Two historians create inventory of homes, commercial properties in South Deerfield

Last modified: Thursday, March 06, 2014
SOUTH DEERFIELD — In 1899, Civil War veterans congregated at 10 Elm St., in the heart of South Deerfield, where they held men and women’s auxiliary and provided an American flag for every school house in Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland.

By 1907, the veterans, Grand Army of the Republic Post 84, rented the space in the center of town to the Sunderland Onion and Fertilizer Co.

Soon, the Polish Society bought the building which would become known as the Elm Farm Bakery to hold Catholic Mass until the Saint Stanislaus Church was completed in 1912.

The buildings and commercial spaces in South Deerfield have a history. And at 1 Sugarloaf St., Marilyn McArthur and Shirley Majewski have been collecting and documenting information for the South Deerfield History Project, which is in its second year.

The two historians are creating an inventory of the homes and commercial properties in South Deerfield by collecting old photos, newspapers and stories to create narratives for the properties — something that has never been done before.

While Old Deerfield is in the National Register of Historic Places and is often considered the center of history in town, South Deerfield has its own history, McArthur said.

Since 1675 when the Battle of Bloody Brook took place, South Deerfield has played a significant role in Deerfield’s history, McArthur said.

In 1847, the railroad came through town, creating an agricultural boom as products were shipped to the market, growing the town economically.

Later, when Interstate 91 was built, Deerfield lost much of its growth as travelers bypassed the town.

These moments mark pivotal times in South Deerfield, McArthur said.

McArthur and Majewski are completing inventory forms provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which will be submitted and approved for the state historic website.

“Our historic preservation work is to document buildings that are here and hope they remain,” McArthur said. “It is to promote awareness of historic value of South Deerfield by way of researching the building.”

The historians are focusing on buildings that are still standing.

While the location of Jerry’s Place on North Main Street used to be a grand hotel with its own history, the old building is no longer there.

“We’re working with buildings that are here now,” McArthur said.

Contributing to the project are local residents with memories of the early 20th century, old photographs and newspaper clippings.

The part-time salaries for the two historians and rent for the office space are paid for with $34,600 in Community Preservation Act money the town approved last year.

McArthur has a doctorate in anthropology and worked for 12 years for the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in Deerfield as a public historian. Majewski has worked for 20 years as an archival researcher for the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.

So far, McArthur and Majewski have files on 100 properties in South Deerfield from the National Produce Bank to the Hotel Warren, which is one-sixth of what a full inventory for the village would be.

To continue the project, the Deerfield Historical Commission will likely request Community Preservation Act funds again this year, McArthur said.

That money is used only for the documentation. Possible next steps include the creation of an interactive website to share the information. Another possibility is the project may help put the Bloody Brook monument on the National Register of Historic Places.

Office hours at 1 Sugarloaf St. are Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Further information is available by calling 413-665-1401.