Doors of Deerfield

Last weekend I drove out to the Pioneer Valley and spent some time at Historic Deerfield, an outdoor museum of eighteenth-century houses located (and assembled) all along one street in the midst of fertile farmland. The museum was founded in 1952, and I’ve been there several times but never by myself, so it was nice to have the time and freedom to focus on whatever I wanted to–and what I wanted to focus on was doors. All I could see was doorways, and it seemed like I couldn’t look at each and every one for long enough. This is certainly not an original preoccupation: I saw the requisite “Doors of Deerfield” posters and postcards in the Museum Shop, where I also picked up a copy of Amelia F. Miller’s Connecticut River Valley Doorways. An Eighteenth-Century Flowering (1983), one of the “Occasional Publications” of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, to take home with me. I expect that I may need to drive out west again very soon—and head south along the river—so that I can see all of these special Connecticut River Valley doorways. Living here in Salem, I’m used to historic doorways, but they are for the most part quite restrained in that Federal way, so these “western” doors provide quite the contrast in terms of detail. Miller agrees (or rather I agree with Miller): Connecticut River Valley doorways bear little resemblance….to doorways of the same period found one hundred miles to the east in coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island towns.

So here are my favorite Deerfield doors, following Miller’s categorization of scroll pedimented doorways, triangular pedimented doorways, segmental pedimented doorways (apparently there are none in Deerfield?) and flat-top doorways. Plus a few more that defy categorization (at least for me): one of the nice things about Historic Deerfield is the interspersing of private homes among the museum buildings, and the former have great doors too.

Scroll Pedimented Doorways: 

Deerfield Ashley Scroll

Deerfield Ashley Scroll 2

Deerfield Dwight best

Deerfield Door Scrolled

Dwight House in Springfield

The Ashley House (1734) and Dwight House, built in the 1750s and moved to Deerfield from Springfield, Massachusetts. Miller includes a c. 1920 photograph of the Dwight house in situ in Springfield (above) and informs us that Mr. Henry Francis Du Pont purchased the door in 1924, and subsequently installed it first in his Long Island home and later at Winterthur. The Dwight House was moved to Deerfield in 1951, and a reproduction door was produced. I’m always aware of Salem houses being picked apart but really no Massachusetts house was safe!

Triangular Pedimented Doorways:

Deerfield Brown

Sheldon House text

Deerfield Red

The Sheldon House (1755), today and in a 1910 photograph in Miller’s text, and a private home across the street.

Flat-top Doorways: not sure these all fit the exact designation, but they have flat tops!

Flat-top Allen

Flat-top Allen doors

Flat-top Barnard

Flat-Top blue

Deerfield Yellow Garden

Deerfield Yellow Door

The Allen House (1734), home of Henry and Helen Flynt, the founders of Historic Deerfield; the Barnard Tavern (1795), with reproduction flat-top door on right and reproduction triangular-pedimented door on left; the beautiful BLUE Wells-Thorne House (1734) and two private homes in between. Not sure how to categorize this last doorway……….

The Federal houses of Deerfield, with their fanlights and transoms and rounded doorways, don’t look so unfamiliar to me: obviously the region was increasingly open to trans-Atlantic and national aesthetic influences in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As is the case with every outdoor or living-history museum that I’ve visited, you do get that still, out-of-time feeling, although the Deerfield experience is enhanced by the proximity of private homes and Deerfield Academy. Still, it was nice to return home to historic Salem, even though it’s a bit too lively for me at this time of year.

Deerfield Stebbins

Deerfield glass 5

deerfield glass 4

Deerfield Glass 3

Deerfield glass

Deerfield Printing

The Stebbins (1799), Williams (remodelled 1817) and Wright (1824) houses of Historic Deerfield; two adjacent private homes; the Wilson Printing Office (1816).

And of course we must have flagrant pumpkin displays for this time of year:

Deerfield Pumpkins


11 responses to “Doors of Deerfield

  • bradaustin

    Love these doors every time we go out that way. What a nice place to stroll in the fall.

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  • Frances Wilson

    Thank you for the inspiring photos. I can just breath deeply and smell the old wood and history in one breath.

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  • grammiepoet

    Because transportation of people and goods was easier along the Connecticut River, rather than overland from Boston to the West, material culture trends seem to have moved from Wethersfield CT (and other points south) to Deerfield. Another trip you might take, if you haven’t already, is to Old Wethersfield CT. The similarity may be even more noticeable in the Hadley river mansions, built by new entrepreneurs known as the “river gods.”

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  • Susie

    Wow, some of these doors are amazing! Particularly love the complex pediments. So much effort for just a door, it’s impressive!

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  • ninacohenenski

    Doorways provide a formal moment, which can be a pause to feel thankful for shelter and hospitality (if it’s not your home) or to wonder about the home’s inhabitants if you’re not about to enter.
    In her book about King Philip’s War, Jill Lepore wrote about the affront that Native Americans took to the houses of the British settlers. Attacks on settlements during this early period often focussed on destroying houses, and the bodies of killed settlers were left on the threshold, a message to stop the settlements. Of course these doorways date to a later period. But maybe the cultural memory led builders to elaborate their entryways?

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    • grammiepoet

      I learned that the homes along the Connecticut River in and near Hadley were built by the “river gods” – enterprising men conducting their business utilizing the river to transport goods. These were up and coming men, with little money behind them, hoping to make their fortunes. When they built their homes, they often could not afford the grandeur they wanted, so they spent a lot on the facades of their homes, especially the doorways – even though they often couldn’t afford to paint the sides and backs. They would furnish the front room – the hall or parlor – extravagantly as this was where guests were entertained. It was the appearance of great wealth that they believed would help them acquire actual riches. When I learned this in Dr. Baker’s class, I had a new appreciation for the terms “fronting” or “putting a good face on it!”

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  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Again our interests coincide. Last August we stayed two days at the Deerfield Inn and toured many of the historic houses. Lovely setting with farms, meadows, and the distant river.

    Like many in Essex County we are so familiar with the Cape and mountains, but not with the western part of Massachusetts which is very much appreciated by those from NY and CT. Such a rich history.

    A young man in our extended family is now enrolled at Deerfield Academy. Wow, that is quite a place, and very richly endowed. We took a tour of the school with a charming student.

    No doubt, autumn is a favorite time to visit the area. Thanks for the great commentary and pics…

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  • Helen Breen

    I forgot to add – isn’t that gift shop SOMETHING?

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