50 Years Ago – December, 1969

50 Years Ago – December, 1969

    U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Wilfred L. Noiseux of Esmond was honorably discharged and returned home after serving two-and-a-half years in Vietnam with the 3rd Marine Division.

    PFC Allen H. Uttley of Greenville was home on a14-day furlough. 

     On November 29 a fire of broke out at the Greenville Grange Hall which was located on Austin Avenue just in from Putnam Pike.  Thanks to the quick actions by firemen the building was saved, but it had suffered significant damage to its interior.    

     The building had once been a school, and one item of historical interest that was rescued while flames still threatened the structure was the large bronze school bell still hanging in the belfry.   

      While it served as a school, classes for grades 1 – 4 were held on the first floor, and grades 5 – 8 were held on the second.  The classrooms were heated with wood stoves.        

     Graduations were simple affairs as the classes seldom numbered more than five or six.  The school closed when the William Windsor School on Route 44 opened in the 1930s.

     The former Grange Hall remained standing into the early 1980s before giving way to “progress”.  Today a row of small businesses occupies the land.

     As for the historic school bell, it has survived, and is today displayed at the Winfield Funeral Home in Greenville.  If one looks closely at the bottom rim they will notice a few chips – “battle damage” suffered during its rescue as it was dragged from the fire.

     On December 12 the Reservoir Rangers Drum and Bugle Corps held their third annual Christmas party at the Balfour-Cole American Legion Post.  Sixty members of the corps and their parents attended.    

     Two DJ’s, Jim Pride, and Mike Sands, from radio station WICE broadcast their show live from the party, and gave away twelve long playing records, (Known as “LPs” in the 1960s) as prizes.

     On December 13 several inches of snow fell over the area, clinging to trees and creating a “winter wonderland” lending to the look of Christmas.  

     On December 14 the town held two events in celebration of the Christmas Season.  The first was the annual tree lighting ceremony held at 4:45 P.M. on the Greenville Common where a Nativity had been erected by the Apple Blossom Club.  The program included short addresses by church leaders from St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Greenville Baptist Church, and St. Philips Catholic Church, followed by Christmas carols and refreshments.  The tree was lit by Senator F. Monroe Allen.

     The second event was held at 7 P.M. at the Town Hall which had been decorated with lights and wreaths, as well as a Nativity on the front lawn.  Santa arrived on the back of a Georgiaville fire truck and distributed small gifts to children while adults sang Christmas carols and enjoyed refreshments. 

     Both events had been timed so that citizens from both sides of town could attend each of them.

     A meeting of Slack’s Pond residents was held where it was voted that the name of their association be changed from the Blue Gill Derby Association to the Slacks Reservoir Improvement Association. 

     Bryant College, (Now Bryant University), unveiled its plans for the new Tupper Campus to be built on “Memory Hill” on Douglas pike. The public was invited to view architectural drawings and models of the Unistructure and dormitories that were to be constructed.      

     On December 19 and 20, the Smithfield Drama Club presented “Kaleidoscope 70”, a song and dance variety show, at the Smithfield High School.  

     On the night of December 24th, NORAD radar control reported tracking a strange aerial object circling the globe while stopping briefly at every home. Military jets were scrambled to intercept and identify, but the mysterious aeronaut seemed to keep one step ahead, and was never sighted. One doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to solve this X-File.

    Merry Christmas.   




Greenville From The Air – 1951

Greenville From The Air – 1951

Click on image to enlarge.

Wolf Hill From The Air – 1939

Wolf Hill From The Air – 1939

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Stump Pond From The Air – 1939

Stump Pond From The Air – 1939

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Smithfield Bridewells – 1913

Smithfield Bridewells, aka Jails – 1913

     The following images were taken from Smithfield Town Council records dated April 3, 1913 concerning the location and maintenance of Smithfield’s “bridewells”, also known as jails, and the duties of Smithfield police officers.  

Click on images to enlarge. 

Smithfield Police Ordinance – 1937

     An town ordinance relating to the Smithfield Police Department was passed on May 28, 1937 establishing the structure, pay, appointments, and duties of police officers.  It is copied here from Council Record Book #9, pages 18 – 23.   

To view PDF file of 1937 ordinance, click on link below.

Staples Scan 11-19-2019_10-09-33-016

     Below is a copy of the Smithfield Police Ordinance adopted April 3, 1913.  It was repealed with the passage of the 1937 ordinance.

Click on images to enlarge.


Greenville From The Air – 1939

Photo taken by the State of Rhode Island after the 1938 Hurricane.

Click on image to enlarge.

Little Known Victorian Legends of Christmas Past

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine.

By Jim Ignasher


An old legend explains why robins were once a symbol of Christmas.

     Mention the words “Victorian Christmas”, and all sorts of idyllic images worthy of a Charles Dickens novel come to mind. And speaking of Dickens, we all know his tale, “A Christmas Carol”, but did you ever stop to think that it’s actually a ghost story? Although out of fashion today, telling ghost stories during the Holiday Season was once a popular pastime, as was the telling of ancient Christmas legends. These legends came in all forms. Some were designed to frighten children into being good, while others were more whimsical, or spiritual.  

     For example, every kid today knows the story of Santa Claus, a kindly white-bearded man who brings toys and gifts to good little boys and girls, but more than a century ago children knew a Santa that also carried a switch for whipping those who’d misbehaved. This “Avenging Santa” manifested from ancient legends of evil creatures such as the Krampus, or the witch Frau Perchta, who prowled the world at Christmas time snatching children who’d been bad.

     The European legend of Belsnickle relates to a man dressed in rags who roams the countryside carrying a switch in one hand and a bag of gifts in the other, dispensing both according to each child’s behavior during the previous year.  

     From Iceland comes the legend of the Jolasveinar, thirteen gnome-like creatures that come down from the mountains at Christmas time and play pranks on the populace by hiding things, slamming doors, and harassing pets and farm animals. Bad children were warned about them.

     Another story tells how children who hang their stocking over the fire place on Christmas Eve had better wait until morning to see what Santa brought, lest they find a stocking full of soot and ashes.        

     Before the days of electric lights, the Victorian’s lit their Christmas trees with small candles. There are a few legends surrounding the origins of the Christmas tree, some of which were likely obscure even in the 19th century. One of French origin tells of a thirteenth century knight who beheld a vision of a giant fur tree covered with lighted candles, some upright, others upside down, with the Baby Jesus resting at the top with a halo around his head. The knight asked a priest what it meant, and was told the candles symbolized human beings, both good and bad, and that Jesus was their Savior.

     Another legend, told in an 1885 newspaper, tells of a modern-day Jesus visiting earth on Christmas Eve, and asking a passer-by why people had trees lit with candles in their homes? The man, not realizing who he’s speaking with, explains that it’s Christmas Eve, and that those are Christmas trees, to which Jesus asks “And why is Christmas Eve celebrated? And what is the meaning of the Christmas trees?”      

     In response, the man invites Jesus to his home to eat with his family. After the meal, the man escorts his guest into the living room where a tree adorned with lighted candles stood in a corner. “Heinrich,” said the man to his son, “what is Christmas Eve and why do we plant the Christmas tree?”

     “Because it’s the eve of the birth of Jesus our Lord,” he replied, “and to commemorate His love and sacrifice we plant the Christmas tree and fill it with gifts for one another.”

     The children then sang some carols and Jesus was deeply moved. After blessing them he went on his way with tears of joy in his eyes. It is then the family realizes who their guest was. It is said that where every tear fell a new evergreen sprouted, so that there would always be enough Christmas trees throughout the land.  

     There’s also a legend involving St. Ansgarius explaining why the balsam fir was chosen as the first Christmas tree. Its triangular shape represents the Holy Trinity. It stands as high as hope, as wide as love, and bears the sign of the cross on every bough.  

     The pink Sainfoin flower also figures into Christmas. According to French lore, seeds of this plant were in the straw that lined the crib of Jesus the night he was born. When Jesus was placed in the bed, the seeds suddenly sprouted and grew into flowers that formed a crown about his head.

     In Spain it was said that rosemary gives off its sweet scent at Christmas because Mary hung the tiny frock which she’d used to wrap Jesus on rosemary bushes to dry.        

     Birds are also included in Christmas folklore, and were once a common illustration on early Christmas cards.    

     There’s one legend that tells how the common robin came to have red feathers on its chest. On the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a plain brown-feathered Robin sat watching from the rafters of the manger. There was a small fire burning to keep the Holy Family warm, but when they fell asleep the embers died down until just a few faint coals could be seen. Fearing that the baby Jesus would get cold, the robin swooped down and hovered over the coals flapping its wings. In a short time he’d fanned the embers back into flames, but in doing so scorched the feathers on his chest. Despite the pain, the bird continued to keep the fire going until morning. Ever since that night, the bird was no longer a plain brown, and has worn the red fathers as a reward for his gift of warmth.

     People once put bird’s nests in their Christmas trees for it was said they brought good luck.

     And lastly, a nice story called “The Christmas Tree Chair”, which was presented as fact in a 1909 newspaper. There was a man who’d saved the trunk of every family Christmas tree since his daughter was born. After thirteen years, he brought the wood to a furniture maker who created a rustic, but comfortable chair, which was presented to the daughter on Christmas Eve as an heirloom gift of a lifetime.  

     And to all, a good night.




Vintage Christmas Cards Reveal That Santa Didn’t Always Wear Red

Originally Published in the Smithfield Times magazine, December, 2016

By Jim Ignasher  


An early Christmas postcard depicting a blue Santa Claus.

     If someone was asked to describe Santa Claus, they would most likely provide a description of Santa as we know him today – a big guy in a red suit, white beard, carrying a sack full of toys, flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. However, if the question was posed more than a century ago the answer would be entirely different.

     Santa has appeared in many forms over the years, beginning as a religious figure (St. Nicholas) in the 4th century, before morphing into Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and finally the “jolly old elf” we know today.  

     The historical evidence can be found in antique Christmas cards produced between the 1870s and the 1920s, which offer an insight as to how Santa Claus has evolved over the last 160 years – give or take a decade. The origin of Christmas cards can be traced to the 1840’s, but it wasn’t until the later part of the 19th century that they became popular. These Victorian seasonal greetings were generally in the form of postcards, and were mass produced in countless designs that made the image of Santa Claus more popular than ever.

     Thomas Nast, an illustrator for Harper’s Magazine during the American Civil War and afterwards is generally credited with giving the world its first glimpse at what Santa might look like. Ironically, his first Santa illustration wasn’t revealed until after Christmas when it appeared on the cover of Harper’s on January 3, 1863. The black and white lithograph depicted Santa sitting in a sleigh pulled by reindeer wearing an outfit that made him look more like an early version of Uncle Sam than Saint Nick. Union troops are standing around the sled, and a banner saying “Welcome Santa Claus” can be seen in the distance.

     However, Nast continued to experiment with Santa’s image after the war, and in 1881 produced what is perhaps his best known version that laid the groundwork for what came later.

     Yet Nast wasn’t the only artist working on Santa’s image, and each had their own ideas as to how the man should appear, beginning with how he was dressed. Some had him in ankle-length heavy coats edged with thick fur, while others showed him wearing a long pull-over hooded garment, while still others depicted him dressed in a plain coat and pants with a red cape or shawl over the shoulders. And artists from Germany, Russia, Poland, and France, sometimes dressed him in the traditional vestments of their countries.

     Santa’s coats came in a multitude of colors, from greens, yellows, reds, and purples, to browns, blues, and even white. To make an observation, white doesn’t seem to make sense considering the guy spent his big night dropping down soot-lined chimneys. Perhaps that’s why many early illustrations depicted Santa’s coat(s) edged with dark fur instead of the bright white we’ve come to know. Santa’s boots and caps also varied in color and style from one artist to the next.    

A purple Santa.

     Despite Mr. Nast depicting Santa in a reindeer-powered sled, it’s interesting to note that many early representations had him walking his way around the world with the aid of a walking stick or cane, often carrying a Christmas tree or lantern in addition to his bundle of toys. And how he carried those toys also differed. Instead of the traditional cloth bag, some pictures show Santa with a large wicker basket strapped to his back, or one being carried by hand. There are other pictures that depict him with a knapsack, or pulling a small toy-laden sled behind him. Yet he eventually got around to the latest technology, for early 20th century images show him utilizing trains, balloons, airships, airplanes, and even flying automobiles, before he apparently decided that reindeer were more reliable for landing on rooftops.

     Some early postcards combined the religious aspect of the season where Santa can be seen making his rounds with a lighted church in the background. In some cases he’s accompanied by an angel, or the Baby Jesus riding on a donkey next to him.        

    One thing that every artist seemed to agree upon was that Santa had a white beard. It was only the length that was in dispute. Some had it nearly to his feet while others thought a short cropped beard was more dignified. As with the clothing, body shape and facial features were open to interpretation. Some depicted Santa as thin, or even gaunt, while others gave him a more rotund look. His face was usually depicted as unsmiling, or even stern, and he seldom wore glasses, but often carried a pipe. The pipe, by the way, didn’t go unnoticed by tobacco companies, who were quick to utilize Santa’s image to promote their products.              

     By the early 1900s the length of Santa’s coat began to grow shorter and it now included silver buttons. (One can wonder if this was more for the comfort of department store Santa’s which were beginning to appear.) Additionally, Santa’s simple rope or cord belt was replaced by a brown or black leather one sporting a shiny buckle.    

A red Santa with dark trim on his clothes.

     It’s generally believed that the “standard” image of Santa Claus that we’ve come to know today is due to the Coca Cola Company. In 1931, artist Haddon Sundblom created an illustration for a new ad campaign depicting a kind-looking, grand-fatherly Santa, wearing the soda company’s traditional red and white colors. The image was an immediate success, and helped solidify in the public’s mind as to what Santa Claus was supposed to look like. Coca Cola may not have invented the red and white Santa-suit combination, but their advertising certainly popularized it, and Santa has been commonly portrayed in that manner ever since.  

     Yet despite contemporary notions, there are many who feel that those “old world” Santa’s had a certain charm, which is why they’re still reproduced as figurines, tree ornaments, and even Christmas cards.


50 Years Ago, October, 1969

50 Years Ago – October, 1969


The Color Center
October, 1969

     Army First Lieutenant David L. Nuttall of Greenville was home on leave before reporting for duty in Vietnam.

     Army Private George Schenck of Douglas Pike graduated Fort Knox Armor School as an armor intelligence specialist.

     Air Force Staff Sergeant Peter E. Anthony of Greenville received the Air Force Commendation Medal for meritorious service in Vietnam.

     Robert E. Murphy of Esmond was serving with the 1st Marine Division.

     Gene Bernardo, age 3, of Greenville experienced the thrill of a lifetime at Fenway Park during a game between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. Gene and his father were Orioles fans, and despite his young age, Gene had memorized the names and faces of all the team’s players.

     One the day of the game, Gene, his father, and grandfather, had seats next to the Orioles dugout, and as players appeared Gene greeted them by name. Gene was dressed in an Orioles uniform, and carried a child-sized baseball bat.   When he said hello to pitcher Clay Dalrymple, the man reached up and swung the boy down to the dugout. The two then went over to the edge of the field where the athlete pitched to Gene. By now they had the attention of the entire stadium and the crowd began cheering, and when Gene connected with ball the crowd went wild.      

     An Associated Press photographer covering the game snapped a picture which appeared in newspapers throughout the county.

     Gene was also presented with a team autographed baseball.

     A Smithfield Chevrolet dealership was advertising the new 1970 Chevelle SS, 396 convertible. These cars sold for about $3,700 in 1970. According to an Internet search, fully restored, these cars can sell for more than $70,000 today.

     Speaking of a return on an investment, People’s Bank was offering 5% interest on savings accounts.

     The third annual harvest festival was held at Waterman’s Field on the shores of Waterman’s Lake. Attractions included skydiving, karate, and trick roping exhibitions, folk singing, a barbershop quartet, and square dancing, as well as clowns, a puppet show, rides and raffles. Musical entertainment was provided by “Pastel Shade”.  

     Today housing occupies the former fairgrounds.

     On October 15, students at St. Peter’s School on Austin Avenue held a brief ceremony honoring American servicemen killed in Vietnam which included a moment of silence, and the reading of a prayer written by 8th grader George Allen.  

     On October 18, a “country auction” consisting of new and antique items was held at the Greenville Baptist Church to raise funds for needed repairs and painting of the historic church. It was said to be the largest auction of its kind ever held in Smithfield.

   On October 19, St. Xavier Academy held its 25th reunion at the Club 44 on Putnam Pike.

     The Smithfield Jaycees were selling safety flares to raise money for “Operation Scoreboard”, the funds from which would be used to purchase an electronic scoreboard for the high school athletic field. Road flares are rarely seen today, but in the 1960s they could be found in the trunk of most automobiles to be utilized in case of an accident.

     The East Smithfield Homemakers honored some of their members for their long-time service to the organization. These included: Bertha Fagan, Viola Jarvis, Giles Minard, Mabel Whipple, Helen Booth, Evyonne Shepard, Julie Shepard, Mildred Matlese, Doris Johnson, Ann DiCotio, Mary Rossi, Barbara Hill, Margaret Lawrence, Eve Jenkins, and Mary Weeks.  

     Smithfield firefighters held a parade in Georgiaville to launch “fire prevention week”. The parade included apparatus from Smithfield and nearby towns as well as floats promoting fire safety. Afterwards firefighting demonstrations were performed in the parking lot of Mine Safety.    

     How many are old enough to recall a time when people routinely burned leaves in the fall? Sometimes neighbors would gather around small piles as they burned them at the curbside, socializing into the night. Permits weren’t required and a fun time was had by all.

     An advertisement which appeared in one local paper advised everyone that “leaf burning causes air pollution!” And keep in mind this was a time before “yard waste” pickup.

     The Greenville Public Library announced that it had obtained a 3M “209” automatic copier which would be available for public use. Today we take copy machines and scanners for granted, but in 1969 they weren’t commonly found in small-town libraries.    

   The second annual Scituate Art Festival was held in North Scituate to raise funds for the old Congregational Church in that village.  


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