Where Was Bloody Brook’s First Tavern

The question has lingered for nearly a century. That is, where did the first tavern in Bloody Brook, now South Deerfield, stand?

Everyone knows the building’s location in 1932, when South Deerfield building contractor William Gass moved it to its current setting behind Old Deerfield’s Indian House. Today, there it stands as Bloody Brook Tavern museum, Gass’ interpretation of the single-story, center-chimney colonial building as originally constructed. But what lot did this building occupy when constructed around 1750? That’s the vexing question.

Greenfield’s Daily Recorder-Gazette was on the scene for the old tavern’s removal to Old Deerfield. The lead story on August 6, 1932 was headlined “South Deerfield ‘Old Bee Hive’ House Being Moved to Old Deerfield by Gass.” The article, no byline, was strong on tradition but weak on fact – leaving unclear the building’s original location while taking a speculative approach to the year it was moved to its 1932 site.

Because the structure had “stood just south of the Arms pocketbook shop for longer than the oldest inhabitant could remember,” the paper surmised that it must have been moved before or during the railroad’s 1846 arrival to South Deerfield. After that move to what is today 89 Main Street, “improvements” were made with the addition of a second story, an ell, and an 18-by-27 ballroom that was eventually partitioned into rooms for a tenement house. Almost 200 years old and falling into disrepair by 1932, the building was rescued by Gass.

To recount the tavern’s history, the Recorder-Gazette leaned heavily upon its own hardcover Centennial Gazette 1792-1892, which would have been readily available. That’s likely the source for the reference to “the former A.W. Fay place” as the building’s original setting. The Fay farmhouse, more commonly known in deed references as “the Sedgwick Cooley place,” may or may not exist today. It stood and likely still stands on what is today Yazwinski farm at 144 North Main Street.

Centennial Gazette readers would have found the Fay reference helpful in identifying the original tavern site. That was not the case, however, for those reading the 1932 Recorder-Gazette story. By then, Fay had been gone nearly 40 years. Deeds show that Asa W. Fay of Springfield purchased the 84-acre Sedgwick Cooley farm and outbuildings in 1886 from William E. Thayer of Williamsburg. Eight years later, with Fay in financial distress, the property was sold at auction to townsman Azariah Cooley Boyden, who had had deep roots in South Deerfield’s first tavern.

Was it coincidence that Boyden’s mother, Sophia Cooley, had lineage taking her back to the tavern’s beginnings through its first two tavernkeepers – Samuel Barnard (1721-88) and brother-in-law successor Capt. Nathan Frary (1719-94)? Sophia was Sedgwick’s cousin, and the granddaughter of Azariah Cooley (1731-77), who was among the earliest Bloody Brook settlers. Azariah’s widow, Eleanor Wariner, was from the tavern neighborhood, so to speak. Better yet, she had a hand in the Barnard, then Frary taverns themselves as the wife of both men. She married Barnard after her first husband died, then wed Frary after Barnard passed.

From her legacy arose two adjoining North Main Street farms, including two dwellings, many outbuildings, a prolific spring for drinking-water, and more than 120 contiguous acres. Fifty-five of those acres now comprise Bloody Brook Farm, owned by the Yazwinski family. That farm lost its upland acreage in the 60s when North Sugarloaf was taken by eminent domain to create a state reservation.

The two bordering “Cooley” farms show up east of the road and the brook on the 1855 Clark map of Deerfield and the 1858 Walling map of Franklin County. They are marked, north to south, as dwellings of “Mrs. E. Cooley” and “S. Cooley” – that is, widow Esther Packard Cooley (1811-58) and her brother-in-law Sedgwick Cooley (1804-69). Esther was the widow of Sedgwick’s older brother Caleb Allen Cooley (1800-1845), and the daughter of Shelburne minister Theophilus Packard, who, with his wife, shared their daughter’s South Deerfield residence for eight years after leaving the ministry in 1846.

Both structures may well survive today, although current Yazwinski farm occupant Poppi (Yazwinski) Kelley offered a possibility that clouds the matter. Her late father was told by someone that his homestead had been moved from another site to its present location long before he bought it in 1950. It’s possible. Many South Deerfield buildings were moved during the 19th century, including two churches and the old tavern of our focus. But the Yazwinski property fits snugly into Connecticut Valley architecture of the 1830s and could easily have been built right where it stands.

The crowded contemporary neighborhood layout suggests that the Yazwinski home was Segdwick Cooley’s and another to the north, a Cape that’s likely older than Yazwinski’s, standing on Capt. Lathrop Drive, was Esther Cooley’s. That center-chimney home now resting on the north side of Capt. Lathrop was owned for many years by carpenter and town official Ed Crafts. Perhaps a more appropriate name for the northern structure would be the Eli Cooley homestead, he the father of Sedgwick and Caleb; or maybe even it was the homesite of Eli’s father, Azariah’s first dwelling.

Of one fact we can be confident; that is that the old Barnard/Frary tavern stood somewhere within the old 84-acre Sedgwick Cooley parcel, bordered west by what is now North Main Street. Given the nature of public houses, the building would have been close to the road. The question is where?

Most likely the tavern stood between the road and Bloody Brook, within a narrow, 700-foot strip of land now occupied by five homes. Think of it: Why would anyone build a colonial tavern on the other side of a brook flowing more than 100 feet from the road? It makes no sense. Taverns served mail routes and didn’t need obstacles for mail stages.

The average distance between road and brook in that narrow strip of land fronting Yazwinski acreage is about 130 feet. That’s enough room for the string of houses now standing there, and more than enough for the historic Barnard/Frary tavern.

Another possibility worth examining is the possibility that the original tavern stood across the street from today’s Yazwinski farm – high, dry and out of the way of spring freshets. But something new must come to light before that can be sorted out. Stay tuned.

Who knows? Perhaps locating the old building’s footprint will be difficult after all these years.

Then again, it could be hiding in plain sight. Afterall, has anyone ever made a serious effort to find it?

A diligent investigator could probably find the buried foundation with a sharp probe. Better still, a metal-detecting wizard could go to work in search of common tavern relics, especially colonial coins. Metal-detecting enthusiasts love old-tavern sites and have been known to bang on the doors of many seeking permission.

Take it to the bank: evidence exists. It’s just a matter of finding it … and solving the mystery of where Bloody Brook’s first tavern was built.

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