I live in a small, solid 1946 Cape in New Hampshire that I am slowly renovating, but I often dream of living in a grand, older home and imagine what I would do with all of that enviable space. When I need a little architectural inspiration, I feel fortunate that New England has so many preservation societies and museums dedicated to keeping early New England history alive. One such place is the lush, tree-lined main thoroughfare of Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA, where you’ll find a treasure trove of classic regional architecture and home furnishings.
Running through the heart of town, Historic Deerfield is a mix of private residences and school buildings (the Bement School and Deerfield Academy both have campuses here), along with a collection of properties that are open to the public. Founded in 1952, Historic Deerfield Inc. is an outdoor history museum that celebrates the heritage of the Connecticut River Valley through education and preservation. Tours of 12 furnished houses (some guided, some self-guided) that span 1730 to 1850 make up the official Historic Deerfield experience, along with visiting the Deerfield Inn and the museum gift shop and bookstore. Here’s a closer look at my visit to Deerfield, MA, earlier this year.
SCENES FROM HISTORIC DEERFIELD, MA
During my visit, I toured the interiors of the Wells-Thorn House and the Hinsdale and Anna Williams House. Historic Deerfield has sought to present historically accurate colors, furnishings, and wall coverings in all of its properties, based on found records.
The Wells-Thorn House takes you on a visual journey through different time periods spanning 1725 to 1850, with light and form and color evolving from one room to the next. I was surprised by the way the rooms within one house could experience so much change, and in many cases, by the unexpected decorating choices. The oldest rooms, dating back to 1747, had small windows that let in little light, but those dark, small multifunctional spaces evolved over time into bright and open single-use rooms 100 years later. You quite literally experience that transition through history as you navigate each room.
I’m not a huge fan of wallpaper, but there were some bold patterns and colors in the Williams House, remodeled in 1817, that were a pleasant surprise and made me rethink my hard line on painted walls only. The symmetry of the house was an important aspect of design as well, especially in terms of exterior choices. The windows lined in perfect rows might run through a closet in an interior space, but from the outside, the point was achieved beautifully. I particularly loved the army of identical Windsor chairs in almost every bedroom at the Williams House. They would serve as extra seating for entertaining.
My visit to historic Deerfield, MA, was all too brief, but it was a morning well spent being inspired by the design of the past. There are workshops on the history of honeybees and hearth cooking demonstrations most summer months that very likely will draw me back for another visit — not to mention all of the other houses left to explore.
Have you ever visited Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA?
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.