Vintage Rhode Island Fish & Wildlife Patches

     The Rhode Island Department of Fish & Wildlife is a division of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.  

 

The Division of Fish & Game was established in 1935. Black felt versions of this uniform patch are also known to exist.

This version of uniform patch was worn in the 1970s.

Second version, worn in the 1980s.

Current Issue worn by the department.

Worn on baseball caps.

Woonsocket R. I. Fires – 1800s

Click on images to enlarge.

Unknown Newspaper

January 28, 1846

Unknown Newspaper

October 26, 1848

Unknown Newspaper

November 30, 1848

Unknown Newspaper

June 2, 1869

Unknown Newspaper

July 2, 1874

Unknown Newspaper

July 9, 1874

Unknown Newspaper
June 28, 1875

Early Fire Fighting In Georgiaville

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine – March, 2022 

Early Fire Fighting In Georgiaville

By Jim Ignasher

   

Georgiaville Fire Dept.
Circa 1942

     A large two-story building known as Columbus Hall once stood at the corner of Stillwater Road and St. Michael’s Way in Georgiaville. Besides being a place of music, dancing, and theatrical entertainment, it also housed a barber shop and drug store. Shortly after midnight on July 29, 1897, flames were discovered coming from the building, and shouts of “Fire!” echoed throughout the village rousing residents from their slumber. A bucket brigade was formed, but the flames had gained too much headway, and before long the Georgiaville train station next to the hall was also ablaze. Despite the brigade’s efforts, it became obvious that both buildings would be lost, so efforts were focused on saving nearby structures.

     Falling embers ignited the Georgiaville Schoolhouse and the home of Richard Tobin, but these structures were saved.

     In 1897, organized fire protection in Georgiaville was non-existent, and it was fires such as this that prompted some to suggest that a village fire company should be established, but for reasons lost to history, establishing such a company wouldn’t happen for another seventeen years.

     As a point of fact, the only organized fire company in Smithfield at the time was in Greenville, but Greenville’s horse-drawn fire apparatus was considered obsolete for the time, yet it was better than nothing.

     It wasn’t until April of 1915, when two ice houses along Georgiaville Pond burned to the ground that a fire company was finally organized at a special meeting held at Bernon Hall. The name of the organization was chartered as “The Smithfield Fire Company”.

     Money to purchase fire apparatus and equipment was raised through subscriptions, and it was hoped to that enough would be raised to buy a motorized Ford fire tuck, but this did not materialize. Instead, the fledgling fire company began with two obsolete horse-drawn apparatus, a hook-and ladder, and a chemical wagon, both of which were housed at the Bernon Mill in a makeshift fire station. Although the apparatus were designed to be horse-drawn, there’s no evidence that the fire company owned any horses, and thereby had to rely on mussel power.

     In the autumn of 1923 the fire company purchased a brand new motorized Chandler fire truck, and then a used 1912 Packard ladder truck, and a 1912 Cadillac forest fire truck. Motorized vehicles now allowed the fire company to respond to fires beyond the locality of the village.

     On May 27, 1924, a special meeting was held where it was voted to re-incorporate The Smithfield Fire Company as the “Smithfield Volunteer Fire Company, District Number 2”. The reason for the change is unknown, but minutes of the meeting state in part that it was “…voted that this company become a permanent organization.”

     It was also in 1924 that the former Georgiaville Schoolhouse was turned over to the fire company for use as a permanent fire station. Three-thousand dollars was raised through social fundraisers to build an addition off the back to accommodate the fire trucks.

     In 1938 the fire company ordered a modern Seagraves fire engine with a 500 gallon-per-minute pump that was considered top-of-the-line for its day. It was also in that year that plans were accepted for a new fire station to be build next to the Town Hall, for the old Georgiaville School, built in the previous century, had outlived its usefulness. The fire company moved into its new quarters on October 25, 1942. The new building was adorned with bronze letters that read “Georgiaville Fire Company”.

     As a side note, although the fire company had been incorporated under two other names, it had been referred to as the “Georgiaville Fire Company” in newspapers as early as August of 1915. It didn’t officially become the Georgiaville Fire Company until 1950.

     In 1946 the fire company purchased a second-hand Packard Ambulance, which was the first fire department ambulance in Smithfield. (One anecdote told to this writer was that prior to this purchase, a local grocery store delivery wagon would sometimes be pressed into service as an ambulance.)

     Firefighting is inherently dangerous, and during its years of existence the Georgiaville Fire Company lost two members in the line of duty. The first was Lieutenant Robert W. Brown, (22), who suffered fatal injuries when he fell from a moving fire truck as it raced to a brush fire on April 2, 1960. The other was Lieutenant Eugene E. Dorgan, (38), who fell from a moving fire truck while responding to a bran fire off Colwell Road. The fire was later determined to be arson, and the perpetrator was subsequently charged.

     The Georgiaville Fire Company eventually became part of the Smithfield Fire Department as we know it today, and while the bronze letters have been removed from the fire station on Farnum Pike, the building still stands.

 

 

Setting The Record Straight

Originally Published in Your Smithfield Magazine

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

By Jim Ignasher

An early postcard view of the Harmony Cemetery in Glocester, R. I.

     Oscar A. Tobey was one of Smithfield’s most popular and distinguished residents of the 19th Century. He served on the Town Council from 1868 until 1871, before being elected Town Clerk, a position he held for over 45 years. To this day, he is noted for being the longest serving Town Clerk of any municipality in Rhode Island. When he died in 1917, he was laid to rest in Harmony Cemetery, located on Route 44, a short distance from the Smithfield town line, and that is where this story continues.

     Tobey’s great-granddaughter, Priscilla W. Holt has been a member of the Harmony Cemetery and Chapel Association since 1980, and wants to set the record straight about a few things relating to the cemetery. Although the cemetery lies in Glocester, many former Smithfield residents lie in repose there, but until rather recently, one might have been hard pressed to find a complete list of their names.

     Priscilla herself, grew up in Smithfield, and presently lives on the shore of Waterman’s Lake with her husband, Hubert. During her tenure with the Harmony Cemetery and Chapel Association, certain questions arose to which nobody seemed to have answers. For example, she discovered that no map existed showing the complete cemetery. The burial plots were laid out on three separate maps representing different potions of the cemetery, but there was no master map that put everything in context. Furthermore, much of the information as to who was supposed to be buried, and where, was missing.

     The cemetery dates to the early 1800s, and most of the burials took place during the later half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, so the sloppy record keeping couldn’t be attributed on anyone currently serving with the association, but Priscilla felt this was unacceptable, and set out on her own to find the missing information. What followed were several years of painstaking research.

     Her first stop was the Glocester Town Hall, but she soon found out that the town had no burial records for the Harmony Cemetery. Worse yet, the clerk she said she spoke to seemed totally unaware that there was a Harmony Cemetery! Once Priscilla assured her that such a place did exist, the clerk recalled driving past it from time to time, and stated that she thought only three or four people were buried there. Priscilla informed her that the number was closer to four hundred!

     Reaching out to the Glocester Historical Society also proved fruitless, so Priscilla was forced to spend many hours doing her own research which included: pouring over town records, searching the internet, and digging through old newspaper archives. Over time she pieced the facts together.

     The cemetery itself was established in 1805, when Nehemiah Tinkham purchased two acres of land for ninety dollars. The cemetery was expanded three times after that which accounts for the three different maps. Priscilla has since drawn up a new map (On her own.) which for the first time shows all three parcels of land on one map, complete with the names of who is buried in the plots.

     One of the graves at Harmony Cemetery belongs to Charles Whipple, a Greenville “undertaker” who likely escorted many of those lying near him to their own final resting place.

     Besides the Tobey family, names such as Steere, Smith, and Winsor, are also well represented.

     Other graves include William Tinkham, who was president of the Woonasquatucket Railroad Company that was chartered in 1872, which later changed its name to the Providence and Springfield Railroad. Tinkham and his board of directors were responsible for bringing the railroad to Smithfield in the 1870s. (The tracks were removed in the 1960s.)

     Priscilla’s research has also revealed a few graves that for whatever reason bear no headstone or marker of any kind. In two cases there are small unmarked stones, presumably for babies who died at birth or shortly afterward.

     One grave is believed to contain the remains of a German immigrant who was possibly the hired hand for a prominent Smithfield family. When the man died, it was said that nobody came to claim the body, so he was buried in Harmony at the family’s expense.

     The cemetery also contains a curious small headstone bearing the name, “Colonel Chico”. This grave dates to 1957, making it one of the newer burials, but the corpse resting therein is not that of a human, but of a monkey! “Colonel Chico” was the pet of an association member who Priscilla states buried it without the knowledge of others, which created quite a controversy at the time.

     The cemetery also has a chapel, an unassuming white building just a few feet off Putnam Pike that could easily be mistaken for someone’s house. It is currently occupied and maintained by the historic preservation group, Friends of Harmony Village.

     For years, many had been under the impression that the chapel was originally a school house built in 1828 that was moved to its present location in the later part of the1800s. However, research conducted by members of the Friends of Harmony Village discovered that this was not the case. A search in Glocester deed book Number 18, proved that the chapel had been built on its present site in 1816. An expert who examined the structure during its restoration concurred that the building had never been moved.

     Priscilla discovered further documentation that proved the building was used as a Baptist meeting house in 1820, before the First Freewill Baptist Church in Greenville was built in 1822.

     Over the years, Priscilla has collected a lot of information about the cemetery, including copies of land records, newspaper clippings, and even old photographs. She keeps everything in organized file folders, and for the first time, virtually all of the information about the Harmony Cemetery can be found in one place.

     Her research also led her to write a through and complete history of the cemetery, copies of which she has given to the Glocester Town Hall, and the Harmony Library to set the record straight, and so the information will be available to future genealogists and historians.

 

Bryant Campus Turns 50

Bryant Campus Turns 50

By Jim Ignasher

   

The Bryant Archway

     It was fifty years ago, September, 1971, when Bryant College (Now University) officially opened its new Smithfield campus to students, an event that began a new chapter in the history of the institution as well as for Smithfield.

     Bryant University can trace its origin to 1863 when Henry Bryant and Henry Stratton established the Bryant and Stratton National Business College on Westminster Street in Providence. In1935 the name of the college changed to Bryant College of Business Administration, and the campus relocated to Providence’s east side.

     The land which the university presently occupies has been in use since the 18th century. In 1730 Captain Joseph Mowry built a house which once stood where the dome of the “Unistructure” is located today. Another house was constructed next to it in 1820, and the two were later joined together.

     In 1894 the property was purchased by Jonathan and Eugenia Emin. One of their sons, John Arthur Emin, later took on the property and established the Smithfield Heights Farm, and raised dairy cows. The business eventually grew to be the second largest dairy farm in Rhode Island. He also grew 78 different varieties of apples, and a few apple trees can still be found growing on the campus today.   

Map of Bryant College – 1980
Click on map to enlarge.

     The property later passed to John Arthur’s son, John F. Emin, who continued farming the land, and is credited with establishing Smithfield’s first airport. In 1931 he purchased a Curtiss Pusher airplane which he kept at What Cheer Airport in Pawtucket. The following year he found an aircraft hangar for sale, and had it dismantled, brought to his farm, and reassembled. After clearing a cornfield for take-offs and landings, the Smithfield Airport was open for business.

     Although not in the history books, it could be said that the airport played a role in WWII history. In December of 1932, barely a month after the airport opened, William Benn, a young Pennsylvania Air National Guard lieutenant encountered a blinding snowstorm while piloting an open cockpit bi-plane from Boston to Philadelphia. As ice formed on the wings the aircraft began losing altitude and Benn was certain he was going to crash, but then he looked down, saw the Smithfield Airport below, and made an emergency landing. Years later during the height of WWII, (Then) Major Benn invented and developed a technique known as “skip bombing” designed to sink enemy shipping with bomber aircraft. It turned the tide of the war in favor of the allies in the Pacific Theatre. Had it not been for John Emin’s airport Benn might never have lived to fulfill his destiny.     

     William Benn – Footnote to History

     Eventually the land came into the possession of Earl S.Tupper, president of Tupperware Co. He later donated the property, which at that time consisted of 220 acres, to Bryant College. Thus the Smithfield campus became known as the “Tupper Campus”.

     Ground breaking ceremonies took place in 1970. The focal point would be the “Unistructure”, a large dome-topped building designed to include classrooms, a dining hall, administrative offices, a radio station, swimming pool, barber shop, and bookstore, all under one roof, which was very innovative for the time. Prior to its construction, the Mowry house and the 1820 house were relocated elsewhere on the campus, and both have survived to this day.

     Perhaps Bryant’s most recognized symbol is a wrought-iron gate known as “The Archway”, which has stood on a walkway leading to the Unistructure since being brought to the campus in 1971. It had originally stood at the entrance to South Hall on the Providence campus, and one legend associated with it says that a college professor and a handful of students surreptitiously removed it under cover of darkness and secretly brought it to Smithfield – a legend that’s fun to contemplate, but likely a myth. A superstitious tradition states that it’s bad luck to walk through the arch before graduation day, and if one dares to do so they won’t graduate. While some ignore the warning, others pass to either side – just in case.

     Most are probably unaware that John Mowry Road once ran from Washington Highway to Brayton Road, but that changed with development of the campus. Residents complained about traffic, so it was decided by the town to abandon the portion of road that crossed the campus, and create cul-de-sacs at either end. This left only one entrance to the campus, which allowed for better campus security.

     In the 1970s, there were those who envisioned Bryant eventually becoming a university, and that happened in 2004.

     When the campus first opened portions of it had yet to be completed, and in the ensuing years construction continued off and on, ultimately doubling the size of the campus and creating the educational institution we know today.

     Good luck Bryant. Here’s to the next 50 years!

Erstwhile Parlance Of Yesteryear

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine

Erstwhile Parlance of Yesteryear

By Jim Ignasher

   

What radio announcers used to say before an important message.

     I recently heard someone use the expression, “he sounds like a broken record”, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard that term in years. For those too young to remember, a broken record was one that would get stuck and continuously repeat a word or phrase. I wondered how many of those of the younger generation would understand its meaning, for how many of them have ever owned a “record player”? Then I began thinking about other expressions that have “gone out of fashion”, “caught the westbound”, or “went the way of the Edsel”.

     It’s interesting how the English language has evolved over the centuries. For example, in “days of yore”, there was the word “erstwhile”, meaning bygone, passé, or long ago. And in “Olde English”, the words “ye”, “doth”, and “puteth”, were in common usage.

     Somewhere along the way people began developing colorful euphemistic expressions and slang words to address everyday situations or behavior such as advising an irritated person not to “go off half-cocked”. Synonymous expressions might include “simmer down”, “cool your jets”, “don’t get your underwear in a bunch”, “don’t have a cow”, and “take a chill pill”.

     If that person didn’t heed the advice, they might be said to have “flipped their lid”, “flown off the handle”, “blown a gasket”, or “gone off the deep end”. Then they might find themselves in a legal “sticky wicket”, and “face the music” before a judge who could put them “on ice” in the “clink”.

     A haughty person might have to “come down off his high horse”. Some people engage in “horse trading”, which makes good “horse sense”, but one should never “look a gift horse in the mouth”. A person in a bar might “see a man about a horse”, and the saying that there “were more horse’s rear-ends on the road than horses” was once a popular lament.

     Some expressions fade into obscurity with the passing of time. For example, in the roaring twenties they said “twenty-three-skidoo”, drank “bathtub gin” and “hooch” in “speakeasies” while out for a “toot”, and “painting the town red”. “Flapper’s” wore risqué short dresses called “knee dusters”, and the “new fangled” Charleston (dance) was considered the “bee’s knees” among the younger crowd. Illicit booze was brought in by “rumrunners”, and organized crime “gangsters” “rubbed out” the competition with “street sweepers” and “Chicago pianos”, a.k.a. machine guns. Those on the receiving end were adorned with “pine overcoats” as they made their way to the “bone orchard”, or “cement shoes” if they wound up in “the drink”.

     Twenty years later World War II brought new color to our dialogue. There was “Fubar”, an acronym for “fouled up beyond all repair”, and “Snafu”, another acronym meaning “situation normal, all fouled up”.

     Getting “flack” from someone referred to disrespect, and the expression came from WWII bomber pilots who had to fly through anti-aircraft fire, (flack), while bombing the enemy.

     When things were going well people were said to be “cooking with gas”, “living the high life”, “pleased as punch”, or “living the life of Riley”.

     If one was “flush” with “clams”, “lettuce”, or “dough”, it meant they had money, and could “have it made in the shade”, and be “living on easy street”. Those without money could be “poor as a church mouse”.

     The 1950s had “hep-cats” and “kittens”, “beatniks” and “greasers”, who “burned rubber” in “souped up” “hot rods” that either had “three-in-the-tree”, or “four-on-the-floor” shifters.

     In the 1960s nobody would have known what a “flat screen” was, for they had “boob tubes”, “idiot boxes”, and “rabbit ears”, and everyone knew what “don’t touch that dial” meant.

     We “mind our P’s and Qs”, “roll with the punches”, and “take it all in stride”. Sometimes we “pull out all the stops” and throw in “everything but the kitchen sink” to get something done “in the nick of time” instead of “beating around the bush”. We hear things “through the grapevine”, “a little birdie”, and even “straight from the horse’s mouth”. We might “get on a soapbox”, “stand in the limelight”, or tell someone to “put a sock in it”. At the end of the day we “hit the hay”, “jump in the rack”, and “sleep tight”.

     There are literally thousands of the slang words and expressions, and newer, “cooler”, “hipper”, “groovier”, “far out”, “dope”, “sweet” ,“sick”, “g.o.a.t” (greatest of all time), ones are being invented every day.

     “Can you dig it?”

     “Right on!”

     “See you later alligator” was once answered with “after awhile crocodile”, but these were replaced with “I’m off”, “catch you on the flip side”, “later days”, “take it easy”, and “smell you later”.

     Broken records aside, it seems some expressions will always have “staying power”.

     “Elvis has left the building. Thank you, and goodnight!”

 

 

 

 

If Smithfield Had A “Black Book”

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine. 

IF SMITHFIELD HAD A “BLACK BOOK”

By Jim Ignasher

     Fellow Smithfield Times author Dick Martin got me thinking when I read his “Meanderings” column in the March issue; “Smithfield Needs a Black Book. In fact, every town should have one of these.” In case you missed it, Dick’s article referred to The Black Book of Burrillville, a compendium of untimely deaths connected to the northwestern corner of our state.

     Such a book may seem morbid, yet a quick browse of Amazon.com reveals that there are enough non-fiction books on the subject of death to indicate that the public likes to read about it. The books must be selling, or publishers wouldn’t keep producing them. Some have catchy titles like, “What a Way To Go!” a book about weird ways people have met their end, and “Over Their Dead Bodies”, a collection of tombstone epitaphs. One publisher even has an entire “murder & mayhem” series!

     As a historian, I’m always looking for vintage newspaper articles about Smithfield which I keep in manila folders in a file cabinet. (Not very hi-tech, but it works.) I’ve discovered that no matter what the subject, sooner or later these articles come in handy.

     So I got to thinking, if Smithfield had such a “black book”, what would it contain? I guess a more important question would be; do we really want to know?

     Take for example the old saying, “If walls could talk…” How old is the house you live in? Did anyone ever die there? Are you sure? What about on the property? And, do you really want to know?

     There was a time before hospitals and nursing homes when the sick and elderly were cared for at home. If they died, their wake and funeral was likely held in the home’s “parlor”, what we today call the “living room”. Afterwards, they were usually buried in a “family plot” somewhere on the property.

     A perfect example is the Smith-Appleby House Museum. The hillside cemetery is filled with those who lived and died in the house. The museum’s “best parlor” was not only where funerals were held, but weddings as well. The last person to pass in the house was Maria Appleby, of heart trouble in 1959.

     Some people won’t buy a home if they know someone died in it – peacefully or otherwise. In some states real estate agents and homeowners are required to disclose such things, but in Rhode Island it’s more or less up to the buyer to do their own research.

     Rental properties can have a sordid past too, and most landlords aren’t anxious to reveal it. I once lived in an apartment complex in a neighboring town where a man upstairs committed suicide. I’m not so sure the new tenants were informed of this, and with the passage of more than thirty years, I’m willing to bet the current occupants know nothing about it.

     Trying to discover if a particular piece of property has a dark past can be difficult. Older town death records don’t always list an address, leaving one to rely on newspaper accounts – if they can find them. A case in point occurred in Georgiaville on January 11, 1884, when a man abruptly left his job as a weaver at a nearby mill, and returned home to kill his wife. According to one newspaper article of the incident, “The weapon used was a razor, and with it (he) literally severed his wife’s head from her body.”

     There is another house in town which dates to the 1800s with a garage behind it that was once used as a carriage house. According to a (Woonsocket) Evening Call article dated July 27, 1910, a young man committed suicide in that carriage house with a shotgun.

     Learning such things about our home can be quite unnerving.

     One has to wonder in the days before routine post mortem exams, just how many murders went undetected. One possible case involved Smithfield resident Colonel Tyler Mowry, who passed away in June of 1860, presumably of heart disease. According to an article which appeared a month later in the Woonsocket Patriot on July 6, 1860, it was alleged by one of his daughters that he may have been poisoned. The body was exhumed, an autopsy performed, and tissue samples were sent to Brown University for further analysis. The results of the study are not recorded, but forensic medicine at the time was nothing like we know it today.

     Sometimes it’s not the dwelling which holds a dark secret, but the land that it sits on. Take for example the day in 1873 when Albert Barnes of Greenville ventured into the woods behind his home to look for a missing cow and stumbled upon the body of a man. The cause of death was determined to be Smallpox, a much feared disease for the time. Today a housing development occupies the place where the corpse was found.

     On November 16, 1919, skeletal remains were discovered on Wionkhiege Hill, and were thought to have been there two or three years.

     In the spring of 1920 the body of an elderly man was found in a field in Greenville. He was last seen in February walking in a driving snowstorm, and it was presumed he became disoriented and lost.

     A body that was never identified was discovered in a wooded area in June of 1929. Death was thought to be of natural causes.

     In 1977, a Putnam Pike man discovered the skull and bones of a young girl while excavating a tree stump to widen his driveway. The bones were at least fifty to seventy-five years old, and there are no known cemeteries in the area.

     According to town records, virtually every body of water in the area has been the scene of at least one drowning, but certain locations such as Waterman’s Lake, Sprague Reservoir, and Georgiaville Pond for example, have borne witness to numerous tragedies. Before the days of automobiles and paved roadways which made getting to Rhode Island’s beaches an easy day trip, people swam in local ponds and lakes to beat the summer heat, and sometimes tragedies occurred. However, such incidents weren’t confined to the summer months. One of the earliest recorded drownings at Georgiaville Pond occurred in December of 1858 when a 32-year-old man fell through ice in the upper portion of the pond. The accident was witnessed by his brother who tried to save him.

     In a sad twist of irony, there is the case of 17-year-old Frederick Kendricks who was aboard the steamship Metis when it sank just two miles off the coast of Watch Hill on August 30, 1872. Kendricks survived the disaster, but seventy others did not, including his father. One year later, Frederick drowned within a few feet of shore while swimming in Georgiaville Pond.

     Even the roadways in front of our homes may have been the scene of a tragedy. On December 29, 1870, a 32-year-old man was killed instantly when he was thrown from his wagon in Spragueville.

     Smithfield’s earliest known automobile related fatality involved a young man who fell from a moving truck on November 5, 1911, as it passed along Putnam Pike through Greenville.

     A strange accident occurred on Limerock Road in November of 1923 as a North Providence man and some friends were returning from a hunting trip. The truck they were riding in hit a bump in the road, which allegedly jarred the butt of a shotgun one of the men was holding. The gun discharged fatally injuring him.

     It doesn’t take long for an incident, no matter how horrible, to be forgotten with the passage of time. A “black book” would preserve these and other tales of forgotten misfortune thereby allowing us to research the place where we live. However, do we really want to know?

Historic Wild Weather

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine, February, 2022.

Historic Wild Weather

     By Jim Ignasher       

Enlargement of illustration of
the Great Gale of 1815

     There’s an old New England saying that goes, “If you don’t like the weather – just wait a minute.” This holds partially true, for New England’s climate can vary greatly depending on location and which weather patterns happen to be in control at the moment. And it seems whenever we get a bad weather system we compare it to ones that have come before.

     Here in Rhode Island we compare snowstorms to the Blizzard of 1978; hurricanes to those of 1938 and 1954; and flooding to the “Biblical Floods” of 2010. Yet these storms, despite their impact, were not necessarily the worst the state has seen.

     We tend to think of extreme weather as being a modern occurrence, partly because the National Weather Service has only been keeping official records since 1870. Yet earlier “unofficial” records were recorded in personal diaries and vintage newspapers.

     Take for instance the Gale of August 15, 1635. According to one account, “It began in the morning, a little before day, and grew not by degrees, but came with great violence in the beginning, to the great amazement of many.”

     Massachusetts bore the brunt of this powerful storm, for Rhode Island wasn’t founded by Roger Williams until the following year, but it’s the earliest known record of a severe hurricane striking the New England coast.

     The true realization of the storm’s damage comes about when one considers what it took to construct a home in the 17th century.

     Another devastating hurricane struck in October of 1761, during which the steeple of Trinity Church in Newport was blown down. The Newport Mercury reported in part that the steeple fell to the southwest, “…upon the adjacent house of Mr. John Hadwen, went through the roof and garret floor, and broke the summer (summer beam) of the chamber floor where it lodged.” Fortunately none of the home’s occupant’s were injured.

     The storm surge flooded the first floors and basements of numerous shoreline structures, and several ships were driven ashore.

     Perhaps the worst Hurricane to strike New England was the “Great Gale of September, 1815.” The ferocious winds ripped away roofs and blew down structures all across the state, and the unprecedented storm surge carried away docks and buildings with helpless people trapped inside. Many ships were driven ashore, and in some cases were carried hundreds of feet inland. The death toll was estimated in the hundreds.

     The storm also blew down thousands of acres of timber. The downed trees were later milled into lumber, and the wood from those trees was used to rebuild the devastated communities. It’s likely that many historic homes dating to that period contain lumber salvaged from this storm.

     In April of 1840 heavy rains led to a dam failure in Johnston. The resulting deluge carried away buildings and homes and killed twenty people. The Providence Evening Herald declared, “This is the most terrible disaster by flood that has ever occurred in this state.”

     Unfortunately that record didn’t hold for long, for an even greater flood occurred three years later in April, 1843, when heavy rains led to dam failures along the Blackstone River, which carried away bridges, factories, and private homes. Ironically, the summer of 1843 brought severe drought conditions to southern New England, and the Blackstone River reportedly dropped to its lowest level in years.

     Drought conditions in early New England caused severe consequences, for the economy was largely reliant on water. Besides being necessary for drinking, watering livestock, and tending crops, many industries relied on water power to stay in business. If wells ran dry and crops withered, a family could starve, and lack of water could also mean the necessary slaughtering of livestock. Furthermore, low water levels could force mills to shut down leaving people out of work, which in turn created a shortage of goods and merchandise, which could then lead to inflation.

     This is evidenced by a news item that appeared in The Providence Journal in 1835 that stated, “Many of the manufacturing establishments have stopped for want of water, and should there be no rain within a week, nearly one half of the factories will be compelled to suspend their business.”

     Severe and prolonged droughts affected Rhode Island in 1749, 1835, and 1838.

     The Blizzard of 1888, also known as “The Great White Hurricane”, stormed from March 11th to the 14th, and buried Rhode Island under nearly five feet of snow, bringing everything to a stand-still. There were no orange D.O.T. trucks to plow the roads in those days, and snow drifts of up to forty feet high were reported. The storm is said to have killed 400 people.

     As of this writing in early January, the Rhode Island winter of 2021-22 has been nearly devoid of snow, but that will likely change – just wait a minute.

 

Ice- The Cold Harvest

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine – January, 2022

Ice – The Cold Harvest

By Jim Ignasher   

Ice Harvesting

     It’s hard to imagine with 21st century refrigerators equipped with ice makers, that there was a time when ice was considered a luxury, and that men once risked their lives to “harvest it” for market.

     The idea of using ice to cool drinks and preserve food dates to ancient times, but because of its perishable nature, ice was practically unheard of in warmer climates until the early 1800s. That began to change when Frederic Tudor of Boston discovered a way to preserve ice aboard ships bound for southern locales, thus giving birth to the ice trade in America. By the 1840s ice was being shipped to various tropical ports worldwide. Packed with that ice were various perishable foods that otherwise couldn’t have been shipped. The ice aboard many of those ships was collected from New England ponds and lakes, and by the later part of the century “ice harvesting” had become big business.

     Ice harvesting existed on a small scale too. Some early New England farmers would collect it in the winter and store it in primitive stone-lined chambers built into the side of hills, but these were not commercial enterprises.

     By the mid to late 1800s commercial ice houses began appearing along the shores of many larger bodies of water across the northeast. Here in Smithfield there was the Providence Ice Company with houses in Spragueville and Georgiaville, the Auburn Ice Company on Georgiaville Pond, the Winsor Ice House in Greenville, and a large ice house owned by Arthur Sibille at the end of Sibille Road in Esmond. It’s possible there were others.

     Commercial ice houses were usually large such as two on Georgiaville Pond which measured 400 by 100 feet, and 120 by 60 feet.

     Ice houses were constructed of thick wood timbers, with double walls more than twelve inches thick. The space between the walls was filled with straw and sawdust for insulation. The roof was also insulated, thereby making the house a giant cooler which allowed the ice to remain frozen throughout the summer months.

     Ice harvesting was cold, sometimes wet, and always dangerous work. One documented accident took place on Georgiaville Pond in1899 where a man broke his leg when a horse fell through the ice and drowned.

     Early harvesting was done using a horse drawn ice cutter, the blade of which was set to a particular depth depending on the thickness of the ice which could be up to eighteen inches. Blocks of ice would be taken by sled to the ice house where they would be packed in sawdust purchased from local lumber mills and stacked to the rafters.

     By the early 20th century more efficient mechanical ice cutters came into use thus increasing productivity.

     And one has to consider that ice from a pond might have contained certain “impurities” such as leaves or sticks.

     Prior to the advent of electric refrigeration, the up-to-date modern kitchen had an “ice box” which often looked more like a piece of furniture than an appliance. Many were made of polished oak with fancy brass hardware and lined with zinc or porcelain. A large block of ice placed in a covered tray at the top kept the food below cold, or at least chilled. Today antique ice boxes are sought after by collectors.

     Ice was delivered to homes by “the iceman” who traveled his route with an insulated wagon. Subscribers had numbered cards that they would place in a front window to signal they needed ice, and how much. In summer months children would flock to the wagon hoping for a few scraps with which to cool off.

     The ice houses on Georgiaville Pond were conveniently located next to the rail line that once came through town. Unfortunately, this was also a detriment, for on May 5, 1892, sparks from a passing train were blamed for starting a fire which destroyed the structures belonging to the Auburn Ice Company. When it was over, the outer walls were gone, and only the stacked blocks of ice remained.

     A similar fire took place on the night of April 20, 1915, when two ice houses belonging to the Providence Ice Company burned. A (Woonsocket) Evening Call newspaper article reported that “The blaze illuminated the sky for miles, and the sparks and burning brands, carried by the wind, kept the people of Georgiaville and Esmond, in Smithfield, fighting incipient fires on the roofs of buildings.” It was also reported that “A heavy timber growth on an island in Georgiaville Pond was set on fire and burned briskly all night.”

     It was later determined that the fire had been deliberately set.

     By 1930 electric refrigerators and mechanical ice making techniques gradually began to eliminate the need for ice harvesting, ice houses, and home ice deliveries, and thus the industry “melted away”, so to speak.

50 Years Ago – January 1972

50 years Ago – January, 1972

By Jim Ignasher

January, 1972

     22-year-old Army Sergeant N. Bruce Hanson of Esmond was recuperating from serious wounds he received from a land mine explosion while serving in Vietnam. He’d been in the army for five years, and was due to come home on February 4th when the incident happened.

Army Major Frederic Parker of Greenville was serving in the Army Corps of Engineers, and had just completed a tour of duty in Vietnam.

The Smithfield School Committee approved the purchase of fifty band uniforms for the high school band, at a cost of $123.00 each.

The Smithfield High School presented a fashion show. The first half featured clothing outfits made by girls in their home economics class, and the second half was a presentation of winter fashions from the Outlet Department Store.

On January 8, Miss Cindy Johnson of Greenville, a sophomore at Smithfield High School, won the “Make it yourself with Wool” Junior Regional Contest held in Albany, New York. She’d entered wearing a wool tweed paint-suit that she’d made herself. She would go on to compete in the national competition to be held in Phoenix, Arizona.

January, 1972

An additional three-and- a-half miles of Route 295, from Rt. 146 to Douglas Pike, was opened for travel by the state. The 5.7 mile stretch from Douglas Pike to Hartford Avenue in Johnston was scheduled to open in the summer of 1973.

A brand new Chevrolet Nova was offered for sale by the Scuncio Chevrolet dealership that once stood where the Stop & Shop is today. The price, $2,318.

The Smithfield DPW, which by the way was established in 1928, auctioned off the first piece of equipment ever purchased by the department, a 1928 Caterpillar tractor with an attached double-wing snow plow. The vehicle had been named “Nelly Belle”, and besides serving as a snow plow, it was also used in road grading.

A story relating to the tractor tells how one winter it was used to open Whipple Avenue, which was covered in deep snow, so that an expectant mother could get to the hospital.

The machine was considered to have historic value, and there was a discussion about giving it to the historical society, but this was prior to the society obtaining the Smith-Appleby property and with no place to store it, the tractor went to a private party.

If one went to the Apple Valley Cinema they might have seen “Straw Dogs”, a thriller starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, or “Friends”, a foreign teenage romance film, or “Shaft”, a New York City Police drama starring Richard Roundtree.

The NASA space probe Mariner 9, began mapping the surface of the planet Mars for the first time. Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon announced that the United States would begin development of a Space Shuttle program.

In other scientific news, Hewlett-Packard introduced the first scientific electronic hand-held calculator, the HP-35. This was the first calculator of its kind that could go beyond simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication and was capable of doing logarithms, trigonometry, and other exponential math. Prior to this, mathematicians used “slide rulers”. Remember them? The cost was $395.00, which according to Internet conversion tables, translates to about $2,500 today.

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