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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > The Land 1780-1820 > Public Space
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.

Public Space : Common Institutions


New England towns usually set aside land for the use of the church. These meetinghouse lots were typically located in or near the center of the town. The general court of Massachusetts had, since 1631, required each township to set aside land for a training field for a weekly militia drill. The open area in the center of the town often met this purpose. As time passed, this open area outlived its original uses. It became a place to graze sheep and cattle, to walk, and to picnic. It was also the space upon or around which the town located public buildings such as the meetinghouse and the center district school. Although the town militia still trained here, the parcel acquired a new name more in keeping with the many peaceable activities it now supported: the "town common." Its new name defined its ownership. It was indeed a piece of land owned "in common" by the proprietors of the town. Remnants of such commons survive in many New England towns to this day.

William Barber made this woodcut of the Deerfield, Massachusetts, town common in 1839. Deerfield's common was typical of many New England town commons in the early nineteenth century. Its military associations receded in importance, although the town militia still mustered here on "Training Day" in the fall and spring. A park-like atmosphere attracted pleasure seekers like the couple depicted strolling amongst the carefully planted shade trees. A brick schoolhouse to the pair's left served the children of the town's central school district. The school also hosted lyceums, lectures, and town meetings. A new brick meetinghouse, the first built "solely for worship," replaced the old meetinghouse torn down in 1826.


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"Historical Collections, being a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes &c.,

publisher   Dorr, Holland and Company
date   1839
location   Worcester, Massachusetts
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Books/Book
accession #   #L00.001ex

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See Also...

Pocumtuck Hotel

Building Contract for Deerfield Street School

Brick Church

John Sheldon (1658-1733) House

"Old Indian House"

"Historical Collections, being a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes &c.",

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