From our agricultural roots, Deerfield, NH has grown into a diverse community with a wide assortment of interests. And we are big enough (52 square miles) to hold them all. Our relatively small population (less than 5,000) means a lot of that land is undeveloped. We have miles of hiking trails through forests and past wetlands, where you can spot signs of deer and moose, beaver dams and heron nests. At one time all this land was cleared and farmed, but as times changed, so did use of the land. You can still see among the trees the stone walls built by farmers long ago, and a walk in the woods can bring you to many an abandoned cellar hole with a tiny family plot nearby. Deerfield has over one hundred cemeteries registered, most of them humble with fieldstone markers.
Although the era of agriculture has passed, there are still many beautiful and active farms in town. Not so many cows and sheep as there used to be, but plenty of horses. Our famous Deerfield Fair, which is the largest and oldest family-oriented, agricultural fair in the northeast, reflects the rural character that is still alive and well in our town. Teams come from miles around to participate in the horse and oxen pulls, and folks bring their best produce, baked and canned goods to be judged. Competition is fierce with neighboring communities for the largest pumpkin. The fairground is used for lots of different activities year round, from powwows to gatherings of ham radio enthusiasts to poultry and horse shows.
It may be a small town, but there is never a dull moment. Just about every week there is something going on. Sometimes it's traditional, like our Old Home Day celebration in August, and Craft Fair in November. Sometimes it's new, like the annual Arts Tour, in which Deerfield artisans and artists open up their studios and show off their work. We have a remarkable number of very talented people in town, from potters to painters to photographers. Our library, which is housed in the lovely old Soldier's Memorial building, has a small gallery where local artists can display their work. Each month a new collection is featured.
Speaking of the library, our town boasts one of the largest book groups in the state. And it isn't the only one in town. We are a town of readers, and our librarian takes good care of us. The library is a friendly place where nobody says “Shhh!” It’s a great resource for information about the town, as well as free wifi and public access computers. Our librarian has a weekly story time and craft for preschoolers, as well as readings for kids during the summer at Veasey Park, the town beach. It’s located on Pleasant Lake, much of which lies in Deerfield. There’s a boat launch as well, and many folks in Deerfield go to the lake to fish, swim, and otherwise cool off in the summer.
There’s lots of other stuff we do for fun here in Deerfield, and our Parks and Recreation Department keeps us active and fit with dancing classes, yoga, zumba, and a wide variety of sports. There are even field trips arranged to attend Red Sox games if you’d rather just watch. Our Parks and Rec director is always coming up with new ideas for things to do for all ages. But if your interests are more into educational opportunities, there are lectures and presentations sponsored by town organizations. We are proud of our heritage, and have taken great care to preserve our past for the benefit of those in the present. Two organizations, the Town-sponsored Heritage Commission and the private Deerfield Historical Society are ready to answer your questions about genealogy and our town’s past. There’s the Historical Museum on the second floor of our Town Hall, and Historical Society meetings, which always include a fascinating presentation of some kind. You can find out more about all of this by browsing this website. On the Heritage Commission page is a link to their website, which is full of old photos, stories, and resources for research.
Deerfield residents keep informed through a variety of different media. The Communicator is a monthly newsletter which is delivered to every household and is full of useful information about local events and news. Wondering what the bus schedule will be? What new books are in the library? When the scrap drive or town clean-up will be held? What’s happening at Church? It’s in the Communicator. There are two main churches in Deerfield: the Deerfield Bible Church, which is an Evangelical Free Church, and the Deerfield Community Church, United Church of Christ. They both do wonderful work in the community, running a food pantry, Senior and adult education activities, Al-Anon, family counseling, and much more. Volunteers are the heart of Deerfield, working every day to make our community a better, happier place.
Volunteers help keep Deerfield informed through The Forum, a virtual newspaper. Serving our town and surrounding communities, The Forum is a place on the Internet where folks can get together to share news, ideas and opinions. When there is a disaster, like the flood that hit our state a few years ago, The Forum is there with up-to-the minute information on where to go and what to do. During election season, it provides information on the candidates and the issues, as well as election results as soon as they are available.
And of course, in a small town, there is word of mouth. We are all neighbors. We know each other and look after each other. Not that we don’t have our disagreements, and during election season the political debates can get pretty heated. We are an SB2 town, so citizens don’t need to attend town meetings if they aren’t able to. But most of us take an active interest in what goes on in the town, and participate in some way on committees or just attending public hearings and having our say. There are many ways to contribute depending on what is important to you. If it is environmental conservation, you can get involved with Bear-Paw Regional Greenways or the Deerfield Conservation Commission. If you love flowers, join the Garden Club and help beautifying plots and corners around town. We have a Swap Shop at the Transfer Station which is a grand source of great stuff; if you volunteer, you get first pick of whatever comes in. And of course there is the PTO for those who care about our schools and the education of our children.
In fact, we have one of the few truly volunteer fire departments in the state, formed in 1932. These dedicated citizens work out of a small firehouse located in the center of town, between Soldier’s Memorial (which houses the Philbrick-James Library) and the Town Hall on Church Street, where the two main churches of Deerfield are located. This part of the center has been designated in the National Register as a Historic District due to its architecture and historical significance. The Old Center, a few miles away up on Meeting House Hill Road, is where the first meeting house was built shortly after the town incorporated in 1766. Deerfield was originally part of Nottingham, and shares a close history through the bordering acres of Pawtuckaway, now a State Park. Another State Park, Bear Brook, has its main entrance in Allenstown, but lies largely in Deerfield.
Deerfield is a very fortunate town, centrally located with an easy drive to most of the major urban areas of Southern NH, as well as the Lakes Region, the White Mountains and the Atlantic coast. Yet we are enough off the beaten path that we have retained the rural character that makes us what we are. Large enough to provide most of the services people need, yet small enough to retain a sense of community, and great pride in who we are.
Mel Graykin, Heritage Commission
Photo Credits: David Linden, Sienna Larson