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Touring Historic Deerfield: Sexton House
zoe perot 12 staff writer
April 22, 2010

Cats gone missing, children stuffed behind chimneys, tavern brawls, a ghost, and a rare mural are all part of the Sexton House history. Located next to Ephraim-Williams, Sexton House has a rather mysterious story.

Built in 1760, this salt-box style house had ten different owners during its first hundred years. The house has served as the post office, the home of a tailor and his business, and a publishing place for a weekly anti-Masonic newspaper. Its first owner, David Sexton, used the house as a tavern. “It was the tavern for the patriots of Deerfield during the American Revolution, and across the street was the tavern for the loyalists. There used to be fights between the two parties in the street!” assistant dean of faculty, English teacher, and current resident Karinne Heise noted.

In 1924, the house was sold to Deerfield Academy where it was a small dorm until 1958. Since then, multiple faculty families have resided here including English teachers Suzanne Hannay and John Palmer and the Heise family. When asked whether she enjoyed living in a historic house, Ms. Heise replied, “It’s interesting [but] also structurally shaky at points and can be hard to clean.”

Ms. Hannay described the Sexton house as a “great old house,” and during their seven year residency, she and her husband, Mr. Palmer, discovered some unusual house traits.

The most distinctive feature of the house is its mural, one of only two colonial waterfall murals on the East Coast. “It’s a ‘Cascade Mural,’” Ms. Hannay explained, “meaning that your eye follows the flow of a gigantic woodland waterfall from the top of the house all the way down to the bottom of the stairway.”

The Sexton House’s second intriguing aspect is a hideout, used to keep colonial children safe during Indian raids. “The little ones got stuffed into a narrow opening hidden in the molding of the front hall and staircase,” Ms. Hannay shared. “They’d crawl back into a low-ceilinged brick chamber behind the three fireplaces on the first floor. The thinking was that the children might even survive a house fire surrounded by fired earth bricks.” Ms. Hannay discovered the hiding place when one of their cats went missing.

Upon moving in, residents are warned about the ghost of a “young man in colonial dress” that has haunted the house for over a century. Ms. Hannay said, “We didn’t pay much attention to this story, though our cats used to stare in a state of high alert at the empty, south-east corner of our bedroom.” She continued, “Very late one night I was awakened by a sensation that someone was sitting on the edge of the bed right beside me. I awoke expecting to see my husband telling me he couldn’t sleep; instead there was nothing but a very cold sensation around me. That was it.”

Bedside ghosts, secret chambers, political brawls, rare murals. The Sexton House has it all.

Sexton House’s waterfront mural