Deerfield’s 350th celebration to feature oral histories

  • Deerfield resident Peter Thomas holds a historical presentation he created for the town’s 350th anniversary while speaking to the Select Board Wednesday night. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Monday, August 01, 2022

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Following in the footsteps of Northfield, Deerfield’s 350th celebration next year will also feature the oral histories of residents through interviews conducted by volunteers.

After hearing about the Northfield 350th Committee working with Sunderland residents and oral historians Carrie and Michael Kline, Peter Thomas contacted the Klines about conducting a similar project in Deerfield.

“This started out as a newspaper article in the Greenfield Recorder,” Thomas told the Select Board on July 13. “We’ve been talking about oral history for a long time and how to bring this element to the 350th … (the Klines) agreed to become a part of this programming, both in terms of coaching and to do critical interviews themselves.”

The training is open to Deerfield residents with the expectation that those trained will conduct interviews with Deerfield residents leading up to the town’s anniversary celebration. While there is no set date and time for the trainings, those interested in participating can email Thomas at PThomas@gmavt.org or call him at 802-309-0190.

“They’re not scheduled yet, but it will be within a month,” Thomas said, adding that people can expect several “three-hour training sessions.”

The goal of the program, Thomas said, is to capture the immigrant stories of Deerfield’s history, many of which have not been documented thoroughly. He said the “last thorough history of Deerfield was written in 1896,” which means most of the town’s recorded history focuses on the colonial period.

“We’ve had seven 50-year anniversaries in Deerfield and for the first six, basically the focus of remembrance of history was the colonial period, ” Thomas said. “We’ve had more than 100 years of a significant immigrant population in this town that really needs to be commemorated.”

In the years beyond the colonial period, Polish, Irish, German, English and other immigrants found their way to Deerfield, and Thomas said there are still families in town that have those memories and they should be captured for the historical record.

“People have not written from those German, Irish, Polish perspectives; there’s nothing trying to bring it together and there’s a lot of memory that still exists in terms of those communities,” Thomas said. “We may be able to get a continuity.”

Beyond next year’s 350th anniversary celebration, Thomas said the oral histories and the presentations they create can become a “long-term program” for Deerfield.

“It creates a reservoir of information that’s not attainable anywhere else … it’s a wonderful legacy we could leave the town.”

Thomas said residents should reach out to him with suggestions about interview candidates with immigrant backgrounds.

“We need people of all ethnic communities and descendants,” he said. “If you know of anybody that has memories of the Potato Famine or coming from Germany or Poland (then reach out.)”