Smithfield’s Early Post Offices

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, July, 2020.

Smithfield’s Early Post Offices

By Jim Ignasher     

    Click on images to enlarge. 

Greenville Post Office Sign on old Benney’s store, date unknown.

     Fun fact: The first official mail route in America was established in 1673 between New York and Boston, and it took fourteen days for a lone post rider to travel from one city to the other, which meant that a person might wait a month or more for a response to a letter.  This might seem laughable in the 21st century, but given that Colonial Era roads left much to be desired, fourteen days was considered reasonable. 

     Imagine the dangers and hardships those early postmen had to endure.  Besides hunger, bad weather, and potential for accidental injury, the desolate woods contained wild animals such as wolves, cougars, and bears, as well as hostile natives, and ruthless highwaymen. Firearms carried for protection contained a single ball of lead.  It was dangerous work.  One could potentially vanish without a trace and never be seen again.       

Greenville Post Office – 1960s-70s

     Smithfield was incorporated in 1730-31, decades before stage coaches and railroads were a routine part of the American landscape. Therefore mail was still primarily delivered on horseback.  Home delivery as we know it today was non-existent unless one happened to live along the postal route.  Otherwise, all correspondence was delivered to a designated location such as a tavern, a general store, or even perhaps a private home which served as a post office.  It was then up to the mail recipients to come and collect their mail.

     One of the earliest regular mail routes was designated The Boston Post Road, which ran from New York to Boston, and is commonly referred to today as U. S. Route 1.     

Georgiaville Post Office
Homestead Ave.
Date unknown.

     According to several sources, the first mail boxes came into use after the Civil War.  However, a small news item which appeared in The Wilmington & Delaware Advertiser on May 11, 1826, indicates that mail boxes were in use much earlier.  The snippet related how blue birds nesting in a man’s mailbox had forced him to build a second one. 

     The first official post office in Smithfield was established in 1812, however this was prior to the town division in 1871, and the exact location of the office is unknown, but it was likely in Central Falls which was at one time, for lack of a better term, “downtown” Smithfield.  The town’s first postmaster was Marwil Arnold who served from 1812, to 1817.     

Esmond Post Office Sign
Esmond Street
Date unknown.

     Present-day Smithfield has had several designated post offices, but today only two remain.    

     Greenville’s first post office was established in 1823, but its original location is lost to history.    

      An interesting editorial about a Greenville area post office appeared in a now defunct Providence religious newspaper on March 21, 1845.  It asserted that the post office was located in a tavern, the name of which was not given, where, “all who come to the Post Office have to step up to the bar the same as the drinker; both occupy the same place, as we are told.  This is mixing up business much like the business of rum selling and drinking.”    

     In later years Greenville’s post office was located in Oscar Tobey’s general store once located at the corner of Rt. 44 and Smith Avenue, and in the 1960s it was located next to the former Greenville Pharmacy on Rt. 44 at Austin Avenue.  Today a music store occupies this space.   

     Georgiaville’s Post Office opened in 1852, with Robert H. Steere as postmaster.  This post office remained in operation until 1955 when it merged with the Esmond office.    

Esmond Post Office
Waterman Ave.
Date unknown.

     Esmond was once known as Enfield, which didn’t have a post office until 1881.  Ira B. Sweet was the first postmaster. The name of the village was changed to Esmond in 1908 while Horace G. Thornton was postmaster.

     In the early 20th century the Esmond post office was located in a stone building which still stands on Esmond Street next to the former Esmond Recreation Center.  Later the post office was relocated to Waterman Avenue just south of Esmond Street.  Today it stands in Georgiaville.  

     Two all but forgotten post offices include the Smithfield and Stillwater braches, neither of which is still in existence. The Smithfield PO was located in a tiny train station that once stood on Brayton Road just east of Farnum Pike.  The station opened in the 1870’s, and remained a designated post office until January of 1914.  This restored train station is presently located on the grounds of the Smith-Appleby House Museum. 

     Another obscure PO was in the village of Stillwater, located in the area of present-day Thurber Blvd.  It opened in 1877 and remained in operation until 1924.  

     Postal memorabilia collectors seek cards and letters bearing postmarks from these defunct PO’s.  Unfortunately, such items are rare.  Perhaps someone reading this would like to share an image of one?    

 

     Special thanks is given to historian Tom Greene of North Providence for supplying information used in this article.    

 

 

 

Union Village, R. I.

     The following article appeared in the Woonsocket Patriot on March 3, 1870.   At the time, Union Village was still part of the Town of Smithfield.

———-

     UNION VILLAGE, SMITHFIELD

“Ancient Land Marks”

     When, in ancient times, Northern Rhode Island was inhabited by Indians, they made three divisions of Smithfield; by name Woonsocket, Louisquisset, and Wionkheige.  Woonsocket was the northern portion of the town, the center of which was Union Village.  It appears that the first house built in the village was the James Arnold house (now so called), which was erected in 1690 – a part of which is now standing, in connection with an addition, which was added by Judge Peleg Arnold, in 1780.  This house was kept as a hotel for many years by said Judge Arnold, and at the time of Burgoyne’s surrender, during our Revolutionary War, many of the British prisoners, on their way to Providence, were quartered at this hotel during one night.  A person now living in Union Village has an old English musket which was taken from one of the prisoners at that time. 

     The second house which was built in this village was erected in 1702, by Hezediah Comstock, on the site where stands the house of the late Walter Allen, and now known as the Osborne House.  A part of the original house is now a part of another house, but a short distance from the original location.  Hezediah Comstock lived in the original house about thirty years, when he built and moved into what is since known as the Henry Comstock house near Waterford. 

     The third house, known formerly as the old Uriah Arnold house, was built by Capt. Daniel Arnold, in 1714.  The house remained on the original site until two or three years since, when, it having been purchased by Jacob Morse, it was moved to Constitution Hill, Globe Village.   

     Another very important land mark, is what is called the “Coblin Rock.”  It is located about half a mile north of the village, is of uniform diameter, standing on a large flat rock, and weighs probably about 200 tons.  It was formerly the “observed of all observers,” on account of its being near the “Great Path” which led from union Village to Blackstone.  But little has been said about it of late years, and probably hundreds of people in this region are not aware of being near such a curiosity.

     Within about half a mile from the “Coblin Rock” were formerly the quarries from which the “Smithfield Scythe Stones” were manufactured.  many large excavations are now to be seen, where the rock was obtained from which the scythe stones were made.  A large amount of business was done in this line for many years by Marcus Arnold, George Aldrich, Thomas A. Paine and Hanson Arnold, and it was owing principally to the scarcity of the rock that, of late, the business has entirely ceased.  Probably not less than 500,000 dozen of these stones were madefrom these quarries in the space of twenty years.  The best scythe stones that were ever made were manufactured from rock which was found in what is now the barn-yard belonging to Arnold Wakefield, and which was formerly owned by Arnold Steere.  Such was the celebrity of these stones that long after this kind of rock was exhausted, orders frequently came through the mail from distant States, to the manufacturers, for some more of those celebrated “Cow-Yard Stones.” 

     It is frequently asked how many people, in different places, “Who is the oldest inhabitant?”  It may be well to mention that the oldest person ever known as living in Union Village was Uriah Arnold, who departed this life many years since, aged 97 years and 6 months. 

———-

     Note, “Coblin Rock”, also known as “Cobble Rock”, was reportedly knocked from its perch during a severe thunderstorm which occurred on September 26, 1977.  Source: The Woonsocket Call, “Cobble Rock Tumble Poses Another Puzzle”, September, 28, 1977.    

 

 

A Post Office In A Bar Room – 1845

The following article appeared in a Providence, R. I., newspaper called “St. John The Baptist”, on March 21, 1845, page 1.  It was supplied courtesy of historian Tom Greene of North Providence, R. I. 

The article talks of an unnamed bar in the “south west” portion of Smithfield which also served as a post office.   

Click on image to enlarge. 

The Great Escape of 1916

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, February, 2019

The Great Escape of 1916 – Another Forgotten Tale of Rhode Island

By Jim Ignasher    

     If the two deputy sheriffs were apprehensive about their assignment it wasn’t recorded, but one could understand if they were, for it was highly unusual for only two officers to be given the responsibility to transport thirty-one prisoners from the Providence courthouse to the state prison in Cranston.  Furthermore, something wasn’t right – the prisoners were singing and acting boisterous – almost as if they were happy to be going to jail.  And that too, was highly unusual.    

     The date was March 21, 1916, and although the mechanized era of the automobile had arrived, Providence County Deputy Sheriffs G. Ralph Tillinghast, and Nathan Colvin, had been detailed to bring the prisoners to Cranston in what was described in the newspapers as a “moving van” drawn by four horses.  In the rear of the van were three benches, two on either side, with a third running down the middle on which the prisoners were to sit.  The conveyance was far from secure, with nothing but oil-cloth flaps covering the sides and loosely tied at the bottom.  They were more to keep the weather off passengers and freight than to prevent escapes.  And the van was to be operated by a hired driver who was not a law enforcement officer. 

     The prisoners were in custody for two reasons. Some had been indicted by a grand jury, while others had been arraigned before a judge for various offenses, but couldn’t post bail.  All were handcuffed and placed in the van. The only prisoner not to be shackled was the lone woman in the group, Mrs. Rose G—– of Woonsocket, who’d been unable to secure bail after pleading not guilty at her arraignment.  She was placed up front with Deputy Tillinghast and the driver, while Deputy Colvin took a position on the rear tailgate to guard the men.    

     The vehicle left Providence via Reservoir Avenue and turned south onto Pontiac Avenue as it entered Cranston.  As the horses plodded along at a leisurely pace, some of the prisoners kept singing while others suddenly grew quiet.  The sheriff’s were armed with revolvers, each holding six bullets, which means the math wasn’t right if all thirty-one tried something at once, and Colvin was essentially watching thirty of them by himself. 

     When the van came to a railroad crossing about a mile from the prison, a signal was given, and Deputy Colvin, was suddenly set upon by three prisoners who’d managed to free themselves with a hidden key.  They pushed Colvin to the street and jumped upon of him.  One produced a concealed pipe and beat the officer into semi-consciousness, then took his revolver.  Meanwhile the driver suddenly threw pepper in Tillinghast’s eyes, while three others grabbed hold of him and pulled him into the back of the van. After disarming him, he was dragged to the rear and thrown into the road beside Colvin.  When he tried to get up two shots rang out. One bullet struck him in the shoulder and deflected into his neck, gravely wounding him. The other missed. 

     With both officers down, sixteen prisoners freed themselves of their restraints and fled into the nearby woods, along with the driver who’d evidently been part of the escape plan.   

     Fifteen however made no attempt to get away, including Mrs. G—– who rushed to the fallen officers and took charge of the situation.  After ordering the others to remain in the van, she administered first aid to the deputies using her handkerchief to staunch the flow of blood.  Colvin gradually regained his senses enough to take command and ordered Tillinghast be placed in the van. With this done, he took the reins and set out for the prison.  Police radios were non-existent in 1916, so an alarm wasn’t given until the van arrived at its destination. Then heavily armed officers from the Department of Corrections, Cranston and Providence police, as well as Providence County sheriff’s, converged on the area.  (The Rhode Island State Police didn’t exist until 1925.)

     Within the next few hours eleven of the sixteen escapees were back in custody, but five were still at large.  Some of those who were re-captured claimed they’d been forced to take part in the escape, but their claims weren’t taken seriously.         

     Meanwhile Deputy Tillinghast lay in critical condition at Rhode Island Hospital with a bullet lodged in his neck, and surgeons were trying to decide how it should be removed. Although his prognosis was grim, he eventually recovered.  Deputy Colvin was treated and released, and doctors expected him to make a full recovery.   

      Rose G—– was hailed as a hero for her cool head and quick thinking in a dire situation.  Being the only prisoner not handcuffed, she could have easily escaped with the others, but she not only stayed behind, she did what she could to help the injured deputies.   

     Two days after the escape, it was announced that a special grand jury would be impaneled to investigate the incident, for circumstances indicated that it had been planned ahead of time with help from outside sources. One area the jury would look into was how one prisoner came to be armed with the concealed pipe used to beat Deputy Colvin, when the prisoners had supposedly been searched before leaving the court lock-up.  

     Meanwhile, it was further reported that deputy sheriffs had been given orders that in the future, at the first sign of trouble they were “to shoot and shoot to kill”. 

     By March 23rd, two more escapees were in custody, one of whom was the coward who shot Deputy Tillinghast, leaving three still unaccounted for. It was believed they’d left the Providence area and their descriptions were wired to police departments all along the eastern seaboard.  Research was unable to determine if they were ever re-captured.

     As to those who took part in the escape, the ringleaders were given long prison sentences ranging from 17 to 20 years each.  

 

The Scituate National Bank Robbery Of 1868

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, January, 2018

The Scituate National Bank Robbery of 1868

By Jim Ignasher

    At about 1 a.m., on the morning of Wednesday, March 25, 1868, Albert Hubbard and his wife awoke to find four armed men standing around their bed.  How they got in is unknown, but in the mid 19th century people living in rural towns like Scituate generally didn’t have to lock their doors.  Perhaps at first the Hubbards wondered if they were dreaming.

     Then one of the intruders warned. “If either of you moves, or makes a sound, you’ll be dead!”  This man was the apparent leader, whom the others called “Captain”.

     The couple was quickly bound and gagged, as was their young son who was sleeping in another room.  The incident wasn’t random.  Hubbard had been targeted because he was the cashier of the Scituate National Bank, and the men intended to use him in their effort to rob it.   

     The intruders had already broken into the bank a little more than an hour earlier, but had failed in their attempts to get the vault open.  Kidnapping Mr. Hubbard and terrorizing his family was their alternate plan.   

     While two men stayed with their hostages, Hubbard was led by the other two to the bank to which he had the keys and the combination to the vault.  But the combination wasn’t enough. There was a secret way to open it, and Hubbard was one of only three people who knew that secret. 

     There were no regular police patrols in Scituate in 1868, so there was little worry of encountering a constable as they made their way a short distance through the darkened streets.   

     On the way one of the men asked Hubbard how much money was in the bank, to which Hubbard replied, “Not much.” 

     Then the other stated they believed the bank held $50,000, and wouldn’t have bothered Hubbard if they’d thought otherwise.

     After forcing Hubbard to open the vault, the two thugs removed its entire contents without taking the time to examine what they were looting.  They then brought Hubbard back to his house and secured he and his family to give themselves time to get away.  Not long after the men had left. Mr. Hubbard managed to free himself, and after making sure his family was safe, he ran to the home of the bank president and informed him of the robbery.  Together they immediately sought out someone to send a telegraph to Providence alerting authorities to be on the lookout for the thieves.  Of course it was possible that the men could have headed westward towards the rural towns of Connecticut, but Providence was the nearest large populated area at the time where someone on the run might obtain passage on a train or a steamship. 

     The robbers had escaped with $10,000 in bonds, $5,500 in bills of various banks, $1,000 in bills of the Scituate National Bank, and $3,000 in bills belonging to the former Citizens Union Bank.  (It should be explained here that in the 1800s many banks issued their own currency with their bank’s name on it.) 

     Other items taken in the robbery included savings and bank books being held by the bank for security, as well as wills, deeds, mortgages, and other valuable personal papers of bank customers. 

     The only money left behind was a satchel containing $1,000 in cash which it was believed was accidentally dropped by the robbers as they made their getaway from the bank.

     However, some of the money taken was virtually worthless to the robbers.  Those bills marked Citizens Union Bank for example.  The Citizen’s Union Bank was incorporated in 1833, and in 1864 changed its name to the Scituate National Bank when the bank became part of the national system.  The new bank had been accepting the old bills, but with word of the robbery spreading, anyone wishing to cash them would need to prove they were not some of the bills stolen in the robbery.

     Authorities didn’t have much to go on in the way of clues.  The men had covered their faces thus making identification difficult.  One was said to have spoken in a German accent.  A standard crowbar was found in the bank, but “dusting” for fingerprints, or collecting possible forensic evidence was unknown in 1868.   

     The bank was located in a two story wooden building with an apartment on the second floor.  Tenants residing upstairs told investigators that they hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual all night.

     A nearby tavern keeper stated he’d heard a wagon leave his stable around 3:00 a.m. but didn’t think anything of it.

     It was later ascertained that the men had gone to Providence and boarded a Boston bound train at 4:50 a.m.

     Investigators traced the team of horses used by the bandits to a stable on Dorrance Street.  The owner said the four had rented it around 9:00 p.m. the night before, and had returned it sometime after 4:00 a.m. 

     It was further learned that the same men had visited the Granite National Bank in Pascoag a week earlier, but decided to rob the one in Scituate instead. 

    Yet despite the menacing behavior of the robbers towards the Hubbard family, apparently the men felt some remorse for their actions.  Sixteen days after the robbery, it was reported in the Woonsocket Patriot that some of the items taken during the commission of the crime had been returned.  A package that arrived via express mail from Philadelphia contained a large number of important papers, wills, valuables, jewelry, etc. which belonged to private citizens who had entrusted their safety with the bank. 

     To this the Woonsocket Patriot reported in part; “This act of the robbers seems a little odd, but is one of the characteristics of the professional gentlemen who take your money, and then return the empty wallet.  Sending the returned documents from Philadelphia is probably “a blind”; and no one need look for the robbers, or their plunder, in that city.”

     The men responsible for robbing the Scituate National Bank were never apprehended.

 

 

Devine Faith

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, February, 2020

Devine Faith 

 By Jim Ignasher

 

Don Turbitt

     Don Turbitt is a man of faith who believes in miracles. In 1969 his wife Pat was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating disease for which there’s no cure. The news was devastating, and faced with the prospect of losing his wife and raising their three young children by himself, Don turned to prayer. 

     He’d been raised Catholic, and attended church on a regular basis, but describes himself at that time as being “lukewarm” towards his faith. 

     “I went to nine years of Catholic school.” he related in a recent interview. “I knew a lot about God, but didn’t know God personally.”

      After his wife’s diagnosis, Don decided to go to church every day for a year and pray for a miracle.  Thus began a profound change in the direction his life was to take.    

     Several months later Don learned of a book about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary which had appeared in Garabandal, Spain.  He ordered the book, and when it arrived his wife was the first to open it. When she did so, a scapular (A Catholic religious item) fell out of the book and landed at her feet. When she picked it up she felt an electric shock pass through her entire body!  Then, at her next medical appointment, the doctors were astounded to find no evidence of her disease!  Since M.S. has no cure, doctors pronounced Pat to be “in remission”, and told her it would come back. 

     “That was fifty years ago,” Don recalled, “and it hasn’t come back.”

      Don continued going to daily mass, grateful to God for His intervention, but there was more to come.  One day the priest suggested to Don and Pat that they attend a Charismatic Prayer Meeting.  Briefly, such meetings involve weekly gatherings outside of mass to deepen one’s faith and grow closer to God. 

      The meetings were run by Father John Randall of Holy Ghost Church in Providence.  Attendees prayed together and gave witness to changes in their lives, with short teaching sessions given by Father Randall and lay people.  Through the meetings Don and Pat grew in their faith and experienced God’s presence in their lives.

     After awhile, the couple began holding Charismatic Prayer Meetings in their home.  Attendance was small at first, but over several months grew to fifty people, necessitating a change of venue to St. Augustine’s Church in Providence.  Eighteen months later attendance had grown to 300.     

     Don was a Providence firefighter for twenty-two years before retiring in 1985.  He supplemented his fireman’s pension by starting three small but profitable businesses. 

      “I owned three businesses’s and was making good money.” He told me, “Then one night (in 1986) I had a dream where God clearly spoke to me and told me to give up my businesses and work full time for Him.” 

        He referred to a Bible verse Mathew 19:21 about selling all that you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.  

     After leading prayer meetings for several years Don was invited to begin some overseas work as a missionary preacher with Renewal Ministries, evangelizing to thousands instead of hundreds.      

     Don’s first trip was to Poland, but over the years his work has brought him to twenty five different countries, where he’s prayed over the sick for healing, preached the word of God, and had many interesting experiences. 

     One in particular involved a time when he was arrested by Russian police in Siberia.  A priest had invited him to come and speak at his church, and although Don had obtained a tourist visa for Siberia, he didn’t have one to enter the town where the church was located.

     Not to worry, he was told through his interpreter, people “sneak” in all the time. 

     As Don, the priest, and the interpreter drove through the town they passed the police station, where the priest commented that the police were tough on churches, but easy on drug dealers.  (The town had severe substance abuse issues.)  Without thinking, Don had a sudden flash of intuition and said, “A policeman will join your church and help you.” to which the priest seemed highly skeptical.     

     Three days later, just after a service, Don and his interpreter were arrested and brought to the police station for not having proper visas.     

     “I was the first American ever arrested in that town,” he recalled, “but the officers treated us well.  They allowed us to sleep in an office instead of a jail cell.”

     The following morning they were brought to court, but the judge wasn’t ready, so two officers took them to gather their luggage.  As they were packing, Don offered to pray over the officers to help them receive the Holy Spirit, and surprisingly, they agreed.  As he did so, the first officer said that something powerful was happening to him, and while Don moved his hands before the chest of the second officer, the men exclaimed, “It’s hot! It’s hot!”

     Back in court, a KGB agent pressed for a harsh sentence.  Then the judge asked Don what he had to say for himself, and he replied that he’d only come to preach to help people get free of drugs and alcohol.  Before the judge could speak, the prosecutor sitting with the KGB agent abruptly stood up and said “I believe him!”

     Don was fined the equivalent of $143 American dollars and ordered to leave town. Afterwards, one of the police officers Don had prayed over asked the priest if his church counseled drug addicts, to which the priest answered in the affirmative.  The officer replied, “That’s what I do on the police department.  Can I join your church?”

     And at that moment Don’s prediction came true, although he takes no credit for it.  He knows it was God working through him. 

     Here in Smithfield, Don mentors monthly meetings of The Men of St. Joseph, held at St. Philip’s Church as part of their Catholic Men’s Ministries program.    

     Don was responsible for founding the MOSJ in Providence, twenty-five years ago, and today the organization is active in eighteen countries.

     By the time this article is published Don will be in Poland on yet another evangelical mission.  He has nine more overseas trips scheduled for 2020.  His message is clear, have faith, for nothing is impossible with God.

A New Lease On Life For The Former Smithfield Exchange Bank

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, May, 2020

A New lease On Life For

The Former Smithfield Exchange Bank  

Bu Jim Ignasher

 

A circa 1900 view of the Smithfield Exchange Bank, Greenville, R.I.

     The former Smithfield Exchange Bank in Greenville Center has recently undergone extensive renovations under the new ownership of local businessman Jerry Haggarty.  Although the well-known landmark hasn’t been used as a bank for decades, it’s still referred to as “the old bank building” by many longtime residents.      

     Mr. Haggarty owns Alliance Business Products located at 7 Industrial Drive South in Smithfield. He’s an avid history buff, and the old building has always caught his interest when he would pass through Greenville. Then one day last year he noted a sign in front indicating that it was for sale and decided to buy it.   

     The Smithfield Exchange Bank was chartered in 1822, and its offices were originally located in the back ell of the Waterman Tavern.  (The ell still stands today and is currently undergoing restoration by the Smithfield Preservation Society.)  In 1856, the bank administrators built the brick structure that we think of today as “the old bank building”, and relocated their offices there.  The new building signified the success and security of the institution, and put forth an image of prosperity for Greenville.   

     In 1865 the bank became The National Exchange Bank of Greenville, and in 1928, the name changed to The Greenville Trust Company, which was later acquired by Citizen’s Bank in 1954.  When Citizen’s Bank relocated to another part of Greenville, the building was occupied by various businesses over the ensuing years.      

    The bank’s money was protected by a cement-lined walk-in vault entered through two solid steel doors.  In the years after the building was no longer a bank, it served as storage space. Today the former vault is bathroom, and with the antique steel doors no longer needed, they have been given to the Smithfield Preservation Society to be re-purposed. 

     From the street the former bank building appears to have two floors, but it actually has three, as well as an unusually deep basement.

     The first floor, which is accessible through the back of the building, once housed the Greenville Volunteer Fire Company.     

The Water Witch

     In 1870 Greenville obtained its first fire engine dubbed “The Water Witch”.  It was a horse-drawn apparatus known as a “hand-tub” and required a team of able bodied men to operate.  It was initially kept in a nearby barn until 1885, when the lower level of the bank was converted to a fire house.  The fire company remained there until the Greenville Fire Station was built in 1939. 

     The second floor is where the bank offices were located.  Old interior photos show dark raised-panel wood adorning the walls, and an ornate teller’s counter with caged windows.  Unfortunately this has all been lost over time as the building changed hands.  However, the ornate wood work surrounding the interior clock and main entrance has survived. 

     The third floor once had apartments, of which there were at least two – possibly more.  It seems odd today to think that there would be living space  above a bank, thereby opening the possibility to someone breaking in through the ceiling, but there was a time when such things were fairly common. 

     The apartments were still in use in the 1950s as evidenced by a newspaper article about a Georgiaville woman named Marion E. Lakey, who was the first woman assistant treasurer of the Greenville Trust Company.  Not only did she work for the bank, but she lived in one the third floor apartments.        

The interior clock and woodwork above the front door after restoration in 2020. The clocks were added in the 20th century.

     Mr. Haggarty’s decision to purchase the former bank came after much thought because it needed extensive work.  For starters, the water pipes had burst ruining vast areas of the first and second floors and requiring the removal of walls back to the studs.  Wood floors needed refinishing and replacing. The electrical and plumbing systems needed to be completely replaced, as did the ancient furnace in the basement.  There was also some work to be done on the outside bricks and mortar, as well as certain interior cosmetic work such as replacing ugly florescent light fixtures with decorative chandeliers.    

     And then there were the two clocks; the one on the outside-front of the building facing Putnam Pike that has read ten minutes after four for the last umpteen years, and an interior one, set in the wall above the front doors.  Both are now working again.

     “From the day I saw it,” Haggarty related, “I said I’d make those clocks work.”

     All throughout the process care was taken to preserve the historical integrity of the building as much as possible. 

     The renovations began in September of last year, and were completed by Ocean State Properties in March of 2020.  Mr. Haggarty says he plans to rent the building as office space.  And thus the story of one of Smithfield’s iconic historical structures continues. 

East side of bank looking out towards Rt. 44.

Photo taken 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

Relics of Smithfield’s Police History Are rescued Just In Time

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, May, 2020.

Relics of Smithfield’s Police History Are Rescued Just In Time

By Jim Ignasher

     May 10 -16 is Notional Police Week.  Thank you to all law enforcement officers, especially in these trying times. 

A 1972 Smithfield, R. I. police car as it was found in March of 2020 in West Greenwich, R. I.

     Police patrol cars have fairly short careers due to the type of driving they endure and the amount of miles they accumulate, and when a car is “retired” it’s usually stripped of markings and equipment before being sent to one of two places; a car dealership for resale where it enters “civilian life”, or a salvage yard where it’s cannibalized for parts before eventually being hauled off to the crusher. This is why the recent find of a 1971 Smithfield police cruiser sitting on a rural property in West Greenwich is so unusual.         

     There are those who enjoy restoring and owning vintage automobiles, and within the last thirty years some antique car enthusiasts have established specialized clubs dedicated to restoring and preserving antique police cars.  It was a member of one of these clubs who contacted Bob VanNieuwenhuyze, (pronounced Van-new-enheiz), a retired Deputy Chief of the Smithfield Police Department, about a rumor concerning an old Smithfield police cruiser that might hold certain possibilities.   

     Bob enjoys antique vehicles, and owns a fully restored1972 Dodge, Polara, so when he heard that an original antique patrol car from his department might be for sale he had to investigate.

     On a day in early March of this year, he and a friend traveled to West Greenwich and spoke to an elderly man about the possibility of an old police car being on his property.  Sure enough, the rumor was true.  Sitting in an area thick with brush, was a 1971 Ford, Custom 500, with a large emblem on the door which in bold letters read “Smithfield Police”.       

The passenger side door after being rescued and cleaned.

     The car had a black and white color scheme, which hasn’t been used by the department since the early 1970s.  It was, by all indications, the oldest surviving Smithfield police car in existence, and perhaps one of the oldest surviving police cars in the state.  If it could talk, imagine the stories it could tell about the calls it had responded to. It had patrolled in a time when the town’s population was half of what it is today; when Richard Nixon was president; the Vietnam War was raging; and before Route 295 was completed and turned Smithfield into a bedroom community. 

     The car had a numeral 6 on the front fender, indicating that the police department had at least six cruisers at the time.

     Bob had hoped it could once again cruise the streets of Smithfield, but unfortunately it was well beyond restoration, for it appeared the car had been sitting on the same spot for forty-plus years, and the bottom had completely rusted away due to sitting on the ground for so long. 

     And over the years the car had become a dumpster for rusted auto parts.  Furthermore the windows, windshield, and driver’s side door were gone, thus allowing the weather and wildlife to take a toll on the interior. 

    The back of the car was pushed inward indicating that at some point it had been hit from behind, which could be the reason it was retired from service.  In any case, at some point it had been sold for scrap and wound up in West Greenwich.   

     Bob was told it was fortunate that he’d come when he did, for the car had been scheduled to be removed and sent to a crusher a week earlier, but there’d been an unexpected delay.  After some discussion with the property owner, Bob managed to acquire the passenger side door with its vintage Smithfield police emblem, and the trunk lid, with the word “police” across the back.  Shortly after their removal, the once proud cruiser was sent to be scrapped and recycled to one day come back in another incarnation, perhaps, if Fate allows it, as another police car, and hopefully not as a kitchen appliance. 

     Bob has been able to do some research on the car and has discovered that the department had three 1971 Fords in its fleet, and based on a metal emblem on the trunk, this particular one came from the former Notarantonio Ford dealership in North Providence.   

     Bob has since cleaned and polished the door and trunk lid, and plans to use them as wall art in his “man-cave”.  Perhaps one has to be interested in police history to understand the significance of these relics, for they are two of the most interesting and unusual pieces of Smithfield Police memorabilia to be found anywhere, and Bob is glad to have rescued them.    

 

The Heatwave of 1911

Originally Published in Your Smithfield Magazine, September, 2015

The Heatwave of 1911

By Jim Ignasher   

     It’s been said that if you don’t like the weather in New England to just wait a minute, but what if that “minute” stretches into thirteen days of extreme heat?  The kind of heat where one can literally fry an egg on a sidewalk.  The kind of heat described in Rod Serling’s science fiction story The Midnight Sun, where the earth leaves its orbit and begins drifting toward the sun.  Such heat actually engulfed the northeast in July of 1911, setting records that still stand today.   Some who were overcome died, thousands more were incapacitated, and that’s only part of the story.       

     The heat wave began on July 1st with thermometers reading over 100 degrees, even in northern New England, which was very unusual.  Yet although uncomfortable, there was initially little cause for concern, for after all, it was summer.  Air conditioning was non-existent, leaving many to “beat the heat” in traditional ways such as eating ice cream, having a cold drink, or going for a swim in nearby lakes and rivers.  But over the coming days the oven-like air mass remained fixed over the region, and temperatures climbed even higher. On July 3rd it was reported that temperatures in Woonsocket climbed to 105 in the shade – “the highest in the history of the city.” And citizens were starting to succumb to the heat.   

     Clothing styles of the day added to their discomfort, for proper decorum required men to wear jackets, and women long sleeved blouses and ankle length dresses.  Beachwear followed the same Victorian dress codes, with much of the body being covered.  Modesty standards prevented the wearing of less attire, and it could be said that many of those overcome by the heat fell victim to fashion. 

     It was July, and despite the blistering heat, there were those intent on celebrating the Fourth in traditional style.  Managers of Rocky Point announced plans to make the July 4th celebration “one of the biggest days at Rocky Point”, citing numerous scheduled events.  Despite the grand plans, many felt it was too hot to make the trip.  One headline on the 5th read, “Sun’s Torrid Rays Wilted Fourth’s Fun”

     As the unprecedented temperatures continued into the fifth day and beyond, newspaper stories emphasized the fact that it was hot, as if that needed to be said.  The rising heat-related death toll was updated daily, and not only included those who succumbed to heat exhaustion, but noted an up-tick in drownings and suicides too.

     A heart-wrenching story from Methuen, Massachusetts, told of a young couple who drowned in the Merrimac River when their canoe capsized. Their bodies were reportedly recovered, “clasped in each others arms”.  

     Even at night the temperatures remained in the 90’s, and for many people it became too hot to sleep indoors so they took to sleeping in public parks, and other outdoor areas. Yet doing so carried certain risks, theft of personal property being the least of them.  In Natick, Massachusetts, for example, it was reported that three men were attacked by a knife wielding maniac while they slept in a park.  Two of the men were killed outright and the third was left in critical condition.  No motive was given. 

     Tempers flared in Providence too.  Charles F. Turner got into a fight with an unknown assailant that led to his being rendered unconscious.  He died three days later.

     Ambulances of that era were nothing more than covered wagons pulled by horses, and those horses were pushed to their limits of endurance hauling numerous heat victims found collapsed in the streets.  With temperatures in Providence registering 104 degrees – in the shade – one can understand why some of the animals simply dropped dead during the performance of their duty. 

     One heat related death involved a 4-year-old boy who climbed onto the wheel of an ice cart hoping for a piece of ice to suck on.  The driver, unaware of his presence, drove off causing the boy to fall beneath the wagon.       

     Telephone service in many areas was interrupted, or non-existent, as telephone operators were overcome.  

     There was a story of a hen in Lowell, Massachusetts, who abandoned its nest due to the heat, and the rays of the sun hatched the eggs. 

     Electric fans were in demand, if one had electricity and could afford one, selling between $10.00 and $16.50 each depending on size. Yet they did little except push the hot air around.

     The sweltering temperatures caused a group of actors in Webster, Massachusetts, to go on strike.  The theatrical company had been performing melodramas, one of which was set in the arctic that required performers to don heavy fur coats as costumes. 

     It was even reported that famous aviator, Harry N. Atwood, found it too hot to fly his “aeroplane”.       

Sanfords Ginger Ad
July 6, 1911

     Cold drinks were one way to cool off.  An amusing ad for Sanford’s Ginger depicted a man holding a bottle of Ginger Ale.  The caption read; “I don’t mind hot weather because I keep my stomach and bowels in trim, and avoid suffering from heat exhaustion, and summer weakness, nervousness and sleeplessness, by using a little genuine Sanford’s Ginger.”  

     Meanwhile, for those looking for something stronger, Narragansett Beer was being advertised at $1.25 per case. 

     Unfortunately keeping drinks cold came to be a challenge as ice supplies dwindled.  In some areas, shortages drove the price from $2.50 a ton, up to $25.00 a ton.  New York City was the scene of “ice riots”, leading police in some cities to guard delivery wagons against those driven to desperate measures by the heat.

    Doctors actually wrote prescriptions for ice to help cool babies, the elderly, and those suffering from heat exhaustion, but filling those scripts was another matter. 

     Even areas like Smithfield, with large ice houses in Mountaindale, and Esmond, were not immune from heat related troubles.  Thirty members of a Boy Scout troop camping at Smith’s Farm in Esmond were overcome by the heat, and town death records show that two women in their 70’s succumbed to heat exhaustion.      

     As local ice houses were depleted, ice was brought in from other parts of the country.  A train hauling ice in Beverly, Massachusetts, was involved in a horrific accident with a speeding auto.  Five men were seriously hurt, one fatally.

     Even when the ice could be delivered it didn’t stay frozen for long, and in 1911, virtually all ice came from winter ice harvests, which meant that it wouldn’t be replaced anytime soon.  

     Newspaper accounts declared that all heat records for New England had been broken, and that this was the worst heat wave on record.  However, one man told reporters that he could recall the July of 1876 as being just as hot, and while news reports of the time reveal that 1876 was indeed hot, local temperatures never went above the high 90’s.

     One commonality between the hot July of 1876 and 1911 was the fact that people’s tempers grew short in the heat as evidenced by a colorful account of a brawl between two men of different ethnic backgrounds in Woonsocket’s Market Square, which the Woonsocket Patriot termed “an international skirmish”.

     “The excessive heat so warmed the blood”, (of the two combatants), the article stated, “that they sought to work it off by amalgamation with blood and dirt.” The perpetrator was “reported as the individual who opened the ball by causing the person from the Queen’s dominions to assume a horizontal position, but as soon as the later recovered his perpendicular, he three several times acted as the motive power in felling the pugnacious (foe).  No arrests.” 

     The hot weather brought severe thunderstorms which many hoped would bring an end to the suffering, but instead caused more problems by wrecking havoc all across New England by way of falling trees, lightning strikes, and more deaths.  It wasn’t until a final band of severe weather blew though on July 13th that the great heat wave of 1911 was broken.       

    We tend to think of severe weather as a modern occurrence, but as a point of fact it’s not.  Ironically, in direct contrast to the summer of 1911, is the summer of 1816, known as the “Year Without A Summer” with frost in some localities even in August.  But that’s a story for another time.  

 

Forgotten Tales Of The Moshassuck Valley

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – June, 2011

 FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE MOSHASSUCK VALLEY

By Jim Ignasher

    The light of dawn revealed smoke on the surface of Scott’s Pond for it was October, the time of year when the water temperature is warmer than the early morning air and foggy mist is common.  Today, Scott’s Pond is located in the Saylesville section of Lincoln, but in 1835, decades before the division of the town, it was in Smithfield, and on that magnificent autumn morning two men had rendezvoused there with the intent of killing each other. 

     The principals were two naval officers, but their grievance against each other has been lost to history.  Pistols were the weapon of choice, inspected and loaded by their “seconds” to ensure each was in good working order for the deadly task at hand. 

     It was reported that the adversaries had come to Rhode Island from New York, perhaps because dueling here was tolerated more so than in other locales.  In any event, when the proper signal was given, both men fired from a distance of twenty paces, and neither missed.  This, by the way, was the fourth, and last recorded duel fought in Rhode Island, and is but one of the many long forgotten tales of the Moshassuck Valley – a valley, by the way, that was once part of  Smithfield.   

     Moshassuck, (Mo-shass-uck) is an Indian word, said to mean “river where moose watered”, and refers to the Moshassuck River which meanders through the valley.  The name would seem to imply that moose once roamed the area, but this certainly isn’t true today. The river begins at a pond near Rt. 146 and Wilbur Road, and flows southward into the Woonasquatucket River, and from there to the Providence River which empties into Narragansett Bay.   

      For centuries the area’s earliest inhabitants hunted and fished along the river’s banks, and from time to time arrowheads and other artifacts are uncovered.  The first Europeans saw the river as a potential power source, and over time numerous mills appeared along its banks.  This was called “progress”, but progress came with a price, for the water become so polluted that it was blamed for the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854.  Yet despite deadly health concerns, no serious attempts were made at cleaning it up for nearly five decades afterwards!

     In the early days of the Providence settlement, the Moshassuck Valley was known as the “north woods”.  As time went on, large deposits of Limestone were discovered and quarried.  When the valley was incorporated as part of the Town of Smithfield in 1730, there was an attempt by Providence to retain the rights to these profitable quarries, however the measure failed.  Smithfield attempted to do the same when the town was divided in 1871, and was similarly unsuccessful.    

     Granite was also quarried from the area. Along the river bank was Arnold’s Ledge, also known as Smithfield Ledge, where a particularly fine type of smooth-faced granite was secured.  In 1810, stone cut from this ledge was used to construct St. John’s Church in Providence.           

The Butterfly Factory
(Click on image to enlarge.)

     Among the many manufacturing enterprises that dotted the Moshassuck River, one of the better known was the “Butterfly Factory”, built in 1811/12 by Stephen Hopkins.  The building earned its name because two colored stones placed next to each other in an outer wall resembled a butterfly. 

     The factory belfry once housed a bronze bell with a connection to early American history.  The bell was in service aboard the British war ship, HMS Guerriere, when she was captured by the USS Constitution during the War of 1812.  The Guerrier’s bell was then taken to replace the damaged one aboard the Constitution.  The bell was later removed and sold during a refitting of the ship in the early 1800’s, and eventually found its way to Smithfield.  It hung in the belfry until the early 20th century before it was removed, stored, and later given to the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where it can be seen today.    

     Across the street from his “Butterfly Factory” Hopkins built what became known as the “Hearthside House”, now a museum in Lincoln.  Hearthside is said to be the “House That Love Built”, for while still in his twenties, Hopkins began courting a beautiful woman from a prominent and wealthy family in Providence. She told Smith that she was used to the finer things in life, and expected a potential husband to have the resources to keep her in the life-style to which she was accustomed.  Smith was far from wealthy, but as fate would have it, he came into a large sum of money and built Harthside to impress his intended. The woman, so the tale goes, was not impressed, and the couple never married.  Smith lived out the rest of his life a broken-hearted bachelor.

      Just below the Butterfly Factory was a site along the river that seemed to be plagued with bad luck.  In 1816, the site was occupied by a distillery that went out of business.  The building was converted to a print works in 1826, but not long afterwards it burnt to the ground.  It was rebuilt, and again destroyed by fire in 1844.  The property then passed to a man named Schroeder, who erected a new building and established the Manchester Print Works.  On the morning of October 25, 1853, two young workers, Patrick Maguire, and Mathew McCabe, were near the boiler when it happened to explode due to low water levels.  Both were killed instantly, and several other workers were severely injured.  Despite the devastation, the business survived, but the boiler explosion wouldn’t be the last disaster to strike.  On December 28, 1854, a fire erupted which destroyed the building with an estimated property loss of $100.000.   The property changed hands and the print works were once again rebuilt, this time operated by Brown, Dean, & Macready, but their business later failed.  Others also tried their luck, until yet another fire destroyed the building in 1867. 

      One may be surprised to learn the Moshassuck Valley once boasted a railroad; albeit a small one.  The Moshassuck Valley Railroad Company was incorporated in 1874, and was one the smallest railroads in the nation. The line only ran for two miles between Woodlawn, in Pawtucket, to Saylesville, in Lincoln, passing through Central Falls. Its purpose was to service the Sayles Company textile mills, and it remained in operation until 1981.     

     Central Falls, once considered “Downtown Smithfield” before the town division in 1871, was originally known as “Chocolateville”, and “Chocolate Mills”, due to a chocolate factory once located there.   In 1824, Stephen Jenks, a locally prominent businessman, suggested the name be changed to Central Falls because the area was more-or-less centrally located between Valley Falls and Pawtucket Falls. 

     Central Falls remained the business center of Smithfield until 1871, when it became part of the new town of Lincoln.  In 1895 it incorporated as its own municipality. 

     The Moshassuck Cemetery is located in Central Falls, and was established in 1868 when it was still Smithfield.  In September of 1934, it played a part in a violent nationwide textile workers strike.  On September 10, more than two-hundred rioters retreated into the cemetery followed by National Guardsmen and Rhode Island State Police.  Numerous shots were fired, and some of the tombstones still bear the marks of bullets fired in that skirmish.  The violence continued into the night, and when the smoke cleared four people were dead and dozens more injured.  The incident has since come to be known as the “Saylesville Massacre”.        

The Grave of Henrietta Drummond.
Moshassuck Cemetery

    A visitor to the cemetery today might be drawn to a particular granite monument adorned with a red cross.  It marks the grave of Henrietta Isabel Drummond, a 25-year-old local woman who served as a nurse with the U.S. Army during World War I.  She arrived in France on October 4, 1918, and died ten days later of the Spanish Flu, a fast-acting, highly-contagious virus that killed millions of seemingly healthy individuals worldwide.  There was no treatment for the virus once one was infected, and those who became sick often died within hours of the onset of symptoms.  It took a special person with undaunted courage to minister to the sick knowing the risks involved.  Miss Drummond was such a person.   

     As a matter of fact, not far from Miss Drummond’s grave is an area of the cemetery containing over one-hundred victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic.  

     Although the Moshassuck Valley is presently in Lincoln, its early manufacturing and industrial base played an important role in Smithfield’s early development as a town. 

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