Around Ann Arbor, MI – Historic Barns & Henry Ford
We’re getting to the end of our time in Ann Arbor which means I need to get my butt in gear and update you on what we’ve seen and done since we arrived. Despite having spent almost 3 weeks here, we’ve actually not managed much in the way of regular sightseeing. Most of our time has been spent on Polly’s rehab as well as a slew of small, practical items and hanging with old friends. So our “play” time has actually been in limited supply. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to see in the area, quite the opposite.
Founded in 1824, Ann Arbor grew from a slew of mostly European immigrants who settled here in the mid to late 19th century. The town narrowly missed a bid to become the State Capitol, but did become the site for the University of Michigan (1837), a boon that has been a source of youth and progression ever since. In the early 20th century the area boomed with the advance of mill manufacturing, and pioneering in the automotive industry in nearby “motor city” of Detroit. Today it’s a mix of money, diversity and charm and is consistently voted one of the “top places to live” in the US. It’s got a lot going on.
In our limited free time here we decided to focus on two things -> short outings to sample beer & food in the small towns closest to our parking spot, combined with a couple of longer day-trips to see some bigger sights further out. For the latter we decided on a tour of historic barns and a visit to the iconic Henry Ford Museum. Both turned out to be awesome choices.
Historic Barn Tours – Manchester/Chelsea, MI
Directly west of Ann Arbor is deep farm country. Drive just a few miles out of town and you’ll pass through distinctly small, English-sounding towns (Chelsea, Manchester etc.) nestled between rolling hills, long tree-lined dirt roads and historic barns. It’s quite the transformation and makes you feel like you’ve ventured far from civilization despite being right next door.
Large barns dominate the landscape here and you can’t help but notice their presence and varying forms. There’s something intrinsically beautiful about their huge, curved roofs. Something nostalgically inviting about their weathered wood and simple, bright white-outlined doors. I’ve always quite liked barns, but I admit that my interest in photographing them wasn’t peaked until we visited Joseph OR in 2015. That’s where I saw my first stunners and where I first truly admired their unique shapes.
A little internet sleuthing reveals Michiganders are deeply proud of their barns. There’s a well-established Michigan Barn Preservation group which holds a yearly Barn Of The Year contest and, specific to this area, a Historic Barn Driving Tour (pdf download) of 19th and 20th Century Barns around Washtenaw County as well as a separate Quilt Barn Tour (pdf download). If you like barns, this is clearly your place!
In the midst of the crazy heat wave we saw our first 10 days here, the barn tours caught my eye. Not only would this provide a nice, air-conditioned (skeeter-free) auto-hike, but it would also teach me some history and create a perfect photo outing. Fun stuff and good blog fodder too.
I completed the tours over several days, and added a few barn photos from nearby spots too. I learned that most of barns in this area are raised barns, the oldest of which are constructed on a fieldstone foundation. Their classic red color is from a paint that contains ferric oxide, a cheap anti-fungal useful for preventing wood rot. And the roof forms vary from old-type wood shingle gable roofs to more modern rounded metal gambrel roofs. Honestly, once you get into it, it’s pretty interesting stuff.
I didn’t get to see ALL the barns in the area, but I managed a good selection and developed a new appreciation for their history. A worthy experience!
VISIT NOTES/ The Historic Barn Tour (pdf download) and the Quilt Barn Tour (pdf download) are both self-guided driving tours. Most of the barns are along back roads, but some are on busy main streets, so be careful if you plan to stop and photograph. Also all barns are private property, so be respectful and don’t trespass when you stop. If your dog likes to ride in the car, this is a perfect trip to bring him/her along.
The Henry Ford & Greenfield Village – Detroit, MI
One of the “must do” items on our list when we came to this area was the The Henry Ford just outside of Detroit, MI. Henry Ford paved the way for the modern, affordable car with his assembly-line production of the Model T in 1908. He established himself in Detroit and was an iconic part of the automotive revolution that defined that city. But he was also a scientist (a materials scientist specifically, which speaks to my own heart of course), a labor force pioneer (he doubled wages and implemented the 5-day workweek in his time), and a lover of all things technology. We are big fans.
The Complex just west of Detroit is actually a HUGE campus that contains not only many buildings related to Ford Manufacturing and Research, but four giant tourist attractions -> The Henry Ford Museum, Historic Greenfield Village, Rouge Factory Tour and an IMAX theatre. It would take several days to visit ALL the sights, especially if you’re the type that likes to dig in and read every exhibit. In our case since doggie couldn’t come, we only had a few hours to visit so we had to pick a single spot and make do with that.
We settled on Greenfield Village partially because it was a beautiful day (and thus a great day to do a mostly outdoor outing), but also because we were dying to see some of the historic labs on-site.
Greenfield is a “living history” museum that covers 80 acres and contains 83 authentic historic structures, from the lab where Thomas Edison gave the world light to the workshop where the Wright Brothers gave us wings and the building where Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Plus it showcases historic working farms, traditional crafts (glass-blowing, weaving, tin punching, pottery etc.) and classic cars (for an extra fee you can take a drive in an old Model T!).
We had a FABULOUS few hours walking around the site, the highlights of which (for us) were Edison’s Menlo Park Labs (geek out central!), and a Shrub cocktail (drinking vinegar) & authentic mid-19th century lunch at the Eagle Tavern (superb!). We wish we could’ve come back to see the other sights, but that’ll have to be something we leave for a future visit to MI. It’s always good to have a reason to come back, right?
VISIT NOTES/ The Henry Ford is a huge complex and you might need several days if you really want to see it all. Tickets cost anywhere from $21 (for a single attraction) to $75 for an all-access (all attractions) package. You can save 10% if you buy the tickets online before you go. Hours are 9:30am – 5pm daily. NO dogs allowed at any of the attractions, so plan to leave pooch at home.
That wraps up the educational portion of our Ann Arbor stay. For the next post we ditch our minds and exercise our bellies exploring food and beer. Turns out there are plenty of those options around too…
Next Up -> Around Ann Arbor – Beer, Food & FunSPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Craig MacKenna says
Find yourself a nice photo contest, and submit “barn and sunset” to it.
Yep, “barn and sunset” is an absolute winner!
Jerry Ericsson says
Wow wonderful photo’s I wish I were that good with a camera. That photo of the barn at sunset, I grew up on that farm, except it was located some 25 miles North of Thunder Hawk South Dakota. Picture sure takes me back to those wonderful years when all we had to worry about was the fall out from the US nuclear tests, and the Russians bombing us all to hell.
The Cold War era….such a different time. It is odd to look back and think how much the world has changed. I’m sure every generation says that, but it sure seems true for us. Sometimes I feel that our connectivity (social media, Internet etc.) and thirst for instant news (especially the bad kind) has distanced us from nature and the simple pleasures in life…like a pretty sunset over a barn. I do struggle with that sometimes.
Ellen Braun says
You’ve touched my heart of hearts. I am PASSIONATE about old barns and there are so many cool ones in the Midwest. Wish I had your talent for capturing their beauty. Marvelous Marv does not do museums, but once I dragged him into the Henry Ford Museum, they had to close the doors for the day before I could drag him out. It is truly an American Gem, along with Greenfield Village. We would definitely visit again.
I could totally see Marvin getting lost in that museum. I do wish we could have gone back to see the rest, but we just ran out of time.
Old barns have been a real highlight of our time in the midwest and Central NY – I didn’t think to look for a tour! You captured some gems, especially that last one. Thanks for the cool info on the paint color and roof lines. I had no idea the Henry Ford is so huge with such a variety of things to see and do!!! It’s definitely on the list now.
It took me a while to track down the barn tour info, but I’m glad I did. It made the photo trip so much more interesting. And yes, I was pretty impressed by how big The Henry Ford was. Before we went I thought we might be able to see two of the sites in one day, but it was just impossible! Just the Village itself (80 acres) was the limit, and we even missed stuff in there. Amazing place.
Diana and Jim says
So cool that you got to see Greenfield Village, Nina! The barn photos are amazing, also. Growing up in SE Michigan, I took them for granted…but they really are special. Thanks for bringing them to my attention!
This process has helped me develop a whole new appreciation for barns. Lots of interesting details & history I did not know. It was fun to see so many well-preserved examples.
Betty Marvin says
Love your passion for barns, and Michigan has a never ending g supply for you to photograph. Now, if you REALLY want to pique your interest in barns and how they’really put together, I’d encourage you to visit an Amish barn raising and get some photographs…although you won’t be able to show most of the men’s faces.
Oh most definitely I’d love to see that. In fact we’ve never traveled thro’ Amish country in any of our 6+ years on the road. So much stuff still left to see!
Absolutely gorgeous barn photos! We’re planning to visit Michigan in the next couple of years, so it’s really fun to follow along on your journey. I was in Ann Arbor once as a teenager visiting my great aunt—but it was winter, and the snow drifts were taller than me. Don’t want to go in winter, and I most definitely do NOT want to be there during skeeter season. So we’re thinking September. Thanks for the beautiful preview!
Sept to Oct seems like the best time. We had a heat wave and major skeeter encounter the first 2 weeks of Sept here, but then the weather finally turned. It’s been gorgeous since.
I just love all your blogs & interesting things you describe & tell us. I have a special folder for y’all where all your blogs go, so when we go to a specific area I just pull up your blog & read things to do in the area. Love love the barns. Thanks again Nina
I’m so glad the blogs are helpful. Good travels to you!
love the photos of the barns especially the quilt barns …I went ape one them in Iowa…and we also really enjoyed the Ford Museum….I know you will love Sleeping Bear Dunes and of course the Lighthouse there…
Safe travels to NYC…
I’d never really heard about Quilt Barns until we saw them for the first time in Tillamook OR several years ago. It’s fun to hunt them down and see the different types. Def looking forward to Sleeping Bear Dunes!
Looks like you have put some miles on since we met in Ketchum. Beautiful pictures.
We most definitely have. Quite a few more miles to go this year too. It’s gonna be a big one.