Smithfield Union Bank – 1806 Banknotes

Smithfield Union Bank- 1806 Banknotes

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Images courtesy of Katie Law of the Smithfield Preservation Society

Map of Bryant College – 1980s

Map of Bryant College – 1980s

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Are There Ghosts In Smithfield’s “Haunted City”?

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, October, 2016

 

Are There Ghosts in Smithfield’s “Haunted City?”

By Jim Ignasher    

One of the 18th century cellar holes in Hanton City.

     I should have known better, but the urge to continue my explorations got the better of me, and I’d ventured too far and stayed too long in the woods. This was more than ten years ago. It was January, it was cold, and the sun had fallen nearly level with the horizon. As darkness closed in around me I was thankful for the coating of snow on the ground which provided enough contrast with the trees to allow me to navigate my way out.

     I’d been exploring Hanton City, Smithfield’s colonial-era “ghost town” located in a thickly wooded area where cellar holes, stone walls, and a cemetery are all that remain of a once thriving settlement. It’s a place steeped in myth and folklore, and has sometimes been called “Haunted City”. As I traipsed back to my truck hoping for the moon to rise I began to wonder about the “haunted” part.  

     The mysterious tales surrounding Hanton City date back to the 1880s when a Providence Journal reporter published the term “Haunted City” in an article he wrote about the area, but made it clear that locals viewed the phrase with “amused contempt”, and no anecdotal ghost stories accompanied the article. Over time the article was forgotten, but the name stuck.  

     By the early 1900s what remained of any Hanton City buildings had fallen to decay, and Mother Nature was well on her way to reclaiming the once open land. As more years passed, hikers and hunters would visit the area and wonder about the cellar holes. Their questions as to who built them and when, as well as what happened to the populace, were answered with rumors and speculation that morphed into folklore that in modern times has been taken as fact.

     This was primarily due to the lack of documentation relating to Hanton City, which, by the way, was never a “city”, but a small farm settlement. Thomas Steere’s book on Smithfield history published in 1881 didn’t mention the settlement, nor was it designated on early maps.   This wasn’t due to any deliberate omission, for the names of some of Hanton City’s residents are mentioned in Steere’s book. It was likely because there was nothing remarkable about the settlement in terms of industry or historical significance. Yet it was this omission that fed the fires of folklore.  

     Hanton City has also been referred to as “Island Woods”, or “Islands in the Woods”, due to the granite hills jutting up from marshy wetlands. The rocky soil isn’t conducive for farming, and in summertime the area is infested with mosquitoes. Thus it wouldn’t have been considered “prime real estate” which begs the question; who settled the area and why? By the 1930s several theories had been put forth ranging from runaway slaves, ex-prison inmates, and Native Americans, to ex-inmates of the town’s poor farm, and AWOL British soldiers hiding out during the American Revolution, all of whom could have reasons for wanting to live in seclusion. However, historical research has proven these theories to be wrong.

     Speculation as to what happened to the inhabitants includes; they were wiped out by a plague or natural disaster, left to serve in the American Revolution, or had their land confiscated for refusing to fight in the revolution. Again, research has disproved these theories.

     Part of that research lies in a Providence Journal article titled “A Buried City”, published October 6, 1889. In it, the reporter interviewed Tom Hanton, 80, and his sister, said to be the last two inhabitants of Hanton City. The article indicated that the community was in its prime by the 1730s, about the time Smithfield was incorporated as a town. The first settlers were three English families of the yeoman class, which put them near the bottom of the social ladder, who arrived around 1676-77, shortly after King Phillip’s War.

     Residents made their living by growing what they could, quarrying stone, tanning leather, and making boots to sell in Providence. There wasn’t much cash money to be had, so many bartered for their needs. For example, Mr. Hanton recalled how at weddings the Justice of the Peace would be paid with a good meal and some rum.

     As to what happened to the population, Mr. Hanton explained, “They had all got poor, and sold out to anybody, and died off.” Of course “poor” had to be a relative term given their circumstances. By the early 1800s mills were springing up along the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers which could pay regular wages, offer better opportunities, and make products more affordably than those who worked with their hands. Thus it was most likely the Industrial Revolution that led to the demise of Hanton City.

     As the settlement faded away, it became a ghost town of sorts, and by the late 19th century the name Hanton City had morphed into “Haunted City”.

     However, on that long ago January evening I was unaware of much of this information as the black shadows of the trees and rocks assumed ominous shapes while I made haste to exit the darkening woods. Then I heard the call of a nearby coyote, and realized that encountering a ghost might not be my first concern.

     So, is the place haunted? I guess that depends on one’s beliefs and experiences. There are Internet postings and stories in contemporary books (about the supernatural) of people who claim it is, and not all ghostly encounters are said to have happened at night.

     Speaking for myself, I’ve returned to Hanton City dozens of times over the years – in the daytime of course. During those treks I’ve encountered hunters, dirt bikers, photographers, treasure hunters, various wildlife, and fellow explorers, but not a single ghost. I’m not saying ghosts don’t exist. I’m only saying I haven’t seen any in Smithfield’s so-called “Haunted City”. Happy Halloween!

 

 

A Lost Artifact Of Smithfield’s Past Comes Home

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine – January, 2019.

A Lost Artifact Of Smithfield’s Past Comes Home

By Jim Ignasher   

 

Katie Law and Robert Leach holding a valued piece of Smithfield history.

     Sometimes rare items of historic interest relating to a particular town can unexpectedly turn up hundreds of miles from their point of origin. A case in point is a large walnut and sterling silver award-plaque which had once been presented to Thomas K. Winsor of Greenville that recently turned up in Florida. Thanks to the efforts of Robert Leach and Katie Law of the Smithfield Historical Preservation Commission, it has been brought home to Smithfield after more than a century-long hiatus.

     The historical significance of the plaque is its connection to Smithfield’s early apple growing industry which earned our town the nickname of “Apple Valley”. Furthermore, it’s a unique, one-of-a-kind item that was commissioned by Rhode Island’s (then) Governor Aram J. Pothier, who served as the state’s 51st and 55th governor until his death in 1928.

     Thomas K. Winsor, (1871 – 1949), was known throughout New England as the undisputed “apple king” among those in the apple growing industry, building a business that distributed apples all across the United States and Europe. His former home, which dates to the 1700s, still stands at 85 Austin Avenue, but the vast orchards that once covered the land behind it are long gone, replaced by private homes. Mr. Winsor is buried in the family cemetery, a picturesque plot located at the corner of Peach Blossom Lane and Macintosh Drive.    

The Governor Pothier Prize awarded to T. K. Winsor in 1911.

     When she gets the opportunity, Katie Law peruses the Internet searching for items relating to town history. Once she found a lottery ticket for the former Greenville Academy dated February, 1812. On another occasion she came across a large box of Smithfield related documents dating to the early 1800s, which included papers relating to slavery. She usually finds such items on auction sites, and is sometimes the highest bidder – other times, unfortunately, she’s not, and a piece of our town’s history goes elsewhere. As a mother of four, her funds are limited. When she buys these items, she’s doing so as a private citizen, and not in her capacity as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, and therefore uses her own money to do so. No expense is borne by the town.

     So it was when she found the Winsor award-plaque offered for sale by a man in Florida for the sum of $477.00. The price was steep, and definitely out of her price range, but Katie’s not one to give up easily. She contacted Robert Leach about the find. He, like Katie, has a strong interest in preserving local history, and as owner of Leach Orchards, located just up the road from Thomas Winsor’s former residence and orchard, Robert had a special interest in bringing this item back to Smithfield.

     After talking it over with Robert, Katie e-mailed the seller and made an offer which was accepted. The two of them split the cost, and the plaque was returned to Rhode Island. Katie subsequently learned that Mr. Winsor had a winter home in Florida, and that the seller had purchased it at an estate auction.  

     As a point of fact, the seller had attended college in Rhode Island and was therefore somewhat familiar with the Smithfield area, and told Katie that he’d hoped it would somehow make its way back to where it came from.  

     The story behind the plaque dates to 1911, when the New England Fruit Growers Association held a trade exhibition show at the Horticultural Hall in Boston from October 24-29. Part of the show included apple growers throughout New England competing for prizes, one of which was Thomas K. Winsor. Competitors were advised to, “Grow the best fruit you possibly can, pick it carefully, grade it uniformly as to color and size, and pack it attractively. Cleanliness, neatness, and uniformity are factors of prime importance. The finest fruit only is fit for exhibition, and only the best can win premiums.”      

     Some of the once common apple verities entered by growers in the competition won’t be found in supermarkets today. These include: Bellflower, Bethel, Ben Davis, Fallawater, Famuse, Hubbardton, McMahon White, Northern Spy, Pewaukee, Red Canada, Scott Winter, Spitzenburg, Sutton, Tolman Sweet, and Westfield.

     Winsor actually won awards for two categories at the 1911 exhibition. One was a silver cup for the best display of Baldwin apples, presented by Governor Eugene Foss of Massachusetts, and the “Governor Pothier Prize” for the best display of Rhode Island Green, a.k.a. “Greening” apples – a variety first cultivated in Rhode Island in the 1650s, and one not to be confused with the well-known “Granny Smith” apples one sees in stores today.   The present location of the Foss silver cup, by the way, is unknown.  

   The plaque awarded by Governor Pothier has sterling silver custom-cast raised lettering, a state seal, as well as a hand-crafted apple tree which dominates the center. An engraved silver plate under the tree reads, “Awarded to Thomas K. Winsor for the best display of R. I. Green apples at the New England Fruit Show held in Boston, October, 1911.”  

     It was reported that an average of six-thousand visitors went the exhibition each day, making for a well attended show.

     At present, the plaque is in need of a professional cleaning to bring the sterling silver back to its original shinny luster. This has to be done carefully so as not to loose any fine details of the engraving. Once this is done, both Katie and Robert hope to be able to put the plaque on public display.

     Meanwhile, Katie continues to search on line and elsewhere for more “lost” history of Smithfield.    

 

 

 

Rt. 44 at Rt. 5 – 1964

The intersection of Rt. 44 and Rt. 5, looking east up Rt. 44.  The house and barn stood on the site of the present-day Apple Valley Mall.  Click on image to enlarge.

1964

Smithfield Police Traffic Services Vehicle

Smithfield, R. I. Police Traffic Services Vehicle

     Ford Crown Victoria used by the Smithfield Police Department 

to protect road construction sites.   

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Farnum Pike, Esmond, 2018

Smithfield, Rhode Island
December 11, 2018

Fuel Depot, 644 Putnam Pike

Fuel Depot, 644 Putnam Pike

     This building is currently undergoing renovations.

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June, 2018

June, 2018

June, 2018

June, 2018

50 Years Ago – December, 1968

50 Years Ago – December, 1968

By Jim Ignasher

 

December, 1968

     This month denotes the 50th anniversary of a tragedy. On December 10, 1968, Smithfield police officer Norman G. Vezina was dispatched to Indian Run Trail for a report of a 5-year-old boy who had fallen through the ice of the Spragueville Reservoir. The youth’s name was Kenneth Firby, and when Vezina arrived he saw the boy struggling in the frigid water. Without hesitation, the officer went to aid the child, but unfortunately both were lost.

     Officer Vezina was promoted to the rank of sergeant posthumously.  

     Airman 1st Class Robert J. Mitchell of Greenville was home on a 30-day furlough after serving a year-and-a-half in Vietnam.

     Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) Andrew H. Aitken, Jr., of Greenville was also home on leave.

     Air Force Sergeant Robert G. Browne of Greenville was stationed in Thailand.

     The Smithfield squadron of the Civil Air Patrol awarded cadets Dennis Duhaime and Mike Hennessey the Curry Award after successful completion of training.

     Cadet Master Sergeants Linda Fornaro and Richard Larkin were promoted to Warrant Officers.

     Cadet Lieutenant Lynette Blackmore was promoted to Captain, and Cadet Captains Rosalie Verin and Paula Blackmore to Majors.

     On December 7 a Christmas dinner and theatrical program was held at the Greenville Grange Hall titled, “The Lighting of the Candles”. The event was open to the public.

     That same evening the Smithfield High School Drama Club held it first theatrical production for the 1968-69 Season with its presentation of the play “Dracula”.

     Cast members included Kevin Fallon as Dracula, with Kurt Anderson, Kathy Kelly, David de Pasquale, Susan Dearmin, Mark Beaudion, Deborah Imbruglio, and Karen Kapanakis, in supporting lead roles.

     The club had been rehearsing since the beginning of the school year.

     A fire safety tip that appeared in a local newspaper of the day advised all homeowners to keep “an ashtray in every room”, and to empty them often. It went on to explain how many fires in the home are accidentally started by careless holiday guests. Yes kids, there was a time when smoking cigarettes indoors at people’s homes was not only acceptable, it was also permissible to light a pipe or a cigar.

    Among the “Christmas specials” to be had at a local clothing store were turtle neck shirts for men, and “wool checkered” bell bottom pants for both sexes. In 1968 there was a word for these clothing styles – “groovy”.    

December, 1968

     Another store was advertising Polaroid “Swinger” cameras for $17.93 – regularly $23.95. For those too young to remember, the “Swingers” offered an “instamatic” finished photograph within sixty-seconds. The picture quality was generally poor, but it was considered quite the innovation in its time, and perfect to using to capture those special moments, or for giving as a gift for the holidays.

     The Providence Gas Company was advertising a free ham or turkey with every new gas stove purchased before Christmas. Price – $214.00

     On December 15 the annual tree lighting ceremony took place on the Greenville Common sponsored by the Apple Blossom Garden Club. Mrs. Everett Fernald, Jr., served as Chairwoman, and Senator F. Monroe Allen turned the switch that lit the tree.  

   Mr. Robert Reall of Greenville was appointed Campaign Director of Smithfield for the 1969 March of Dimes charity fundraising campaign.

     The Emblem Club of Smithfield, and the Cranford Club of Greenville, joined together to bring a Christmas celebration to the patients at Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville.

     On December 22, Santa took time out of his busy schedule to come to Smithfield, but on this occasion he wasn’t using reindeer to remain airborne. Instead, he landed at Anna McCabe School in a helicopter! The event was sponsored by the Smithfield Town Council, the Greenville and Georgiaville volunteer fire companies, and the Smithfield Jaycees. (Don’t you wish they still did stuff like this today?)

     On December 23, Scuncio Chevrolet opened for business and remained so for more than twenty years. The large auto dealership once stood where the Stop & Shop supermarket is located today.

 

 

 

 

50 years Ago – November, 1968

50 Years Ago – November, 1968

 

1968

     November of 1968 was an election year, and among the things Smithfield voters were asked to decide was a $7,000,000 sewer bond to appropriate money to replace septic systems with sewer lines. An article which appeared in a local newspaper at the time spoke of how the Woonasquatucket River was once routinely used for waste disposal.   History has shown that the bond passed.

     Air Force Master Sergeant A. Howard Thornton of Greenville received the Bronze Star at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina for “meritorious service while engaged in military operations against Viet Cong forces” in Vietnam. M/Sgt. Thornton had also served in WWII and the Korean War.    

     Air Force Sergeant Paul Taubman of Greenville returned home after his tour of duty at Rhu Trang Air Force Base in Vietnam.    

     The Berlin Wall that once separated East and West Germany was begun in 1961. By 1968, construction on the wall still continued, with armed guards watching over workers who might contemplate trying to escape to the west.

     150 children attended a program at the Greenville Public Library titled “This is Ballet”, during which a husband and wife ballet team demonstrated and spoke about the subject of ballet, and performed a short story titled “The Stranger” through ballet.

     On November 17, the infamous “Heidi Game” aired on national television.    

     What would autumn be without football? Top executives at one television network found out when they abruptly cut short the airing of a pro-football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. With just 65 seconds left in the game, and with Oakland trailing by three points, the network stopped broadcasting the game so it could begin its scheduled program of the movie “Heidi”. What football fans missed was a dramatic comeback by the Raiders, scoring two touchdowns and winning the game 43-32. The following day the network was flooded with angry callers, causing all future program planners from all networks to make sure such scheduling conflicts never occur again.     

     On November 22, The Beatles released their famous “White Album” which was a double album that included two long playing records. Certain examples of this album are selling for hundreds of dollars at certain on-line websites, but today one can buy the album on CD for significantly less.  

An Angel For St. Philip Church

Originally published in the Smithfield Times – November, 2018 

An Angel For St. Phillip Church

By Jim Ignasher

     Perhaps you’ve driven past St. Philip Church in Greenville recently and noticed something’s different, such as the twelve-foot-tall statue of an angel standing between St. Philip School and the church. Although the angel is a recent addition, the reason for its being there can be traced to the school’s origin in 1960.

     By the mid-1950s St. Philip parish had grown to the point where parishioners felt a parochial school for the elementary and middle school grades was warranted, and funds were allotted for its construction. Monsignor Joseph P. McNamara, then pastor of St. Philip Church, oversaw the construction of both the new school, and an adjacent convent building that would serve as a dormitory for the nuns who would serve as teachers and administrators.

     The new school opened in September of 1960 with a staff of only four nuns, each belonging to the Religious Sisters of Mercy at Mount St. Rita’s Convent in Cumberland. When they first arrived, the convent at St. Philip’s had yet to be completed, so they were temporarily housed at the St. Aloysius Home, then located on Austin Avenue.

     And the school had yet to be fully stocked with necessary items such as books and desks, forcing students to improvise for the first few weeks. Yet despite the initial set backs, the school proved to be popular among the parishioners, and by 1964 enrollment had reached capacity necessitating waiting lists. By the later 1960s, the teaching staff had grown to eight, (One teacher for each grade.), with class size routinely hovering around fifty students. Despite the large classes, the school became known for its academic excellence.

     Over the ensuing years thirty-nine Religious Sisters of Mercy served at St. Philip School, five of them as principals, which brings us to the statue of the angel. In 2016 it was announced that some demolition work would take place at the Mount St. Rita Convent, and the statue of the angel would need to be relocated in order to be saved. To make a long story short, the statue was brought to St. Philip Church to create a Mercy Memorial Garden as a way to honor and remember the nuns from the convent who served at St. Philip School.

     In August of this year the statue was placed atop a cement slab outside the school, and given a dazzling white protective coating of paint. Then a memorial walkway was installed, with inscribed bricks bearing the names of the thirty-nine sisters from Mount St. Rita Convent who taught at the school; five ivory colored bricks for those who served as principal, the rest done in red. Finally, landscaping was added.

     On September 13, a dedication ceremony was held that was led by Reverend Francis C. Santilli, the present pastor of St. Philip Parish, and assistant pastor, Father Ryan Simas, during which the statue was blessed, and named the “Angel of Peace” in reference to the Angel of Portugal who appeared before three peasant children of Fatima in 1916 asking them to pray. The following year the three children would experience numerous visions of the Virgin Mary that have become world famous.

     In addition to dedicating the statue, a large room in the former convent, now used for administration purposes, was dedicated as “Mercy Hall”, in honor of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and another room in the school was named “Peters Place”, in honor of Sister Mary Assunta Peters, R.S.M, the first principal of St. Philip School.  

     The ceremony was well attended by an estimated 300 people, with music provided by the St. Philip School youth choir.

     Special honored guests included eight former nuns who served at St. Philip School. When it was over, they were given a special tour of the renovated convent, and invited to dinner at the St. Philip Parish Festival taking place behind the church.

 

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