The Woodstock Generation Reaches A Milestone

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, August, 2019 

The Woodstock Generation Reaches a Milestone

By Jim Ignasher

     Robert Leach of Greenville recalls exactly where he was between August 15th and 18th, in 1969. He was standing on a stage photographing music legends Jimmie Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, and dozens of other iconic musicians of the 1960s. Like thousands of others of his generation, he attended the famous Woodstock Music Festival, but his experience was different than most, for he had special credentials that gave him full access to the performers – credentials that he made himself!

     This month marks the 50th anniversary of “Woodstock”, an event held in upstate New York that was billed as “Three days of peace and music”. Perhaps this means little to those under 50, but Woodstock was an event that helped define the 1960s decade and its youthful counter-culture generation. The ’60s were a tumultuous time in our nation’s history marked by political assassinations, race riots, and the Vietnam War. In many ways the concert was a peaceful protest of what was taking place in our country.         

     In August of ‘69 Robert was a 20-year-old college student working as a photographer for “Extra Magazine”, a periodical that offered news and political commentary to certain Rhode Island colleges. It was as a press photographer that he was sent to cover Woodstock.

     Robert had covered large concert events in the past. “I knew what I was getting into,” he explained in a recent interview, “and I’d learned from my past mistakes. You don’t just show up with nothing.” The supplies he brought included tents, food, water, toilet paper, and other necessities which would prove invaluable over the next three days.

     He went on to relate how he and two friends, Charles “Chuck” Sweet, and Edward ‘Eddie” Alarie, arrived more than 24-hours before the concert was to begin. Even then area roads were jammed with traffic. As cars crawled along, Robert sat on the roof of Sweet’s 1963 Ford and was taking photos when Sweet suddenly stopped short and he tumbled onto the hood.     

After setting up camp, Robert went to check-in and receive his press credentials, but as he put it, “The place was totally disorganized.” Since nobody seemed to know what was going on, Robert, returned to his tent and “created” his own press-pass, complete with Woodstock logo. He then pinned it to his vest, donned his camera equipment, and went about his business. Nobody ever noticed his pass was homemade.

     The pass gave him complete access to the stage where all the acts were to perform, and although he didn’t know it at the time, it also afforded a front row view to a concert that would go down in history, and one still talked about half-a-century later.  

     “The stage had enormous speakers,” Robert stated, “but I’d brought chewing gum.” He explained how gum-wrappers, or the gum itself, could serve as improvised ear protection. People generally didn’t wear hearing protection in the 1960s, and Robert credits his technique for not needing hearing aids today.

     With 32 acts scheduled 24/7 over a period of three days, Robert realized he’d have to choose which ones he wanted to photograph, while he got whatever food and rest he could in-between.

     Some moments stand out in his memory, for instance, when Joe Cocker sang “I Get High With A Little Help From My Friends”, the entire audience sang along.

     There was also audience participation with Country Joe’s “Fixin’ To Die Rag”, a protest song about the Vietnam War. The song hit close to home, for Robert’s brother John was serving in Vietnam with the U. S. Air Force, and his long-time friend, Marine Second Lieutenant William “Gary” Schanck, Jr., had been killed in Vietnam only two months earlier.

     There was Carlos Santana’s guitar solo which he described as “Brilliant – people were mesmerized!” And Janis Joplin’s performance of “Little Piece Of My Heart” as “Very impactful”.

   He was a big fan of Crosby-Stills-Nash and Young, and was there when they took the stage at 3:00 a.m.

     “We looked to these groups to explain what was going on in society.” Robert added, “They were the poets of the day.”

     He also recalled a famous incident when Abbie Hoffman unexpectedly came on stage and took the microphone while Pete Townshend of The Who was performing, and began to make a political statement. Townshend quickly regained control of the situation and Hoffman was sent on his way.

     It was initially thought that 50,000 people would attend Woodstock, but nearly ten times that many showed up. (Sources vary on the numbers.) The wave of humanity overwhelmed food, medical, and sanitation resources, and when the rains came the fields became a muddy quagmire. There were drug overdoses, injuries, and two deaths, and one had to be wary of anything they consumed, but Robert also witnessed the good side of people helping each other out.

     Rock legend Jimmie Hendrix began his performance at 8:00 a.m. on the last day of the festival, and Robert had the opportunity to talk with him for a few minutes before he began. Fifty years later it occurs to him that he could have had his picture taken with Hendrix, but “selfies” weren’t done in 1969.  

     “By the time he took the stage most of the people had gone home.” He recalled. “There were probably between 60 to 80,000 people, which is still enough to fill a stadium, but the vast majority had left.”   Therefore, most never witnessed Hendrix’s famous electric guitar solo of The Star Spangled Banner.

     When Woodstock ended Robert and his friends took their time leaving, partly to avoid traffic, partly to take one last look at something that would likely never happen again.

     In 2017 the farm where the Woodstock festival took place became a designated historic site, and there’s also a museum dedicated to preserving Woodstock’s history.    

   Today the Woodstock Generation is in their 70s, with graying hair and grand-kids who read about the 1960s in their school history books. However the books can’t convey the “feeling” of Woodstock, the youthful enthusiasm, and of course, the thrill of being there. For those who lived it, Woodstock was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.    







Early Banks Of Smithfield

     Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, September, 2019.

Early Banks Of Smithfield

By Jim Ignasher

     An historical treasure has recently surfaced in the form of a five dollar banknote from the former Smithfield Exchange Bank in Greenville. The note, dated July 4, 1859, depicts illustrations of Zachary Taylor, our nation’s 12th president, and Katherine “Bonnie Kate” Sevier, wife of Revolutionary War hero John Sevier, who later became Governor of Tennessee. It’s unclear as to why their images were chosen to be depicted on a Greenville, Rhode Island, banknote as neither was from New England, and at the time the bill was printed, Taylor wasn’t the sitting president.

     Legend has it that John Sevier saved Katherine’s life when she was accidentally locked outside Tennessee’s Fort Watauga during a surprise Indian raid in the summer of 1776, and later married her.

   The banknote harkens back to an era between the late1700s to the early 1860s when individual banks actually issued their own currency. 

     The history of paper money in America is long and varied, but to put it briefly, except for certain Treasury notes, general circulation paper money as we know it today wasn’t officially issued by the U. S. Government until 1861. Prior to then individual banks were authorized to issue their own currency in order to keep local economies running.

     Most banknotes were issued in one, two, three, five, ten, and one-hundred dollar denominations, but some were issued as fractional currency, either less than a dollar, or somewhere between one and two dollars.

     There were however drawbacks to this system, for there were no standardization requirements, and each bank designed and distributed its own style of currency which often caused problems with merchants and creditors especially from one state to another. Sometimes monetary designs were changed without notice, and as the number of banks grew so did the variations of notes in circulation, thus making it fairly easy for counterfeiters and con-men to ply their trade.

    Ironically, some banks went out of business because they issued too many banknotes, and their face value exceeded the amount that the bank could actually cover in the event all of them were to be cashed in at the same time.  

     The type of paper used to print the banknotes was often similar to writing paper, which is one reason so few examples have survived to modern times. Another reason is that at some point after the Civil War, like Confederate money issued by the Confederacy, the notes became worthless, so few bothered to save them.    

     The first bank in Rhode Island was The Providence Bank, established in 1791.  

A 1930s postcard view of the former Smithfield Union Bank

       The first bank in Smithfield was the Smithfield Union Bank, so named because it was originally located in Smithfield’s “Union Village”, which prior to 1871 was still part of Smithfield, but is today Woonsocket. The bank was chartered in 1804 and opened for business the following year. In the basement was large a granite vault with iron doors and two locks which required keys twelve inches long to open.

     The bank later relocated to Slatersville in present-day North Smithfield, and the building it occupied survives today as a private home.      

     Besides being the first bank established in Smithfield, it may also have been the first to be robbed. On October 27, 1838, the lone cashier on duty locked the door and left the bank to conduct some business. While he was away, someone entered a vacant apartment above the bank, and after cutting a hole through the floor, casually made off with $3,400 which had been left in the cash-drawer. The culprit was arrested two weeks later in Boston, and was discovered to be the same man who’d been imprisoned for attempting to rob the Weybosset Bank in Providence.

     Ironically, he’d been released just five months earlier with the stipulation that he leave the state and never come back!    

     Literally dozens of banks came and went in Rhode Island during the first several decades of the 19th century, the names of which have long been forgotten. Some in proximity to Smithfield included The Farmers Bank of Glocester, established in 1804; The Burrillville Agricultural Bank, 1815; The New England Pacific Bank of Smithfield/North Providence, 1818, The Rhode Island Agricultural Bank of Johnston, 1823; the Globe Bank of Providence, (1831), originally located in Globe Village, which was once part of Smithfield, but is now part of Woonsocket; and The Scituate Bank in North Scituate, 1836; to cite but a few examples.  

    Another early Smithfield bank was The Smithfield Lime Rock Bank, founded in 1823, located on Great Road in the present-day town of Lincoln. The bank moved to Providence in 1847, and went out of business in 1894. The original bank building on Great Road exists today as a private home.

     Various banknotes from this institution featured images of George Washington, Native Americans, and eagles, as well as farming, nautical, and transportation themes,  

   Getting back to the Smithfield Exchange Bank, which was established in June of 1822; the bank’s original location was in the back ell of the former Waterman Tavern in Greenville. Most of the original tavern is gone, but the back ell remains, along with the original vault in which the money was stored. In the 1850s the brick building next to the remaining ell was constructed and became the new home for the bank. It was in this building that the five dollar bank note pictured with this article was first put into circulation in 1859.

     In 1865 The Smithfield Exchange Bank became the National Exchange Bank of Greenville, with a capitol of $150.000 – a humble amount of money by today’s standards.

    In 1928 the bank became known as The Greenville Trust Company, and in 1954 it was acquired by Citizens Savings Bank, which is located in Greenville today.  

   19th century banknotes are highly sought after by collectors, and prices can range from affordable to “Holy cow!” depending on condition and rarity.

     The banknote pictured with this article was donated to the Historical Society of Smithfield in memory of Edwin and Doris Osler of Burrillville. Should you wish to view a high resolution image of the note, please visit the historical society website at         




50 Years Ago – September, 1969

50 Years Ago – September, 1969

     Airman Walter J. Abbott of Smithfield completed basic training with the U. S. Air Force.

     PFC Wilfred R. Beaudoin of Esmond was serving in Vietnam near Saigon. 

     On September 2, the first automatic bank teller machine, (ATM), went into service at a bank in Rockville Centre, New York.

     Miss Robin Lynn Marshall, age 11, was crowned Homecoming Queen for the Smithfield Raiders football team. Members of the Queen’s court included: Kathy Troy, Cathy Averill, Chris Dio, Judy Harrison, Leisa Halligan, Suzanne Payette, Kathy Nangle, Rochelle Gagnon, and Barbara Zuba.

     By the way, the Raiders won the homecoming game.

     Smithfield High School Senior Gail Wilbur won an essay contest in which she articulated why her school should receive a free video tape recorder. Her essay was one of thirty-two entered.

     Thanks to Miss Wilbur, the high school received a new SONY video tape recorder valued at $2,395. Keep in mind that this was 1969, when $2,400 could purchase a new car.  

     On September 13, the popular kids cartoon Scooby-Doo premiered on Saturday morning television. It was reportedly created in response to complaints that cartoons had become too violent.

     Other well-known television shows introduced later in the month included The Brady Bunch, and Love American Style.    

     If one went to the movies in September of 1969, they likely saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford which, by the way, featured the popular song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”.  

     Fifty members of the Apple Valley Barbershop Chorus competed in the Eastern Seaboard Barbershop Chorus Contest held in Albany, New York. They brought with them fifteen bushels of locally grown apples to give out.     

     The Greenville Grange, once located on Austin Avenue just in from Putnam Pike, elected new officers. They were: Joseph P. Connetti, Master; John Aiello, Assistant Steward; Ernest Smith, to the Executive Committee; Howard Horton, Secretary; Earl House, Steward of the R. I. State Grange, and Installing Officer; J. Lester Tobin, to the Executive Committee, Christopher Cabral, Overseer of the Executive Committee, Americo Capanelli, Gate Keeper; Ruth Smith, Lecturer; Eleanor Wood, Chaplain; Mildred Steere, Flora; Anna E. Connetti, Ceres; and Mary Sheffield, Pomona.      



50 Years Ago – July, 1969

50 Years Ago – July, 1969

     Newspaper accounts from July of 1969 indicated that there wasn’t much happening locally, but nationally all eyes were on the much anticipated launch of Apollo 11, and outer-space happenings in general.

   Airman Gary H. Seward of Esmond completed Air Force basic training.

     Airman 1/C Mark D. Sullivan of Greenville was serving in Vietnam.

     S/Sgt. Peter E. Anthony of Greenville was serving with the Air Force’s 2187th Communication Squadron.

     CW4 Louis Theroux was serving with the R. I. National Guard.

     F. Russell Keach of Georgiaville was described in one newspaper as being a “one-man task force.” when it came to cleaning up the Greenville Cemetery on Smith Avenue.

     A year earlier Keach’s uncle was buried there, and while at the service Keach noticed the dilapidated condition of the cemetery and decided to do something about it. He began fixing up the cemetery on his own time and at his own expense by mowing the grass and cutting back overgrown shrubbery, filling in sunken graves, and righting toppled headstones.

     There were no cemetery maintenance regulations for Smithfield’s cemeteries in 1969, nor was there a cemetery commission, for all town cemeteries had begun as private lots, and it had been up to the families to maintain them.    

     On July 3, knowing that NASA’s Apollo 11 was scheduled for takeoff later in the month, the Soviet Union attempted to launch an unmanned N1 rocket to orbit the moon for a photographic mission. However, the rocket blew up during lift off in what became the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. Debris from the rocket was found up to six miles away.

     On July 5, the crew of Apollo 11 announced at a press conference that they’d named the command module “Columbia”, and the lunar landing module, “Eagle”.  

     On July 11, singer and songwriter David Bowie released “Space Oddity”, a song about an astronaut named “Major Tom”.  

     It was also on July 11th that the Sprague Electric Company gave a 1.5 inch diameter silicon disc to NASA to be left on the moon. The disc contained messages of good will from leaders around the world.

     On July 13 the Soviet Union launched another unmanned rocket aimed at the moon. The purpose was to land a robotic craft capable of retrieving small samples of moon rocks, and then returning to Earth before Apollo 11. Thus they would be the first nation to bring back pieces of the moon. But misfortune continued to plague their space program as the robot crashed on the lunar surface and was destroyed.

     On July 16 the Apollo 11 spacecraft left for the moon.

     In light of the recent Soviet failures, on July 18, President Richard Nixon was given a memo containing comments to deliver in the event the crew of the Apollo 11 mission met with tragedy. This memo, by the way, was never revealed to the public until thirty years afterwards.

     On July 20, the Apollo 11 lunar module, nicknamed “Eagle” successfully landed on the moon. Mission commander, astronaut Neil Armstrong, uttered the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” Since that date, “The Eagle has landed” has become a popular phrase in American culture to denote a successful mission.    

     History has shown that the crew of Apollo 11 made it safely back to earth. NASA conducted five more manned moon missions, the last being Apollo 17, in 1972.

     On July 31, the Mariner 6 space probe, launched by NASA in February of 1969, passed within 2,130 miles of the planet Mars while sending back the highest resolution photographs of the planet’s surface ever viewed by man.  




50 Years Ago – August, 1969

50 Years Ago – August, 1969


August, 1969

     Army Private E-2 Anthony Caito of Greenville finished basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was to be stationed in West Germany.

     Airman Richard E. Knight of Greenville was serving in the U. S. Air Force as an aviation mechanic.

     Army Private E-2 Allen H. Uttley of Greenville was serving in the U. S. Army.

     Senior Cadet 2/c Stephen E. Votolato of the Smithfield Junior Naval Cadets of America took a two-week trip to Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, as part of an international exchange program.  

     Members of the Pleasant View Aviation Club, chaired by Mrs. Thornton, a teacher at Anna McCabe School, were awarded free airplane rides at North Central State Airport as a reward for achieving the school honor roll, and for perfect attendance during the school year.

     Those students included: Judith Brown, Nancy Gilman, Patricia Ledbetter, Jo Ann Scorpio, Richard Stelle, Frank Tassoni, Brian Monfils, and William Steere.       

    On local retailer was advertising a “fully transistorized” 8-Track stereo tape player, with mounting hardware, for $44.44. By a show of hands, how many had an 8-Track in their car? Me too.

     In case one needed a car to put their 8-Track in, a local auto dealership was offering a 1965 Chevy Malibu Super-Sport convertible, with a V-8 engine and four-on-the-floor shifting, for a mere $1,295. Care to guess what that car’s worth today?

   A hamburger restaurant known as Custer’s Last Stand was once located at the southwest corner of Routes 44 and 5 where ironically a Burger King stands today. In August of 1969, if one clipped a coupon from a local newspaper, they could receive a free “Wild Western – All Beef Hamburger”, “Healthfully broiled over an open flame.”

     The Family Store, once located at 625 Putnam Pike in Greenville, offered back to school button-down shirts for $4, “bell-bottom” and straight-leg pants for $6, and sport coats for $15.95. It was a time when kids still dressed up to go to school.

     Between August 15th and 18th the famous Woodstock Music Festival was held in upstate New York. Fun fact: the festival was named for the town of Woodstock, New York, where the event was originally scheduled to be held, but circumstances arose that required a change in venue. Therefore, the concert was actually held in Bethel, New York, located about 60 miles from Woodstock.

     Julio Giammarco, and Robert Ricci, owners of The Town & Country Club once located on Farnum Pike across from the present-day Elks Club, sponsored a water show at the pool to benefit the Smithfield Boys Club.  

     Smithfield’s Chief of Police Arthur B. Gould, was awarded the Legion of Mary by Our Lady of Providence Presidium.      

     With the first manned moon landing barely three weeks earlier, NASA announced that manned space missions to Mars and Venus might be possible by the early 1980s. The estimated cost to fund the projects was 24 billion dollars.  Unfortunately history has shown that this didn’t happen, but imagine if it had!      

     On August 30, the first “Interface Message Processor”, a device that allowed one computer to “talk” to another, went into service at UCLA. This was the world’s first baby-step towards what we know today as “The Internet”.

Smithfield Police – A Concise History

Smithfield Police – A Concise History

Written By James H. McVey, Deputy Chief, (Ret.) 

     Originally published in the Smithfield Police FOP 1991 Yearbook.

Click on images to enlarge.

     To learn more, click here: Protecting Smithfield In A Simpler Time

Sgt. Robert Martin Memorial

     Sergeant Robert Martin of Smithfield was a tail-gunner on a B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber aircraft in World War II.   He was killed on July 28, 1943, while flying his first mission.  To learn more about his story, click on the following article:  Chance Relics Reveal A Forgotten Tale

     Peter den Tek, of Holland, found the crash site of Sgt. Martin’s B-17 and erected a signboard. (See below.)  Mr. den Tek was also responsible for the creation of a memorial to Sgt. Martin’s crew, as well as the crews of five other allied aircraft.  For more information, see the following article: Freedom Isn’t Free

Click on images to enlarge.

Signboard at the site where Sgt. Martin’s B-17 crashed in Holland on July 28, 1943. Photo by Peter den Tek

Sgt. Robert Martin

Memorial created for Sgt. Martin’s Crew.
Photo by Peter den Tek

The memorial nearing completion.
Photo by Peter den Tek

The base of the memorial with the names of allied crews. Photo by Peter den Tek.

The crew names of Sgt. Martin’s B-17.
Photo by Peter den Tek

Woonasquatucket Railroad Newspaper Articles – 1870s

Articles from the Woonsocket Patriot newspaper.

     The Woonasquatucket Railroad was chartered in 1857, but due to financial setbacks and the American Civil War, work wasn’t begun until 1871.  In 1872 the name was changed to the Providence & Springfield Railroad.  It later became the New York & New England Railroad in 1890, and in 1895, the New England Railroad.  The name was changed again in 1898 to the New York & New Haven Railroad.

     Passenger service to the Smithfield portion of tracks was discontinued in 1931, and the tracks were torn up in 1962.

Click on images to enlarge.

Woonsocket Patriot

February 18, 1870

Woonsocket Patriot

November 24, 1871

Woonsocket Patriot

March 15, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

April 5, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

April 12, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

April 19, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

June 28, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

August 16, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

July 19, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

September 6, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

October 4, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

November 15, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

November 28, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

December 6, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot January 24, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

February 21, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

March 7, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

May 2, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

May 23, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

August 15, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

August 22, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

May 22, 1874

Woonsocket Patriot
December 25, 1874

Woonsocket Patriot
January 29, 1875

Woonsocket Patriot January 29, 1875

Woonsocket Patriot
April 30, 1875

Woonsocket Patriot
February 4, 1876

Woonsocket Patriot
February 4, 1876

Woonsocket Patriot
October 27, 1876

Woonsocket Patriot
December 27, 1878

     Other known railroad accidents that have occurred on the Smithfield portion include the following:

     On August 14, 1888, a 55-year-old man was struck and killed by a moving train.  The exact location is not recorded.

     On May 16, 1924, a 37-year-old man was killed when he fell under a moving train in Stillwater.

    On April 14, 1925, an automobile containing a man and three women was struck by a train at the Brayton Avenue crossing.  All four were killed.

     On November 30, 1928, a husband and wife were injured when their automobile collided with a train at the Brayton Avenue crossing.

     On September 18, 1945, an automobile was struck by a train at the “Bull Run” crossing at Farnum Pike and Leland Mowry Rd.  One person was killed and six others were injured.

     On September 28, 1955, one man was killed when his car collided with a train that was crossing Douglas Pike near the North Smithfield town line.      


Lightning Strikes – 1870s


Woonsocket Patriot
May 3, 1878

Woonsocket Patriot
May 31, 1878

Railroad Accident – 1878


Woonsocket Patriot
December 27, 1878

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