50 Years Ago – July, 1971

50 years Ago – July, 1971

July, 1971

     DC/1 Dennis J. Layfield, (United States Coast Guard), of Greenville, completed his service in Vietnam and was assigned to a military recruiting station in Rhode Island.

     Staff Sergeant Benjamin Crossman, Jr., of Greenville, was home for thirty days before his deployment to Vietnam.

     U.S. Air Force Captain Anthony J. Fascitelli, Jr. was serving at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi.

     James Coupe of Spragueville was honorably discharged from the U. S. Air Force after serving four years with the Strategic Air Command.

     The 44th annual Ancients and Horribles Parade was held in Glocester.

     Ground was broken for the construction of the Smithfield Boys Club at the bottom of Deerfield Drive. Today the building is occupied by the YMCA.

     The advocacy group, “Citizens for the Preservation of Waterman Lake”, held a meeting at the Lakeshores Community Hall to discuss issuing boat stickers for those authorized to use the lake, weed control, and the possibility of having local police patrol the lake with a boat ten to twelve hours a week.

     In the early 1970s there was a proposal to construct an interstate highway, (I-84), across northwestern Rhode Island to Connecticut. While some were in favor of the idea, others were against it. Locally, a group calling themselves “Stop I-84 Inc.” was established to prevent the highway from being constructed. In July of 1971 the group elected its first officers. History shows the Rhode Island portion of the highway was never built.    

July, 1971

     Members of the charitable organization known as “The Cranford Club” were honored for their volunteer work at Zamborano Hospital in Burrillville. They included: Viola Glasheen, Edith Scully, Hattie Knuschke, Cora Hopkins, Mrs. E. Spenser, Mrs. E. Knuschke, Mrs. A. Jordan, Mrs. M. Flynn, Mrs. M. Petersen, Mrs. M. Emma, and Mrs. I. Suppicich.

     If one went to the Apple Valley Cinema in July, 1971, they would have seen “Klute” a crime drama starring Donald Southerland who plays a detective investigating a missing person’s case; or “Ryans Daughter”, a romantic drama set in England during World War I; or “The Andromeda Strain”, a sci-fi thriller involving a group of scientists trying to stop the spread of an extraterrestrial killer virus.

     On July 15 the “Smithfield Neighborhood Association for Progress” held a meeting at the Esmond Recreation Center.

     On July 19, the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City reached its maximum height of 1,362 feet making it, and the north tower at 1, 368 feet, the two tallest buildings in the world at the time.

     On July 26 the Apollo 15 moon mission was launched from Cape Kennedy in Florida. The crew consisted of David Scott, Alfred Worden, and James Irwin. Scott and Irwin became the first men in history to drive a motor vehicle, (the lunar rover), on the surface of the moon. Out of safety and necessity, the total distance traveled was only 2.5 miles. The rover still remains on the moon to this day.

     On July 27th a special state election was held to determine if a sewer line extension should be constructed from Cumberland, down Route 116 into Smithfield, and ending at Harris Road. The cost was to be borne by those who would be utilizing the line, and not Smithfield taxpayers.

     People’s Bank was offering a set of six reversible Rhode Island scenic placemats for only $1.99 contingent to opening a savings account with fifty dollars or more.

    On July 31, the Blue Gill Derby, sponsored by the Slacks Reservoir Improvement Association, was held at Slacks Reservoir. The event included fishing, swimming, and a row boat contests with trophies awarded to the winners.

50 Years Age – June, 1971

50 Years Ago – June, 1971

By Jim Ignasher

June, 1971

     Airman Paul R. Sherboken of Brayton Road just completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

   Navy petty officer 3/c Joseph S. Smith, Jr., of Greenville graduated from radar training school at Great Lakes Naval Air Station.

     On June 1st, the St. Philip’s Rosary Guild held a dinner at the Club 44 where new officers were elected. Mrs. John Higgins became the new president; Mrs. George Hebert, vice president; Mrs. Peter Almon, treasurer; and Mrs. John DeAngelis, secretary.

     Smithfield artist Alexis Krupka of Georgiaville displayed some of his paintings at the Saylesville Library in Lincoln.

     On June 13th the Georgiaville Fire Company held a memorial ceremony honoring fallen firefighters.

     Smithfield’s animal control officer George Kelley was faced with a mystery. He’d found a dog wearing a North Smithfield dog tag that was in the shape of a fire hydrant, and dated 1971. He contacted his North Smithfield counterpart for information about the animal’s owner, and was informed that he’d ordered the hydrant shaped tags, which were made at the ACI, but that they never arrived, and instead North Smithfield was now issuing ones shaped like flowers in case the others should be “found” and misused. The dog was taken to the animal shelter for further investigation.

     New cars advertised by local auto dealerships included a brand new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, with air conditioning, disc brakes, electric clock, full wheel covers, powered by a 350 V-8 engine for $3,699, and a Mercury Comet, “the better small car”, for $2,217.

     Gift ideas advertised for Father’s Day included colognes and after shaves such as English Leather, Old Spice, Brut 33, British Sterling, Black Belt, Jade East, and Tabac Original. One store advertised briar smoking pipes for $5.

     If one went to the Apple Valley Cinema they saw “Promise at Dawn” a pre WWII drama starring Melina Mercourt, or the dark comedy, “Little Murders”, starring Elliot Gould, and Marcia Rodd, set in a crime-ridden New York City neighborhood in the late 1960s. There was also “Little Big Man” a western starring Dustin Hoffman, who played an elderly man recounting the fanciful days of his youth.

     On June 16th a large barn on the farm of Seth Steere (located on Steere Road in Greenville) was lost to fire. It was said the glow of the flames could be seen for miles.

     On June 18th a group of local citizens established a community theatre group known as the Apple Valley Players. The following officers were elected at an installation dinner: Nancy St. Pierre, president; William Johnson, vice president; Donna Nicholson, treasurer; and Grace Gebhart, secretary. Plans were announced for their first production to be performed at Waterman’s Beach Club on July 23-24th. It was to be the first time summer theatre was to be performed in this area.

     The Apple Valley Junior Women’s Club elected new officers. Mrs. William Stamp was elected president; Mrs. Jerome Butterfield, vice president; Mrs. Anthony Simeone, treasurer; Mrs. Lloyd Thomas, corresponding secretary; and Mrs. Paul Levesque, recording secretary.

     The Smithfield Elks Lodge inducted forty-six new members which was the largest induction in the history of the lodge.

     In Smithfield Little League news, the Greenville Hardware Nine defeated the Christansen’s Dairy team of North Providence 6 to 5.

     From June 29th to July 4th the Smithfield Jaycees held a carnival at Waterman’s Lake in an area now occupied by housing. Entertainment included rides, Karate demonstrations, trained dog acts, a pig chasing contest, an egg throwing contest, a watermelon eating contest, and nine parachute jumps from airplanes in which the skydivers landed in the lake, and of course, fireworks.

     A “deluxe stereo system” and two bicycles were raffled.


The Gustave Luer House

The Gustave Luer House   

Gustave Luer House
June 23, 2021

     The Gustave Luer House was located on Washington Highway at the foot of John Mowry Road in Smithfield, R. I.  It was burned for training purposes by the fire department in June of 2021. (See photos below.)

     The house was the realization of a dream conceived by a man named Gaustave Luer, who was born on a farm near Brunswick, Germany, in 1888. He came to America in 1911, but had to return to Germany in 1914. While there he was conscripted into the Kaiser’s army and forced to fight in World War I. He saw action at what was known as the “Western Front”, and was shot through the right leg.

     When the war ended he made his way to South America, and eventually returned to the United States in 1922. He later met and married Isle Stoebr, and their union was blessed with two daughters. By 1941 the couple was living in Rhode Island where Gustave found work as a pastry chef at the former Narragansett Hotel in Providence.

     Gustave was now in his early 50s. He’d always dreamed of owning a home in the country, and in 1942 he purchased a parcel of land on Washington Highway in Smithfield. The lot had an abundance rocks and stones, which provided convenient and long lasting building materials.

     And thus Gustave began the long road to making his dream a reality. Originally working by himself, he laboriously moved each stone into place. It wasn’t long before he enlisted the help of a John Corelli, a busboy at the Narragansett Hotel, who agreed to help when he could. At the time, John was a student at Nathaniel Green Junior High in Providence.

     Together Gustave and John worked on the enormous project, an endeavor that would last for the next nine years. During that time John graduated La Salle Academy in 1947 and Providence College in 1952.

     In 1951 Gustave suffered a stroke and lost the use of one arm, but the setback didn’t deter him from his goal. Working with just one arm he carried on, mortaring stones in place.

     By 1953 the house was finally completed at a cost of $12,000, which was a substantial sum of money for the time, but the cost would have been much higher if Gustave and John hadn’t done most of the labor. The house was dubbed, “The House of Yesterday”. When a newspaper reporter asked Gustave about the name he replied, “Well, I couldn’t call it the House of Today, could I?”

     The completed building was something to behold. The main entrance hall contained a massive fire place, and four master rooms, a kitchen, and a bath, occupied the first floor. The second floor contained an apartment which was rented to a family with two children.

     On March 2, 1956, disaster struck as flames ripped through the two story structure. Fire companies from Georgiaville, Greenville, Johnston, and North Providence battled the stubborn fire, and laid 1,500 feet of hose to reach a water source to draw from. When it was over, the second floor was partially destroyed and gutted. Damage was estimated at $50,000, and the cause was determined to be faulty wiring. Fortunately all occupants were able to evacuate safely.

     One can only imagine the disappointment Mr. Luer felt as he watched nine years of his life’s hard work go up in smoke. However history has shown that the house was rebuilt.

     By the spring of 2021 the property had been sold and the house was slated for demolition to make way for modern development.    

     The following photos were taken on June 23, 2021.

Click on images to enlarge.





Mineral Springs, North Providence, R. I.

Click on images to enlarge.

Literary Cadet & R. I. Statesman
September 22, 1827

Literary Cadet & R. I. Statesman
July 2, 1828

A Steamboat Called Rhode Island – 1836

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine – June, 2021

A Steamboat Called “Rhode Island” – another forgotten tale of New England

By Jim Ignasher

    The first successful steamboat was perfected by Robert Fulton in 1807, and by the 1830s commercial steamboats were navigating the waters of Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay on daily runs from New York to Providence. One of them was the Rhode Island, a “boat” with an interesting story which has all but been forgotten.

     The Rhode Island was built in 1836 for the Boston & New York Transportation Company. She was 211 feet long, 28 feet wide, with 170 berths, and was considered large and luxurious for the time. She was also considered fast, powered by a single 350 hp. engine that could take her from New York to Providence in a mere twelve-and-a-half hours. The cost of a one-way ticket was five dollars.

     The Rhode Island’s first captain was Seth W. Thayer, an experienced officer from Seekonk, Massachusetts, who’d previously commanded the steamboat Providence.

     Shortly after going into service, the Rhode Island gained widespread notoriety due to an onboard gold heist. On the night of September 19, 1836, the Rhode Island left Providence bound for New York with a keg full of gold coins valued at $39,000 – a huge fortune at the time. The gold belonged to a Boston bank, and had been locked in the captain’s office for safe keeping, but when the boat arrived in New York it was discovered that the keg was empty!

     Police speculated that someone had entered the office by climbing down the side of the boat and crawling through the outboard window. By the time the theft was discovered some passengers had already departed, and a search of the boat found nothing. Why a guard had not been employed to accompany the gold was not stated.

     Theories ranged form professional criminals to an “inside job”. Two weeks later, most of the gold was recovered by accident when the ship’s chief engineer went to oil the engine and discovered four bags of the missing gold at the bottom of a half-full oil drum. The rest was recovered after suspicion fell to two members of the crew.

     The following month the Rhode Island was heading to New York when she collided with the sloop Eliza Nichols. One woman was killed, and two passengers were seriously injured.

     It should be noted that in a time before modern navigational aids, collisions between ships on Long Island Sound were fairly common.

     In February of 1838 seven workers were severely scalded by a ruptured steam valve as they were cleaning the Rhode Island’s boilers while in port. It was uncertain if they would live.

     Later that year, the Rhode Island was involved in a collision with the ship John W. Richmond, but there was no loss of life.

     Two years later a passenger’s leg was crushed when he fell into an unguarded portion of the ship’s machinery.

     In 1842 a lawsuit was brought against Captain Thayer by millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt over damage caused to the steamboat Kosciuske during a collision with the Rhode Island on March 3rd. The two boats had been racing each other at the time, and the jury couldn’t decide who was at fault so the case was dismissed.

     In October of 1842 it was reported that a band of professional pick-pockets had relieved several passengers of their valuables. Three “suspicious” looking men were detained and searched, but nothing was found. However, the New York Police were well acquainted with the individuals and their “street names”; “Sheeney”, Jem Rose”, and “Dumpsy Diddledum”. The valuables were subsequently recovered.

     During a storm in November of 1846 the Rhode Island was driven aground in shallow water off Huntington, Long Island. Heavy seas breaking across her decks made it impossible to launch lifeboats. No lives were lost, but the danger of the ship breaking apart was real.

     It was also in 1846 that Captain Thayer left the Rhode Island to command the steamboat, Governor, but a short time later took command of the newly built Oregon. He died in 1848 of typhus.

     In September of 1849, with the California Gold Rush gaining momentum, the Rhode Island was purchased by a group of investors who intended to establish service to San Francisco. She began her first westbound voyage on January 25, 1850, but four days later broke apart in rough seas off Bermuda. Of the 44 passengers and crew aboard only 12 were saved.

     One unlikely survivor of the sinking was the 200 lb. ship’s bell. It was found months later floating at sea by the whaling ship Elizabeth, still attached to a crossbeam and section of decking which was apparently buoyant enough to keep it afloat. The bell was recovered and brought to Massachusetts. The maker was James Allaire of New York, who confirmed it was the one made for the Rhode Island. What became of the bell is unknown.

     In 1873, the Providence & Stonington Steamship Company christened a new steamship which they named Rhode Island, but that’s a story for another day.

Narragansett Bay Shipwreck – 1812

Click on image to enlarge. 

The Enquirer
Richmond, VA.
October 20, 1812

A Policeman Shot – 1884

     From the Daily Kennebec Journal, (Augusta, Maine), April 23, 1884.  The shooting occurred on April 22, 1884.  The suspect was convicted. 


From The Sun, (NY), April 23, 1884 

Rhode Island Liquor Law – 1887

From The Austin Weekly Statesman (Austin, Texas), July 28, 1887.

Click on image to enlarge.

     To learn more about Rhode Island’s liquor law history, click here: Rhode Island’s First State Police

50 Years Ago – May, 1971

50 years Ago – May, 1971

By Jim Ignasher

April, 1971

     Tec. Sergeant Kenneth E. Bessette of Esmond was serving in the U. S. Air Force at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

     Second Lieutenant James L. DeStout was serving as a pilot with the U. S. Air Force.

     The Georgiaville Baptist Church held its annual candlelight memorial mass for all deceased war veterans of Smithfield.

     Roy Andrews of Stillwater was installed as the Exalted Ruler of the Smithfield Elks Lodge No. 2359.

     On May 8, NASA launched its Martian probe, Mariner 8. Its mission was to orbit and photograph the planet Mars, but five minutes after the launch a malfunction prevented it from achieving earth orbit. Two days later the Soviet Union launched a Mars probe of its own, and it too failed. Later in the month both countries launched second probes aimed at Mars. Both successfully reached the red planet, but the Russian probe crashed on its surface. This was the first time in history man-made objects had gone to another planet.

     A flowering cherry tree was donated to the Greenville Grange by the members of the Apple Blossom Garden Club. The tree was placed on the grounds of the grange as part of a beautification program. Members of Girl Scout troops 101 and 882 assisted with the planting.

     The historic grange hall stood on Austin Avenue just in from Putnam Pike. Unfortunately, both the building and the tree are no longer standing.

     On May 9, the tenth annual Apple Blossom Queen Pageant was held at the Smithfield High School. The event was sponsored by the Rhode Island Fruit Growers Association, and the Rhode Island State Grange Agriculture Commission.

     Local young ladies who participated included Debby Dupointe, Ellyn Thurber, Betty Dolbey, Bonnilyn Dobson, Cheryl Place, Janet Hill, and Janice Hill.

     The winner was Linda Bertrand of Newport.

     A controversy arose when a local businessman petitioned the town to approve the operation of an outdoor flea market next to the Apple Valley Mall. The Town Council met on May 28, and numerous residents came to protest the plan. Some objected to the types of goods that could be sold, others spoke of unsold goods and trash being left behind, while others claimed property values would be lowered, and traffic in the area would increase. The Council denied the plan.

     If one went to the movies in May of ’71, they might have seen “Support Your Local Gunfighter”, a comedy starring James Garner who is mistaken for a notorious gunslinger in an old-west mining town. Two competing factions try to hire him to drive the other out of town. And thus the hi-jinx began.

     Another popular move that month was “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”, a prequel to the 1968 movie, “Planet of the Apes.”

     On May 16, the price of mailing a letter in the U. S. rose from six to eight cents.

     Voters at the annual Town Financial Meeting approved funding for a new police station. Up until this point the police station had been located in the Town Hall, and the department had outgrown the space.

     Charles Sandner of Greenville was presented an award for his service as Cubmaster of Cub Scout Pack 43 of Greenville. He had been associated with scouting since 1954, and Cubmaster since 1966. Pack 43 was sponsored by the Greenville Baptist Church.

     On May 22 the Smithfield Police held its annual policeman’s ball at the St. Michael’s Church parish hall. More than 300 people attended.

     On May 28 the Rhode Island Heart Association sponsored a “balloon dance” for 7th and 8th grade students which was held at the Greenville Grange Hall. Radio personality Joe Thomas of WPRO served as master of ceremonies and DJ.


50 Years Ago – April, 1971

50 years Ago – April, 1971

By Jim Ignasher

     Army Sergeant Allen Uttley of Greenville came home after completing his tour of duty in Korea.

     Airman Barry S. Black of Esmond completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, and was slated for further training as a communications and electronics systems specialist.

     T/Sgt. Kenneth E. Bessette of Esmond received his third Air Force Commendation Medal. He was serving at Travis Air Force Base in California.

    Airman George H. Jaswell completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, and was slated for further training as an Aircraft Equipment Maintenance Specialist.

     Navy Petty Officer 2/c James R. Hall of Esmond was serving aboard the U.S.S. Truxtum.

     Navy Perry Officer 3/c Lloyd Courtemanche of Greenville was serving aboard the U.S.S. LaSalle.

     Second Lieutenant Michael D. Grace of the Rhode Island Air National Guard was awarded his pilot wings at Williams Air Force base in Arizona.

     Marine Corporal Michael C. Dodge of Douglas Pike was serving in the 2nd Marine Air Wing at Cherry point, North Carolina.

    Ladies of the Emblem Club held a special meeting which was attended by Rose Centofanli, Mary Hill, Helen Mowry, Beverly Moreau, Mildred Campbell, Mary Shaw, Genevieve Caloura, Mildren Johnson, Fran Kohler, Doris Torti, Lydia bell, Stella Kernacki, Evelyn Newman, Doreen Collins, and Mary Schiffman, the club president.

     The former Scuncio Chevrolet car dealership, once located on Rt. 44 where Stop & Shop is today, was offering a choice of a free football, soccer ball, or basketball, with every major engine tune-up.

     Miss Lee Wilkinson of Limerock Road won first place in the Rhode Island Music teachers Association Annual Piano and Voice Auditions held at Rhode Island College.

     Fifteen members of the Smithfield Police Department completed a five week special training course. Their names were listed in a local newspaper, but only their first initials were given. A. Thibodeault, R. Leveille, K. Brown, J. Lester Tobion, N. Jordan, D. Ciotola, F. Davis, J. Goff, D. Goff, W. Williams, Jr., R. Eberts, F. Peters, W. Morgan, R. Landry, and M. Ciotola.

     On April 14 the Apple Blossom Club installed new officers at a function held at the Club 44 on Putnam Pike. Betty Paily was elected president; Carmel Lancia, vice president; Anne Baglini, corresponding secretary; Judy Lawton, recording secretary; Anne Allen, treasurer.

     If one went to the movies in April of 1971 they might have seen “Bananas”, a comedy directed by and starring Woody Allen who while trying to impress a his ex-girlfriend (played by Louise Laser) travels to South America and gets involved in a revolution in the mythical country of San Marcos.

     Another popular film was “Valdez is Coming”, a western drama starring Burt Lancaster, who attempts to seek compensation for the wrongful death of a wrongly accused man and his wife.

     On April 15, Captain Nelson French and Private Wayne Brown of the Gerogiaville Volunteer Fire Department were guest speakers at the Smithfield Boy Scout Troop 1monthly meeting. The pair lectured on Fire Safety and prevention.

     Advertisements appeared asking voters to approve a new police station at the May 8th town financial meeting. In April of 1971, the police station was still located at the town hall.

     On April 29 the Smithfield Music Association sponsored a Jazz and woodwind concert featuring the group “Rhapsody in Blue”, and the University of Rhode Island Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

     The historic Amy Arnold House located on Putnam Pike in Greenville Center was demolished to make way for modern construction. The home had stood in the area of 600 Putnam Pike next to the Dr. Eddy House which is still standing.

     Top songs for the month of April, ’71, included “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye, “Put Your Hand in the Hand” by Ocean, and “never Can Say Goodbye” by the Jackson Five.


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