Meandering through the lovely village of Historic Deerfield reveals a fascinating glimpse at life in colonial America that is amazing, beautiful and extremely educational. As part of our research for the next issue of Wicked Travels Digital Magazine, Susan and I ventured 2 hours west of Boston to the beautifully preserved 18th Century historic village of Deerfield in western Massachusetts.
Approaching Old Main Street, we immediately became time-travelers dropping in to peer at life from 1673 to the 1800’s in the Pioneer Valley. We strolled narrow streets and experienced the sights, smells and hospitality of yea olde New England. English settlers traveled to this incredibly fertile land to farm, establish a settlement at the edge of civilization and raise their families. Today, much of the village is owned by the prestigious Deerfield Academy, a private school founded in 1797. Deerfield Academy is attended by students from around the world and many faculty members reside in historic homesteads stretching along Old Main Street.
The Deerfield Inn
Historic Deerfield, Inc, a non-profit preservation organization, purchased and restored many of the homes in Deerfield as well as the beautiful Deerfield Inn located in the center of Old Main Street and directly across from the Visitor Center. This lovely circa 1884 Inn is operated by Jane Howard and Karl Sabo, who have just overseen a major restoration after the devastating floods of August 2011, brought by Hurricane Irene.
The rooms have all been restored to their original historical representation with beautifully decorated furnishings providing a unique sense of individuality to each room. The attention to detail is amazing, down to the window treatments, and bed coverings. Every guest room is large, furnished with lovely period pieces, charming decor and deluxe amenities. You will no doubt see Jane buzzing about the inn straightening a picture, instructing the staff and spreading good cheer among all the guests.
Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern
The Inns is also home to Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern, where the handsome mahogany bar begs everyone to gather round and hoist some ale with all your friends. We dined with our hosts and guests, and experienced a friendly atmosphere as if we had been living in Deerfield ourselves. I cannot remember the last time we spent 4 hours in a restaurant- the time flew by with good food and great conversation. The fresh catch of the day was Stripped Sea Bass, right off the boat at 4:00am that morning; it was amazing. All the food comes from local farms and herbs are from their garden. You could taste the freshness with each bite. Susan ended her meal with Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream, the likes of which she had never tasted before. The staff during our stay was attentive, engaging and very helpful, assuring our stay was wonderful, relaxing and entertaining. It was very hard to leave our new found friends.
Memorial Hall Museum
We spent several hours in the Memorial Hall Museum, one of the oldest museums in New England, opening in 1880. Antiquarian George Sheldon began gathering artifacts from the 1700 and early 1800s, with many Deerfield families donating pieces. The museum is a memorial to the families of Deerfield, along with historical artifacts regarding the infamous Indian attack of 1704 where many were killed and others were taken hostage and brought to Canada. Deerfield also inspired the Arts and Craft movement in the early 20th century with women crafting beautiful blue and white embroidery, pottery, and intricate basketry and weaving. You can almost see them gathering together in sunny front rooms to sew and create together. The museum houses many of the original tools, household items and documents taking you through the centuries. This is one of the most unique museums I have visited, as it provided a historical journey through time provided by the residents of the town.
Touring Historic Homes
On Old Main Street we chose to visit several houses, but my favorite was the Wells-Thorn House which is easily identified by its bright blue exterior. This home is designed to take visitors through life in the home from 1725 to 1850. We were able to see how families progressed from a subsistence existence to prosperity where they were influenced by society and wealth. Within this one home our guide walked us through time telling us the tales of the families who lived in the village and what influenced their lives. It was fascinating to see how living standards changed so dramatically. The Sheldon House was also a favorite as it depicted what life was like for a prospering farming family in the early 1800s. We enjoyed all the homes and the volunteer guides were both informative and entertaining.
Tips For Visiting Historic Deerfield
- Here are a few tips if you are planning a visit to Historic Deerfield:
- The Deerfield Inn has only 24 rooms, so book well in advance, although rooms are often available for mid-week stays.
- The Museum is handicap accessible as well as the Inn, but the houses are not. Historic Deerfield has many events scheduled throughout the year, so check their website for all the details.
- Historic Deerfield houses are open from April 13th-December 29th, but closed for Thanksgiving and December 24th-25th. Admission for adults is $14.00 and Youth 6-17 is $5.00, under 6 are free. Be sure to view the introductory video in the Visitors Center.
This is a wonderful area to visit for adults and families as well. The inn has several family friendly room configurations, and the village itself is better than any history lesson they will receive in the classroom. Just outside of the village you will find other entertaining diversions like Yankee Candle Village (Flagship Store), Richardson’s Candy Kitchen, Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, and antique shops and farm stands galore.