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Massachusetts Travel Blog

Back in the Day :: Stories of Historic Deerfield, MA

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Joan Harlow in Deerfield, MAWe are always interested in oral history of the Inn’s past. We have heard stories of historic Deerfield from a woman on a coach group trip from a senior center who told us of the summer months when she was a little girl visiting her grandmother, the cook at the adjacent Stebbins House. Another guest told us that when he was just a lad, he remembers cages of songbirds in the fireplace lobby!

Recently we met Joan Harlow whose parents were innkeepers here for fourteen years from 1950. She grew up in Deerfield until she went to Emma Willard, and the home her parents built is the current administrative offices of Historic Deerfield behind the firehouse. When they first arrived they lived in the Pratt House just to the south of the inn, which was once where brooms were made and is now the Museum Store.

Joan remembered when Eleanor Roosevelt arrived very humbly by taxi – no limo for her with flags fluttering. Jack Harlow was a staunch Republican, but he was charmed by Mrs. Roosevelt’s passion to preserve Deerfield as a gateway to the past.

The restaurant menu was the same for an entire week, and until Joan’s mother Ruth could persuade the Flynts to let them eat in their own small private dining space, they would have a choice of baked ham, broiled chicken, tinned Sexton’s vegetables, and a relish tray with cottage cheese, pickles, and spiced crabapples day in, day out, in what was a very formal dining room until the flood of Irene gave us the opportunity to change all that. On Sunday it was roast beef for all, and on Monday the weekly menu would be in place again.

There was no elevator then, and no keys to the rooms, which unnerved metropolitan guests. The Deerfield Inn was the call center for fires, and Joan was filled with trepidation every time that red phone rang.

When Samuel Chamberlain came to take photographs for Historic Deerfield: Houses and Interiors by Henry N Flynt, Joan was allowed to watch him at his work and hold up the camera lights.

Joan also had a memory of being asked to run, run like the wind, back to the inn to “get the Ballantine’s out of the fridge.” She brought back a bottle of ale, not knowing it had to be chilled scotch for a certain somebody I shall not name!

How what we eat has changed. How odd to open tinned vegetables when this valley is bursting with produce! Anybody else have any recollections of Deerfield that I can add to my memory bank? I would love to hear your stories…

Between Horse and Car

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Deerfield, MAAs you perhaps know, the inn opened its doors in July 1884 with all sorts of drama in the Valley – a plague of locusts, a drought, but visitors came and stayed nevertheless. It seems that business was so promising that George Arms, a local builder, was invited the next year to extend the property to the north. Old photos on the walls in Champney’s show there was a porch that ran all around that side. Another photo we found that showed the original placement of the front desk meant we could return it to where it has always been. We call it the Harry Potter room because it is a small space and under the stairs!

Recently we discovered that the stables and carriage house were built a year before the inn was opened. It makes sense, really – that there had to be somewhere for the horses to be stabled and the carriages to be stowed away.

Rather charmingly, the names of horses are on a long support beam that runs above where the stalls used to be. These might have been the horses that worked the fields around here, or perhaps one or two of them would be harnessed up to make the run to the train station to pick up guests and their luggage.

Their names were Fanny, Bonnie, Patsy, Donald, Frank, Harry, Pilot, Tom, Kate, and, fancifully compared to the others – Dinamint.

One of my favorite photographs in Champney’s is hanging to the left of the fireplace. It shows the transition between motorized and horse-drawn conveyance. Two cars are out on the street in front of the inn, and two are down to its south side on the driveway. Seated guests are looking out from the front porch, but at the back of inn, behind the rather splendid cars, you can see an unharnessed horse being groomed just by the stables and the carriage house. Lovely.

Join us at Deerfield Inn and see the amazing history of our property!

Deerfield Inn Brochure from the Mid-1920s

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

A lovely gift from a friend of the Deerfield Inn who found this brochure in one of the boxes his grandmother had stored in her attic.  You can’t see the car on the front very well, but peering through a jeweler’s loupe, a car guy we know dated it to the early 1920s. It shows the  influence of the art deco period,  he said, when cars had become  accepted as a normal part of everyday life. “This beautiful piece of machinery probably belonged to someone who could afford a bit more than the basics, and for whom it meant not only the adventure and anticipation of  travel, but was also an endorsement of the   influence of the exciting new themes sweeping art and design.”

A room back then could cost  $6  ‘with bath or with running water,’ which is rather mysterious wording, and a dinner in the Old Prints Dining Room cost $1!

Still “Truly a delightful, friendly place to visit…” with rooms that are “quite charming and comfortable!”

1920's Brochure