Scituate Reservoir Plane Crash – 1982

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine.  

Ablaze Over The Scituate Reservoir

By Jim Ignasher

     The pilots opened the cockpit windows, but it did little to ventilate the toxic smoke filling the cabin and choking their lungs.  Meanwhile flames licked at their legs from under the control panel, burning away clothing and flesh while inflicting excruciating pain.  Yet both men remained at their posts, for to do otherwise would mean certain death for all aboard. 

     The date was February 21, 1982, and Pilgrim Airlines Flight 458 had been on a routine flight from New York to Boston when disaster struck. The plane was a twin-engine De Havilland Otter, capable of carrying up to eighteen passengers and used by many of the smaller airlines of the day.

      After making a brief stop in Groton, Connecticut, Flight 458 continued on at 3:10 p.m. with ten passengers and a crew of two aboard.  The pilot was Captain Thomas Prinster, age 26, and the First Officer was Lyle Hogg, age 27. 

     The plane climbed to its designated cruising altitude of 4,000 feet, but before long frost began to form on the exterior of the windshield, so Captain Prinster activated the external de-icing system. Just after doing so he noticed a strong odor of the de-icer solution permeating the cockpit, followed by wisps of smoke that began to emanate from behind the control panel.  Realizing there was an onboard fire situation Prinster radioed T. F. Green Airport and declared an emergency, and was granted priority clearance to land.  However, the aircraft was still over western Rhode Island and it soon became apparent that they were now in a race for their lives. 

     As Prinster and Hogg set a course for Green Airport, the smoke grew thicker as the fire quickly gained headway feeding on wires and other materials behind the dashboard. Then flames appeared at their feet and began to attack.

     As smoke began to waft back into the passenger cabin, one man raced forward and attempted to smother the flames with his jacket, but was unsuccessful.  He then retreated back to the cabin and began using a tennis racket to attempt to break out a Plexiglass window hoping to release the smoke that was now throughout the entire aircraft. 

     Meanwhile the cockpit was now so full of smoke that the crew had to stick their heads out the windows as they flew the plane in order to breathe.  Imagine their plight; faces freezing in the 150 mph slipstream while flames burned at their legs. 

     The smoke was such that the pilots couldn’t see the instruments leaving them unable to read a compass heading, see the artificial horizon gauge, or other navigational equipment.  Below them, at 1,400 feet above the ground, was a thick layer of clouds about 400 feet thick that obscured all visual reference points which might aid them in their situation. 

     It was now obvious that they wouldn’t make it to Warwick where fire and rescue trucks stood at the ready. They would have to take their chances going down through the clouds and hope for a successful crash landing.  What lay below the clouds was unknown. They could suddenly find themselves over a populated village, a steep wooded hillside, or a radio tower, any of which could appear in an instant with no time to react.  Yet there was no choice, so they began to drop down through the scud. For a few seconds the misty whiteness was all about them as the engine noise seemed to dim.  Then suddenly the mist parted as they broke through at one-thousand feet and found themselves over Scituate, Rhode Island.  Scanning the barren winter landscape Prinster sighted the Scituate Reservoir ahead in the distance, frozen, and covered with snow.  There was no way to know if the ice could support the weight of the aircraft, but the only alternative was to come down in the woodlands, which had a higher probability of ending badly.  Choosing the best option, the pilots brought the plane down to tree-top level and approached from the northwest, passing over the Foster/Scituate town line, then Route 102 near the famous “Crazy Corners”, and setting down on the ice of the tributary that runs along Tunk Hill Road.

     When they hit the ice the impact tore away a portion of the landing gear sending the plane into an uncontrolled sideways skid during which the right wing broke loose and slid away. The aircraft continued to slide across the snow covered ice for another five-hundred feet before finally coming to rest.  And it was still burning!  Passengers and crew scrambled out as spreading flames quickly engulfed the fuselage.  A headcount revealed that one passenger, a 59-year-old New Hampshire woman was missing.  Her body was later recovered, still strapped in her seat.

     Despite serious injuries, Captain Prinster remained in charge of the situation as he and First Officer Hogg calmly led the survivors away. They reached the  safety of the shoreline as the first police and fire vehicles arrived on scene.  Unfortunately most of the fuselage was destroyed before firemen could douse the flames.  Investigators later determined that the fire was caused by a loose connection in the de-icing system which allowed the alcohol based liquid to spray behind the electrical circuits of the control panel.        

     The survivors were transported to Rhode Island Hospital for treatment.  Both Captain Prinster and First Officer Hogg were admitted with potential life-threatening injuries due to their severe burns, but both ultimately survived. 

     Their fortitude, determination, and quick-thinking under extreme pressure didn’t go unnoticed.   Captain Prinster was awarded the Lieutenant General Herald L. George Civilian Airmanship Award by the Order of Daedalians, and both men received the Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award, and the Rhode Island Lifesaving Medal.   

     Furthermore, few may realize that there’s also a memorial park built in honor of these men located at Scituate’s famous “Crazy Corners”, known as Prinster-Hogg Park.  Just in from the roadway, amidst some overgrowth, stands a large granite boulder with a brief story of the incident engraved on its face.  It is the only aviation memorial in Rhode Island dedicated to an incident involving a civilian aircraft. 

 

 

A Murderous Night In Cumberland

Originally Published in The Smithfield Times, November, 2015

A Murderous Night in Cumberland

By Jim Ignasher  

    The Valley Falls Baptist Church was filled to capacity as the funeral service began, forcing some mourners to wait outside.  At the head of the isle was a simple black coffin in which the deceased lay.  One newspaper reported that he looked “life-like”, as if “only sleeping”.  The Reverend Ellison delivered a eulogy that moved many to tears, and when it was over, a horse-drawn hearse carried the departed to his place of final rest in the Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls.  The date was April 29, 1901, and the funeral of the murdered police officer was the culmination of events which had begun four days earlier.

      In the spring of 1901, businesses in Cumberland, Lincoln, and Central Falls had been the targets of nighttime burglaries, all believed committed by the same person(s). In recent days three unsuccessful attempts had been made to break into the Burnham Store Company in Cumberland, a dry goods, grocery, and general merchandise establishment.  Figuring that a fourth attempt was likely, on the night of April 24th, Cumberland’s Chief of Police concealed himself inside hoping to make an arrest. At about 1 a.m., he heard someone outside the back door, and with revolver at the ready waited to see what would come next.  The would-be burglars worked on the door for the next fifteen minutes but couldn’t get it open, so they left.  The chief remained inside to see if they’d return, for he wanted to catch them in the building where there could be no doubt of their guilt.

      About forty minutes later, Special Officer Herbert Moore was walking a post in Valley Falls near the Central Falls city line when he encountered two men attempting to break into a store, but not the one the chief was located in.  This was an era before automobiles and police radios, and in 1901 even telephones were uncommon.  If an officer encountered trouble, he was generally on his own.  

     As Moore approached, one of the men pulled a gun and started shooting.  The officer returned fire, sending six rounds in the direction of his attacker, but missed.  Then a bullet struck Moore just above his right hip and knocked him off his feet.  The pain was intense.  The slug had torn through his lower intestines and lodged next to his backbone.  As the wounded officer lay in the street his assailants left him for dead.

     Officer Burlingame had been patrolling nearby, and when he heard the shots came running to Moore’s aid.  After assessing the wound, he helped Moore to his feet and led him down Broad Street towards the Town Hall where police headquarters was then located.  Along the way they encountered Maurice Mountain, a street car conductor for the Cumberland Electric Railway who was on his way home.  Burlingame apprised him of the situation and told him to go to for a doctor.  As Mountain ran down the darkened street he inadvertently encountered the gunmen, who likely mistook his conductor’s uniform for a policeman’s.  Without a word, they fired three shots at the Good Samaritan, striking him in the cheek, neck, and right shoulder.  Although wounded, Mountain managed to escape by running towards the relative protection of a shack near the Valley Falls railroad crossing.   

     Officer Moore’s wound was serious, and after being treated at the police station he was transferred by horse-drawn ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital where he succumbed on the 27th.  Conductor Mountain was more fortunate, and was sent home to recuperate.   

     One odd fact related to this story is the prophetic dream had by Officer Joseph Whipple of the Central Falls police about a week before, which was reported in the (Woonsocket) Evening Call on April 25, 1901.  It said in part, “In the dream he heard a shot, investigated, found that a Valley Falls store had been burglarized and an officer and a man shot.”  Whipple had told fellow officers about his premonition, but they didn’t take it seriously.  On the night of the shootings, he was on patrol near the Central Falls – Cumberland line, and when he investigated the sounds of gunfire he found the situation was just as he had seen it in his dream!     

     Within hours of the shootings, Chief Donahue and Officer Burlingame arrested a suspect, a 25-year-old Pawtucket man well known to police who went by different names.  The man claimed he’d been home asleep at the time of the gunfire, but his father denied this and said his son didn’t come home until daylight.  With his criminal record and no alibi, the suspect was brought before a judge who ordered him held on $5000 bail, and remanded him to the state jail in Cranston.  Chief Donahue admitted to the press that the case against the arrestee was circumstantial, but it was hoped that if he hadn’t taken part in the shootings that he might know who did.  The prisoner denied any and all knowledge of the crimes, and on May 6th he was released for lack of evidence.     

     In the ensuing weeks police continued their investigation, but nothing new was learned.  Then weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, and the case faded into history.    

    Then, ten years later, a possible solution to the mystery was put forth.  In the summer of 1911 two men from Cumberland, both brothers, were convicted of various crimes in Massachusetts and given long prison sentences to serve at the Charlestown State Prison.  Officer Burlingame, now Chief Burlingame, was summoned to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to give testimony in one of the cases because one the men was a suspect in the shooting of Officer Moore.  

     On August 30, 1911, the (Woonsocket) Evening Call reported that an unnamed prison inmate serving time in Cranston had given an affidavit “to the effect that one of the brothers had told him that he was the one who shot Moore.”   However, suspecting someone of a crime and proving it can be two different things, especially when the only evidence is hearsay from a convicted criminal.  The article ended with the hope that further evidence would be gathered to finally bring those responsible to justice. Unfortunately, history has shown that nobody was ever charged with Officer Moore’s murder.     

     Herbert Daniel Eaton Moore was born in Kittery, Maine, August 2, 1871, and was 30-years-old at the time of his death.  He was survived by his wife, three children, and a brother.       

Officer Herbert Moore’s Grave
Moshassuck Cemetery
Central Falls, R. I.

     Moore was appointed a special officer to the Cumberland Police in 1899.  In the early days of Rhode Island law enforcement, many cities and towns employed “special officers” to supplement the often small full-time force.  In some cases, there might be more “specials” than “regulars” on a department’s roster.  “Special officers” carried the same police powers as “regular” officers, (And took the same risks.) but only worked when needed.  In the case of Officer Moore, he was filling in for the regular beat officer who had the night off.  Many Rhode Island police departments continued to utilize “special officers” into the 1980s. 

     In Washington D.C. there is the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  Inscribed on it are the names of more than 20,000 United States law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty since the earliest days of our nation’s founding. (Presently there are 46 names from Rhode Island.) 

     From time to time, forgotten incidents such as the one involving Officer Moore come to light, and until quite recently, the Cumberland Police Department was unaware of his death in the line of duty.  As of this writing, efforts are underway to have his name added to the national memorial.     

—Officer Moore’s name has since been added. J.I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valley Falls, R. I., Train Wreck – August 12, 1853

From The New York Herald, August 14, 1853.

Click on images to enlarge.

Smithfield’s Early Post Offices

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

Smithfield’s Early Post Offices

By Jim Ignasher     

    Click on images to enlarge. 

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

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

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

Greenville Post Office – 1960s-70s

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

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

Georgiaville Post Office
Homestead Ave.
Date unknown.

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

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

Esmond Post Office Sign
Esmond Street
Date unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

Esmond Post Office
Waterman Ave.
Date unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Union Village, R. I.

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

———-

     UNION VILLAGE, SMITHFIELD

“Ancient Land Marks”

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

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

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

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

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

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

———-

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

 

 

A Post Office In A Bar Room – 1845

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

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

Click on image to enlarge. 

The Great Escape of 1916

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, February, 2019

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

By Jim Ignasher    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Scituate National Bank Robbery Of 1868

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, January, 2018

The Scituate National Bank Robbery of 1868

By Jim Ignasher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Devine Faith

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, February, 2020

Devine Faith 

 By Jim Ignasher

 

Don Turbitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Lease On Life For The Former Smithfield Exchange Bank

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, May, 2020

A New lease On Life For

The Former Smithfield Exchange Bank  

Bu Jim Ignasher

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Water Witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East side of bank looking out towards Rt. 44.

Photo taken 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

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