News Items From 1867 & 1868
By Jim Ignasher
In 1867, the present-day municipalities of North Smithfield, Lincoln, Central Falls, and Woonsocket south of the Blackstone River, were all part of the Town of Smithfield until the town was divided in 1871. The following news items were culled from the archives of the former Woonsocket Patriot.
On April 18, 1867, a youth identified only by his last name of Connell got his arm mangled in a printing machine at a mill in Spragueville and it had to be amputated. 19th century mills were notoriously dangerous places to work, and worker compensation and child labor laws as we know them today were nonexistent.
According to a Mr. Stephen Smith, the source of a May 10th article titled “The Smiths of Smithfield”, the first Smiths to settle in Smithfield were Thomas, John, and Daniel, who came to America from England, but exactly when is unclear.
Thomas Smith was a physician who built his home at the “pine grove a short distance south of the present residence of Edward Hotchkiss.” John settled “near the Smith Ray Mowry place”, and Daniel at “the present Nelson Taft farm.” Both John and Daniel were blacksmiths who manufactured saw blades at their forge located “near the present residence of Thomas Miller.” Some of these blades were reportedly still in use.
It was also mentioned that Stephen was in possession of some English-made silver buttons that had been in his family for over two-hundred years.
A meeting of the Woonsocket Temperance Union was held the last Sunday of May at a church in Globe Village which was once in Smithfield, just across the Blackstone River from Woonsocket. (Today it is part of Woonsocket.)
Saloons and other liquor establishments were plentiful in the rapidly growing village of Woonsocket, which incorporated as a town in January of 1867, and a city in 1888.
According to one weekly crime report issued by Woonsocket’s police, five persons were arrested for public drunkenness, and one for “reveling”. The later was a sad case involving a man from “a neighboring town” who’d come to Woonsocket to buy a coffin for his recently deceased child. Instead, he got drunk and got into a street fight. The sympathetic desk sergeant sent him home without charges.
On June 28th, what could have been a disastrous blaze in Greenville was narrowly averted when by chance a small fire was discovered in a barn belonging to Daniel Garey, and was quickly extinguished. The fire began with a pile of oily rags which spontaneously combusted. The barn was connected to several other buildings, and had the flames gained headway all of them could have been destroyed, for Greenville didn’t have any means to fight a fire at that time other than “bucket brigades.” (Greenville didn’t get its first fire engine until later.)
According to an 1871 map of Greenville, Mr. Garey’s property was located on Route 44 across from the present-day St. Phillip’s School.
On August 9th, a small news item reported that Valentine Dorius, a Narragansett Indian, about 60 years of age, was found dead in a barn belonging to Sarrah Ballou of Smithfield. No further details were given.
The following story has nothing to do with Smithfield, but it’s too intriguing to over look. On September 6th, it was reported that a worker demolishing a former horse stable at Fort Adams in Newport discovered a letter dated 1835 which described a place where a man had buried a quantity of gold before committing suicide. It’s likely the letter was a hoax, but one never knows. The workman refused to divulge the location stating he intended to find the gold himself. Could it have been in Smithfield?
On September 19th, a man identified as Barney McNally was killed while blasting rocks along “Arnold’s Ledge”. The ledge was located in the vicinity of Great Road in the present-day town of Lincoln.
In October, a large quantity of Nephrite, a greenish gemstone in the Jade family, was discovered in a limestone quarry in Smithfield. At the time, Nephrite stones were very popular with jewelry makers in France. The majority Nephrite came from Siberia, making the gem somewhat valuable and difficult to get.
On November 9th, a 6-year-old boy was killed in a freak accident in Greenville while his uncle was using dynamite to blast away some rocks. Before setting off the charge, the boy was sent to watch at what was believed to be a safe distance, however, when the explosives ignited, a piece of rock was blown skyward and came down directly on the boys head.
In January of 1868, a new Masonic Hall (Temple Lodge #18) was dedicated in Greenville. It was a wooden structure, not to be confused with the brick building that presently faces the Greenville Common.
On Monday, February 10, 1868, a meeting of the Judiciary Committee of the Rhode Island General Assembly was held to discuss the proposed division of the Town of Smithfield as it pertained to the annexation of the villages of Bernon, Globe, and Hamlet, to the newly incorporated town of Woonsocket. The minutes of that meeting were posted in the Woonsocket Patriot on February 14.
The article, which for some unknown reason was written in the past tense, stated in part, “The town of Smithfield is a large town, with a great amount of territory to take care of, mostly agricultural. The chief manufacturing interests were on the Blackstone River, on the outskirts of the town. The villages of Hamlet, Bernon, and Globe were situated just across the Blackstone River from Woonsocket, and in all except a legal point of view, were part of Woonsocket. Many of the businessmen resided in Smithfield, and did their business just over a narrow river in Woonsocket.”
Mill owner George C. Ballou was cited as one such example, owning establishments on both sides of the river, and having to pay taxes to both municipalities, and subject to regulations of two town governments.
One point of contention was police protection of the three villages. It was noted that Woonsocket had a stronger police presence than Smithfield, and the bustling villages were left virtually unpatrolled and unguarded compared to those in Woonsocket. However, it was countered that constables did patrol the Smithfield side of the river, the only difference being that Woonsocket paid its officers, and Smithfield did not.
Additionally, the roads of these villages were said to be left in disrepair, despite the high taxes imposed on the property owners, while roads in other parts of Smithfield were being improved and maintained.
Lastly, there was the topic of schools. Woonsocket had good schools, just across the river, but children living in the three Smithfield villages couldn’t attend without paying tuition, and the Smithfield schools available to them were several miles distant.
While some spoke in favor of annexation, others voiced opposition, maintaining that a large portion of the town’s taxable income came from the three villages, and that annexing them to Woonsocket would mean a loss of tax revenue.
Mr. Wellington Aldrich of Smithfield noted that Woonsocket’s schools weren’t large enough to accept the influx of students that would be created by the annexation, and proposed that a large school be built in Globe village that could accommodate the youths from all three villages, and thus negate the need for dividing the town.
No final decision was made at the meeting, and the debate went on. The idea of dividing the town was a hotly contested issue, and there were many more factors than these to consider, but history has shown that the town was finally divided four years later in 1871, and Smithfield, as we know it today, came into being.
One final item of interest appeared in the Woonsocket Patriot on April 24, 1868, and began with the question; “Has there been a murder?” A reward was being offered for any information pertaining to the whereabouts of one Louis Lepre, of the Bernon village side of the Blackstone, which at that time made him a resident of Smithfield. Mr. Lepre had been missing for a week after reportedly “drinking in a saloon” and leaving “with some elated associates”. At some point he was involved in an altercation on the Bernon Bridge, during which he was tossed into the icy river and hadn’t been seen since. Hence the question, “Has there been a murder?” Further research did not reveal an answer.