Massachusetts

Scenes from Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA

A visit to Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA, is the perfect day trip for fans of New England architecture, antiques, and more.

By Heather Marcus

Jun 04 2018

historic-deerfield-ma-window
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.
The Visitor Center at Hall Tavern hosts open hearth cooking demonstrations throughout the year.
The visitors center at Hall Tavern in Deerfield, MA, hosts open-hearth cooking demonstrations throughout the year.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
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

Colonial era homes flank the tree lined main Street.
Colonial-era homes flank the tree-lined main thoroughfare in Deerfield, MA.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
The brick exterior of Stebbins House circa 1799 offers self-guided tours showcasing Federal period furnishings.
The exterior of the Asa Stebbins House, built in 1799.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Ashley House's, circa 1734, ornate front door.
The ornate front door at the Ashley House, which dates back to 1734.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Ashley House in foreground houses furnishings of the Connecticut River Valley elite with Sheldon House circa 1755 with furnishings of a typical farming family.
The Ashley House (foreground) and c. 1755 Sheldon House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
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.
Downstairs bedchamber at Wells-Thorn House with period furnishings including a canopied bed.
The downstairs bedchamber at the Wells-Thorn House, with period furnishings including a canopied bed.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Window seat and interior shutters in the library room at Wells-Thorn House.
A window seat and interior shutters in the library room at the Wells-Thorn House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Bedside leather trunk with nail head details in one of the upstairs bedrooms at Wells-Thorn House.
A bedside leather trunk with nailhead details in one of the upstairs bedrooms at the Wells-Thorn House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
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.
The north side view of the Williams House remodeled in 1817 and is representative of the household of village's prosperous residents.
The north side view of the Williams House, originally built in 1730, is representative of the village’s more prosperous residents.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Nesting robin in the transom window at the front entry of Williams House.
A nesting robin in the transom window at the front entry of the Williams House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Ornate wallpaper in one of the downstairs parlors of Williams House.
Ornate wallpaper in one of the downstairs parlors of the Williams House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
A pair of windsor chairs just off the kitchen at Williams House.
A pair of Windsor chairs just off the kitchen at the Williams House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Kitchen cabinet inside the Williams House.
A kitchen cabinet inside the Williams House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
A pair of wooden hangers in the vintage wallpapered closet of an upstairs bedroom at Williams House.
A pair of wooden hangers in the wallpapered closet of a Williams House bedroom.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Wallpapered upstairs hallway in Williams House.
A view of the upstairs hallway in the Williams House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
Yellow wallpaper, a canopied bed and a row of windsor chairs line a wall in an upstairs bedroom at Williams House.
A canopied bed and a row of windsor chairs in an upstairs bedroom at the Williams House.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
A colonial picket fence draws a line along the extensive lawn at Williams House.
A colonial picket fence draws a line along the Williams House’s extensive lawn.
Photo Credit : Heather Marcus
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. 

SEE MORE: Guide to New England ArchitectureMagic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, MAThe Yankee Candle Village Store in South Deerfield, Massachusetts