Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The Man Behind Greenfield Village
The most appropriate way to celebrate Independence Day is to visit the Cradle of Liberty, Independence Hall in Philadelphia. But a trip to Philadelphia isn’t always convenient. So when our family and several dozen other Rochester families entertained a contingent of foreign students over the July 4th weekend, we all headed for Greenfield Village.
Independence Hall at Greenfield Village is a replica, to be sure, but much of everything else there is real. I never really came to appreciate the Village until I met Edward J. Cutler 10 years ago. He knew more about Greenfield Village than any man living or dead, including Henry Ford, because he was the person responsible for setting the whole thing up. Carrying the title of Henry Ford’s personal architect, Ed with Henry Ford picked out the site for the world-famous tourist attraction in the early 1920’s.
ED'S EXPERIENCE during those years could fill volumes. Ford would get a half dozen projects going at the same time for his architect. When he decided to obtain a historic building, Ed would travel alone to the place and find a crew of men to dismantle it— “the bigger chucks the better,” Ed explained to me during a series of interviews. First, however, Ed would draw detailed sketches of each structure. After it was dismantled, the pieces marked and boxed, Cutler would hurry back to Dearborn to make architectural drawings for reconstruction.
One of his big jobs was Menlo Park, Thomas Edison’s old laboratories in New Jersey. Ed recalled that nothing was there when he arrived except the Sarah Jordan Boarding House. The buildings had been dismantled by neighbors for building their own structures. By carefully measuring the remaining foundations and obtaining all existing pictures, it was possible to recreate the former Menlo Park on paper. All buildings containing former Menlo Park lumber were then purchased and used in reconstructing the park. From Edison’s former employees, original inventions were acquired to furnish the laboratory.three or four boxcars to move an old building to Dearborn. Plaster was taken off the walls, put in sacks, re-ground and put back up. Among Ed’s notable achievements was his designing of the Martha-Mary Chapel. Ford later built five similar chapels. He also restored the famous Wayside Inn of South Sudbury, Massachusetts but this burned to the ground a few years back.
A man who worked daily with Ford, Ed had hundreds of tales to relate, both of a personal and business nature. Ford often gave contradictory orders. He wouldn’t let Cutler have a telephone because when he came to Cutler’s office every day and propped his feet along the fireplace, he didn’t want anyone to call him. His favorite habit was to stand in the middle of a room of a newly reconstructed building and jump up and down. If it gave a little, Ford expected it to be fixed.
ED CUTLER was dismissed from his job after Henry Ford died in 1947 but returned part-time 10 years ago when Greenfield Village historians discovered they had little in their archives explaining how the buildings there were acquired and rebuilt. It took six years of talking into a tape recorder for Ed to fill them in.
As editor of the newspaper of Ed’s hometown of Plymouth, he approached me to write a biography of his life with Ford. We discussed it several times but before we could even get started, Ed died in his 80’s.
The millions who have toured Greenfield Village know only the name of Henry Ford. But it was the talents of Edward J. Cutler that turned Ford’s dream into reality.