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April 3, 2020 Heather Harrington

The Fear of Cholera in 19th Century Deerfield

By Heather Harrington
Associate Librarian

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the world, it is important to remember that this is not the first pandemic the world has faced. Often the 1918 influenza is mentioned as the last great world-wide pandemic. While this is true, an earlier pandemic of cholera from the 19th century as documented by Epaphras Hoyt (1765-1850) of Deerfield, shows that our reactions to the disease are very similar to Hoyt’s.

Cholera, a bacterial disease spread mainly through contaminated water, has been around for centuries. Periodic outbreaks and pandemics over the years have occurred on almost every continent. What made the disease particularly terrifying in the nineteenth century, was that no one had discovered how it spread from person to person, or place to place. People were left to speculate on their own.

In the 1840s, a new pandemic of cholera began to spread, starting in Asia, and making its way to Europe, and eventually North America. Epaphras Hoyt, a Deerfield resident and a devoted journal writer, tracked the spread of the disease. Like everyone else, he did not know what caused the disease and read every newspaper and pamphlet he could find that talked about it. For him, knowledge was power. The more he knew about cholera, the better prepared he felt to deal with it. In 1848, the disease had arrived in New York City and New Orleans. He chronicled in his journal for that year, reports of how many had died, and where the disease had spread to that week. He noticed that the disease seemed to follow major waterways, up the Mississippi and along the Hudson River. His fear was that the disease would travel up the Connecticut River and arrive in Deerfield. Hoyt, being in his eighties, probably felt vulnerable to the disease, should it arrive.

Epaphras Hoyt from The Little Brown House on Albany Road by George Sheldon.

To better understand cholera, Hoyt read the opinions of two doctors, a Dr. Jackson, and a Dr. Meigs. Dr. Jackson proposed that cholera was related to a certain type of rock formation and soil combination that released the harmful disease into the air. He suggested that New England was safe, as the area did not have this rock or soil. Hoyt found this idea questionable. He was not convinced cholera came from the soil.

Dr. Meigs offered up a cure for cholera. He sold pills that cured the disease if one followed an elaborate series of steps and swallowed a large number of pills, and immediately rested afterwards. Hoyt was rightfully skeptical of this approach and was not inclined to test it out.

By 1849, when the disease seemed to be at its peak in the area, Hoyt considered moving to Rowe, Massachusetts. Rowe had fresher air and was a healthier place to live. He based this idea on its small population size, its location on higher terrain, and its lack of reported cases of any disease. Yet Hoyt being a loyal, life-long Deerfield resident, did not move.

With all of his research on cholera, Hoyt did come to realize that cases increased near large sluggish rivers and lakes in the interior of the country. He thought this might be part of the cause of the disease. It was not until 1854 that John Snow discovered that cholera spread through consuming contaminated water.

While Hoyt and Deerfield came out of the pandemic relatively unscathed, others were not so lucky. Former President James K. Polk died of cholera in 1849, becoming the country’s best know victim of disease.

Our reactions today to COVID-19, following the latest news, trading rumors about cures, worrying about the spread of the disease, and general fear of the unknown are natural responses to a global pandemic. Epaphras Hoyt had the same reactions to the cholera pandemic of the 1840s. Today cholera is not such a scary disease. We know what causes it, how to prevent it, and how to treat it successfully. A cholera pandemic occurring today seems unlikely. With the speed of modern medicine and the advancement of knowledge, soon COVID-19 will become like cholera: a disease we can manage and control, that does not cause world-wide panic.

From Wikimedia Commons

1  All references to Hoyt’s activities come from Epaphras Hoyt, ”Sketch-book no. 21-23, 1847-1849,” Historic Deerfield Library (Deerfield, MA)

December 9, 2019 Laurie Nivison

Take the Deerfield Wreath Walk!

For 20 years, volunteers have been making beautiful, handmade natural holiday wreaths for the doors of the historic houses of Deerfield. This year, 52 volunteers made 59 wreaths to hang on the doors of 31 buildings along Old Main Street in Deerfield.

If you are visiting Historic Deerfield in December and the beginning of January, we encourage you to take the Deerfield Wreath Walk! Each year, we create a guide to all of the wreaths on each house, giving visitors the opportunity to explore the Street and learn about the wreaths, the unique materials, and the volunteers who made them.

This year’s Wreath Walk includes a special map in the guide with each building with a wreath numbered to make it easy for visitors to find the wreaths they want to see.

Guides can be picked up at the Old Deerfield Post Office, The Deerfield Inn, and the Historic Deerfield Museum Gift Shop & Bookstore. You can also download your copy before you visit: (PDF)

Learn more about the history of the wreaths and the community of volunteers who makes it all happen in the recent article from The Recorder: Making holiday wreaths in Deerfield

August 22, 2019 Danielle Raad

Gaining a Foothold on the Shoe Collection

Shoes tell stories. They reflect the tastes of their owners, and reveal the wear and tear of daily life. Arguably, shoes receive more use than other items of clothing, offering challenges to their preservation in museums. This summer, I embarked on a project to rehouse Historic Deerfield’s shoe collection. Working in consultation with Kate Kearns, Collections Manager, and Ned Lazaro, Curator of Textiles, I designed and constructed storage mounts for individual shoes and pairs of shoes (Fig. 1). The mounts, custom fabricated out of archival materials, protect these fragile, historic objects while in storage and support the structure of the shoes to mitigate damage caused by their own weight. The mounts also serve to reduce future deterioration by allowing the shoes to be displayed and studied by researchers and students with a minimum of handling. Here, I report out on this preventative conservation project.

The Shoe Collection at Historic Deerfield

There are just over one hundred pairs of shoes in the collections at Historic Deerfield, spanning almost three centuries, from the early 18th to the mid-20th century. The footwear collection includes fashionable heels and flats from France and England, heels, slippers, and boots made in the United States throughout the 19th century and into the 1960s, and even a pair of Spanish children’s boots. The majority of the collection is composed of women’s shoes, but those worn by children and men are also represented.

Made from the delicate organic materials of textiles and leather, shoes rarely survive for centuries. Men’s shoes in particular were subjected to intense wear, which is one reason why the extant examples tend to be women’s or children’s shoes. Each shoe provides information about changing style preferences and manufacturing methods through time. This project was an intervention to drastically reimagine the storage plan for the shoes in order to maintain their continued longevity and historic value.

Figure 1. Danielle adding the finishing touches to the mylar quarter inserts for a pair of gold silk slippers with cotton lining and leather soles [1]. These shoes were likely worn by Clarissa Dwight on her wedding day in 1842 in South Hadley, MA. Also pictured (L to R) are slippers in brown leather [2], yellow silk [3], and white leather [4]. In the foreground are slippers in (L to R) white silk [5], brown leather [6], green leather [7], and pink leather [8].

Mounting and Rehousing Footwear

When this project began, the shoes were housed in crowded storage cabinets. Many shoes were rubbing up against each other and some were on their sides (Fig. 2). Pairs could easily become separated. All shoes had to be handled anytime they were moved or studied. In addition to these protection concerns, many shoes were in need of conservation.

Our goal was to devise a mounting system for the shoes that would keep pairs together and organized on the shelves, provide structural support, and minimize the need to touch them when they need to be moved or studied. Drawing inspiration from similar projects undertaken by staff at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [9] and The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City [10], I devised a workflow to create custom mounts using archival-quality materials.

Conservation and Mount Construction

First, an appropriately sized corrugated archival board of ⅛ in.thickness was selected for the pair of shoes. A small handle of twill tape was hot-glued to the underside of the board, to aid in sliding the board forward to remove it from a shelf. Object numbers were written in pencil on the board.

The shoes rest upright on the board on a thin piece of Volara foam, measured and cut to the shape of the shoe’s footprint. Volara is a polyethylene, closed-cell foam often used for lining and padding to protect objects in storage. It is very soft and pliable, easy to cut with scissors. As a footprint, it provides a cushion and some friction to hold the shoe in place, without abrading the bottom.

Bumpers, constructed from thick strips of Volara, were glued onto the board, curving around the toe and heel of the shoes in order to secure them in place. With minimal contact, the footprints and the bumpers provide enough support to keep pairs of shoes upright during transport. Even if the board is held at a slight angle, the shoes will stay in place.

For shoes with heels or pronounced arches, I made shank support mounts over which the shoe would hook into place. These mounts were custom sculpted for each pair of shoes out of Ethafoam. Ethafoam is also a closed-cell polyethylene foam, but with a rigid structure. It can be cut to any shape and is often used to house historic artifacts.

I also provided interior reinforcements for each shoe, in the form of pillow inserts and mylar supports. Inserts were made from sewing cotton stockinette into the shape of the toe of each shoe and filling them with inert polyester batting. These inserts were custom designed for each shoe to provide adequate support to the toe box and vamp (the fabric that covers the top of the foot), while being inconspicuous when shoes are on view.

Mylar, an inert polyester film, was employed to support quarters (the rear part of a shoe), tongues, and boot shafts. Mylar is clear, allowing unobstructed visual access to shoe linings and insoles. Most shoes have mylar quarter supports, which are long strips cut to the dimensions of the shoe and placed inside. Shoes with large tongues received an extra mylar piece to prevent the tongue fabric from sagging. Boots, gaiters, and shoes with shafts received a long, rolled-up piece of mylar cut to the appropriate height that was inserted and then expanded.

The last shoe component that will be discussed are laces. For shoes with original laces at risk of getting tangled, or are too fragile to continue using as fastenings, I sewed cylindrical stockinette pillows around which the laces were wound. For shoes with missing laces, I used a blunt needle and thin string to lace up the shoes after installing a pillow insert into the toe of the shoe.

Rehousing the Shoes in Storage

Now, with each pair mounted on a dedicated board, no shoe is in contact with another and pairs cannot be separated. The object numbers can be easily read, and specific shoes removed on their boards without touching them or disturbing surrounding footwear. The commitment the museum has made for better shoe storage also means that the new mounts increase the amount of space needed to store the shoe collection, with each shoe mount’s “footprint” larger than the shoes themselves previously had (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Pictures of storage shelves before (top) and after (bottom) mounting and rehousing.

Footwear Case Studies

In this section, I will highlight a few specific pairs of shoes to demonstrate the range of the collections as well as conservation and mount construction strategies.

19th Century Slippers

This is a pair of women’s slippers made of dyed pink leather with linen lining and leather soles (Fig. 3). A rectangular label in one shoe reads, “PELATIAH REA’S / Variety Shoe Store, / NO. 2, Northwest corner of the old / State House, / BOSTON./ Rips mended gratis.” Pelatiah Rea (b. 1771) may have been the shoemaker or the shopkeeper who sold them. They have a rounded toe and very short vamp, suggesting a date of about 1810 [11].

These shoes received volara footprints and bumpers. I sewed pillow inserts to provide support to the toe box and to hold up the vamp and the latchet fastening. A matching pink ribbon had been previously added. Lastly, a mylar quarter support serves to hold up the sides and back of the shoes.

Fig. 3. Pink leather slippers [8], shown while the mount was being constructed (top) and displayed on the completed mount (bottom).

18th-Century Louis Heels

This pair of women’s heels were made in the United Kingdom around 1750 (Fig. 4). A round label on the insole of one of the shoes reads: “Made by / WILLIAM HOSE / At the Boot in / Lombard Street / LONDON.” The shoes are made from a brocaded silk with a brightly colored floral pattern and pink silk tape. The Louis heel, popular in women’s shoes throughout the 18th century, is a wide and curved heel made of wood and completely covered in fabric [12]. The sole of the shoe is leather, uninterrupted from toe to heel, as is characteristic of the style. The interior is lined with plain linen. Each shoe has two overlapping straps over the tongue that would have been secured with a buckle.

When constructing the mount for these shoes, it was important that the interior label remain unobstructed. Additionally, as the design on the fabric around the pointed toe and heel extends down to the sole, no bumpers were used. This left the fragile brocaded fabric completely visible with no mounting materials coming into contact with the delicate exterior fabric of the shoe. It also makes the white rand, an important construction detail, visible. I sculpted a shank support mount that fit exactly under the curvature of the heels and cut out footprints for the heels and toes that matched the contours of the shoes. When glued down to the board, the footprints and shank support keep the heels from toppling during transport, from both friction and the curved heel hooking around the mount. For the inside of each shoe, I inserted a sewn, tapered pillow and added mylar tongue and quarter supports.

Fig. 4. The Louis heel [13] shown mounted on footprint and shank support (top). The label on the insole is unobstructed by the pillow insert; mylar tongue and quarter supports provide structural stability but are barely visible (right).

Child’s Laced Booties

This small pair of red leather booties were found in a chest of drawers in Historic Deerfield’s Allen House in 2011 (Fig. 5). Made for a child, these shoes have light brown twill weave cotton lining and some decorative embroidery. They were likely made in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. The shoes have some discoloration—evidence of water damage—and the leather was misshapen and brittle in some areas. One of the shoes could not stand up on its sole.

To support these shoes, I carefully reshaped them within the limits of the flexibility of the leather material. I sewed and inserted stockinette pillows, extending from the toe to heel to provide adequate structure support for these tiny shoes. After installing the pillow insert, I used black string to lace up the booties. I also added a cylinder of mylar into the shank of the booties. The stockinette pillow, laces, and mylar all work together to keep the shape of the shoe. They now stand upright on a small board with footprints and small bumpers.

Fig. 5. The red leather child’s shoes [14], before (top) and after (bottom) conservation and shoe mount fabrication.

I was able to construct mounts for 36 pairs of shoes over this summer. Through the process, I documented my work and wrote a step-by-step instruction manual so that museum staff may continue the work of preventively conserving and mounting the shoes. It is a labor-intensive project, but one which will greatly impact the longevity of the fragile shoe collection.

Danielle Raad was a Curatorial Intern at Historic Deerfield during the summer of 2019. She is a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This project was made possible by a Dr. Charles K. Hyde Public History Intern Fellowship from the Public History Program at UMass Amherst.


[1] Historic Deerfield 2001.43. Hall and Kate Peterson Fund for Minor Antiques.

[2] Historic Deerfield 2015.31. Museum Collections Fund.

[3] Historic Deerfield F.551.

[4] Historic Deerfield F.743.

[5] Historic Deerfield 60.264.

[6] Historic Deerfield V.062C, Gift of Mrs. James Erit.

[7] Historic Deerfield 2000.37, Hall and Kate Peterson Fund for Minor Antiques.

[8] Historic Deerfield 2001.36, John W. and Christiana G.P. Batdorf Fund.

[9] Gausch, Karen and Joel Thompson. “Conservation Project: Costume Accessories, Shoes and Footwear Photos.” Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2019,

[10] Bacheller, Rebecca. “From Heel to Toe: The Costume Institute Shoe Rehousing Project.” Storage Techniques for Art Science & History Collections, 2014,

[11] Rexford, Nancy E. Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930. The Kent State University Press, 2000. Pg. 172.

[12] Ibid, Pp. 213-216.

[13] Historic Deerfield F.642.

[14] Historic Deerfield 2011.800.

March 27, 2019 Heather Harrington

What’s in a Name? Just Ask Della Ware.

By Heather Harrington, Associate Librarian

Her name sounds like the punchline of a bad joke, but at one time, it really was her name. This is the story of a child in a blended family.

Della was born in 1862 in Montague, Massachusetts, to Lucy Drury and Levi Brazzee. Lucy was a young mother, only in her late teens. Of her father Levi, little is known. While Della was a young child, her father died. Her mother remarried possibly in the late 1860s, to Estus S. Russell. Russell died in 1868, leaving Lucy a widow again, and Della without another father. On March 23, 1870, Lucy married John Ware of Deerfield. This marriage would not end in premature death. Lucy and John would go on to have four daughters of their own.

In 1870, John Ware was a widower. His first wife, Ellen Wait, had died in the 1860s, leaving him with two children, Orlando and Lizzie Wait. A paternal aunt adopted Lizzie, and young Orlando remained with his father. When John married Lucy, she and her daughter came to live in Deerfield at the Ware house. Three months later, in the 1870 census listing, John and Lucy are living with Della Brazzee, aged eight, who continued to use her birth name.

In 1876, Deerfield conducted a census of each local school. Della attended the Town Street School. She is on the census, as “Della Ware, age 13,” as written by the teacher or town official, not Della herself. This would indicate that “Della Ware” was how she identified with the town. She was the daughter of John Ware, and treated as such. Officially, her name was still Della Brazzee. Brazzee is the name she uses when she marries in 1881. Levi Brazzee is the name of her father on the marriage register, with no mention of John Ware.

The name “Ware” certainly had more cache than “Brazzee” in Deerfield. John Ware was a fourth generation Deerfield resident, a Civil War veteran, and a prominent man in town. His father and grandfather had run the general store for years. At some point, everyone in town was a customer of theirs. The Wares had lived on the same lot in town for three generations. By using the Ware name, one aligned oneself socially with this family. Brazzee was an unknown name in Deerfield. Likely, no one knew Levi Brazzee or his family. No one bearing that name would be as highly regarded socially as a Ware. Della, or her parents, shrewdly let her be Della Ware. It is also possible, perhaps likely, that Della went by Ware as a sign of affection for her new stepfather. With both her father and first stepfather dying when she was very young, she probably had little memories of them. John was the first real father figure of her childhood that she could remember. There is also the practical reason that Della wanted to fit in with her new family. She was the only one in the household with a different name, going by Ware made it much simpler to belong.

How did Della’s story come to my attention? We received as a gift, several years ago, an autograph book belonging to Della Clapp. A handwritten note with the book identified Della as a Ware. A little research soon found Della’s mother and stepfather, but nothing more. I concluded she was a Ware in spirit and by marriage, but that she did not go by that name. However, a couple of years later, we received a donation of the census of Deerfield students taken in 1876 and 1877. Looking through the book, trying to understand what it was, I noticed the names of the students in the different schools. I saw Della’s name, and immediately remembered the autograph book. Here was proof that Della did use the name Della Ware.

Della’s life as a Ware and a Brazzee ended when she married Allan G. Clapp in 1881. Her descendants would go on to list her as a Ware family member with good reason. So ends the story of Della Ware.

Write here…

The Autograph book of Della Clapp, showing the page signed by her future husband.
February 5, 2018 Heather Harrington

Benedict Arnold Arrives in Deerfield (Again)

Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War, came to Deerfield twice. The first time Arnold made an entrance, not as a traitor, but as an ambitious Connecticut patriot on his way to war. The second time Arnold arrived quietly, with his reputation preceding him.

The first visit to Deerfield occurred on May 6, 1775. Arnold had just been granted permission to proceed to Fort Ticonderoga and take the fort from the British. About the same time, Ethan Allen of Vermont, was also planning the same attack. The two would eventually meet up and join forces. Together they would easily take the fort from the unprepared British.

After Arnold left Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his orders newly written, he wasted no time in executing them. One of his first stops on the way north was a detour to Deerfield to deliver a commission for supplies. George Sheldon, in his History of Deerfield, Massachusetts, describes Arnold’s first visit as follows: “the newly-made Col. Arnold, resplendent in a new uniform, bright epaulettes, gold lace and waving plumes, attended by a servant, rode furiously up the street. He halted at the tavern of Maj. Salah Barnard. … He sent a messenger for Thomas W. Dickinson, to whom he told his plans; and he handed the astonished farmer, a commission as Assistant Commissary. … After a social glass with his subordinate the energetic Arnold mounted his horse and pushed on over the Hoosac mountain, arriving at Rupert, Vt., on the morning of May 8th.”

This quick visit to Deerfield must have stirred up the village from what had been a quiet routine day to a small hive of busy men preparing for war. Although the Revolution had already begun earlier that year, this was the first time the War had come to them. Arnold seemed to have a way of stirring up feelings and creating commotions wherever he went.

The second time Benedict Arnold came to Deerfield was very different from the first. He came quietly and in the company of George Washington! In December 2017, Historic Deerfield Library received as a gift papers relating to the Porter family of Hadley, Massachusetts. One of the Porters, Elisha (1742-1796), was an officer in the Revolution. Porter was involved in the fighting at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and in Canada. He also served as a courier for George Washington. Among his papers newly received, are two handwritten and signed orders, from George Washington and Benedict Arnold.

Benedict Arnold’s orders read: “Sir I am this minute Informed of your Arrival at St Johns, with part of your Regt. you will please on receit of this to, Draw, Ten Days Provission at Chamble, & proceed In your Battoes, Down the Sorell, to the Army before Quebec & join Genl. Wooster. you will please to take as many Men in the Battoes as they will Carry with Two Chests of Medicine at Chamble. I wish you Success, I am Sir Your Hbl servant  B Arnold B Genl.” The order is dated Montreal, April 20, 1776. It is written about a year after Arnold’s visit to Deerfield, and capture of Ticonderoga. Arnold had now begun his attack on Canada which would eventually fail. Yet Arnold would go on to win acclaim at Valcour Island, and contribute to the victory at Saratoga. Then, he goes on to become infamous.

Like the first visit, the second arrival of Arnold created a stirring excitement. Everyone here was honored and pleased to receive such unique pieces of history related to our nation’s founding. Indeed, it seems Benedict Arnold is destined to create a stir wherever he goes!