A Deerfield Forum

There was so much to learn about antiques and early architectural building methods. The Old Deerfield Forums were a great way to study both aspects. Jean and I had visited Old Deerfield many times but it was their forums that we found particularly exciting. You had to book in early to the Deerfield Inn because the forums were very popular. I could think of nowhere else where you could informally visit for a couple of days among antiquarians and expert old house aficionados to discuss or question any detail that concerned you. There were general forums but there were specific ones too that focused on particular interests, whether it be silver, textiles, furniture, early hardware, treen, building techniques, etcetera. 

We would learn from each other while visiting the various eighteenth-century homes that lined the main street. And there were no ‘out of bounds’ during the forums. You could crawl into the dark corners of attics or turn over a Brewster chair if you had a question.

I took that opportunity myself during one forum. I think it was to Don Friary, our host, that I addressed my question. When I noticed a matched pair of the very early Brewster chairs that sat at each end of the long dining table I found the fact most curious. I considered them very closely. Then I asked him, “Don, have you ever seen a matched pair of Brewster chairs?” I think the question took him by surprise. He immediately came to have a good look too, as did a few others as curious as myself. Each chair was turned over and scrutinized quite carefully by antiquarians.

The final answer? All I can tell you is that the next time we attended a forum they were gone. Truth mattered here. 

One afternoon I remember being shown one of the earliest fireplaces in the town. We were in the Indian House dated from 1686 but destroyed by Indians in 1704. This one had a working bake oven built into the side of it. I was able to make measured drawings of it, thinking I might reproduce it on the end wall of our newly built 1820 log home. Having done that, we proceeded down the historic street when I noticed something about the roofing. They were all covered in cedar shingles, appropriate for the time, and used in most museum village restorations. 

I remarked how the roof beneath the chimneys was in better shape than elsewhere on the roof. My mason/guide explained. ”If you notice the flashing at the base of each chimney we have used copper flashing.

When it rains, the copper sulfate from the flashing washes the shingles. This counteracts the mildew process. You can see the roof ridges are covered in copper too.” Well, I sure remembered that one and have advised my clients to do likewise ever since.

During one forum focused on the restorations of the buildings I met the Atwoods, our counterparts in New England it seems. Jean and I were sitting opposite them at a grand table enjoying a lovely meal. The dinner table was just another drawing table in the open-house office of the forum. The woman next to me, I forget her name but not her regal bearing, asked Mr. Atwood, I think his name was Dave, right out, quite casually but with a serious inflection, “Dave, could you reproduce the Ashley house for me?” I almost threw up my lobster bisque. I knew right away it was a many millions of dollars contract. They were about to discuss the possibility of reproducing the crown jewel of Old Deerfield’s best homes… in my estimation anyway. Jean’s eyes bugged out too when she heard the question, probably asking herself why we don’t have clients like that. Mind you, we don’t have many houses of this quality and vintage to deal with. 

I heard a couple of years later that Dave was killed, falling from a barn roof. I hadn’t heard if the Ashley House project had happened or not before the fatality. This vocation of ours does have its dangers and I have had more than my share of broken bones to prove it. I think the forums are still offered, both actual and virtual. I would heartily recommend them to those interested in preserving their architectural history.

Here follows a piece of the Ashley House history that was written many years ago by Jonathan Porter Ashley, a descendant of one of the first owners.

“The house still stands but how the mighty have fallen! That building erected for and dedicated to the use of the servant of the Lord, was removed to the rear in 1869 to make room for the modern farmhouse and converted into a tobacco barn! The great hand-hewn pine beams and oaken braces speak well for the honest toil and honest home-brewed ale that raised them to their lofty places. The paneling and molding is still intact in places, but what of the people who frequent it and what language do they speak? The rooms once echoing with learned arguments concerning predestination and free will now resound with the jokes and carefree laughter of a gang of tobacco strippers. Where once the desk of the Rev. Jonathan Ashley stood, an anvil now reposes.”

  The house is again back on its old site on the village street. May it long stand as an imposing monument to the glorious past.