History of Deerfield
The Town of Deerfield was originally the southwestern part of Nottingham from the original grant of 1722. A rocky, rugged, deeply wooded land, it was settled in the late 1730's. A garrison was built for protection from the Indians near the Parade in 1742. In 1766, the residents petitioned and received permission from the royal governor to become a separate town, consisting of 52 square miles. Shortly after its incorporation, the residents erected a Meeting House on Chase's Hill or what became known as the Old Center. The Old Center Cemetery is now on that location.
By 1773 the population had reached 911. During this period in the town's history, much effort was put into clearing the land. Today, forest has reclaimed much of the town which had once been painstakingly cleared. Old stone walls which marked the edges of mowed fields have disappeared into the forest, and new trees choke old cellar holes. Now we seek to conserve these woodlands as their value as farmland changes into the need for recreation and habitate.
As the town developed in the early 1800s, several main roads had been laid through the town; one leading from Exeter to Concord. Drovers and freighters brought people and business to the town. Water-powered manufacturing was established on many of the brooks and rivers. Blacksmiths, cobblers, and people pursuing every occupation could be found working at home in early Deerfield. These jobs supplemented the main work of farming. Skills and houses passed from generation to generation. Much of the town's land has remained in the same families for 200 years.
Several small centers developed and thrived, most with their own post office, store and schools. Deerfield Parade boasted an inn for travellers and an academy to educate the sons and daughters of the doctors, lawyers, and other prominent citizens who lived in its fine homes. Leavitts Hill became the site for a well-known creamery. A night's accommodations at the Mack Tavern on South Road included drink and entertainment. By 1820 the population reached 2133, and the forests had been almost completely cleared.
By the mid-19th century, the town had 15 school districts and 13 school buildings - one within walking distance of almost all children. Each school district operated almost autonomously with its own moderator, school board, clerk, and auditor. The population of the town began to stabilize, and the center migrated southward to its present location. The "New Center" had three churches, a store, a hotel, and a new Town Hall.
After the Civil War, Deerfield's population began a steady decline which continued for nearly 100 years. This period saw forests encroach upon farmland and church congregations dwindle. Reasons for the decline included the unprofitability of farming and the advent of railroads to the area, which bypassed Deerfield because of its hilly terrain. Freighters and travelers no longer frequented the Mack Tavern. The fiddlers were silent. Younger people left the community for jobs in the mill towns or to find better farm land in the west.
During this same period some old farms became a summer getaway for tourists, and the lakes and ponds became popular vacation spots. During the 1880s the town began to develop as a modest summer community, as tourists began to come to enjoy the nearby lakes and mountains. By the census of 1930, however, the town's population had dropped to a mere 635 year-round residents.
Following World War II this trend began to reverse as commuters working in nearby cities began to buy homes in the country. By 1950 the town's population and traffic patterns had changed sufficiently that the town felt it needed a central school. In that year the George B. White School was built. It was named in honor of Mr. George B. White of South Road. Upon his death, his widow auctioned the estate and gave the proceeds to help build the new school.
During the 1970s and 1980s the town's population exploded. By 1990 the population was around 3,300, and has continued to grow steadily ever since. Deerfield's convenient location and rural character has made it much in demand. As the town changes to provide for that growth, it also recognizes how precious Deerfield's heritage is. The town's Heritage Commission and Historical Society work hard with its citizens to preserve its special character.