Ford Motor Co. provides the factory tours. This must-see Michigan attraction, which is just eight miles from Detroit, can’t be fully appreciated in a single day. Its five distinct attractions are Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Benson Ford Research Center and the Henry Ford IMAX Theatre.

The 90-acre Greenfield Village, which is open from mid-April until Oct. 31, has seven historic districts. Get an overview by boarding a Model AA bus or a vintage train. (Be sure to locate the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop, which was moved from Ohio, because you’ll want a closer look at where the aviation pioneers once worked.) Henry Ford’s Model T traces the life of Henry Ford from his childhood through his founding of Ford Motor Co. Explore the Michigan farmhouse he called home and test-drive a Model T. The sights and sounds of early American manufacturing fill Liberty Craftworks. See skilled artisans make glassware, textiles, pottery and much more. Discover the center of community and commerce by visiting Main Street. Observe merchants at work plus activities at school, in the church and on the river. Be a part of 1880s rural life at the Working Farm. Help out with daily and seasonal farm chores to learn how 19th century Americans truly lived off the land. “Edison At Work” takes a journey into the “idea factory” of the great inventor Thomas Edison, who was a good friend of Henry Ford. See a replica of the workplace where Edison invented the light bulb. “Porches and Parlors” explore American home life from the 16th century humble dwellings to 19th century plantation houses. Learn the major role railroads played in the expansion of America at “Railroad Junction.”

The 12-acre Henry Ford Museum is an expansion of Ford’s personal collections. “Fully Furnished” includes about 75 outstanding examples of American furniture, from a 1720 press to a 1950s Herman Miller marshmallow sofa. “Home Arts” has a diverse collection of household equipment and appliances, including four fully furnished kitchens from different eras. Jewelry displays a dazzling array of American-made and American-worn jewelry, from Indian trade silver necklaces to Art Deco plastic bracelets. “Silver and Pewter” showcases outstanding examples made by leading 18th and 19th century silversmiths including Paul Revere and Tiffany & Co. “The Automobile in American Life” includes a 26-foot sign installed in 1960 at the second McDonald’s franchise in Michigan, and the 15-millionth Model T made in 1927. Opened in January, “With Liberty and Justice for All” is the newest permanent exhibit in the museum. Memorable exhibits here include George Washington’s camp bed, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre and the Montgomery City bus that Rosa Parks boarded in 1955. Check the Web site for details about special events and admission ticket combinations.

The Henry Ford Estate is now on 72 acres at the campus of University of Michigan-Dearborn. The 56-room home, named Fair Lane, was built in 1917 for Henry and Clara Ford, and they lived there until their deaths in 1947 and 1950, respectively. Public tours show formal rooms where world-famous guests were entertained, and a more rustic area where they enjoyed square dancing. In 1914, Thomas Edison designed a powerhouse to supply electricity to the estate; it is still in operation.

Grand Rapids
Known as “Furniture City,” Michigan’s second-largest city once set the standard for America’s furniture design and production. The Furniture City, a multimedia exhibition at the Van Andel Museum Center of the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, chronicles the area’s furniture history from mass-produced oak pieces in the 1860s to the Charles Eames lounge chair produced by Herman Miller in 1956.

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum is a single institution sharing one director even though the library is on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan and the museum is in Grand Rapids. The museum’s state of the art exhibits allow visitors to participate in history while learning about Grand Rapids native Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. Travel (by video) with the 38th U.S. President to hot spots around the world. Take a holographic tour of the Ford White House. Watch a sound and light show that portrays a day in the Oval Office. Of special interest is a Watergate display that includes the tools used in the 1972 burglary.

“Play Ball, Mr. President” is a special exhibit on display at the museum until Nov. 12. It includes 75+ photos and other memorabilia on loan from many other presidential and sports collections that focus on the relationship of the U.S. president to the sport dubbed America’s national pastime.

Completed in 1908, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first major commission in Michigan was a prairie-style home for local clothing merchant Meyer May. May lived there until his death in 1936 and it remained a private residence until 1985. The current owner, Steelcase Inc., began major renovations in 1986. The company spared no expense and today the Meyer May House is considered to be the most completely renovated Wright-designed home. Visitors can see the house furnished, as it would have been almost a century ago.

Opened in 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park covers 125 acres. The site includes a tropical conservatory, three indoor theme gardens, nature trails and the Midwest’s largest sculpture garden.

The Michigan Historical Museum has 26 permanent galleries on four levels where interactive exhibits help visitors explore the state from prehistoric times through the mid-20th century. Walk through a copper mine or check out a 1957 auto show. The only museum of its kind in America, the Museum of Surveying houses historical surveying equipment. Lansing resident Randall Eli Olds, inventor of the Oldsmobile, is honored at the R.E. Olds Transportation Center. See the first Oldsmobile, which was made in 1897. Displays include other historic cars, advertising and auto memorabilia.

Founded by French fur traders in the early 18th century, Michigan’s largest city is best known as an automobile manufacturing center and the place where the Motown sound was created. Interesting museums include Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Motown Historical Museum, Dossin Great Lakes Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts.