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Historic Deerfield Purchases Home of 19th Century Artist James Wells Champney on Old Main Street in Deerfield
Deerfield, MA (November 26, 2018) – Historic Deerfield, Inc., announced today the purchase of the property at 43A Old Main Street, Deerfield, Massachusetts. The house, built during the 1760s, and known during the late 19th century as “Elmstead,” was then the home of the artist James Wells Champney (1843-1903) and his family. The Creelman family were the owners since 1984.

“The acquisition of the Creelman House allows us to expand public programming, student housing, and storage without new construction,” Historic Deerfield President Philip Zea said. “Part of its attraction is its large size and proximity to the Flynt Center of Early New England Life.”

The purchase of the property is an important addition to the portfolio of properties owned by the museum on Old Main Street. The preservation and protection of the authentic, historic buildings that remain on Old Main Street is central to the mission of Historic Deerfield. The museum’s last significant purchase of property on the Street was the purchase of the Moors House, located at 103 Old Main Street, in 1991. 

The property at 43A Old Main Street, was built during the 1760s by Captain Timothy Childs. It was eventually sold to the Williams family, and descended through the family until it became the property of Elizabeth Williams Champney in the 1870s. Per the publication Family and Landscape: Deerfield Homelots from 1671, by Susan McGowan and Amelia F. Miller (Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, 1996): “In 1885 the largest elm tree in town, which stood in front of the Champney house, was cut down and, probably as a consequence, in 1886 the Champney’s moved the house back from the street to shade another elm. The house became known as “Elmstead.” Considerable remodeling of the house was undertaken following the move. At that time the very elaborate front doorway was acquired by Mr. Champney from Alexander Hamilton [Jr.’s] New York house.”

As an artist, James Wells Champney was known for his portraits and American landscapes. He was the first professor of art at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and was one of the founders of the Smith College Museum of Art in the 1870s. Elizabeth Williams Champney was a popular children’s book author of her time, and also wrote articles for magazines such as Scribner’s and Harper’s, and produced a series of travel books, with her husband providing the illustrations. Mr. Champney built a studio on the property in 1876, which was later taken down in 1939. After opening a studio in New York City in 1879, the Champney’s made Deerfield their summer home until James’ untimely death in New York City in 1903.

Historic Deerfield, Inc., which maintains more than 50 buildings in Old Deerfield, focuses on the significance of small-town America to the national culture. Founded in 1952, the museum includes 12 historic houses, which are regularly open to the public as well as the exhibition building, the Flynt Center of Early New England Life. It stewards a nationally significant collection of approximately 28,000 household artifacts both rare and common – including furniture, metalwares, textiles, needlework, ceramics, and more – many with documented histories of local ownership or manufacture. These authentic objects document the stories and founding years of our nation, and through them, visitors learn the stories of generations of real people whose beliefs, belongings, lifestyles, conflicts, economy, and technology unlock the door to the past and help us to better understand today.