Elephants And Other Curiosities

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, August, 2018

Click on images to enlarge.

Elephants and Other Curiosities

By Jim Ignasher

     Question: How much does and elephant weigh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 years Ago – June, 1968

50 Years Ago – June, 1968

By Jim Ignasher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales Of Georgiaville Pond

A Disaster Averted, And Other Tales Of Georgiaville Pond

By Jim Ignasher

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine – May, 2018

      Some may recall that about four years ago the water level in Georgiaville Pond was significantly reduced to allow for work on the flood gate of the Georgiaville Dam. During that time the remains of a mysterious wooden wall were revealed. It began a short distance off the beach and ran in a straight line to one of the tiny islands located about two-hundred feet to the north. Questions arose, but nobody knew its origin or purpose, and after the gate was repaired, the water level returned to normal, and the wall was soon forgotten.

     However, recent evidence has come to light that suggests the curious wooden wall dates to the 1890s, and once played a role in saving Georgiaville, Esmond, and other municipalities further down the Woonasquatucket River from possible catastrophe.

     For those unaware, Georgiaville Pond is a man-made reservoir on the Woonsasquatucket River that was created in the early 1850s to supply waterpower to the Bernon Mill during the summer months to keep it operating at peak capacity. The upper portion of the pond begins behind the historic Smith-Appleby House on Stillwater Road, and as a point of fact, prior to the reservoir being built, Stillwater Road once ran behind the Smith-Appleby House, but was relocated to its present location to accommodate the anticipated rise in water level.

     Dam failures were a common concern in the 19th century, and by the 1870s those living below the Georgiaville Dam began to worry about a possible failure, even though there was no indication that one was likely. Yet some might argue that the worry was valid, for at that time the water level in the reservoir was much higher than it is today, with literally billions of tons of water pressing against the dam. Should a failure occur, the massive onslaught of rushing water would overwhelm other dams located downstream causing a succession of further failures all the way to Providence. If that occurred, the loss of life and property would be enormous.  

     The obvious solution was to reduce the water level of the reservoir, which some weren’t prepared to do, so Providence officials saw to it that whenever heavy rains fell, horse-mounted riders would be stationed at the dam ready to spread the alarm if a failure seemed imminent. However this was a reactive, not pro-active solution.

     By 1882, the state was petitioned to order the water level to be permanently lowered by nine feet, but it’s unclear what action was taken. Then, in May of 1889, the infamous Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood occurred, killing over 2,000 people and causing millions in property damage. Barely three months later, a small dam failed in the Fiskeville section of Cranston killing three people. Some newspapers compared it to the Johnstown Flood, one calling it “Johnstown on a small scale”.

     In light of these events, Smithfield was ordered by the state Supreme Court to reduce the height of the Georgiaville Dam by several feet, which would force a permanent reduction in water volume contained in the reservoir.

     In 1894 de-construction on the dam was begun, and photographs of this massive project, on glass negatives, have recently been donated to the Historical Society of Smithfield by Roger Beaudry.

     Thus the remains of the wooden wall are what are left of a temporary dam built to divert water while the reduction of the Georgiaville Dam took place.

     Georgiaville Beach is located on the southern shore of the reservoir, and the parking lot happens to be where the first Georgiaville Baptist Church was constructed in 1857. It’s been said that baptisms were conducted in the water just off the beach. With the completion of the present church on Farnum Pike in 1906, the old church fell into disuse and was eventually raised.

     During the winter months blocks of ice from the pond would be cut and stored in two massive ice houses that once stood along the western shore next to the former Providence & Springfield Railroad tracks. On April 20, 1919, fire tore through the buildings, and when it was over, the buildings were gone, but the stacks of ice blocks remained.    

     Ice harvesting was dangerous, and one of the earliest recorded drownings at the reservoir happened in December of 1858, when a 32-year-old man fell through thin ice.

     And there have been numerous other drownings ever since. One case in particular involved a sad twist of irony. On August 30, 1872, 16-year-old Frederick Kendricks was one of the few to survive the sinking of the steamship S.S. Metis off Watch Hill, R.I. One year later, Frederick drowned within a few feet from shore while swimming in Georgiaville Pond.

   The exact number of drownings to have occurred in Georgiaville Pond is unknown, but many have been connected to a large island which seems to beckon beachgoers to try to swim to it. As far as I know, the island has no name, but perhaps it should.

     A strange incident occurred at Georgiaville Beach one afternoon in 1981 when a man drove up to the gate, and gesturing behind him, told the parking attendant that he was going to put his boat in the water. Yet strangely, he wasn’t towing a boat. He then proceeded into the parking lot, and after lining up with the boat ramp, gunned the engine and drove full-speed into the water! Momentum carried the car about twenty feet from shore before it sank. Stunned onlookers stood by as he climbed out the driver’s side window, swam to shore, and calmly walked away.

     Smithfield police were called and arranged for the car to be removed from the water. Meanwhile it was learned that the incident stemmed from a domestic squabble, and the car belonged to the man’s wife. Once it was pulled ashore via a tow truck cable, officers checked to make sure it was empty. It was.




50 Years Ago – May, 1968

50 Years Ago – May, 1968

By Jim Ignasher

    On May 30, the Panzarella-Silvia Memorial was dedicated at the intersection of Whipple Road and Douglas Pike.

     Army Lieutenant James F. Panzarella was the commanding officer of Company A, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Army Staff Sergeant Clifford William Silvia was attached to the 25th Medical Battalion of the 25th Infantry Regiment. Both men were from Smithfield, and both were killed within a few weeks of each other while serving in Vietnam.

     The dedication ceremony began with a parade which left the Town Hall at 8:45 a.m. The procession included family members of the servicemen, civic leaders, members of the Town Council, buglers and drummers, police and fire vehicles, as well as numerous townspeople showing their support.    

     David A. Brann of Greenville was serving aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Boxer.

     Lieutenant Steven F. Wyman of Esmond was cited for his outstanding performance during his flight training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

   U.S. Army SP4 Paul Trask was serving with the 124th Transportation Battalion.

   U.S. Air Force Sergeant Angus E. Bryant of Spragueville returned home from duty in Germany where he’d been stationed for three years.

     Ralph Iannitelli of Greenville was presented with the American Legion Reserve Officers training Corps Gold Medal for Military Excellence at the 16th Annual Air Force ROTC Presidents Review held at Denison University.

     The Apple Blossom Club of Smithfield received the Carolyn B. Heffenreffer Silver Bowl Award, and the National Council Blue Rosette for Achievement Award in Home and Garden, for their work relating to civic beautification within the town of Smithfield. Among their recognized projects was the planting of nine pink-flowering Hawthorne trees in Greenville center.  

     Those present to receive the awards were Mrs. Harry Judson, Mrs. Joseph Casale, Jr., Mrs. Elwood Kelley, Mrs. Richard Illingsowrth, Mrs. Prescott Williams, Mrs. Adrien Leboissonniere, Mrs. Raymond Shirley. Mrs. Roland Smith, and Mrs. Lionel Jarvis.

   On May 10 the Smithfield High School band gave a spring concert in the school auditorium.

     Leon Carney of Greenville was elected President of the Smithfield Jaycees.

     Boy Scout Troop 3 of Greenville held a Mother’s Day breakfast on May 12. Eagle Scout William LeBlanc was the main speaker. Michael Kiely and Richard Gill were voted to attend the Order of the Red Arrow, an honor for which they were selected by the rest of the troop.

     Old Stone Bank was offering a Capitol Savings Account that would yield 5% interest per year.

     Miss Linda E. Aitken of Greenville won the Miss University of Rhode Island beauty contest and the right to compete in the Miss Rhode Island pageant on June 22.   

     The 8th Annual Apple Blossom festival was held May 19th at the Smithfield High School. Entertainment included music, dancing, and a contest in which young women competed for the title of Miss Apple Blossom Queen of Rhode Island for 1968.

    Perhaps there are some who remember a building that once stood on Route 44 in Harmony known as the “Cutler Stand”, a.k.a, “The Philip’s Place”, and “The Old Tavern”. The building, which dated to circa 1800, was slated for demolition in May of 1968, but certain architectural features such as doors, windows, and fire places were to be salvaged.   

     On May 22 the United States nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Scorpion, was lost with all hands about 400 miles west of Azores. Theories as to what happened range from a catastrophic internal malfunction to a torpedo strike. Today the remains of the vessel lie in 9,800 feet of water.


The Smithfield Meeting House Lottery of 1807

Originally Published in Your Smithfield Magazine- July, 2014



By Jim Ignasher

Click on image to enlarge.

All images are from the archives of the Historical Society of Smithfield. See more images below.

     Question: How many lottery tickets survive more than 200 years?

     Answer: Not many.

     That’s why the discovery of an envelope containing dozens of old tickets and paperwork from a long ago Smithfield lottery is so significant, for not only have the documents survived, they are in remarkably good condition considering they date to 1807!

     The tickets were for a lottery held to raise funds for a “Meeting House”, which in the early nineteenth century generally meant a church, and not a town hall as one might imagine today. Such lotteries were common for that era, often used for building projects such as schools, bridges, and roads, and even houses of worship. All such lotteries had to be sanctioned by the state to be considered legal.

     Discovering such a find raises some interesting questions; where was the meeting house built, and is it still standing?  

   The tickets were printed on plain white paper (Now yellowed with age.) using a printing press. The printer had taken the extra time to include fancy scroll work on each ticket which no doubt added to the labor costs, but helped to deter counterfeiting.

     Each ticket reads:


THIS Ticket shall entitle the bearer to receive the Prize that may

be drawn against its number, agreeably to an act of the Legislature of

the State of Rhode Island, passed at October Session, 1807. Subject

to a deduction of 12 ½ per cent.”

Each was signed Anamias Mowry, Manager.

     Every ticket is hand numbered and was printed in a series of “classes” from one through six. Evidently quite a few tickets of each class were sold due to the numbers printed on them. For example, one second class ticket was numbered 1495, and one sixth class ticket was numbered 1729.

     In 1807, the Town of Smithfield included the present day towns of North Smithfield, Lincoln, the City of Central Falls, and a portion of Woonsocket south of the Blackstone River. When one considers the fact that at the time of the lottery, the entire town had a population of less than 4,000 people one can surmise that this was a big lottery for the day.

     Included with the tickets was a document titled; “A COPY OF THE ACT FOR THE MEETING HOUSE LOTTERY” which reads as follows:

     State of Rhode Island                                            In General Assembly

   And Providence Plantations                                   October Session AD 1807

      Upon the motion of John Slater and others, praying that they may be enabled to raise the sum of four thousand dollars, by lottery, to be appropriated to build a meeting house in the Town of Smithfield. It is voted and resolved, that the payor of said petition be granted and that Seth Mowry, Robert Harris, Enos Mowry, and Anamias Mowry, of us therein named be appointed managers of said lottery, who are hereby empowered to raise said sum of money in one or more classes, provided they shall first give Bonds to the general treasurer, in the sum of forty thousand dollars conditioned for the faithful discharge of the trust hereby reposed in them –

 A true copy

Witness Samuel Eddy Secry.    

     There was also a piece of paper with accounting costs of managing the lottery submitted by Anamias Mowry.   It reads;

     “The account of Anamias Mowry Jr., one of the managers of the Smithfield Meeting House Lottery. The accountant charges himself with the following number of tickets – viz.”

     In the first class 333 tickets at 2 dollars each.           666

     In the second class500 tickets at 3 dollars each     1500

     In the third class 500 tickets at 3 dollars each         1500

     In the forth class 800 tickets at 3 dollars each        2400

     In the fifth class 700 tickets at 3 dollars each         2100


                                                                                     $ 8166

     The envelope did not contain any tickets from the fourth class, yet there were tickets from all of the other classes including a sixth class which was not mentioned in the itemized list. On the opposite side of the same piece of paper was an itemized list of expenses incurred by Mr. Mowry in the performance of his duties as manager of the lottery.

     “The accountant prays allowance of the following charges and payments – viz”

      1807 Nov. 13 to my going to Providence to give bank cash

     to the treasurer and other expenses                                                             $ 2.00

     Dec. 3 to my going to Providence to send a copy of the Act

     authorizing the lottery to the general treasurer                                            $2.00

     To cash paid for copying and postage                                                             .50

     To tickets unsold in the first class fifty one at two dollars each             $102.00

     To cash paid for prize tickets in the first class                                         $565.50

     To tickets in the hands of Seth Mowry that were in

     a policy of his and mine.                                                                         $58.00

     To cash paid for prizes in the second class                                             $1850.63

     Add to this sum                                                                                           $3.50

     To cash paid for tickets in the third class                                              $1366.75

       Add to this sum recd. of Arnold Mowry                                               $10.50

       Add to this sum                                                                                    $24.50






     One interesting thing about this document is that the math is wrong. When the figures are added up it should come out to $3985.88 and not $3927.88, a difference of $58. This was most likely an oversight, but the actual final total should have been $8017.83.   Where the additional $4031 came from is not indicated.

    So, what was the Smithfield Meeting House and where was it located?

     A book by Thomas Steere titled, “History of the Town of Smithfield from its Organization in 1730-1, to its Division in 1871”, published in 1881, makes a small notation about the 1807 lottery on page 62 that reads;

     “1807. October. John Slater having petitioned therefore, Seth Mowry, Robert Harris, Enos Mowry, and Anamias Mowry were empowered to raise four thousand dollars by lottery, to be appropriated to building a meeting house in the town of Smithfield.”

     John Slater was born in England in 1776, and came to America in 1803. In 1807 he built a mill along the Branch River in what is today known as the village of Slatersville in the town of North Smithfield. That same year he obtained permission to hold the Smithfield Meeting House Lottery to erect the first church or “meeting house” in the village.

     Houses of worship were important to village development in early America, for they represented civilization, propriety, and community stability. As a point of fact, the old Smithfield Meeting House has survived, and according to the Town of North Smithfield website, it still stands at 55-57 Green Street, however it was originally located a little farther down the road where the Congregational Church stands today. After serving as a meeting house, it became a school, and is today a private residence.            

     Lotteries such as the one to build the Smithfield Meeting House are no longer used to for building projects, but one has to marvel at the fact both Meeting House and the lottery tickets sold to build it are still in existence. Will anyone today think to save useless lottery tickets? And how many modern public buildings can we expect to still be standing in two hundred years?  

All images are from the archives of the Historical Society of Smithfield.

Click on images to enlarge.

Image used in book, Remembering Smithfield, Sketches of Apple Valley, by Jim Ignasher – 2009

A rare example of three connected tickets.

Obverse side of ticket #1154

Reverse side of ticket 1154.





The Stillwater Country Club

The Stillwater Country Club

(Click on images to enlarge.)


A scorecard from the
Stillwater Country Club.
Donated by Charles Letocha, 2018.

     Golf enthusiasts might be interested to know that Smithfield once had a golf course where Interstate 295 and Stillwater Road intersect.  Furthermore, the golf course was maintained and operated, not by a staff of greens-keepers, but solely by its owner, Maria C. Appleby, (born, 1888 – died, 1959).       

     Maria came to Smithfield in 1905 with her father and two aunts to live in the Smith-Appleby House, which is today the Smith-Appleby House Museum located at 220 Stillwater road.           

     Today the property surrounding the Smith-Appleby House consists of several acres, but in 1905 the property was much larger.  The area where Route 295 passes today was still part of the Appleby farm, used primarily for grazing livestock.  At some point in the early 1920s Maria decided to turn that portion of the property into a six-hole golf course, and thus established the Stillwater Country Club. 

     Maria was a hardy and industrious woman, and she did most of the work of building and maintaining the golf course by herself. 

     The fairways required lots of watering, which was done through a piping system using water drawn from the nearby Woonasquatucket River. 

     Grass mowing was originally accomplished by attaching a mowing machine to a horse, but later an old automobile was utilized.

     The tee-off areas also needed constant attention.

     The country club had a clubhouse, which consisted of a barn on Stillwater Road across from the Smith-Appleby House.  The barn reportedly burned down in the 1950s.     

Stillwater Country Club
Scorecard, Reverse Side

     During the winter months Maria took college courses in business and agriculture to gain more knowledge in running a golf course.

     The Stillwater Country Club was a success, with a membership list that included 75 dues-paying members.      

     At some point the golf course was expanded from six to nine holes.  One version puts the year of expansion at 1933, but others tell how the expansion didn’t come until after Maria sold the property in 1959. 

     The property of was sold in early 1959 to a couple from Attleboro, Massachusetts, for the sum of $40,000.  Maria passed away at her home just a few months later on November 3, 1959, and is buried in the family cemetery on the Smith-Appleby House property.    


50 Years Ago – April, 1968

50 Years Ago – April, 1968


     Long before the advent of cable companies, satellite dishes, and hi-definition smart TVs, people adjusted the “rabbit ear” antennas on the top of their television sets to obtain the clearest picture. However, to get the highest quality reception one usually had to install a large aluminum roof antenna – something that has virtually disappeared from the American landscape, yet there are still a few to be found.

     If you can remember roof antennas, then you can likely recall that there were once stores that sold nothing but TVs and stereos. The proprietors stood behind their products, and even made “house calls” to repair them when a vacuum tube failed. (A vacuum what?)

     In April of 1968, one local TV dealer advertised that he would install a roof antenna on any cape or ranch style house for the low price of $89.88. This was $30 less than his normal price of $119.95.

     USMC Corporal Paul Battey of Greenville was home on leave after serving twelve months at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

     Stephen G. Lariviere, USN, of Georgaiville was home on leave after serving eight months in Iceland.

     Carl Peterson of Greenville, was home on leave before reporting for duty in Vietnam.

   On April 6, the Apple Valley Barbershop Chorus performed at the Smithfield High School.  

     At the weekly meeting of the Smithfield Civil Air Patrol Squadron, six cadets were singled out for recognition.

     Master Sergeant Gail Young was named Miss R.I. Civil Air Patrol of 1968, and received a trophy.

     Captain Paula Blackmore was selected to attend an Aerospace Orientation course at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

     Captain Rosalie Varin and 1st Lieutenant Lynette Blackmore were selected for Cadet Leadership School at Stead Air Force Base in Nevada.  

     Staff Sergeant Richard Larkin was selected to attend Advanced Jet Familiarization School, and Technical Sergeant Linda Fornaro was chosen to represent Rhode Island in the Girls Regional Exchange Program.

     Charles Greska was appointed the new Squadron Commander, thus succeeding Captain Edward Laurendeau, founder of the Smithfield Squadron, who was promoted to oversee regional communications.

     The C.A.P. squadron met every Friday night at the Esmond Recreational Hall on Esmond St.  

     On April 13, a town-wide litter cleanup was held. Volunteers met at the Town Hall in Georgiaville, and in the parking lot of the First National supermarket in Greenville. (Where Ace Hardware stands today.) The event was sponsored by the Smithfield Conservation Commission. Volunteers included local residents, members of Georgiaville and Greenville scout troops, and town officials.

     On April 19, Georgiaville Boy Scout Troop 1 held a family night dinner at the St. Michaels Church parish hall. The troop gave a first-aid demonstration and showed home movies of previous camp-outs. Several scouts received promotions. Bradley Boisvert was elevated to 1st class scout; David Loxson, Timothy Whitecross, George Courtot, and Donald Courtot were elevated to star scout; and Thomas Schwartz, Gregory Shepard, and Darly James were elevated to life scout.      

     April 20 marked opening day for fishing season. In the weeks leading up to that date, the R. I. Department of Natural Resources had stocked rivers and ponds with 46,000 trout.  

     If one was considering a swimming pool for the upcoming summer, one local retailer was offering a 16 by 32 foot in-ground pool, including filter, diving board, and one underwater light, for $2,195, if the order was placed before May 15.    

     At their April 22 meeting held at the Club 44 on Putnam Pike, the Smithfield Lions Club elected new officers. Robert Coyne: President. James Murphy: First Vice President. Stanley Lange: Second V.P. Gilbert Butterfield: Third V.P. Alfred Roy: Treasurer. Kenneth Jessop: Secretary. Alton Harris: Lion Tamer. Dr. John Pascone: Tail Twister.

     One local car dealership was offering a new 1968 Javelin, which was a sporty muscle car produced by American Motors Corp. designed to compete with the Ford Mustang.

     Other cars offered included a “fully-loaded” 1967 Ford Thunderbird for $3,475; a 1967 Mercury Cougar for $2,490; and a 1967 Pontiac Firebird for $2,795. By a show of hands, how many car enthusiasts would love to own one of these today?

     On April 25 it was announced that the tennis courts at the high school were once again open after being vandalized yet again. The culprits were still at large, and would likely be in their mid-60s today.

Smithfield’s Woonasquatucket Railroad

     Originally published in the Smithfield Times, April, 2018

Smithfield’s Woonasquatucket Railroad

By Jim Ignasher


A locomotive of the type that once ran through Smithfield in the late 1800s.

  In the February issue I wrote about Smithfield’s Air-Line R.R. This month’s article is about another rail line that has long since disappeared.      

     If someone today were to propose the construction of a railroad through Smithfield, they would likely face strong opposition. The town hall would be inundated with residents demanding the tracks be laid elsewhere, and not through their “back yard”. Yet one might be surprised to learn that there was a time when just the opposite was true, and the citizens of Smithfield eagerly awaited the construction of a new railroad.

     After the division of the town in 1871, Smithfield, as we know it today, was left without a railroad. However, there were those who hoped to remedy the situation by reviving the charter for the Woonasquatucket Railroad Company. The charter had originally been granted in 1857, with a plan to lay tracks that more or less followed the Woonasquatucket River from Providence to Massachusetts. Unfortunately, financial setbacks, followed by the onset of the American Civil War delayed the project for nearly fifteen years.

     In 1871 the idea was revisited and planning of the route was begun. Although everyone agreed that a rail line would be good for the town, there was much debate as to exactly where the rails should be laid, for every mill owner and farmer wanted the trains to pass as close as to their property as possible. It was finally announced that the proposed route would run through the villages of Esmond, Georgiaville, and Stillwater, and then continue on into North Smithfield, and Burrillville, which was good news to some, but not for Greenville.  

     On November 20, 1871, a meeting was held at Tobey’s Store in Greenville to discuss the possibility of constructing a branch line that would run from Stillwater to Greenville. If it proved successful, the branch line would later be extended to North Scituate and Chepachet. The meeting was well attended, and efforts to have the branch-line constructed continued for several years, but history has shown that it was never built.

     By the spring of 1872 construction on the main line was begun, but sometime between March and June the name of the railroad was changed to the Providence and Springfield Railroad. The project moved quickly, and on August 11, 1873, the line was open for business.

     Smithfield had four railroad stations: the Esmond Station located behind the Esmond Mills; the Georgiaville Station, located on Station Street; the Stillwater Station, located on Capron Road; and the Smithfield Station, located on Brayton Road just to the east from Farnum Pike. The stations became social centers where people could catch up on the latest news, mail a letter, or ride to Providence in less time then it took to ride a horse from one side of Smithfield to the other.  

     By 1878, the Providence & Springfield R.R. was running three locomotives, three passenger cars, and seventy-seven freight cars along the Smithfield route.

     During the 1890s the rail line changed hands three times; to the New York & New England Railroad in 1890, to The New England Railroad in 1895, to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1898.

     The railroad had a great economic influence on the town as it allowed business owners and farmers to transport more goods to other markets than ever before, and at a lower price. It even played a part in World War I by transporting Esmond Mill army blankets destined for troops overseas.

     Unfortunately, just as rail lines eclipsed the horse-drawn stage coaches, improvements in roadways and automobile technology eventually eclipsed the “iron horses” of the rails. Passenger service along the Smithfield route was discontinued in 1931, and in 1962 the tracks that ran from Olneyville to Pascoag were abandoned and eventually removed. The only surviving rails known to exist were found under the asphalt of Esmond Street during road construction several years ago. Today they can be viewed at the Smith-Appleby House Museum next to the restored Smithfield Station.    

     As with all rail lines of the time, the Smithfield portion experienced its share of accidents. At a town meeting held on January 29, 1876, local citizens cited several instances of narrow escapes at rail crossings in town, and urged the Town Council to force the railroad to use flagmen. The council, however, didn’t have the legal authority to do so.

     The first known accident to occur along the Smithfield portion happened on Christmas Eve in 1878 when a wagon was struck broadside by a speeding train at the Brayton Road crossing. The driver survived, but his horse did not.

     According to town records, the first railroad fatality in town occurred in 1888 when a man was struck by a passing train. The exact location isn’t given.

     One of the more notable accidents involved a head-on collision between two trains on June 12, 1894 in the area of what is today the Stillwater Scenic Walking Trail. Ten people were seriously injured. The crash was blamed on human error.

     The Brayton Crossing was reputed to be one of the most dangerous for it was frequently traveled by those heading to or from Woonsocket. On April 15, 1925, it was the scene of what might be the worst accident to occur on the rail line. At about 7 p.m., a car carrying seven adults was struck by a southbound train. One man and three women were killed, and the others were severely injured.    

     Three years later on November 30, 1928, yet another accident occurred at the Brayton Crossing in which a husband and wife were injured when a train collided with their car.

     Other accidents are documented, but space does not permit their inclusion here.

     Until recently, it was thought that Smithfield’s only surviving train station was the Smithfield Station presently located at the Smith-Appleby House. However, recent information has come to light that Esmond may have had two railroad stations; a smaller one that was replaced by a larger one. The smaller one is indicated on early maps, and may possibly have been sold to a private party and relocated to Farnum Pike in Georgiaville. Research to confirm this continues.      






Police Tales Of Yesteryear


By Jim Ignasher    

     The evening of October 2, 1933, was one of those glorious autumn nights where the weather was clear and cool, and the stars twinkled brightly; perfect for romance. So it was that a young man and his favorite girl parked along wooded Ridge Road near the North Providence line. As the couple sat in the car anticipating what might come next, a man with a pistol emerged from the woods.

     “Stick ‘em up and hand over your dough!” he demanded, as if he were in some B-rated gangster movie.

     The couple was in no position to argue, and the young man quickly handed over two dollars, stammering that it was all he had.

     Instead of being angry, or running off, the robber then proceeded to tell the couple his life story, leading up to how he had recently been released from prison. His time in jail, he insisted, had been a “bum rap”, and swore he was totally innocent of the crime he had been convicted of. He then explained that the only reason he was robbing them was to raise enough money to leave Rhode Island so he could “go straight.”

   Sepia tone images of those long ago days of the Great Depression seem to reflect a simpler, gentler time, when family values were strong, communities were close, and everyone pulled together. However, the 1930s were also the days of John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelley, and “Pretty-Boy” Floyd, hailed by some as modern day Robin Hoods, robbing banks and committing cold-blooded murder in flamboyant style. Although Rhode Island was spared such notoriety, Smithfield’s police officers still had crime and other problems to deal with. All of the stories contained in this article are true, culled from a collection of Depression Era newspaper clippings donated to the Historical Society of Smithfield by former town resident, Dorothy E. Reynolds.          

     On July 8, 1934, a West Warwick man was arrested in Georgiaville for “reveling”, but not before he put up a tenacious fight with officers. He appeared before the Ninth District Court in Gerogiaville where he pled guilty and was fined $100, which was a huge sum of money in those days.  

     The following month Officer Henry Passano was called to the Stillwater Country Club to investigate a report of a lost wrist watch. The complainant, a Woonsocket man, claimed he removed the watch while washing his hands and forgot it. When he returned later it was gone.

     On a warm August afternoon in 1937, Chief of Police Alfred La Croix was patrolling along Farnum Pike when he encountered two pretty teenage girls clad only in bathing suits walking home from Georgaiville Beach. After speaking with the girls, he drafted a proclamation banning the practice of strolling along public highways in such attire. The ban, which also applied to non-Smithfield residents, did not include sun suits or short pants.

     Apparently traveling peddlers had become a nuisance for that September Smithfield’s Town Council adopted a new ordinance requiring all peddlers operating in town to have a license. However, certain vendors, such as butchers, fish dealers, and farmers, were exempt.

     On October 4, 1937, a seventeen year- old youth accidentally shot himself in the leg while hunting in the woods off Capron Road. Severely wounded and unable to walk, he began shouting for help. Fortunately, his cries were heard by Maria Appleby and members of the Stillwater Country Club who went to his aid.

     Later that same month, Chief La Croix and School Superintendent Aaron F. Demorganville conferred about the possibility of using older students to establish a junior police squad for the purpose of crossing school children at intersections. The youthful “officers” would be equipped with a white traffic belt, a badge, and a hand-held stop sign.

   On October 21, 1937, Smithfield police held their first policeman’s ball with more than 300 people in attendance. Proceeds were used to buy uniforms and equipment for the department.

   The Ninth District Court docket for May 26, 1938 shows that a Greenville man was fined $20 for operating his motorcycle at an “estimated” speed of 58 mph on Farnum Pike. Two other men were fined $5 for operating motor vehicles without a license.

     An amusing tale concerning the courtroom wood stove happened on June 24, 1938, when the janitor, following orders, started a fire to remove dampness from the building. He apparently did his job a little too well for the resulting heat from the roaring fire, compiled with normal June temperatures, forced a temporary recess.      

    On the night of February 23, 1939, Walsh’s Roller Skating Rink in Georgiaville was destroyed by fire. Firefighters battled the blaze in strong icy winds while police dealt with hundreds of onlookers. Mr. Walsh vowed to rebuild.  

     A sad incident occurred in April of 1939, when a family of squatters living in a tar paper shack in the woods of Hanton City, sent for a doctor for their sick baby. Upon arrival, the doctor discovered the baby girl dead in her make-shift crib. It was determined the child suffered from severe malnutrition, and died of suffocation due to an overheated woodstove. Conditions in the dwelling were described as “deplorable”. When Smithfield police went to investigate they found the shack deserted. The family, which had two other children, ages 3 and 5, was said to be headed for California. The baby was given a proper burial in at town expense.

     A Pawtucket man was slightly injured on April 23, 1939, when his hastily repaired two-seater airplane crashed at Smithfield Airport, located where Bryant University stands today. The crash was blamed on a “bad welding job” and the mechanic responsible was promptly fired. The plane was owned by the Smithfield Airport Club, an organization consisting of young men interested in aviation.

     On March 21, 1940, Smithfield police and firefighters were called to the Lister Worsted Co. Mill in Stillwater after a bolt of lightning struck the 180-foot smoke stack and blasted the top half away. Tons of debris crashed down through the roof of the mill injuring three workers, damaging equipment, and igniting a small fire on the roof. Damage was estimated at $50,000.  

     It is said that lightning never strikes twice. However, the same chimney had also been hit by lightning in 1938, causing $8,000 in damage.

   One week later, Officer Charles Sullivan was injured when he was struck by a motorist while directing traffic outside Walsh’s Dance Hall on Farnum Pike in Georgiaville. The driver claimed he had not seen the policeman.

     More than just old newspaper accounts survive to give a glimpse of what the job was like for a Smithfield police officer during the Depression. In September, 2009, Smithfield’s deputy chief of police, Richard P. St. Sauveur, discovered an old iron key that once locked the cell of the Georgiaville bridewell. Before Smithfield had a police station, prisoners were lodged in one of two rented bridewells, a.k.a. jails, one on either side of town. The artifact is presently on display at the Smith-Appley House Museum.

     Yes, in many ways times were simpler then, but these stories illustrate that the job of a police officer has always been tough and challenging.

50 Years Ago – January, 1968

50 Years Ago – January, 1968

     Fifteen ladies from Smithfield were named as captains in the 1968 March of Dimes fundraising campaign. The March of Dimes is an organization dedicated to preventing birth defects. Those named were: Mrs. Albert A. Apshaga, Mrs. Francis R. Beaudry, Mrs. John K. Boyle, Mrs. George J. Chasse, Mrs. Charles V. Day, Mrs. John J. Dolan, Mrs. Bernard J. Ferro, Mrs. Norman W. Hawkins, Mrs. Henry N. McCutcheon, Mrs. Robert E. Reall, Mrs. Roland Robenhymer, Mrs. Robert O, Sparling, Mrs. Allen B. Schwartz, Mrs. William J. Walker, Mrs. Frank N. Zangari.

     On January 7, the price of mailing a letter went from five cents to six cents.

     Some of the newest citizen-volunteer government groups in town included the Township Preservation and Development Council, dedicated to improving the appearance of Smithfield and preserving its heritage.

     A group calling themselves The Citizens for the Preservation of Smithfield was formed to fight a zoning change which would allow an apartment complex to be constructed on Rt. 44 near Maplecrest Drive.  

     The Smithfield Tax League consisted of citizens concerned about the town’s rapid growth rate, and future need for more services which would equate to higher taxes.

     On January 12, the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., (AT&T), announced plans to begin instituting what we’ve come to know as the 9-1-1 emergency call system. It was estimated that the cost would be 50 million dollars, and the installation of routing equipment around the country would take several years.

     On January 13, a thick column of black smoke visible for miles was seen rising from the Sparling Mills on Austin Ave. The Greenville Fire Department responded and discovered the cause to be the intentional burning of spools and other debris.

     Army Staff Sergeant Clifford W. Silvia died in Vietnam on July 17, 1967 from combat wounds received a few days earlier. In January of 1968 he was awarded the following medals posthumously: the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Honorable Service Award. The medals were presented to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Silvia, at a special ceremony.

    Airman 1/C Terrance M. McCaffrey of Greenville participated in an emergency airlift operation to drop bales of hay to sheep and cows stranded in heavy snow on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona. His Air Force unit flew 161 sorties and dropped 858 tons of hay.

     Marine Corps Corporal Hawkins W. Hibbs Jr. of Greenville reported for duty at the Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 252 at Cherry Point, N. C.

     Walter G. Bouchard, U.S. Navy, was promoted to Chief Petty Officer. He was serving aboard the U.S.S. White Plains, AFS-4.    

     Boy Scout Troop 1 of Esmond, under the leadership of Scout Master Roland Robenhymer, participated in “Operation Freeze Out”, and spent a weekend camping at Camp Yawgoog.

     Participating scouts included: Mark Kocon, Paul St. Jean, John Bateman, Alan and Kenneth Lemieux, Joe Robenhymer, Brian Millard, and Paul Lambarde.

     The Mothers of Twins Club held a meeting on January 18.    

     A “Snowflake Dance”, sponsored by the Smithfield Recreation Department, was held on the 19th at Anna McCabe School.

     Speaking of schools, how many remember the “Bombardier”? It was a mini tractor-bulldozer that the town used to clear sidewalks of snow within a one-mile radius of the schools so kids didn’t have to walk in the streets.  

     A contest was held by the Greenville Library to see which student(s) could read the most books between October 1st and December 30th.   The winners were announced in January. First place went to Priscilla Albrechit, who read 156 books. Other winners included: Linda Sachuk, 102 books; Lori Pagnozzi, 101; Paula Mackinlay, 90; and Mark Adams, 69.  

     Specifications for a new post office building in Greenville were approved. The new building would be twice as large as the old one, but a site had yet to be chosen.

     In January of 1968 a proposal was put forth to build a large ski resort in the Buck Hill Management Area of Burrillville. Smithfield Senator F. Monroe Allen announced he was in favor of the plan, for even though it wouldn’t be in Smithfield, it would certainly benefit local residents who enjoyed winter activities. Unfortunately, the resort was never built.



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