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Touring Historic Deerfield: The Manse

When Head of School Margarita Curtis first came to Deerfield, many people asked her whether she would be afraid to live alone in the Manse. Why? Supposedly many ghosts haunt the house.

The foundation of the Manse predates the building. Dr. Curtis explained, “When settlers came they thought it was the most desirable lots, and a privileged spot, because it was on a rise.”

The large Carter family inhabited the house in the late 17th century, until the massacre of 1704, in which, said Dr. Curtis, “The Indians murdered Mrs. Carter and some of the children, and took the others to Canada.” Native American or French families adopted some children; some were eventually ransomed, but the spirits of their parents still wander their home.

The house was eventually sold to Samuel Allen, grandfather of the famous patriot Ethan Allen. Allen sold it to a wealthy merchant named Samuel Barnard, who bequeathed the property to his nephew, Joseph. Joseph Barnard is responsible for building the house we know today.

“He took thirteen years, selecting the timber to make sure that none of the boards had any knots in the woodwork, so all the wood in the interior of the house is beautifully grained,” said Dr. Curtis. The house supposedly cost roughly one thousand pre-Revolutionary pounds to build.

In addition to the ghosts from the 1704 attack, slave spirits may also linger in the house. “There is a legend that the Manse was once a stop on the Underground Railroad,” said Dr. Curtis.

The Manse is sometimes called the Willard house for Reverend Samuel Willard, who bought the house in 1811. Rev. Willard was the first Unitarian Minister in Western Massachusetts. He hosted many important guests, including writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, politician and leader of the Massachusetts antislavery forces, Charles Sumner, and newspaper editor and a founder of the Liberal Republican party Horace Greeley.

The Manse has also been home to a number of Deerfield headmasters, including Frank Boyden.manse-copy-too-small

“I have never lived in a house close to three-hundred years old; a house so intricately connected with the history of the town and of New England is really fantastic,” Dr. Curtis mused.

Looking through old pictures of the Manse, Dr. Curtis continued, “I love seeing how the house has changed, and the way different owners have decided to use the space.” Her favorite room in is the blue room, which has the largest fireplace, and is the least formal of the three parlors.

If you are curious about what the house looks like inside, Ms. Hemphill holds a tour of the house every spring to show off the artwork, which is part of the Russell Collection. Also, Dr. Curtis emphasized that she would welcome any student who would like a tour to let her know.

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