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.

Wash Room, Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts

The wash room at the laundry and machine shop building at Hancock Shaker Village in 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The room in 2023:

This room is located on the first floor of the laundry and machine shop at Hancock Shaker Village. It was here that women in the Shaker community would wash garments and other cloth items, which would then be brought upstairs to dry. From there, the dry clothes would be returned to the first floor, where other women would iron them in the adjacent ironing room.

Although today they are often conflated with the Amish, the Shakers were not opposed to technology. On the contrary, Shaker communities are generally credited with a number of important technological advances during the 19th century, including developing early washing machines. Part of this was because the communal nature of the Shaker villages. Because they all lived and worked together, they could take advantage of economies of scale and develop machinery that would not be practical for most individual families.

Here in Hancock, the laundry facilities were located on the west side of this building, which housed the machine shop on the east side. Both the laundry and the machine shop utilized the same water source, with a turbine that powered the machinery here. This made the laundry much more efficient than washing everything by hand, which helped keep up with the needs of the community that, during the mid-19th century, had several hundred members.

The first photo was taken in 1931, when the Shaker community was still active here. As shown in the photo, the floor of the room was marble, which slope upward at the walls. There are also several drain holes in the floor. The equipment in the first photo includes a washing machine in the distance against the far wall, which appears to have been powered by the water turbine via a belt.

The Shaker community here in Hancock ultimately closed in 1960 amid declining numbers, and many of the buildings have since been preserved Hancock Shaker Village, an open-air museum. The laundry and machine shop building is still standing, although the equipment here in the wash room is somewhat different from the first photo. This may have been done in order to interpret the room as it would have looked during an earlier time period, since most of the items here appear to date back to the 19th century. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the first photo, and it provides a good illustration of how the Shakers utilized technology in order to meet the needs of their communities.

Ironing Room, Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts (2)

The ironing room at the laundry and machine shop building at Hancock Shaker Village in 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2023:

As with the previous post, these two photos show the ironing room, which is located on the western side of the laundry/machine shop at Hancock Shaker Village. It is probably the oldest surviving building at the village, dating back to about the time that the Shakers settled here around 1790. For many years, this half of the building was the laundry facility for the Shaker community here, and it included a wash room and an ironing room on the first floor, and drying rooms on the upper floors.

This Shaker community ultimately closed in 1960, and the property was subsequently preserved as Hancock Shaker Village. This open-air museum features a number of historic buildings, including the laundry/machine shop, as shown here. The first photo was taken more than 90 years ago, when the site was still an active Shaker community, and since then there has been some restoration work to this room, including different furnishings and a different stove. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the first photo, and the current layout shows the stoves where the irons were heated, as well as the large tables where articles of clothing and other cloth items were ironed.

Ironing Room, Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts

The ironing room at the laundry and machine shop building at Hancock Shaker Village in 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The room in 2023:

Life in a Shaker community was not for everyone, as it involved giving up personal property and living a celibate lifestyle in a communal setting where hard work was seen as a core value. However, those who joined the community did enjoy some practical benefits, particularly when it came to economies of scale. Because of their size, the Shakers could utilize larger, more efficient facilities than what a typical family of the time period had.

Here at the Shaker village in Hancock, Massachusetts, this included a large laundry facility, which occupied three stories on the western side of the laundry/machine shop building. This is probably the oldest surviving building at the village, with the original portion of the building—here on the western side—likely dating back to around the time that the community was established in 1790. It was probably originally a dwelling, but it was subsequently used as a laundry and as a machine shop. These two facilities shared the same building and water power source, but they were otherwise separate. In keeping with Shaker beliefs, men and women had separate workspaces, with the men working in the machine shop and the women here in the laundry.

On the ground floor, the laundry included two main rooms. One room was for washing, where the equipment was powered by a water turbine. From there, the laundry went upstairs to dry on drying racks, and then came back downstairs to this room, where it was ironed. Here, the clothing and other items were ironed on the large tables, using irons that were heated on the stoves in the room.

The Shaker community was still active when the first photo was taken in 1931, although its numbers were much smaller compared to a century earlier. They eventually closed in 1960, but the site subsequently became Hancock Shaker Village, an open-air museum. It features a number of restored Shaker buildings that are open to the public, including the laundry and machine shop, as shown here in the second photo.