Deerfield, Mass., hold historic authenticity, preservation and an overall appeal that most other New England historical towns cannot match. That’s quite an accomplishment, given the incredible history that resides in the six-state New England region.
Incredibly, all the generations seem to love this village. Think about that a moment. How many historical attractions seem to hold the interest of both kids and adults? I think, actually, the kids do better than the adults here, as they often put aside their cell phones so that they can fully concentrate on this glorious, historic village (at least, on the days I visited). Put that one in the “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” or the “Guinness World Records” book!
I believe that Deerfield holds people’s interest because it is so genuine. Along with the homes and buildings, it is the abundant trees, countryside and pride of historic ownership that have stayed firmly intact on the mile-long 350 year street. And this isn’t just “Main Street” — the Deerfield version is appropriately called Old Main Street.
This sleepy western Massachusetts village comes alive with something that other often historic towns lack — that is, a series of old homes and buildings located in one district that serve as the sole reason for visiting. You won’t find any fabricated new shopping or housing developments, or historic properties moved in from somewhere else to force a historic look. You won’t come across any “historic buildings” built, say, in 2010, selling tacky t-shirts or obnoxious tourist trap souvenirs. Historic Deerfield Village, Mass., is the real deal, not just another stuffy, boring, overrated tourist trap that you’re expected to like.
History doesn’t lie and that’s why Deerfield Village is such a true historic travel destination.The village dates back to 1669, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1962. What’s more 27,000 historical objects exist in the village’s collection, making Deerfield more than just a one-note historical town. There are simply no modern day obstructions to tip the scales into the unctuous, phony, revisionist side of historic travel. Deerfield Village truly reflects an authentic 18th century English settlement with historic museum houses, an impressive collection of early American crafts, ceramic, furniture, textiles and metalwork. The Village also features myriad family programs and interactive activities, special events and a gift shop.
Take a guided tour — starting at the Visitor Center at Hall Tavern in the center of the village — from the knowledgeable folks at Historic Deerfield or embark on a self-guided version, and the experience will amaze fans of history with a good chance of also piquing the interest of those who have an aversion to learning about the past. Deerfield stands as one of the only eastern seaboard towns settled by English colonists that retains its original scale and town plan, according to the Historic Deerfield web site. What this means for the visitor is, for starters, touring 12 antique homes dating back between 1730 and 1850. The homes are wonderfully maintained with 11 of the home standing on the original sites. The tour includes the 1734 Ashley House, 1755 Sheldon House, 1848 Moors House, 1884 Deerfield Inn, Museum Gift Shop and Bookstore, 1750s Apprentice’s Workshop at Dwight House, Flynt Center of Early New England Life, 1824 Williams House, 1814 Sliver and Metalware Collection gallery, 1734 Allen House, 1799 Stebbins House, Cook’s Garden, 1760 Frary House, Memorial Libraries, and the 1747 Wells-Thorn House.
The town common — next to the famous Deerfield Academy boarding school — is a beautiful, if small, oasis. This historic Massachusetts town green features the recently restored and restructured 38 ft. high brownstone Civil War Monument which could possibly be one of the first Civil War monuments erected in the state, according to several locals.
Visitors have a chance to research Deerfield history and the Connecticut River area through the Memorial Libraries, as well as the Flynt Center of Early New England Life museum (Ford Rd. Tel. 413-775-7132) with its exhibitions and collections centering in on furniture, early American metalwares, textiles, needlework and costume, English and Chinese ceramics, paintings, and prints. The Channing Blake Footpath (near the Deerfield Inn) is also a “must-see” with its working farms and meadows leading to the Deerfield River. Cook’s Garden offers open hearth cooking demonstrations and classes and a garden that includes plants commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries. The First Church of Deerfield, at 71 Old Main St., dates back to 1824 and is stunningly beautiful — so majestic and stately in the traditional New England sense. The brick church is today affiliated with The United Church of Christ and The Unitarian Universalist Association.
Lodging and dining options are pretty much relegated to the Deerfield Inn, and its restaurant, Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern, at 81 Old Main St. (413-774-5587). It’s actually a good thing that dining and lodging options are limited in the village as this location keeps you aligned with the historic Deerfield theme. The Deerfield Inn fits in quite nicely with the amazing historic New England scene of Old Deerfield with its freshly white painted, welcoming preserved structure, inviting front first and second floor porches, stately pillars, close-to-the-street presence with very little front lawn (typical on many historic New England main streets), and well-placed Adirondack-style chairs (OK, that wasn’t part of old-time America but it still looks nice!).
Inside, the historical nuances and creaky nooks and crannies remain intact leading to 24 rooms (11 in the main building, 13 in the carriage house), and a restaurant and tavern open to the public for lunch and dinner (breakfast is included for inn guests). Although imperfect architecturally — so typical of old New England buildings — the Deerfield Inn keeps up to date with a fully restored look that does not compromise its innate charm and character. It really doesn’t fit into the price range of budget-friendly travel as put forth by this blog, but is certainly worth a visit as you won’t find too many existing historic inns and restaurants of this caliber, and ideal location, in the New England area. Right next to the Deerfield Inn is the village’s main retail anchor — the quaint, interesting and very likeable Museum Gift Shop and Bookstore.
On its own, the Deerfield Inn could suffice quite well as a standalone New England travel experience, but we strongly recommend getting in touch with the entire “Historic Deerfield.” It’s open year-round, is reasonably priced and the tour guides make the whole experience educational and entertaining.
Before leaving town through the side south of Old Main St., please make a note of checking out the beautiful farm scene to the right of the fork where going left returns you to Route 5. It’s one of the most pleasing, idyllic rural New England scenes you’ll ever see…
We highly recommend the amazing Historic Deerfield village tour, but would be remiss to leave out another incredible attraction so close to Old Main Street: the Yankee Candle Village Store at 25 Greenfield Rd. in South Deerfield (413-665-8306). In addition to the vast candle inventory (200,000 candles in over 200 different famous Yankee scents, in fact) at this flagship store, you’ll also find a Bavarian Christmas Village (with Santa and his elves, indoor snowflakes and the world’s tallest Christmas tree), home decor and furnishings, a candle making museum, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, homemade fudge and retro candy and many fun, seasonal events. Yes, this is quite a contrast to Historic Deerfield, but certainly worth a visit.
See Historic Deerfield first, though, and then work your way over the the 21st century ways of Yankee Candle Village Store. This day trip, or part of a New England vacation, surely could end up in the internal history books of your own memorable travel experiences!
Log onto Historic Deerfield for complete information, including seasonal hours, admission fees, and updates.
Did you know? Historic Deerfield’s town common is featured in the Massachusetts Town Greens book. I wrote this book as a exploration of the history of remarkable historic Massachusetts town greens and to provide a guide to current events at each of these locations. I believe it would be a great companion guide for anyone interested in local history and Massachusetts travel!
For more reading on this beautiful section of Massachusetts, check out my story on the hidden side of travel in Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire counties