Historic Deerfield and the Academy: Past and Culture Interwoven

By Cate Magennis Wyatt P’14; Waterford, VA
I suspect you remember it like yesterday.

The first time you turned off Route 5 and 10, into Deerfield, and caught your breath as you rolled down the elm-lined street that has welcomed visitors for centuries. You’ll recall wishing you could freeze-frame each glimpse. You slowed your approach to absorb the architecture that evoked tradition, constancy, stability, and hundreds of years of stories to explore. 

And then you turned onto Albany Road and gave Deerfield Academy your all, either yourself, or your child, and never again explored those initial feelings of wonder.

The irony is this: what you and I fell in love with in those first moments of arrival in “old” Deerfield are so much more than the warmth of historic enchantment. What we felt was the humbling and inspiring sense of permanence and respect for excellence. What few know is that much of what we love about Historic Deerfield is tied directly to the contributions of Deerfield Academy’s Headmaster Frank Boyden, our Trustees, and their shared commitment to excellence.

Here it is: every member of the DA community should take enormous pride in the existence of Historic Deerfield and more, might reconsider those initial urges and continue the tradition of supporting Historic Deerfield, which is cited by the National Register of Historic Places as “one of the most effective community restorations in the Untied States.”

This very high praise was well earned. The citizens of Deerfield were among the first in the country to create a society to preserve their heritage, naming it the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. In 1878, when Deerfield Academy (founded in 1797) needed a larger facility, its building was purchased by this association and opened as a museum. Few of us knew this until this past Parents Spring Weekend when many accepted the invitation from the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association to tour this museum’s outstanding collection of early Americana and stroll through Deerfield Academy’s original home.

Early in his tenure, legendary Headmaster Frank L. Boyden understood the importance of preserving the historic structures in Deerfield and personally sought out the support of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Flynt, whose son Hank (Henry N. Flynt, Jr.) entered Deerfield in 1936. This was much more than a partnership in historic preservation. It was a shared recognition, as articulated in the Academy’s 1929 fundraising book, on the importance of respecting the appearance of Deerfield because it mirrored the traditions of the Academy. “The whole atmosphere is rich in the traditions of courage and the character which made America. An investment in Deerfield…is an investment in the strong character…out of which America was built.”

The resulting impact of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Flynt’s combined vision, under the leadership of Mr. Boyden, cannot be overstated. Beginning in the late 1930s the Flynts began purchasing historic homes, first for the Academy’s use, then to preserve the sense of place, sometimes simply to ensure the structures did not fall into the hands of those who might not appreciate the seamless importance of context. Along the way, as they sought out the counsel from conservators of Colonial Williamsburg, they determined that the stories of those who lived within these homes must be shared with the public and accordingly became some of the most significant collectors of American furniture and artifacts. Their collection fills the ten homes now open to the public as well as the Flynt Center of Early New England Life. In 1952 the Flynts created The Heritage Foundation, now known as Historic Deerfield, the non-profit organization dedicated to sharing these stories and places with all visitors.

In a letter to Mr. Boyden in 1940 Mr. Flynt wrote, “There are certain places one goes to from time to time which are an inspiration and at the same time there is stirred within oneself a feeling of real friendship and devotion. Deerfield is such a place with us…it is a result of the spirit of the place which you two [Frank and his wife Helen Childs Boyden] have so forcibly caused to be so manifest.”

Others from throughout the country and indeed around the world have long had visiting Deerfield on their bucket list. For good reason. The three vibrant historical societies within Deerfield make it easy for visitors to explore 350 years of historic architectural, cultural, and decorative arts collections found within two museums and through historic homes tours offered every hour.

This Parents Fall Weekend, we will have the opportunity to explore further.

On Friday, October 12 at 4 p.m. join Amanda Rivera Lopez, Director of Museum Education and Interpretation, at Hall Tavern (Historic Deerfield’s Visitor Center) for “The 1704 Deerfield Raid Walking Tour.” On the following day, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Philip Zea, President of Historic Deerfield, invites all to visit the Flynt Center for refreshments with a discussion on “The Williams House Door: A Deerfield Academy Icon.” (Pre-registration is required for both events. Sign up here.)

As the story of Historic Deerfield is so closely interwoven with the history and the culture of Deerfield Academy I found it curious to learn during a recent visit to the Flynt Center that “very, very few of those who visit are parents of DA students.” On your next visit to campus, consider reversing this trend. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

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