Deerfield- It's Early Beauty Has Never Left
By WALENTYNA POMASKO
As the settlements in Old Deerfield village became safer places in which to
live and farm, slowly in the 1740's the new settlers in the area near Mount
Sugarloaf that was known as "Muddy Brook" began to converge into smaller
settlements of their own.
Soon more farmers and tradesmen from the Southern sections came up-river to
cultivate the rich flood plains of the Connecticut River.
While the men and women of the Old Deerfield village were primarily farmers
with a few tradespeople to provide needed services, the fast developing center
for growth to the south of the old village channeled its efforts increasingly
towards industry and commerce. The proximity of the river as a means of transportation
was a prime influence. Soon the settlement at the base of the mountain called
Bloody Brook and the post office formerly the Muddy Brook office, was renamed
the Bloody Brook post office.
It wasn't until about the 1830's that the section was officially called South
Deerfield. Small cottage industries from broom making to pocketbook making developed
into factories. Farming remained king, however.
THE PEOPLE CHANGED to suit the times, but the times changed
because of the people- new people. About the time of the Irish Potato Famines
in the 1840's, Irish immigrants flowed into Northampton and Amherst- the women
to work as domestices in hotels, taverns and colleges. Some of these "new
pioneers" were chamber maids in Deerfield's taverns. The men took to the
rails and it was mostly Irish sweat and sinew that place the railroad tracks
through Deerfield and Greenfield bringing through town one of the primary forces
of its industrialization.
The NcNernesy, McDermotts, Manixes and Powerses are some of the Irish names
that remain in South Deerfield from the original Irish immigrants.
The rails, several decades later also brought in the Polish immigrants, that
first helped bring the early established settlers to prosperity and then brought
wealth and lands to themselves and to the many generations of farmers with Slavic
ancestry that followed.
Thousands of Poles came from New York and Boston harbors through the early
rail stations near the center of South Deerfield. Some of these "new pioneers"
worked the farms in Old Deerfield but many settled in the South Deerfield section.
FRANCIS CLAPP, a farmer from Mill River, is credited with
creating demand for the Polish laborers on Deerfield farms. Clapp's sons had
married and moved away. In the days when mechanized farming was not even a dream,
manual labor was absolutely necessary for survival. At about $20 a month, the
Poles were cheap labor. Other farmers followed suit and soon there became a
small group of gentlemen farmers, the descendants of the old families that originally
settled Deerfield in the 17th century. These old families that one time were
also immigrants, toiled from morning until night to scratch out an existence.
They depended on the original Deerfield "establishment" the farming
Pocumtuck Indians, whose advise on farming and survival they sought.
These original Deerfield farmers, once "greenhorns" them selves,
in a new land, now became the establishment. The new immigrants did the farming
and manual labor and the new establishment found time to cultivate culture,
the arts and build spacious and gracious homes. Main St. was lined with visible
evidence of the prosperity of the new "aristocracy."
These newly arrived immigrants became the new land owners. The Poles worked
hard on the farms that belonged to the already firmly established "yankee
farmers", had large families so the children could help with the work.
And the women, as did the very early Deerfield pioneer women, married early,
worked hard and many times bore their childen in the farm fields as they labored
in the crops.
THE EARLY DEERFIED village settlers and the new pioneers had
in common a tradition of hard won survival.
The Civil War in 1861 brought another change of the people of the young Deerfield
men gone off to fight their southern brethren, few returned to their families
and to the farms. Many died in the fighting but others came to Deerfield for
a short time and then left for the factories in Hartford, Boston and New York,
or became another breed of pioneer, to settle the lands to the west. This was
a blow to the farming society that depended on the continuity of direct lineage
to continue the tilling of the family-owned soil.
Meanwhile, industry was booming in and around Deerfield. The railroad was a
primary reason. The Connecticut river supplied the means of passage for the
loggers up north and in Deerfield. Deerfield's neighbors, especially Conway,
were quickly becoming industrialized and Deerfield's freight yards were booming,
bridges were being constructed and roads that were once farm and horse lanes
became blacktop highways.
The Polish and Irish were slowly learning the American Way. Although discrimination
was the rule rather than the exception, there were Deerfield people who broke
this cultural barrier. One of them was Cyrus Brown, a railroad station agent
in South Deerfield. Brown learned the Polish language and was the man remembered
by many of the Slavic men and women as the "yankee" able to greet
them in their own language as they descended from the trains in South Deerfield.
Brown helped these frightened and homeless find the farmers for whom they and
their families would work.
FROM SOME of these early Polish immigrants came the families
that are now considered an integral land important part of Deerfield's heritage,
the Baronoskis, Kruks, Melniks and many more. In Old Deerfield village the Yazwinski
family represents the new Deerfield pioneers.
The Poles and the Irish joined the already established residents of the town
in working the factories.
The Arms "pocket book shop", the shoe factories and the smaller cottage
industries around town represented the Industrial revolution in Deerfield. Stores
and business offices and the fine hotels line the Main St. in South Deerfield.
The new settlers continued to work hard and invest heavily in the land. Industry
and farming boomed and soon Deerfield's prosperity made millionaires of some
of the town's leading citizens.
The abundant Polish labor and the rich Deerfield soil made South Deerfield
the "Onion capital of the world." James Campbell was one of the millionaire
farmers and South Deerfield was know as "Onion Town" to everyone.
Graves St. was a farm lane and workers, their wives and children stooped over
the plants from morning to sunset on fields that lined what is now a heavily
At that time there was a Main St. in South Deerfield but the streets that branched
to the east and west usually led to farms.
THEN THE BOTTOM fell out as it did all over the country.
The Great Depression of the 1930's hit Deerfield. The Poles didn't keep their
money in banks. They didn't trust banks. Their savings were kept under floor
boards, inside mattresses, places that were always within easy reach and out
of the grasp of swindlers.
It is with this money that the Poles purchased the rapidly bankrupt established
farms. They became land owners.
Deerfield survived the Depression through hard times that some of the families
still talk about. But the people adapted, soon recovered and continued to prosper.
The old and new pioneer spirit held the people on.
Shade tobacco had always been an important crop from early settlement times.
It grew to be more important as time went on until 1968 when the Grobaski farm
became the last to grow shade tobacco in Deerfield.
By World War II the price of labor became high. The Polish had by that time
bought land and operated their own farms. The onion crops diminished in size
and soon were no longer profitable.
WORLD WAR II changed the town. The soldiers came back to the
homesteads and started building homes of their own. South Deerfield became a
"bedroom town". New schools werer built to meet the new demands of
the ever and quickly increasing population. Streets that branched off the main
st. that once lead to farms were quickly divided into building lots.
Deerfield today is quickly become a residential rather than a farming and industrial
area. For nearly three centuries the young people have to one degree or another
been leaving to make their fortunes elsewhere.
Now new people, not pioneers searching for a way to make a living from the
soil and factories of the town, but men and women who have vocations elsewhere
but seek the relative quiet and beauty of Deerfield's hills and valleys, have
come to Deerfield to settle.
They are coming not through need but choice.
Deerfield, south, east, west and the old village has served the people well.
Perhaps in acknowledgement of the bloodshed, the back-breaking work and the
courage of the town's old and new pioneers.