Elijah Williams House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Elijah Williams House on Albany Road in Deerfield, on May 31, 1939. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1760 as the home of Elijah Williams, and it originally stood a few hundred feet to the east of here, facing the town common. That lot had been the site of two previous homes owned by the Reverend John Williams, pastor of the church in Deerfield. The original house was destroyed during the 1704 French and Native American raid on Deerfield, and the Williams family was taken captive. When John Williams returned to Deerfield several years later he rebuilt his house, and his son Elijah Williams (1712-1771) later inherited it. Around 1760, Elijah demolished that house and built the current one, which incorporated some of the building materials from the older house.

The layout of the house is fairly typical for mid-18th century New England homes, with a symmetrical front façade that has four windows on the first floor and five on the second floor. However, its most distinctive feature is the ornate front doorway. This style of doorway was often found on the homes of wealthy residents of the Connecticut River Valley during this period, and typically had intricate classically-inspired designs. It provided a dramatic contrast to the exteriors of homes that were otherwise largely plain, and several of these doorways are now on display in major American art museums. There are relatively few of these doorways that survive intact on houses today, but this house still had its original one in place when the top photo was taken.

Elijah Williams was a prominent figure in colonial Deerfield. He was a wealthy merchant, and he held the ran of major in the colonial militia. He also served as a representative in the colonial legislature, along with holding other local political offices. By the time he built this house he was about 48 years old, and he was married to his second wife Margaret. He continued to live here until his death in 1771, and Margaret died the following year.

Their son John Williams subsequently inherited the house. He owned it until 1789, when he sold it to Consider Dickinson. Known locally as “Uncle Sid,” Consider was a veteran of the American Revolution, and after the war he went to Canada to hunt and trade furs. He later moved to Deerfield, settled down and married his first wife Filana Field, and lived the life of a farmer here on this property. Filana died in 1831, and in 1840 “Sid” remarried to Esther Harding.

Consider Dickinson had no children from either of his marriages, and after his death in 1854 Esther inherited this house. She, in turn, left the property as a bequest in her will to establish a high school and library on the property. This led to some uncertainty about the future of this historic building after her death in 1875. It faced possible demolition, but local historian George Sheldon lobbied for its preservation, arguing (incorrectly, as it turned out) that it was actually the same house that the Reverend John Williams had built in 1707 after his return from captivity. It seems unclear as to whether Sheldon actually believed this, or whether he stretched the truth in order to ensure that the house was saved. Either way, he was successful, and the house was moved westward to accommodate the construction of a new school building, which would become part of Deerfield Academy.

The old house was used as a rental property at its new location until 1916, when the academy converted it into a dormitory. This work included an addition to the rear of the house, which can be seen in the distance on the left side of both photos. The house underwent further work in 1994, with the replacement of the original clapboards, and then in 2002 the original front doorway was removed and replaced with a replica.

Today, the main portion of the house still looks much the same as it did when the top photo was taken, despite having primarily new materials on the exterior. It remains in use as a dormitory for Deerfield Academy, and it stands as one of the many historic 18th century homes here in the center of Deerfield. As for the original doorway, it has been preserved and is now on display at the Flynt Center of Early New England Life here in Deerfield, as shown in the photo below:

Joseph Stebbins House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Joseph Stebbins House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, around 1920. Image from the White Pine Architectural Monographs Volume VI No. 5 (1920).

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1773 by Joseph Stebbins (1718-1797) for his son, Joseph Stebbins Jr. (1749-1816). A year later, Joseph married Lucy Frary, and they raised their large family here in this house. Over the next 23 years they had 13 children: Tirzah, Charlotte, Dennis, Charlotte, Joseph, Lucy, Avice, Arabella, Caroline, Aurelia, Baxter, Mehitable, and Maria. Large families such as theirs were not uncommon in 18th century New England, but it is interesting to note that, in an era of high infant mortality rates, 11 of their 13 children managed to survive to adulthood.

Joseph Stebbins was primarily a farmer, but he also served as an officer during the American Revolution. He fought at Bunker Hill in 1775 and in the Saratoga Campaign in 1777, and he was eventually promoted to lieutenant colonel after the war. During Shays Rebellion of 1786-1787 he was part of the militia force that suppressed the rebellion here in Western Massachusetts, and in 1788 he rose to the rank of a full colonel in the state militia.

Joseph and Lucy’s youngest son Baxter eventually inherited the property, and it was subsequently owned by a succession of other Stebbins family members throughout the 19th century. It was finally sold out of the family in 1897, and in 1898 it was purchased by Jennie Maria Arms Sheldon, a noted entomologist and historian. She was the curator of the Memorial Hall Museum here in Deerfield, and she was also the second wife of George Sheldon, a local historian who published many works on the history of Deerfield and the surrounding area. She owned the house when the top photo was taken around 1920, and it would remain in her possession until her death in 1938.

The house was later rented to Deerfield Academy, and then it was purchased outright by the school in 1952. It is one of the many homes on Old Main Street that are owned by Deerfield Academy, and over the years it has been used for faculty housing. Today, it has seen few changes since the top photo was taken, aside from the removal of historically-inaccurate shutters, and it stands as a good example of a gambrel-roof Georgian home here in Deerfield.

Timothy Childs House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Timothy Childs House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, on July 24, 1930. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the Timothy Childs house, which is also commonly known as the Childs-Champney house. Based on recent dendrochronological studies, it was built in 1730, replacing an earlier house that had burned. It was originally the home of Timothy Childs and his wife Hannah Chapin, and they lived here together for about 35 years. Hannah died in 1765, and Timothy subsequently sold the house in 1767.

The next owner was John Russell, a tailor who also operated a retail liquor establishment here. The house would later change hands several more times during the late 18th century before being acquired by Elijah Williams in 1800. He was about 33 years old at the time, and he may have purchased the house with marriage in mind, because two years later he married Hannah Barnard. Elijah was a saddlemaker by trade, but he also served at various times as postmaster, register of deeds, and as a militia captain.

Elijah Williams died in 1832, but the house remained in his family for many years afterwards, with his son Samuel inheriting it, followed by Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth. However, they did not necessarily reside here throughout this time. During the early 1850s, Samuel Williams and his family were in Ohio, and they later moved to Kansas as part of the abolitionist movement to prevent Kansas from becoming a slave state.

Born in 1850 in Ohio, Elizabeth Williams went on to become perhaps the most famous owner of this house. At a time when women’s higher education was still rare, Elizabeth graduated from Vassar College in 1869, and went on to become a noted author. She wrote a number of novels and travel narratives, and her works were regularly published in national literary magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and The Century Magazine. In 1873 she married artist James Wells Champney, and in 1876 they moved to Deerfield, where James built his studio behind the house. The historic homes and streetscapes in the town subsequently became a subject for many of his paintings, but his other work included creating the illustrations for Elizabeth’s books.

This house eventually became the Champneys’ summer home, while their primary home was in New York City. They named this house “Elmwood,” and in 1886 they moved it further back from the street, to its current spot. They also added the front entryway that is shown in these two photos. This ornate doorway was originally on Alexander Hamilton’s home in New York City, but the Champneys acquired it and installed it here, providing a rather unusual contrast to an otherwise largely plain 18th century house.

James Champney died in 1903 in an elevator accident in New York City. He was in an elevator when it became stuck between two floors. Rather than waiting for the problem to be fixed, he attempted to climb down to the floor below. However, he ended up slipping through the gap between the elevator and the floor, and fell four stories to his death.

Elizabeth owned the house until 1913, when she sold it to W. Scott Keith. The Keith family owned it throughout most of the 20th century, including when the top photo was taken in 1930. At the time, the house had shutters, but these were a very recent addition. They appear to have been installed at some point in the early 20th century, because late 19th century photos of the house show it without any shutters. The top photo also shows the large elm tree next to the house, which was still standing here until at least the mid-1990s.

The house was was one of the last remaining privately-owned homes of Old Main Street, as most of the other homes are now owned by either Historic Deerfield or by Deerfield Academy. It was eventually sold to Historic Deerfield in 2018, and the organization will be using it for housing, along with holding meetings and other events here.

For more information about this house, see p. 75-78 of Family & Landscape: Deerfield Homelots from 1671 by Susan McGowan (1996).

David Hoyt House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The David Hoyt House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, on July 24, 1930. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1803 near the southern end of Deerfield’s Old Main Street. It was originally the home of David Hoyt, and it was subsequently owned by several more generations of the Hoyt family, including his son Horatio Hoyt and grandson Horatio Hoyt Jr.

The house features Federal style architecture, including details such as ornate window casings and pediments above the first floor windows, along with a distinctive front doorway. Although not as large or elaborate as the Federal style homes that were being built in the coastal parts of Massachusetts during this time, the house is nonetheless a good example of this type of architecture here in the Connecticut River Valley.

The top photo was taken in 1930, and very little has changed here in nearly a century since then. Along with many other homes here in the center of Deerfield, it is now owned by Deerfield Academy, but the exterior remains nearly identical to when the top photo was taken. It is one of the many well-preserved historic homes here on Old Main Street, and it is a contributing property in the Deerfield Village Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Sheldon House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Sheldon House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, on July 24, 1930. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

The house shown in these two photos was built around 1754 as the home of John Sheldon III (1710-1793) and his wife Mercy Arms. John was the grandson of the first John Sheldon, who had built the famous “Old Indian House,” which survived the French and Native American raid on the town in 1704. This had occurred a few years before the younger John was born, but his newlywed parents had been in that house at the time of the raid. His father escaped safely, but his mother Hannah was captured and taken to Canada as a prisoner, although she was released several years later.

John and Mercy were married in 1734, and by the time they moved into this house they had three teenaged children: Mercy, Hannah, and John. Their son John Sheldon IV eventually inherited the property, and he likewise raised his family here after marrying Persis Hoyt in 1769. They had eight children, who were born between 1770 and 1794: David, William, John, Ephraim, Mercy, Persis, Seth, and Polly.

To accommodate this large and growing family, the Sheldons added a wing to the back of the house. However, tuberculosis soon swept through the family. Over the next five years John Sheldon IV died, as did his children William, Ephraim, Mercy, and Persis, all of whom were in their late teens or twenties. Their youngest child, Polly, also died young, in 1814 at the age of 19.

Having outlived most of his older siblings, their youngest son Seth eventually inherited this house. He married Caroline Stebbins in 1810, and they had five children, including George Sheldon, who would likewise go on to inherit the house. Throughout the 19th century, George Sheldon was a prominent figure in Deerfield. He served one term each in the state house of representatives and the state senate, but he is best remembered for his work as a historian. He was one of the founders and the first president of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, and he wrote extensively about local history, including the two-volume A History of Deerfield Massachusetts.

George Sheldon died in 1916 at the age of 98. By that point, thanks in part of his efforts, Deerfield was becoming noteworthy for its history and for its well-preserved historic Main Street. The top photo was taken in 1930 by Leon Abdalian, who used his camera to document many historic homes in New England during the early 20th century. It was still owned by descendants of the Sheldon family at the time, and the photo shows some of the changes that had occurred to the house, including the bay window on the left side and the twin chimneys in place of the earlier central chimney. The Sheldon descendants eventually sold the house in 1946, nearly 200 years after John Sheldon built it.

Today, the house is one of the many historic homes on Main Street that has been preserved by Historic Deerfield. It has undergone some exterior restoration to bring it back to its 18th century appearance, including the replacement of the central chimney and the removal of the bay window. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the top photo. On the interior, the house is furnished based on how it would have looked during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Along with most of the other houses owned by Historic Deerfield, it is open to the public seasonally for tours.

Indian House Children’s Museum, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Indian House Children’s Museum on Old Main Street in Deerfield, on July 24, 1930. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1929 as a replica of the John Sheldon House, also known as the Old Indian House. The original house had been built in 1696, and it stood a little to the north of here, behind the modern-day First Church. It was a famous Deerfield landmark for having survived the 1704 French and Native American raid on the village.

Despite its historical significance, the old house was demolished in 1848, but its loss eventually spurred the construction of this replica more than 80 years later. It was built using traditional construction methods, and this site on Old Main Street was chosen in part because of the large elm tree on the left, which was similar to the elm that once stood in front of the original house.

The first photo was taken about a year after the replica house opened, and not much has changed here in this scene since then, aside from the loss of the elm tree, which likely fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-20th century. The house itself is still here, and it is run by the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association as the Indian House Children’s Museum.