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Deerfield- It's Early Beauty Has Never Left

Recorder Staff

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 populated area.

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.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: In spite of its title, this article published for the 300th anniversary of the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, focuses on the immigrant groups who settled there. The writer calls them the "new pioneers" and traces Irish and Polish coming to, and staying in, town. The immigrants worked hard and brought prosperity to the town. There are still strong ties to the Polish heritage brought by the immigrants who worked hard farming and finally became large landowners. Descendents of these immigrants are considered to be an important part of Deerfield's heritage.


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"Deerfield- It's Early Beauty Has Never Left" article from Tercentenary Recorder newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Recorder
author   Walentyna Pomasko
date   Jun 29, 1973
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   7.0"
height   16.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L07.009

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See Also...

Deerfield Potatoes Bag

"Onion Harvest"

"Farmers Help the Belgians"

Thomas Williams Ashley (1894-1918)

View of Cheapside

"Share the Work Campaign Gets Under Way at Meeting" article from the Greenfield Daily Recorder-Gazette Newspaper

"Are We To Be Polanized?" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Courier newspaper

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