Friends District Sabbath School – 1868

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Pawtucket Gazette & Chronicle
January 3, 1868

Smithfield, R. I., Town Officers – 1853

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Pawtucket Gazette & Chronicle
June 10, 1853

Jencks Smith, Jr., Smithfield, R. I., Town Sergeant

November 5, 1910



James Demarsh Drowning – 1901

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November 5, 1901

Richard Waterhouse, Smithfield, R. I., Obituary, July 14, 1910

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July 14, 1910

Waterhouse Home – 649 Putnam Pike, Greenville.  See photos under Historic Homes portion of this website.

Who’s Donder and Blixem?

Originally published in The Smithfield Magazine – December, 2023

Who’s Donder and Blixem?

By Jim Ignasher

    Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer! Now, Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner, on Blitzen! “

     Virtually everyone’s familiar with the names of Santa’s reindeer, but how many are aware that his reindeer officially turn 200 this year? All except Rudolph, but more about him later.

     Today we take it for granted that Santa travels the world in his open sleigh powered by eight reindeer. We don’t even question the fact that reindeer aren’t equipped for flight. Anyway, prior to the 1820s, Santa generally walked, or rode a donkey or white horse. It wasn’t until 1821 that ole St. Nick finally got around to using a sled pulled (then) by a single reindeer. A depiction of this appeared in a children’s poem titled, “Old Santeclaus With Much Delight”, published that year in New York.

     The following year poet Clement C. Moore, (1779 – 1863), penned his classic poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas”, for his children. (Sometimes referred to in modern times as “The Night Before Christmas”.) The poem was first published in a New York newspaper in 1823 and has been a yuletide favorite ever since.

     Moore was the first to infer that Santa’s sled was pulled by eight reindeer, and he gave them their names that we know today. However, as a point of fact, the original names of “Donner” and “Blitzen” were actually “Donder” and “Blixem”, which are Dutch words for thunder and lightning. Exactly when and how the names morphed is unclear. Perhaps it was an editor who took artistic license, or simply a typographic error. Some claim it was Moore himself who made the changes. In any case, The Green Mountain Freeman, a defunct Vermont newspaper, published the poem on December 20, 1860, and Blixem had become Blixen. Six years later, a Staunton, Virginia, newspaper spelled the names “Dunder, (With a U not an O.), and Blitzen. Eventually, “Donder” or “Dunder” became Donner.

     Moore’s poem was so popular that it inspired spin-offs such as Edgar Fawcett’s 1880 poem of the same name, which told of Kris Kringle trudging through a snowstorm with his back “bent from the weight of his pack”, and his long beard blowing like “ocean spray” in the wind. Then there was Annie’s and Willie’s Prayer, (1884), by Sophia P. Snow; a poem about two children who pray to Jesus after being told that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Another was “Twas The Day After Christmas” C. 1897, by Frank C. Stanton, which told of a man with a severe hangover who couldn’t seem to obtain enough ice. And there have been others who’ve been inspired by Moore’s format down to the present day.

     While Clement C. Moore is generally credited by most historians with writing “A Visit From Saint Nicholas”, there are some who disagree. This is mainly because when Moore’s poem was originally published in December of 1823, his name was not credited because his friend had anonymously mailed the work to a newspaper in Troy, New York, without Moore’s knowledge. Despite not knowing who’d authored or sent the poem, the paper published it, and it was subsequently re-printed in other newspapers the following year.

     Getting back to Santa’s reindeer, there’s the ninth reindeer we know as Rudolph, who is, relatively speaking, the new kid on the block. Rudolph was the brainchild of Robert L. May who came up with the red-nosed reindeer as part of an advertising campaign for the now defunct department store chain known as Montgomery Ward. In December of 1939 free Rudolph coloring books were distributed to boys and girls who visited the stores to see Santa. The books were a success, and were later followed by the popular song “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” written Johnny Marks, and recorded by Gene Autry in June of 1949. Rocker Chuck Berry later wrote and recorded “Run Rudolph Run” in 1958, and in 1964 the animated story of Rudolph was aired on television for the first time thus making Rudolph, “The most famous reindeer of all”.

     Finally, by a show of hands, how many know that there was a children’s book published in 1902 that mentioned Santa’s reindeer, but instead of eight, there were ten, and they had different names than the ones we’ve come to know today? The book is titled, “The Life And Adventures Of Santa Clause”, by L. Frank Baum. The story is nothing like Moore’s poem, but Baum gave the reindeer the following names; Glossie and Flossie; Racer and Pacer: Reckless and Speckless; Fearless and Peerless; and Ready and Steady. The book has since been adapted for television.

     So this Christmas Eve, as children everywhere lie nestled all snug in their beds, they can listen for reindeer – be it eight, nine or ten.

     “A happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”





Smithfield, R. I., Advertisements – 1973

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March, 1973

March, 1973

March, 1973

March, 1973

March, 1973

March, 1973

March, 1973

Stone Walls – The Bones Of New England

Originally published in The Smithfield Magazine – November, 2023

The Bones of New England

By Jim Ignasher   

     As October surrenders its colorful foliage to the starkness of November, the centuries-old stone walls that crisc-cross our wooded landscape come into view. We New Englanders tend to take them for granted. We know the walls denote former boundaries of long ago farms and homesteads, but seldom give thought to how they were made, or the distance those stones may have traveled.

     As a point of fact, the stones in those walls may have come from as far away as northern New England; carried to Rhode Island by the glacier of ice that covered the region about eleven thousand years ago. In some places that ice was a mile thick, creating tremendous pressure on the landscape as the glacier slowly pushed and ground its way southward. When the glaciers melted, the torrents of rushing water further carried stones, rocks, and boulders, towards the sea. In many cases, the massive grinding and tumbling action exerted on the rocks rounded the edges thus creating the “cobbles” which make up a large number of the walls in Smithfield.

     To illustrate the power involved with this process, the glacier also left behind large “Glacial Erratics”, which are huge granite stones weighing many tons that seem to be randomly placed across the New England landscape. One that locals are no doubt familiar with sits on Rt. 44 just east of the Apple Valley Mall. This particular erratic, as large as it is, is a mere pebble compared to the Madison Boulder in New Hampshire, which is 83 feet long, 23 feet high, and weighs in at 5,000 tons!

     Some of New England’s stone walls date to the 1600s, but historians estimate that the majority were constructed between the 1770s and 1830’s, with some walls still being built in the early 1900s. Constructing these walls was very labor intensive. Upon obtaining a virgin tract of land, the early New England farmer had to set about building a shelter and then clearing the land of trees for crop planting. Many trees were “old growth” having stood for centuries before falling to the axe. In the 17th and 18th centuries wood was used for everything, from furniture making to fuel, so the lumber was put to good use. Even the large tree stumps, once pulled from the soil, were used to create an ugly and temporary fence. These stumps were sometimes incorporated into stone walls, but have long since rotted away.

     After the stump removal process, the farmer would have found the ground littered with fieldstones, which he also had to remove. He then hauled or carried them to where he decided the edge of the field would be, and thus began building what would become a stone wall. Larger stones were transported using a “stone boat”, or “stone sled”, which was a homemade platform made of thick oak planks. If he was lucky, the farmer had oxen to assist him. If not, he might enlist the help of neighbors in what was called a “clearing bee”, where farmers would alternate between each other’s fields to get large jobs done.

     The type of wall constructed depended upon the types of rock cleared, (such as flat or rounded), the urgency in which the task needed to be done, and the skill of the farmer. The walls weren’t meant to be decorative, but functional. When one sees a wall that has been carefully and artfully constructed at an old home site, it indicates a luxury of time and certain level or prosperity.

     In reading the forested landscape, one can figure which field was created first by the presence of a stone-lined cellar hole denoting where the farmhouse once stood. Other fields leading outward came later. One can also tell which fields were likely used for farming verses livestock. A field used for livestock might contain the remnants of an ancient tree in the center to shade the animals, or contain more rocks than one used for crops.

     If one notices a break in a stone wall, it’s likely that there was once a wooden gate there, and if one’s lucky, they might discover a hand forged strap-hinge or two just under the groundcover.

     In rare cases, stones were incorporated into a wall to form three or four steps up one side and down the other, thus eliminating the need for a gate.

     By the late 1800s, many farms, for various reasons, came to be abandoned, and by the 1940s the New England landscape was once again reforested.

     I doubt those early settlers considered that the walls they were creating would eventually become an intricate and visually pleasing part of the local landscape, but did they realize the walls they were building would last for hundreds of years after they’d passed into eternity? One can only wonder.



Human Carrying Kites Of The 1890s

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine, April, 2023

Human Carrying Kites of the 1890s

By Jim Ignasher

     Can you imagine yourself standing in the middle of an electrical storm, rain pelting your face, gusty winds howling, and instead of an umbrella, you’re holding a kite? Me either, but apparently Benjamin Franklin did just that on June 10, 1752. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t trying to “discover” electricity, but rather was attempting to illustrate that lightning was an electrical discharge. And by the way, his kite was never actually hit by lightning, for if it had, Ben would have been toast.

     The experiment led Franklin to invent the lightning rod for the protection of tall structures, but this wasn’t the only time in history that kites were utilized for practical and scientific purposes.

     The origin of the kite dates to ancient times, and they’ve been produced in various sizes and shapes over the centuries.

     Franklin wasn’t the only one to recognize their potential when it came to uses other than toys. One example was Professor J. Woodbridge Davis, of New York, who incorporated the kite in rescuing survivors from shipwrecks. His idea was to utilize a large six-pointed-star shaped kite to carry a line out to stranded ships foundering off shore. In April of 1893, he tested his idea when a kite was launched from the Brenton Reef Lightship off the Rhode Island Coast. The 25 mph wind easily carried it to shore a mile-and-a-half away, and the whole experiment took forty-one minutes.

     In 1895 the Boston Aeronautical Society was founded at the Blue Hills observatory in Milton, Massachusetts. It was there that kite experiments were carried out as a way to study meteorology and aeronautics. It was hoped that the society’s kite designs might lead to airships capable of transporting humans. In one experiment conducted on July 21, 1896, a number of kites strung in tandem reached the amazing altitude of 7,200 feet – a world record for the time.

     One member of the society was William A. Eddy of New Jersey, inventor of the “Eddy Kite”. On May 30, 1895, he took the first kite-aerial-photograph by operating the attached camera remotely from the ground. In August of 1896 he took several aerial pictures of Boston, some taken from as high as 1,500 feet.

     In the autumn of 1896, meteorological instruments were attached to a series of newly developed kites strung together to study high altitude weather. These kites reportedly reached an altitude of 9,000 feet!

     While some studied weather, others envisioned kites large enough to carry an adult human. In 1902, several newspapers carried the story of a Boston couple, Daniel Rice, Jr., and his wife Almenia, who did just that. Both had been circus performers, he a clown, and she a balloonist – aeronaut. In the summer of 1901 he’d constructed a kite made of wood and canvas that was fourteen feet tall and fourteen feet wide, capable of lifting his 125 pound wife. The apparatus reportedly made its successful inaugural flight from the roof of a hotel at 144 Tremont Street in Boston, however Mrs. Rice was not aboard, and instead the kite carried a weight of 125 pounds.

     Mrs. Rice eventually flew in her kite, thus making her what the press called “the first woman in the world to navigate the air with a kite as a craft.”

     Another member of the Boston Aeronautical Society was Charles H. Lamson of Maine who constructed a massive kite known as “The Lamson Airship”, capable of carrying a 150 pound person. In August of 1896 he sent it aloft carrying a human dummy. Unfortunately the wire broke when the kite reached 600 feet, but he’d set a new record for the largest kite ever flown, and the heaviest weight to the highest altitude by a kite.

     What made Lamson’s Airship unique was that he’d installed levers to control the “wings”, thereby allowing the “pilot” to control the descent and land safely should the wire connecting the kite to the ground suddenly break.

     There were others who experimented with human-lifting kites such as the United States military. The military saw the practical applications for forward observers and artillery spotters who would no longer be required to find high ground or tall structures to report enemy movements. The army had been using balloons for such purposes since the American Civil War, but kites were easier to transport and deploy. However, the advent of airplanes made the whole idea obsolete.

     Kites large enough to carry human cargo require a lot of area to gain the required lift, and those mentioned here pale in comparison to what is said to be the largest kite in the world; the Al Majd Kite, which flew in Beijing, China, in 2018. It has a massive 8,769 square feet of fabric, and is 216.5 feet long by 131.2 feet wide.

     Something to ponder the next time you fly a kite.


Forgotten Tales Of Yankee Peddlers

Originally published in The Smithfield Times magazine, August 2023

Forgotten Tales of Yankee Peddlers

By Jim Ignasher

      There’s a story I found in an 1843 newspaper that tells of a Yankee peddler in a tavern who was insulted by a military major who declared the peddler to be a liar, and when the peddler stood up for himself he was challenged to a duel at sunrise. The major was known for having instigated and won several duels in the past, and the outcome of this one seemed a forgone conclusion.

     At the appointed time the peddler arrived with a rife while the major held a box with two loaded pistols. Pointing the rifle, the peddler demanded the man hand over the pistols in exchange for the rifle. The major did so, and promptly attempted to shoot the peddler with his own rife, but the charged failed to go off, for it wasn’t loaded. Taking the loaded pistols and pointing them at the major, the peddler retrieved his rifle and made for greener pastures. Whether the story is true or not is open to speculation, but its fun to consider non-the-less.

     The term “Yankee peddler” was born in New England, and dates to the early days of the Massachusetts Colony. Boston is credited with producing the first Yankee peddlers who set out from the fledgling seaport to carry goods of all kinds to rural towns and hamlets across the north east.

     Cooking spices were common items carried, and it’s been said that Connecticut came to be called “The Nutmeg State” due to the introduction of Nutmeg by peddlers. Legend also has it that dishonest peddlers would pass off “wooden nutmegs” to unsuspecting farm wives; thus the warning, “beware of wooden nutmegs”, which goes along with the old adage, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

     The more successful Yankee peddlers made their way by horse-drawn wagons while others walked carrying sacks on their backs. Each traveled routes of their own choosing, usually competing with other peddlers for the same profits.

     Being a peddler was dangerous work, for not only did highwaymen roam the back roads looking for travelers to rob, there are numerous ghostly legends of peddlers who met their demise after staying at some wayside tavern. One such tale comes from Mattawamkeag, Maine, where a peddler known as “Peddler Pete” disappeared from a tavern in 1856. Pete sold inexpensive jewelry, and wore a unique shell bracelet on his right wrist. From time to time his ghost would appear, sometimes pointing at the floor in front of the tavern’s massive fire place, but it wasn’t until 1906, when the building was being dismantled for its lumber, that Pete’s remains were discovered still wearing his unique bracelet.

     Closer to home, a peddler reportedly murdered in an apple orchard in Douglas, Massachusetts, was said to haunt the site for years afterwards, and the apple tree under which he died was said to produce apples containing a drop of blood in the center. A similar legend is told in the town of Franklin, Connecticut.

     And Smithfield has such a legend of its own involving an unnamed peddler who disappeared one night while sleeping in the basement of the former Waterman Tavern. It was thought he’d fallen down a well, but one would think someone would have checked before taking another drink. In any event, he was never seen again.

     Yet not all legends involve murder, as with the tale of an unfortunate peddler who was swallowed up along with his wagon when he drove into quicksand while navigating Muck Swamp Road in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1830. (This road does not appear on contemporary maps.)

     And take the case of two peddlers who reportedly entered a strange partnership. The first, according to a newspaper account, “…a tin peddler wishing to coin money more rapidly than by disposing of his wares…” made his rounds while deliberately passing on some type of ailment causing his customers to itch. (Possibly lice.) A week or so later his partner appeared selling an “infallible (itch) remedy” to the same customers!

     Yet another legend tells of an enterprising Yankee who during the American Revolution traveled to New York City hoping to sell wooden bowels and plates, but wasn’t having much luck. Somehow he procured a British uniform and approached a merchant telling him the Commodore of the fleet was looking to purchase a large quantity of wooden ware. The merchant said that he knew where some could be had, and that if he came back later he would have the merchandise. The merchant sent an employee to buy up all the peddler had to sell.

      By the later 1800s many household items were no longer hard to obtain even for those living in rural areas, and the traveling peddler disappeared from the American landscape and became a thing of the past, yet their legends linger.


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