50 Years Ago – December, 1968

50 Years Ago – December, 1968

By Jim Ignasher


December, 1968

     This month denotes the 50th anniversary of a tragedy. On December 10, 1968, Smithfield police officer Norman G. Vezina was dispatched to Indian Run Trail for a report of a 5-year-old boy who had fallen through the ice of the Spragueville Reservoir. The youth’s name was Kenneth Firby, and when Vezina arrived he saw the boy struggling in the frigid water. Without hesitation, the officer went to aid the child, but unfortunately both were lost.

     Officer Vezina was promoted to the rank of sergeant posthumously.  

     Airman 1st Class Robert J. Mitchell of Greenville was home on a 30-day furlough after serving a year-and-a-half in Vietnam.

     Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) Andrew H. Aitken, Jr., of Greenville was also home on leave.

     Air Force Sergeant Robert G. Browne of Greenville was stationed in Thailand.

     The Smithfield squadron of the Civil Air Patrol awarded cadets Dennis Duhaime and Mike Hennessey the Curry Award after successful completion of training.

     Cadet Master Sergeants Linda Fornaro and Richard Larkin were promoted to Warrant Officers.

     Cadet Lieutenant Lynette Blackmore was promoted to Captain, and Cadet Captains Rosalie Verin and Paula Blackmore to Majors.

     On December 7 a Christmas dinner and theatrical program was held at the Greenville Grange Hall titled, “The Lighting of the Candles”. The event was open to the public.

     That same evening the Smithfield High School Drama Club held it first theatrical production for the 1968-69 Season with its presentation of the play “Dracula”.

     Cast members included Kevin Fallon as Dracula, with Kurt Anderson, Kathy Kelly, David de Pasquale, Susan Dearmin, Mark Beaudion, Deborah Imbruglio, and Karen Kapanakis, in supporting lead roles.

     The club had been rehearsing since the beginning of the school year.

     A fire safety tip that appeared in a local newspaper of the day advised all homeowners to keep “an ashtray in every room”, and to empty them often. It went on to explain how many fires in the home are accidentally started by careless holiday guests. Yes kids, there was a time when smoking cigarettes indoors at people’s homes was not only acceptable, it was also permissible to light a pipe or a cigar.

    Among the “Christmas specials” to be had at a local clothing store were turtle neck shirts for men, and “wool checkered” bell bottom pants for both sexes. In 1968 there was a word for these clothing styles – “groovy”.    

December, 1968

     Another store was advertising Polaroid “Swinger” cameras for $17.93 – regularly $23.95. For those too young to remember, the “Swingers” offered an “instamatic” finished photograph within sixty-seconds. The picture quality was generally poor, but it was considered quite the innovation in its time, and perfect to using to capture those special moments, or for giving as a gift for the holidays.

     The Providence Gas Company was advertising a free ham or turkey with every new gas stove purchased before Christmas. Price – $214.00

     On December 15 the annual tree lighting ceremony took place on the Greenville Common sponsored by the Apple Blossom Garden Club. Mrs. Everett Fernald, Jr., served as Chairwoman, and Senator F. Monroe Allen turned the switch that lit the tree.  

   Mr. Robert Reall of Greenville was appointed Campaign Director of Smithfield for the 1969 March of Dimes charity fundraising campaign.

     The Emblem Club of Smithfield, and the Cranford Club of Greenville, joined together to bring a Christmas celebration to the patients at Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville.

     On December 22, Santa took time out of his busy schedule to come to Smithfield, but on this occasion he wasn’t using reindeer to remain airborne. Instead, he landed at Anna McCabe School in a helicopter! The event was sponsored by the Smithfield Town Council, the Greenville and Georgiaville volunteer fire companies, and the Smithfield Jaycees. (Don’t you wish they still did stuff like this today?)

     On December 23, Scuncio Chevrolet opened for business and remained so for more than twenty years. The large auto dealership once stood where the Stop & Shop supermarket is located today.





50 years Ago – November, 1968

50 Years Ago – November, 1968



     November of 1968 was an election year, and among the things Smithfield voters were asked to decide was a $7,000,000 sewer bond to appropriate money to replace septic systems with sewer lines. An article which appeared in a local newspaper at the time spoke of how the Woonasquatucket River was once routinely used for waste disposal.   History has shown that the bond passed.

     Air Force Master Sergeant A. Howard Thornton of Greenville received the Bronze Star at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina for “meritorious service while engaged in military operations against Viet Cong forces” in Vietnam. M/Sgt. Thornton had also served in WWII and the Korean War.    

     Air Force Sergeant Paul Taubman of Greenville returned home after his tour of duty at Rhu Trang Air Force Base in Vietnam.    

     The Berlin Wall that once separated East and West Germany was begun in 1961. By 1968, construction on the wall still continued, with armed guards watching over workers who might contemplate trying to escape to the west.

     150 children attended a program at the Greenville Public Library titled “This is Ballet”, during which a husband and wife ballet team demonstrated and spoke about the subject of ballet, and performed a short story titled “The Stranger” through ballet.

     On November 17, the infamous “Heidi Game” aired on national television.    

     What would autumn be without football? Top executives at one television network found out when they abruptly cut short the airing of a pro-football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. With just 65 seconds left in the game, and with Oakland trailing by three points, the network stopped broadcasting the game so it could begin its scheduled program of the movie “Heidi”. What football fans missed was a dramatic comeback by the Raiders, scoring two touchdowns and winning the game 43-32. The following day the network was flooded with angry callers, causing all future program planners from all networks to make sure such scheduling conflicts never occur again.     

     On November 22, The Beatles released their famous “White Album” which was a double album that included two long playing records. Certain examples of this album are selling for hundreds of dollars at certain on-line websites, but today one can buy the album on CD for significantly less.  

An Angel For St. Philip Church

Originally published in the Smithfield Times – November, 2018 

An Angel For St. Phillip Church

By Jim Ignasher

     Perhaps you’ve driven past St. Philip Church in Greenville recently and noticed something’s different, such as the twelve-foot-tall statue of an angel standing between St. Philip School and the church. Although the angel is a recent addition, the reason for its being there can be traced to the school’s origin in 1960.

     By the mid-1950s St. Philip parish had grown to the point where parishioners felt a parochial school for the elementary and middle school grades was warranted, and funds were allotted for its construction. Monsignor Joseph P. McNamara, then pastor of St. Philip Church, oversaw the construction of both the new school, and an adjacent convent building that would serve as a dormitory for the nuns who would serve as teachers and administrators.

     The new school opened in September of 1960 with a staff of only four nuns, each belonging to the Religious Sisters of Mercy at Mount St. Rita’s Convent in Cumberland. When they first arrived, the convent at St. Philip’s had yet to be completed, so they were temporarily housed at the St. Aloysius Home, then located on Austin Avenue.

     And the school had yet to be fully stocked with necessary items such as books and desks, forcing students to improvise for the first few weeks. Yet despite the initial set backs, the school proved to be popular among the parishioners, and by 1964 enrollment had reached capacity necessitating waiting lists. By the later 1960s, the teaching staff had grown to eight, (One teacher for each grade.), with class size routinely hovering around fifty students. Despite the large classes, the school became known for its academic excellence.

     Over the ensuing years thirty-nine Religious Sisters of Mercy served at St. Philip School, five of them as principals, which brings us to the statue of the angel. In 2016 it was announced that some demolition work would take place at the Mount St. Rita Convent, and the statue of the angel would need to be relocated in order to be saved. To make a long story short, the statue was brought to St. Philip Church to create a Mercy Memorial Garden as a way to honor and remember the nuns from the convent who served at St. Philip School.

     In August of this year the statue was placed atop a cement slab outside the school, and given a dazzling white protective coating of paint. Then a memorial walkway was installed, with inscribed bricks bearing the names of the thirty-nine sisters from Mount St. Rita Convent who taught at the school; five ivory colored bricks for those who served as principal, the rest done in red. Finally, landscaping was added.

     On September 13, a dedication ceremony was held that was led by Reverend Francis C. Santilli, the present pastor of St. Philip Parish, and assistant pastor, Father Ryan Simas, during which the statue was blessed, and named the “Angel of Peace” in reference to the Angel of Portugal who appeared before three peasant children of Fatima in 1916 asking them to pray. The following year the three children would experience numerous visions of the Virgin Mary that have become world famous.

     In addition to dedicating the statue, a large room in the former convent, now used for administration purposes, was dedicated as “Mercy Hall”, in honor of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and another room in the school was named “Peters Place”, in honor of Sister Mary Assunta Peters, R.S.M, the first principal of St. Philip School.  

     The ceremony was well attended by an estimated 300 people, with music provided by the St. Philip School youth choir.

     Special honored guests included eight former nuns who served at St. Philip School. When it was over, they were given a special tour of the renovated convent, and invited to dinner at the St. Philip Parish Festival taking place behind the church.


Phillips Parker Black House, 94 Farnum Pike, Georgiaville RI

The Phillips Parker Black House, 94 Farnum Pike, Georgiaville, RI

Information submitted by Dyanne Black Smith


The House at 94 Farnum Pike

Phillips Parker Black House
Farnum Pike, Georgiaville, RI

     Benoni Hopkins was the son of Freelove Williams (great-great-great granddaughter of Roger Williams) and Aholiab Hopkins. Benoni married Azubah Hammond. They purchased a farm of allegedly 200+ acres in Smithfield. Family lore holds that the main house was what is now known as the J Brown House at 243 Old County Road. Further research needs to be done to verify this, but all indications are that this is true. On an 1862 map of the area, 94 Farnum Pike is shown as the Willis Hopkins house and the Old County Road house is already listed as the J Brown house. According to the family Bible, Benoni died in 1836, so it is probable the main house had been sold between 1847 and 1860. The location of Benoni’s body is unknown, but it was said to be on the property closer to the Old County Rd. house. New technology using satellite negatives may be able to locate the body. Azubah died in 1886 and is buried in the family cemetery on a hill in back of the Farnum Pike house.

     In an 1873 tax record for the town of Smithfield, Willis Hopkins property value is set at $2300, a great deal of money in that time. His brother Jeremiah has a value of $200. No descriptions are given of the properties so we do not know how many structures that included.

    Benoni and Azubah had several children. Their son Willis Hopkins was born in 1820 and their daughter, Lucinda Merrill Hopkins, was born in 1825. Willis Hopkins built the house at 94 Farnum Pike in either 1841 or 1847 according to written documents. The last digit is not clear, but family lore says the year was 1841, whereas supporting census and tax documents suggest 1847. Willis married Eunice Lyons, the daughter of an (allegedly) adjacent property owner, Asa Lyons. We believe the Lyons house may be the one located across the street from 94 FP. Willis and Eunice had at least four children, all of whom died at young ages and are buried in the family cemetery (now known as SM34) on the hill in back of the Farnum Pike house. Willis is now believed to have built and lived in what was known as the Irving S Cook house until his death in 1893.    

94 Farnum Pike
July, 2016

     Lucy (Lucinda) married Joseph A Phillips. They has two daughters, Mary, born approx 1848 and Eunice (named for Willis Hopkins’ wife), born in 1852. An 1860 census shows Joseph and Lucy living on adjoining lot to Willis and Eunice, which we now believe was probably what became known as the Irving S Cook house. Census documents indicate Willis was then living with Azubah, making it probable that Lucy had already taken possession of the (94) Farnum Pike house that Willis built. In 1861 Joseph Phillips left his wife and two young daughters (who were by all family accounts living at 94FP) to enlist in the Civil War, fighting with the Union troops. Joseph was killed in May of 1864 at the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.

     The other structure that we now know was included in this property was the house that originally sat at what is now 80 Farnum Pike. St Michael’s Church now occupies that lot, but a large Victorian structure was there for many years. I have a pictorial calendar of that house from 1912. New evidence uncovered by Ed Robinson shows the house at 80 FP being sold to Irving S Cook by Eunice Lyons Hopkins’ estate following her death. Further research is needed to determine when that structure was built.

     Lucy’s daughter Mary married Samuel Clark in 1864 around the age of 16. Her daughter Eunice married Eugene Parker in 1870 at the age of 18. Eunice and Eugene had five children, Jennie (b. 1872), Frederick, Elizabeth, Willis and Lucy. Jennie was born in Georgiaville and when she was three months old her parents moved with her to Pawtucket, and a few months later to Rumford (East Providence) where she grew up. The children apparently spent a good deal of time at the farm in Smithfield. Eunice Phillips Parker died in 1890 of consumption (tuberculosis). Her body was removed to Georgiaville and buried on the hill with the other family members, but the grave is unmarked. (Husband Eugene passed away in 1902 and is also buried there in an unmarked grave.) Young Jennie was 18 and she took over the care of her younger siblings. She married Fred Black in June of 1898. At that time they lived not far from her father’s house in Rumford and Jennie continued to provide child care for her younger siblings.

     Willis Hopkins died in 1893. His sister Lucy Phillips died in April of 1900 and his wife Eunice Lyon died in May of 1900. This left the Georgiaville estate empty.

     Because Jennie Parker Black was still helping her father with her younger siblings, she and Fred remained in Rumford until the death of her grandmother and her great-aunt in 1900. Fred Black then became the trustee of the inheritance of Jennie’s siblings, Fred, Elizabeth and Lucy Parker (Willis Parker presumably being of age). As a woman of that era, Jennie was not allowed to hold trust for her siblings. It is unclear how she raised the money to pay off her aunt, Mary Clark, for her share of the inheritance. It is also not clear when Jennie paid her four siblings their shares of $125 each, but there are receipts showing Jennie slowly paying off her sister Elizabeth’s share as late as 1925.

     Fred and Jennie both took mortgages against the farm with Fred Black’s father, Allan Alexander Black, Jennie for $280 and Fred for $800. Jennie would later tell the family that 100 acres remained at that time. (We assume that the other 100 acres was sold to J Brown, but further research is needed to confirm this.) Fred Black worked only the farm until 1908 when he went to work at General Fire Extinguisher. Until 1912 the couple had paid only the interest on those mortgages. During that year Fred’s father took up either a serious effort to foreclose on Jennie and Fred, or an assessment for refinance. There are documents from the lawyer requesting specimen’s of all the types of apples from their orchards, etc. It was a true farm and they possessed horses, cows, and chickens. An agreement was eventually reached between the couple and Allan Black and he refinanced the property, combining the two mortgages and recalculating the sum at $2000.

     (At some point between moving to Georgiaville and the refinancing of the estate, we believe the land on which Georgiaville Baptist Church now sits was donated or sold by Fred and Jennie. Tax records and deed transfers should reveal the truth on this matter. The addition of an ell onto the main house, which is now the kitchen, was made in or about 1904.)

     Apparently mortgage payments were then made regularly until Fred Black’s death in February of 1915 at the age of 42. Upon becoming widowed, Jennie began making interest only payments yet again. There are handwritten notes from her father-in-law to her, encouraging her that they would get through this difficult period. He assisted her with tuition money for Alton’s schooling, often allowing Jennie to deduct Alton’s Technical High School tuition from the interest only payments on the mortgage. Jennie worked in various mills, including the Bernon Mill, and took in laundry. Receipts also indicated Jennie sold gravel to a construction company from a pit on her land, assumed to be the lot behind Georgiaville Baptist Church, although the location not a certainty. Family lore suggests Jennie sold off individual plots/acres of the remaining 100 acres they purchased in order to raise enough cash to keep the house at 94FP.

     In 1920 Allan’s second wife, Adelaide, died and he fell ill himself. He then did begin foreclosure proceedings on Jennie’s farm. In reading the lawyer’s letters, it appears Allan Black may have known he was dying and did not want the farm tied up in his probate, as he had one remaining son, Allan AB Black, besides his grandson Alton who would inherit. That would have caused much trouble for Jennie. The legal letters encourage Jennie to get a mortgage through a commercial bank, which she was somehow able to do. This was good for her as Allan Black died in 1922.

     Somewhere around that time Jennie’s brother Fred Parker, moved out to the farm and into her house with his family. He helped her hold onto the farm for several more years. He and his family left there sometime between 1926 and 1927.

     In 1923, 18 year old Alton was enrolled in the GE school in Lynn, Mass. His inheritance from his grandfather was still in probate. In November of 1923 Jennie received $250 from Allan’s estate for Alton. Her writings indicate she was not pleased with the amount. Her son advised her to be a good Christian and never mind what he should have received from his grandfather’s estate.

     Alton married Mabel Gardner in 1928. In 1933 they were living on Osborn St. in Providence with their three young boys, Robert, Alton, Jr and Richard. Around 1934, Jennie told Alton she could no longer keep the old place by herself. She was almost 62 years old. Alton moved his young family out to Georgiaville and took over the mortgage. Jennie added Alton’s name to the deed, but not May’s.

     In the early 1950’s Alton insisted his mother add Mabel’s name to the deed. He had been paying the mortgage for around 20 years and apparently had paid it off. His three boys were married and living away from home. Jennie did not want to do that, but eventually she relented. This was fortuitous for Mabel, because Alton died in 1956. Now she and Jennie were living there together, perhaps more out of necessity than choice. Mabel’s widowed mother, Jennie Bell Boyd Gardner, moved in with them around 1957-58. Jennie Parker Black entered a nursing home between 1961-62. She died in the summer of 1963 at the age of 91. Now the house belonged solely to Mabel.

     Mabel gave both Alton Jr and Richard each an acre of land and they each sold those acres in the 1960’s. Those pieces were landlocked at that time and no development was done. The purchaser of the lots was a family friend (Russell Lapham) and perhaps he hoped to gain either the remaining property or a ROW in the future.

     Mabel’s mother lived with her until she too entered a nursing home in the late 1960’s. Jennie Gardner died in December of 1970. Mabel lived alone in the house until 1986 when she too entered a nursing home. One of Richard’s daughters, Mabel’s granddaughter Dia Montville, purchased the house with her husband Marcel. The proceeds of that sale were used for Mabel’s care. Marcel and Dia were able to buy back the two pieces of land sold by Richard and Alton. In the late 1990’s the Montvilles divorced and Marcel Montville bought out his wife’s share in the property, with a promise that whenever he should sell it, Dia’s family would have first refusal. As of this writing in 2011 (*2018), he is still in possession of the property and cares for the cemetery.

Dyanne Black Smith

June 2011

*Edited Dyanne Black Smith 2016

*Edited Dyanne Black Smith June 2017

*Edited by Dyanne Black Smith October 2018




50 Years Ago – October, 1968

50 Years Ago – October, 1968


     The first annual Providence County Grange Fair was held Columbus Day weekend at Waterman’s Field at Waterman’s Lake. Attractions included a midway, carnival games, rides, and food concessions.

     Opening day was designated “Pawtucket-Blackstone Valley Day”.

     Day two was designated “Northern Rhode Island Apple Country Day” during which the Apple Blossom Queen and her court, the Grange prince and princess, the Dairy Queen, and Miss Rhode Island, were all on hand to take part in the crowning of the Providence County Grange Harvest Queen. (That’s a lot of royalty for a fair!).

     The day was marked with agricultural events and contests which included calf roping, cattle and sheep shows, and a greased pig chase and greased pole contest.

     The third day was designated “Providence County Horse Lovers Day”, and featured a horse show.

     Mayors and town officials from all over Providence County attended the event, as well as Rhode Island’s governor.

     It was also on Columbus Day weekend that the volunteer fire companies of Smithfield held a parade that went from the high school, down Pleasant View Avenue, and culminated at Greenville Plaza. (Where the hardware store is located today.) The purpose was to celebrate the launch of a year-long fire safety campaign known as “EDITH”, (Exit Drills In The Home).

     The program was to assist families in creating escape plans as to how they’d exit their homes in the event of a fire.

     The program was implemented by Chief Norman Segee, with assistance from Lieutenant Harold French, and the president of the Smithfield Jaycees, Leon Carney.

     When the parade was over, firemen put on fire-fighting and first-aid demonstrations.

     Navy gunner’s mate Richard N. Kanea of Greenville returned home after his third tour of duty in Vietnam as a gunner on an assault boat.

     Lieutenant Stephen S. Wyman of Esmond was married in the chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

     On October 11, NASA launched Apollo 7, with the three-man crew of Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham, aboard. The goal was not to travel to the Moon, but to orbit the earth and test the Lunar Module docking capabilities with the Command Module while broadcasting live television. This was the first time live television had been broadcast from space.

   The town dump was once located on Ridge Road at the North Providence town line. By the fall of 1968 it had grown significantly, leading area residents to complain about the smells, frequent fires, and thousands of rats, prompting local officials to look for alternative ways to discard trash. It was reported that from October, 1967, to October, 1968, the town had deposited 10,000 tons of garbage at the dump, and it was projected that by 1990, that amount would double.

     The Smithfield Conservation Commission presented the Apple Blossom Garden Club with a citation commending the organization for its town beautification efforts. In recent months the club had landscaped the Greenville Common and the Panzarella-Silvia Vietnam Memorial on Whipple Road at Douglas Pike, and was currently in the process of planting trees and flowers at Greenville Plaza.     

     The Smithfield Conservation Commission, with support from the Greenville Grange and the Apple Blossom Garden Club, put forth a proposal to turn a section of vacant land at the intersection of Austin Avenue and Putnam Pike into a memorial park honoring all volunteer firemen who’d served in the town of Smithfield. The plan included landscaping, tree planting, a monument, and a parking area. History has shown that the park was never built.

     On October 20 the Raymond C. La Perche School was dedicated. Mr. La Perche had served in various leadership capacities within the Smithfield School Department for 41 years before retiring in 1963.

     The IGA supermarket in Greenville was offering three pounds of Macintosh apples for 29 cents.

     Peoples Bank at the Apple Valley Mall was offering 5% interest on all savings accounts, compounded monthly.




50 Years Ago – September, 1968

50 Years Ago – September, 1968

     Incoming freshmen at Bryant College were invited to a “down on the farm’ barbeque at “Memory Hill”, the future site of the Bryant Unistructure. Students were introduced to faculty and administrators. These students would graduate in 1972, the year the Smithfield campus opened.

     Army Specialist James J. Motta of Georgiaville was discharged from the army after completion of his service in Vietnam.

     Staff Sergeant David M. Balfour Jr. of Esmond was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for meritorious service as a crew chief aboard an F-4C aircraft in Vietnam.

     Angus Bryant of Mountaindale Road completed his tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force.

     Army Specialist John M. Cullen of Greenville was serving in Vietnam.

     Airman Jeffrey R. Sweet of Greenville completed basic training for the U.S. Air Force, and would be assigned to Logistics Command at Chanute Air Base in Illinois.

     Seaman Apprentice Ernest F. Littlerick, Jr. of Greenville completed basic training for the U.S. Navy.

     A carnival to benefit muscular dystrophy was held at 103 Dean Avenue in Esmond by Karen Shea, Joann Cunningham, Jeris and Cheryl Noducci, Kathy Wyatt, Polly and Marie Parsakian, and Bill Kerwin. A total of $48 was raised.

     The Maplewoods neighborhood in Greenville was still under development. A two-story garrison colonial on Peach Blossom Lane was advertised at $25,600. The home featured a two-car garage, fire place, 1.5 baths, and a walk out basement.

     Speaking of construction, two Greenville youths, Robert Lyons and Donald Morse, built a five story tall tree house behind a home on Beverly Circle. A photo was featured in a local newspaper.  

     In September of 1968, the television shows 60 Minutes, Adam-12, Julia, and Hawaii Five-O aired for the first time.    

     On September 15 the Smithfield Raiders pre-teen football team went to North Attleborough to play the Plainville Packers. The Raiders won, 27 to 13.  

     On September 17 the St. Michael’s Ave Marie Guild elected new officers. President: Mrs. Rose Farnsworth, Vice President: Mrs. Jemny Arruda, Recording Secretary: Mrs. Ann Tobin, Treasurer: Mrs. Joanne Serapiglia, Corresponding Secretary: Mrs. Marion Drummond.

     On September 18 People’s Bank at the Apple Valley Mall held their grand opening. The public was invited to stop in and receive a free lollypops and balloons, and to register to win a color television. (The TV was won by a couple from North Providence.)

     The bank also offered the choice of “a rugged all purpose lantern”, a wool blanket, or a “handsome” 21-inch plaid suitcase, to anyone who opened a new account.    

     On September 20 Cub Scout Pack 43 of Greenville held a meeting.

     On September 26 the East Smithfield Homemakers held a meeting at the Esmond Recreational Hall.

     On September 28, Smithfield launched a “town wide cleanup” spearheaded by the Conservation Commission. The program was scheduled to run through November 9.

Apple Lore And Fruits Of The Harvest

Originally published in The Smithfield Times, September, 2018.

Apple Lore, and fruits of the harvest

By Jim Ignasher

     According to ancient Greek mythology, the god Zeus held a wedding banquet in honor of Peteus and Thetis, and many of the gods and goddesses were invited. However, the goddess Eris was omitted from the guest list, for she was after all, the Goddess of Discord. Not one to be snubbed, she came to the celebration anyway, and brought with her a solid gold apple to be presented to the most beautiful woman in attendance. The goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, immediately stepped forward to claim the prize, and it therefore fell to Zeus to decide who should receive it. Yet Zeus knew when to delegate authority, and passed the decision to a Trojan mortal named Paris.      In what may have been the world’s first (mythical) beauty contest, Paris decided on Aphrodite because she’d promised to use her powers to give him the world’s most beautiful (mortal) woman, Helen of Troy. Aphrodite kept her word, but unfortunately Helen was already married to the Greek king Menelaus, who as one might imagine wasn’t pleased. And thus it was that the Apple of Discord is said to have caused the Trojan War.  

     September marks the beginning of the local apple harvest, and the start of the autumn season. Before long tourists will descend on Apple Valley to take advantage of what the orchards have to offer, yet it’s likely that few have ever considered the historical significance of the humble apple, or its incorporation into folklore, legends, and fairy tales, religious illustrations, music, business logos, and even commonly used expressions.  

     For centuries the apple tree has been depicted by artists in their renderings of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which early on gave the fruit its “forbidden” reputation. The poisoned apple in the German fairy tale of Snow White, first published in 1812, didn’t help the apple’s reputation either. There’s also the lesser known yarn of William Tell, who is arrested for failing to show proper respect to a self-important nobleman. As punishment, he’s forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head from fifty feet using a bow and arrow. Tell is successful, and then kills the nobleman with a second arrow. There are also several versions of a legend about a king’s garden, in the center of which grew a tree that produced golden apples.

     Then there’s the historical figure, Sir Isaac Newton, a real person who lived from 1643 to 1727, who is said to have “discovered” gravity while sitting under an apple tree where a piece of fruit dropped on his head. While the facts of the story may be in question, it’s true that Newton was a mathematical genius known for his “laws of motion”.

     Another man of legend associated with apples was John Chapman, (1774 – 1845), more commonly known as Johnny Appleseed, who roamed the American countryside planting thousands of apple trees. He’s often depicted wearing a pot on his head for a hat, and carrying a bag of apple seeds. There’s even a museum dedicated to him in Urbana, Ohio.

    Songwriters have been putting the apple to music for centuries. Two well known melodies made popular by the Andrews Sisters during WWII are “I’ll be With You In Apple Blossom Time”, and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me.)”    

     Greenville, R.I., was once home to the undisputed “king” of apple growers, Thomas K. Winsor, whose massive apple orchards once covered the land now occupied by Maplewood Estates off Austin Avenue. T.K.’s business not only sold apples locally, but shipped them cross-country and world wide, which was quite an accomplishment in a time before standard refrigeration.

     And there’s a reason why Smithfield is known as “Apple Valley”, for at one time dozens of orchards covered the local landscape, but today that number has dwindled to a mere handful.

     As a point of fact, most 18th and 19th century farms had apple trees, and our colonial forefathers are known to have drunk copious amounts of hard cider, apple-jack, and apple brandy, for it was usually safer than drinking water, which before the days of modern purification systems often contained a variety of harmful microbes. Thus it might be true that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

     It’s also interesting to note that there are literally thousands of varieties of apples, but not all are as pleasing to the eye, or as sweet tasting, as those grown for commercial sale today.

     There was once a time when apples were routinely given to school teachers as gifts. How this tradition got started is unclear. Some say it dates to a time when teachers in poor rural communities received partial payment in the way of food supplies, while others say it’s because the apple is a symbol of knowledge.

   “As sure as God made little green apples”, we’ve incorporated apple lingo into some common expressions. For example, someone might say you’re “the apple of their eye”, but a person who gives false flattery is said to be an “apple polisher”. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a “bad apple”, or “rotten to the core”. It simply may be a case of “the apple not falling far from the tree.”

     Something can be “as American as apple pie”, and “one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole barrel.”

     A person who “upsets the apple cart”, might hope for a “second bite at the apple”.

     When arguing, one might compare “apples to oranges”, and conclude with “how do you like them apples”?  

      Yet apples aren’t the only fruit connected to common expressions. Some people have been known to “go bananas”, while others have ruled “banana republics”.

     At work, we may get a “plum assignment”, and it’s all “peaches and cream”; but if we don’t, we get “sour grapes”, and are reminded that “life isn’t always a bowl of cherries”.      

     Some get along like “two peas in a pod”, and fog can be as “thick as pea soup.”      

     Someone in trouble is said to be “in a pickle”, but maybe they don’t “give a fig”, and remain “cool as a cucumber”.

     A person can “extend an olive branch”, “dangle a carrot”, be a “couch potato”, or just “full of beans”. And don’t even get me started on meats and dairy.

     Now one final thought. Did you know that there are more apple orchards in Smithfield, than in New York City, a.k.a, “The Big Apple”? Just sayin’.

     Happy harvest.




50 years Ago – August, 1968

 50 Years Ago – August, 1968


     A plaque citing Smithfield’s Cranford Club for their “loyal and dedicated service” provided to the patients at Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville over the previous five years was hung in a place of honor in the waiting room at the hospital.

     The Cranford Club of Smithfield was a local charitable organization established by Miss Orra A. Angel on October 30, 1905. It was initially a women’s organization with eight charter members, and quickly grew to twenty-five members, and was eventually capped at seventy-five.

     According to a history of the club published in 1930, “The name “Cranford”, a name which the late Rev. James Colwell, rector of St. Thomas Church and Superintendent of Smithfield schools, was wont to ascribe to our quiet village, was derived from the classic “Cranford”, and suggested by Mrs. Henry F. Jenckes.”

     The organization was active in community affairs as well as providing for the patients at Zambarano Hospital until it disbanded in the 1980s.  

     U.S. Army PFC Michael Keach of Greenville returned home after serving in Vietnam. Meanwhile, his brother John P. Keach was serving in the navy aboard the U.S.S. Fiske.

     David A. Bann of Georgiaville was home on leave from the navy.

     U.S. Navy Ensign Andrew H. Aitken of Greenville graduated flight training.  

     On August 3, United Artists released the movie “Hang ‘Em High”, starring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood played an innocent man who survived a lynching and is later appointed a U.S. Marshal.  

     The Farnum Heights Association elected new officers. John J. Sasso was elected president; Donald Provonsil was elected vice president; Gertrude Sasso was elected secretary; and John Palumbo was elected treasurer.

     A proposal was made to merge the Greenville and Esmond post offices and call it the Smithfield Post Office. Apparently there was great confusion with postal addresses at the time between Smithfield’s villages, as well as those in the neighboring villages of North Scituate, Chepachet, and the town of Lincoln. History has shown that the merger never took place.

     The Steere Family Association held its 36th annual reunion.

   Residents of Hawthorne Road in Greenville’s “Olde Smithfield Village” held their first annual block party, while residents of the Maplewoods neighborhood held a clam bake.

     There was a time when television sets resembled large pieces of furniture. One local merchant advertised a Zenith 23 inch color TV console with dual speakers for $589.95, and a swivel base model for $569.95. Both had “modern styling” with “oil finished walnut veneers.” Those old enough to remember these behemoths will recall that it took two people to move them around. And they didn’t come with remotes either.    

     On August 19, NASA announced that a lunar landing was possible for 1969.

     On August 21 the annual water carnival was held at Georgiaville Beach. Youths who’d participated in the town sponsored swimming classes since June 24th had the opportunity to compete in various events to demonstrate the skills they’d learned. Trophies were awarded to Richard Blanchard, David La Fond, Andrea Petit, Blake Ricci, David Hendrickson, and David Petit.

     A national dry cleaning chain, of which there was a franchise in Greenville, held a national “back to school sweepstakes”.   All one needed to do to enter was to visit the store and fill out an entry form. The grand prize was a brand new 1969 Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon. Second prizes included four Magnavox color TV stereos. Third prizes included fifty portable tape recorders. Fourth prizes included one-hundred-fifty sets of encyclopedias, and one-thousand Shaeffer pen and pencil sets would be given away as fifth prizes.  

     On August 26, the song “Hey Jude” by the Beatles was released in the U.S. It went on to become a number one hit.  





Elephants And Other Curiosities

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, August, 2018

Click on images to enlarge.

Elephants and Other Curiosities

By Jim Ignasher

     Question: How much does and elephant weigh?

     In the summer of 1963, knowing the answer would earn you a free ride on Dolly, a circus elephant with the Hunt Brothers Royal International (traveling) Circus.

     Guessing Dolly’s weight was part of a publicity campaign aimed at promoting the circus which would be erecting the “big top” at Burgess Field located off Pleasant View Avenue in Greenville on July 31st, but more about that later.      

     For those unaware, which until recently included me, there was a time when traveling circuses used to visit Smithfield on an annual basis. This fact was brought to my attention by Mrs. Anne Allen of Greenville, whose property once abutted Burgess Field, and who supplied the photos for this article.

   “The most fun of all,” Anne explained in a recent interview, “was watching the circus set up.” She went on to explain how the circus would come in at first light,    and people of all ages would set their alarm clocks so they could wake up at 4:00 a.m. and go to watch. All the kids in the neighborhood, including her own, would be there.

   Among the circus employees were the performers, who would sit outside their trailers drinking coffee and conversing with the local children while the massive “big top” tent went up. Some of the older youths would participate in the set-up process and be rewarded with free tickets to the show.  

     The Hunt Brothers Circus began operation in Kingston, New York, in 1892, and by 1963 was reported to be the “largest rolling tent show” in America. The circus toured the northeastern portion of the United States sometimes appearing in seven towns in as many days. Life on the road wasn’t easy, but those who lived and traveled with the circus wouldn’t have had it any other way.        

     Circus life had its own lingo. Perhaps most people know that the clowns waited in “clown alley” outside the “big top” awaiting their cue from the “ring master”. But how many know that an elephant was a “bull”, and a “bull man” was its handler. Or that an “ace note” was a dollar, a “fin” a five dollar bill, and a “saw buck” a ten, any of which could be used to “duke” or pay someone. “Floss” was cotton candy, which one could buy at the “floss joint”. However, if one was in the mood, they might wander over to the “grease joint” for a hamburger, conveniently located next to the “garbage joint” where novelties and souvenirs were sold. And getting “itchy feet” meant it was time to take everything down and move on to the next town.    

     Hunt Brothers Circus advertised 50 acts which appeared in three rings under the big top – hence the term, “three ring circus”. There were acrobats and jugglers, trapeze artists and tight rope walkers, lion tamers, and of course, clowns. Dolly wasn’t the only elephant owned by the circus; there were at least two others, as well as a menagerie of trained seals, monkeys, and a pure-bred Arabian horse named Hajiian that had an appetite for pickled herring.      

Hunt Brothers Circus
Burgess Field, Greenville, R.I.

     The performances would generally last two hours, with one in the morning, and the other that same evening. By the following day the entire circus would be gone as if by magic.  

     The circus was conducted under the auspices of the Smithfield Babe Ruth League, which would hold regularly scheduled ball games at Burgess Field. Thus it was that Burgess Field was chosen over other open areas of town such as Waterman’s Field at Waterman’s lake, today occupied by condominiums, but was once the site of the annual Firemen’s Carnival.

     In 1965 the famous King Brothers Circus came to town, and like Hunt Brothers, also occupied Burgess Field. King Brothers would reportedly travel to twenty states within the course of a year, visiting 200 cities from coast to coast. Like Hunt Brothers, it too had elephants.

     Getting back to Dolly and the Hunt Brothers; the contest to guess her weight was announced in the July 4th edition of The Observer , which printed an entry blank for the “Ride-The-Elephant Contest”. Besides a free elephant ride the winner who guessed the closest would receive four photos of themselves sitting atop of Dolly as proof that they’d actually rode an elephant. Initially, any child between the ages of 7 and 17 was welcome to enter, but then some adults complained that they too should be allowed to compete for an elephant ride. The following week the rules had been broadened to include those up to the age of 70. (It was thought that nobody over the age of 70 would be interested.) In the end the complaining was for naught, for there were actually two winners, and both were under 17. Two girls, Jo-Ann Simpson, 13, of Esmond, and Jeanine Falino, 8, of Centerdale, had both submitted the guess of 6,500 pounds. Dolly’s actual weight was 6,508 pounds.

     Since the girls had tied, both got to ride Dolly. One at the morning performance, and the other at the evening show, no doubt giving both a memory that would last a lifetime.

50 years Ago – June, 1968

50 Years Ago – June, 1968

By Jim Ignasher

     On June 9th members of the Greenville and Georgiaville Fire Companies held a firemen’s memorial parade. The procession began at Old County Road and proceeded down Farnum Pike to the Georgiaville Fire Station.  

     Smithfield has lost four firefighters in the line of duty. Raymond W. Segee was stricken while responding to an alarm in October of 1956. Robert D. Brown suffered fatal injuries on April 2, 1960, when he fell from a moving fire truck responding to a brush fire. Eugene E. Dorgan fell from a moving fire truck while responding to an arson fire on September 6, 1964. And Leo Kennedy, Sr., perished during a training exercise on October 29, 1979.

     Air Force Staff Sergeant Peter E. Anthony of Greenville was assigned to the 366th Combat Support Wing in Vietnam as an Electrical Power Production Specialist.

     U.S. Army Special Forces Major Roger L. Schenck graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor degree in Military Studies. He was now en-route to serve a second tour in Vietnam.

     U.S. Air Force Sergeant Donald Shaw of Esmond was serving in Turkey. His brother, Sergeant Edwin Shaw, Jr., was serving in Nebraska.

     Robert J. Buonaccorsi of Greenville returned home after serving in Vietnam with the U.S. Army. It was announced that he would begin teaching in the Smithfield School System in September.

     Cub Scout Pack 44 held a meeting at the Portuguese American Club where tenderfoot graduation certificates into Boy Scouting, and Arrow of the Light awards were presented to Jay Shirley, Clifford Barrett, Richard Giguere, and Joseph Paquette.

     A freshman semi-formal dance was held in the cafeteria of the Smithfield High School. Freshman class advisor Mr. O’Neal, and Mr. and Mrs. MacNamara served as hosts. Music was provided by “The Concepts”.

     158 students became the first senior class to graduate from Smithfield High School. The ceremony was held in the courtyard, but was interrupted by a sudden rain squall which drove the approximately 800 people in attendance indoors.      

     Suggested Father’s Day gifts at a local retail store included a pipe and tobacco, a box of cigars, or a cigarette lighter. (Not the disposable lighters we think of today.)

   For the dad that didn’t smoke, there was Hai Karate, English Leather, or British Sterling, after shave lotions. How many remember those?

     Construction on the new Route 6 expressway from Olneyville to Johnston was underway. The six million dollar project was expected to be finished June 30, 1969.

     Miss Linda Aitken of Smithfield was the 1st runner up in the Miss Rhode Island Pageant. She also wore the crown of Miss University of Rhode Island.

     How many remember that Greenville had a miniature golf course located on Route 44 at the A&W? It was billed as, “A pleasant garden spot for a couple or especially an entire family to enjoy a competitive recreational golf game.”

     A group of children held a carnival at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Picard on Tucker Road in Greenville to raise money for the Summertime Charity for Underprivileged Children. Those running the carnival were; Cathi Mancini, Barbara Mancini, Margy Mancini, Marion Picard, Lori Cook, Beverly Cook, Cheryl Dionne, and Gary Conroy.

     If one went to the movies in June of ’68, perhaps they saw the following: “Bandolero!”, a western, starring Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin, and Raquel Welch, and George Kennedy. Or perhaps they viewed “The Green Berets” starring John Wayne, David Janssen, and Jim Hutton, or the comedy film, “Never A Dull Moment”, with Dick Van Dyke and Edward G. Robinson. Then there was “The Thomas Crown Affair”, a thriller featuring Steve McQueen, and Faye Dunaway.

     If anyone under 30 is reading this they’re probably saying, “I’ve never heard of any of these people.”

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