‘Sheep in the Street’ at Historic Deerfield welcomes historical learning through wooly animals

  • Sheep shearing, pictured at Leyden Glen Farm in 2016. Beginning Friday and continuing through the weekend, Historic Deerfield will be hosting its first “Sheep in the Street” event. The museum invites people to meet the animals and learn about their role in the agricultural history of New England. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sheep, pictured at Leyden Glen Farm in 2016. Beginning Friday and continuing through the weekend, Historic Deerfield will be hosting its first “Sheep in the Street” event. The museum invites people to meet the animals and learn about their role in the agricultural history of New England. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2022 10:03:19 AM

DEERFIELD — Don’t call the animal control officer if you see sheep on Old Main Street this weekend.

Beginning Friday and continuing through the weekend, Historic Deerfield will be hosting its first “Sheep in the Street” event. The museum invites people to meet the animals and learn about their role in the agricultural history of New England. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day and is included with general museum admission, which is $18 for adults, $5 for children ages 13 to 17 and free for children ages 12 and under. Members and Deerfield residents get free admission.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum. The event will primarily be focused outdoors by the Flynt Center of Early New England Life at 37 Old Main St.

Historic Deerfield’s Director of Interpretation James Golden said “Sheep in the Street” is an opportunity to learn about how sheep have influenced New England’s economy throughout its history, while giving people a new appreciation for the work that goes into tending the animals.

“It’s really an amazing story that combines these particular breeds and how they shifted New England’s agricultural history,” Golden said, adding the event “gives us a chance to communicate that history and also unpack some of the remarkable stories in our collection.”

Sheep, Golden said, “absolutely transformed” the economic landscape of New England to the point that, by the end of the 1830s, Franklin County alone was home to more than 55,000 sheep. The introduction of Merino sheep bolstered the economy so much that it eventually crashed as there were too many sheep around.

“The wool from the Merino sheep was such a high quality and suited New England’s terrain so well it just exploded,” he said. “It became hugely influential to New England’s economy, particularly in this area. … But with over-supply, the market crashed, prices dropped and the sheep boom really devastated New England.”

The event is family-friendly. Children are invited to partake in make-and-take craft projects and a sheep-themed scavenger hunt, as they learn about the sheep herding and sheep shearing processes. On Saturday, Shelburne Falls-based Bedfellows Blankets, Wool & Dye Works of Florence and Northampton Wools will be on hand selling wool products.

Golden said he is hopeful these activities and demonstrations will paint a picture of how a sheep’s wool gets turned into clothing.

“We want to give people a chance to experience historic textile processing — spinning, weaving, carving, dyeing — and explore the whole journey from a sheep’s back to your back,” Golden said. “It’s a huge and complicated process that we totally take for granted in an era of cheap clothing.”

Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern at the Deerfield Inn will offer picnic lunches, as well as a dine-in lunch with spring wines and foods, including a selection of sheep’s cheese.

Golden said “Sheep in the Street” is a “celebration of spring” as Historic Deerfield’s spring and summer programming kicks off.

“It’s a way to explore history through living beings,” Golden said. “I hope people will appreciate some of the earlier history of clothing and fabric and see the process that went into that.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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