Experiential Learning at Historic Deerfield

Immerse Yourself in Fall & Uncover Its Traditions

Late summer and autumn were busy times in early American kitchens. The abundance of fresh produce needed to be processed and preserved for the winter. This fall, Historic Deerfield interpreters will be cooking dishes featuring apples, pumpkins, and corn.

As brightly colored leaves replace the lush green of summer, sweaters and sweatshirts emerge on chilly mornings, and fresh, local apples become a daily staple. A full calendar of events at Historic Deerfield offers families countless ways to learn about fall in early New England. Families can visit the 350-year-old village for demonstrations and hands-on experiential activities so as to learn – through immersion – about the changes that fall brought to some of western Massachusetts’ earliest settlers.

Of course, some fall traditions remain a part of New England culture today. Exploring Historic Deerfield can help families to uncover the roots of some of their own fall activities and traditions, and can help children to understand the season-related reasons for the timing of certain cultural events. Harvesting the last of the summer’s bounty, for example, and celebrating the changing of the seasons through food of all kinds is a seasonal activity that families will easily relate to. A visit centered around learning about the settlers of Deerfield’s open-hearth cooking style and the crops that they harvested in fall can help children to compare and contrast the things that happen during their own lives in the fall with the events of autumn for early New Englanders.

One of the most exciting parts of a visit to Historic Deerfield is that while it is designed to serve as a museum, the many historic buildings are filled with experts who share information and demonstrate 17th- and 18th-century skills – all while dressed the part! Not only does a visit to the village allow families to learn about local history by looking at artifacts and architecture, but it allows the opportunity to see what certain spaces in the village would have been like when they were alive with activity long ago. In a kitchen, visitors can find women cooking over an open hearth; meanwhile, in the workshop, an expert craftsman can be seen demonstrating an early New England skill or craft.

Specific to this fall’s schedule of demonstrations at Historic Deerfield is a series of Historic Trade events, each of which features a different skill – pottery making, cabinetry, black- and silver-smithing, dressmaking, basketry, and the art of coopering will all be included in the series, along with other fascinating skills of historic importance. Visitors to the village will be able to learn about the skills and knowledge specific to each trade, and will also be able to learn about the trade’s role in early New England communities. Students with some background in American history can connect what they learn to later developments in industry and production, while younger children can deepen their understanding of the self-sufficient nature of life long ago.


Open Hearth Cooking: Foods of the Harvest
September 27; October 3-4, 10-11-12-13, 17-18, 24-25, 31
10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Hall Tavern Kitchen
Late summer and autumn were busy times in early American kitchens. The abundance of fresh produce needed to be processed and preserved for the winter. Historic Deerfield cooks this fall will be cooking dishes featuring apples, pumpkins, and corn.

Historic Trades Demonstrations
Saturdays and Sundays September 27 – December 13, 10:30am-4pm
Visitors will meet talented craftspeople and observe their work up close each weekend this fall with Historic Deerfield Historic Trade demonstrations. Learn how a printing press was important to communication in colonial times. See a joiner use a series of tools to square, shape, and join separate pieces of wood into a single, strong window sash. Working with the head of fiery coals, watch the blacksmith deftly transform hard, shapeless metal into a graceful, functional object. Check the calendar for a schedule of specific demonstrations which occur on Saturdays and Sundays September 27 – December 13. Included with general admission:

  • Saturday, September 27: Blacksmithing, with Rick Martin
  • Saturday, October 4: Coopering, with Neil Muckenhoupt
  • Sunday, October 5 : Stoneware Pottery with Mark Shapiro; Silversmithing with Steve Smithers
  • Saturday, October 11: 18th c. Cabinetmaking with Craig Farrow
  • Sunday, October 12: Gunsmithing with Leonard Day; Tailoring with Henry Cooke – the military uniform of Tertius Taylor
  • Saturday, October 18: Gravestone Carving with Karin Sprague; Redware Pottery with Rick Hamelin
  • Sunday, October 19: Dressmaking with Linda Oakley; Shoemaking with Peter Oakley
  • Saturday, October 25: Architectural Woodworking with Ted Ingraham
  • Sunday, October 26: Birch Bark Baskets with Jennifer Lee
  • Saturday, November 1: Tinsmithing with Bill McMillen; Early 19th c. Medical Practice with Jack Richman
  • Friday, November 28: Paper Marbling with Regina and Dan St. John; Redware Pottery with Stephen Earp
  • Saturday, December 13: Letterpress Printing: Holiday Cards with Carl Darrow


The Seed of Seeds: The Story of Corn and its Many Uses
Saturdays and Sundays, September 13 – November 23
12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
History Workshop, drop by anytime
Often called the “seed of seeds,” corn, or maize as it is properly called, is an ancient crop that was a staple of life in the Americas, both as a food source and as a fiber, useful for many purposes. Learn about the history of corn in Native America, and how European colonists incorporated the use of corn into their lives. Find out about what makes popcorn pop, try your hand at grinding corn and make your own corn husk figure to take home.

Homeschool Harvest Day
September 24
10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Visitor Center at Hall Tavern
Drop in anytime, pre-registration encouraged by September 17.
Contact Claire Carlson, ccarlson@historic-deerfield.org or (413) 775-7217 to register.
Homeschool families are invited to celebrate the fall harvest at Historic Deerfield. Help Historic Deerfield hearth cooks prepare dishes, learn how cloth is made as you card wool and weave on a loom, visit the Sheldon House and the Wapping Schoolhouse, and enjoy a scavenger hunt.

Focus Fridays
October 3, 10, 17, 24
11 a.m.
The Focus Friday Series will pair inquisitive visitors with experienced guides to discuss an individual object in the Historic Deerfield collection. If you are a curious person who would enjoy conversation and guidance looking at an object with focus, join Historic Deerfield each Friday in October at 11 a.m. October 3: New England “Crazy Quilt”; October 10: Two-handled Silver Cup; October 17: Chinese Export Porcelain Tea Set; October 24: Demi-Lune Commode.

Guided Tours of the Old Burying Ground on Albany Road
October 8, 15, 22
12 p.m.
Learn about the people and families laid to rest in the Old Burying Ground on Albany Road.

Archaeology Day in Deerfield
October 18, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Free
Enjoy an Archaeological Tour of Deerfield Village with Dr. Robert Paynter, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, and a guided tour of the Old Burying Ground on Albany Road with Claire Carlson, Education Program Coordinator at Historic Deerfield. Both programs are free and open to the public. Part of Massachusetts Archaeology Month. Also see gravestone carving and redware pottery making in museum for additional fee.

Historic Deerfield is located at 84B Old Main Street in Deerfield and is open from 9:30am-4:30pm daily. Admission is $14 per adult and $5 per child, and the museum welcomes groups to visit together for special tours and events. For more information, call 413-774-5581. historic-deerfield.org

Photo credits: Historic Deerfield

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: