Not much has changed in historic Deerfield, Mass.

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008

After 30 years, my husband Don and I returned to Deerfield, Mass., and, just like the Hancock Shaker Village, little had changed in the historic town.

Courtesy Of Alma Harris
Courtesy Of Alma Harris

Our day in Deerfield began at a pharmacy. We asked the clerk where we could get a good breakfast. She told us that Jerry made a good breakfast, so we joined the locals at Jerry's.

Jerry was a plump, grumpy, red-haired man who worked fast. Don had French toast, and I had a three-egg omelet. Our breakfast cost less than $10. Jerry's is definitely an old-time breakfast and lunch place.

After breakfast, we drove to historic Deerfield. We first explored Deerfield in the 1970s. Founded in 1669, Deerfield was attacked by the Native Indians several times and almost destroyed by a French and Indian war party on Feb. 29, 1704. On our first visit in the '70s, a guide took us to a house where the Native Indians damaged a door with a tomahawk.

This time, our first stop in Deerfield was the Information Center. We paid $28 admission and spent six hours in Deerfield.

After our orientation, we walked to the Hall Tavern. Dressed in historical clothing, an interpreter was baking biscuits in a reflector oven which sat in the fireplace in front of the fire. She talked about the foods of the 18th and 19th centuries. We spent about 30 minutes in the Hall Tavern.

We walked to the Stebbins House, a 1799 Federal period brick house decorated and furnished in the Federal style. We spent more time talking to our guide than exploring the house. Our guide was a World War II English war bride who married an American flier. She was quite attractive, friendly and at least 80 years old.

In early May, few tourists visit Deerfield, and the guides are rather bored. Many of the museum's houses were not yet open, but interspersed among the museum's houses and buildings are homes that are lived in.

However, during our visit, Don and I learned a great deal about Deerfield and the lives of the guides who were quite interesting people with great stories to share. We spent up to an hour with some of the guides.

On our walk to the Wapping School, the guide was at least 90 years old. A retired first- and second-grade teacher, she told us great stories about her teaching career as well as about schooling in the 18th and 19th centuries. She asked me about my teaching career and was interested in the fact that Don was a retired school psychologist. She had me ring the two school bells. One had a great sound. She also had me write with quill and ink, which was quite difficult. We also learned that the Deerfield guides are paid.

From Wapping School we crossed the street to Ashley House, the home of Deerfield's 18th-century minister. Ashley House was furnished with the Connecticut Valley's best furnishings and English ceramics. Our guide was rather arrogant. He assumed the vain personality of the Rev. Ashley.

From the Ashley House we walked to the Deerfield Inn and enjoyed a lunch of roast beef sandwiches.

After lunch, we walked to the Sheldon House (1755 to 1802), next door to the Ashley House. The Sheldon House was supposed to be self-guided. However, a guide took us through the house so we could learn more. The house was the home of a middle-class farming family, which included parents, a son and a daughter-in-law. The house had two kitchens and two best rooms for the two families.

Don and I walked across the street to the Hinsdale and Anna Williams House, a Federal house (1816 to 1817) in which every room was covered with wallpaper and some of the designs could make one queasy.

We finished our tour of the Williams House in the late afternoon, then visited the Flynt Center of Early New England Life. Don looked at the powder horns on the main floor while I admired the textiles and clothing. We studied the China displays and other objects from the 16th through 18th centuries. The museum closed at 4:30 p.m.

The next morning, we drove from Deerfield to Revere, Mass. We returned the car to Alamo, where the clerks treated us well, repaying us for the oil change bill and taking off $25 for our trouble. Wow! This was a first time we were treated well by car rental agencies.

We returned to Rodeway Hotel in Revere, where we walked to Maggio's for lunch. The staff was getting ready for a large party so we had to wait some time to get our order. In the evening, we walked several blocks along the busy highway to Margaritas in the Comfort Inn. The Mexican food was the best we had eaten for some time.

• Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.

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