Peace, Quiet, And History

A Weekend Getaway To Deerfield, Massachusetts

Our anniversary trip to Deerfield, Massachusetts was perhaps the most restful weekend getaway we’ve ever had. We were guests of the 120-year-old Deerfield Inn, a classic country inn right in the middle of a mile-long string of historic museum houses. We enjoyed a gourmet dinner in the Inn’s restaurant before heading up to our peaceful room, then awoke in the morning for breakfast and a day of soaking in the history of the best documented colonial village in the US.

When we asked a family member who lives near Deerfield what we would find there, she said “some old houses”. From her description, we envisioned one of the many former mill villages that we find throughout New England, but instead we found a nicely maintained main street dating from the colonial-era. “Some old houses,” turned out to be buildings of character and history, each focusing on a different aspect of life in the village.

Even without going into the museum houses, you can enjoy 350 years of history and rural architecture simply by strolling. The stroll takes you past dozens of restored historic homes. Continuing a stroll down the Channing Blake Meadow Walk, past a working farm, you stand on the banks of the Deerfield River, then stroll back by way of the campus of the renouned Deerfield Academy and the Old Burial Ground.

But as nice as a quiet stroll is, stop by the old tavern building that houses the Hall Tavern Visitor Center to watch a video about the village’s history and to get a pass to the museum houses.

The 1734 Ashley House is typical of the houses built in its era, with a two-story front, a third story tucked under the peak of the roof that slopes all the way down to the first floor in the back. At the far north end of Main Street, next to the meadows that produced corn in abundance, it was originally the home of the town’s minister. Now in the possesson of the Historic Deerfield Association, it houses a collection of period fine furniture, typical of the wealthy residents of Deerfield.

The Historic Deerfield Association has worked since the 1940’s to preserve both the buildings and the history of the village. They’ve opened more than a dozen buildings to tours, building unique collections in each. The 1700’s Sheldon House and the 1800’s Federal brick Stebbins house have self-directed tours through their collections, while most of the homes have directed group walkthroughs.

A few of the Association’s collections, like the Henry Needham Flynt Silver and Metalware Collection, which features silver from the colonial era to the present day, are open only on request. And some like the extensive exhibits in the Flynt Center of Early New England Life are in a more traditional museum setting.

Not all of the museums are managed by the Historic Deerfield Association. The Indian Memorial House, a recreation of the sturdy house that withstood an attack during the French-Indian War, houses the Deerfield Children’s Museum. It’s managed by the same folks who run the nineteen-room Memorial Hall Museum.

Even without a taste for history, the Deerfield Inn provides a great destination for a romantic getaway. It’s cozy, quiet and friendly; comfortable enough for well-heeled parents of the Deerfield Academy kids.

Our anniversary dinner at the Inn’s restaurant, Champney’s, was a joy. The food was delicious and filling, the service was top-notch, and the atmosphere was white-tablecloth-fine-wine elegant. I had filet mignon with Gorgonzola while Linda had scallops. Linda recently discovered a sensitivity to gluten, found in wheat products, and the chef created a special version of the foods just for her. One very pleasant surprise was discovering that Champney’s has Indian pudding on the dessert menu – Linda adores the hard-to-find traditional dish that you’d never expect to find in an upscale restaurant.

Our room was very nice. It was furnished with antiques and plenty of reminders of the history of the Inn and the village. The was originally built in 1884 to serve the travelers who went up and down the Pioneer Valley between Vermont and Long Island Sound. Over time, it expanded to include 23 guest rooms.

The Inn’s common areas are welcoming, with fireplaces and comfortable couches, both in the lobby and in an adjoining salon. The salon opens up into the tavern, a place comfortable for an after-dinner drink or just hanging out with friends. The tavern brags about 101 martinis and more than 20 wines by the glass.

The innkeepers, Jane Howard and Karl Sabo, have filled the Inn with comforting touches and amenities. A filling breakfast, a public-access computer, video checkouts, afternoon tea, and passes to the Historic Deerfield Association’s museums are just a tiny portion of what they have done to help make the Inn feel like a home.

On our visit, we also toured the nearby communities, taking in barbeque brisket and fixin’s at Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland that tasted like it was imported from the Texas Hill Country. Of course we went shopping at the Yankee Candle Factory.

We didn’t have time to go in search of dinosaur footprints or to find the live music venues recommended by the Inn’s staff – after all, this was a relaxing weekend, there was no need to cram every possible experience into two days. The museums were too-numerous for us to visit them all, but we weren’t worried, they’ll still be there when we come back.

The drive is two and a half hours, a bit long for a Rhode Islander, but less than a trip to New York or Vermont. If you’re looking for a quiet weekend, book a room at the Deerfield Inn and slow down a little.

 

 


Here are a few links to some of the places mentioned here:

Historic Deerfield www.historic-deerfield.org

Deerfield Inn www.historic-deerfield.org

Champney’s Restaurant champneysrestaurant.com

Bub’s BBQ www.bubsbbq.com

Yankee Candle Factory www.yankeecandle.com


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