Forgotten Tales Of The Moshassuck Valley

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – June, 2011


By Jim Ignasher

    The light of dawn revealed smoke on the surface of Scott’s Pond for it was October, the time of year when the water temperature is warmer than the early morning air and foggy mist is common.  Today, Scott’s Pond is located in the Saylesville section of Lincoln, but in 1835, decades before the division of the town, it was in Smithfield, and on that magnificent autumn morning two men had rendezvoused there with the intent of killing each other. 

     The principals were two naval officers, but their grievance against each other has been lost to history.  Pistols were the weapon of choice, inspected and loaded by their “seconds” to ensure each was in good working order for the deadly task at hand. 

     It was reported that the adversaries had come to Rhode Island from New York, perhaps because dueling here was tolerated more so than in other locales.  In any event, when the proper signal was given, both men fired from a distance of twenty paces, and neither missed.  This, by the way, was the fourth, and last recorded duel fought in Rhode Island, and is but one of the many long forgotten tales of the Moshassuck Valley – a valley, by the way, that was once part of  Smithfield.   

     Moshassuck, (Mo-shass-uck) is an Indian word, said to mean “river where moose watered”, and refers to the Moshassuck River which meanders through the valley.  The name would seem to imply that moose once roamed the area, but this certainly isn’t true today. The river begins at a pond near Rt. 146 and Wilbur Road, and flows southward into the Woonasquatucket River, and from there to the Providence River which empties into Narragansett Bay.   

      For centuries the area’s earliest inhabitants hunted and fished along the river’s banks, and from time to time arrowheads and other artifacts are uncovered.  The first Europeans saw the river as a potential power source, and over time numerous mills appeared along its banks.  This was called “progress”, but progress came with a price, for the water become so polluted that it was blamed for the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854.  Yet despite deadly health concerns, no serious attempts were made at cleaning it up for nearly five decades afterwards!

     In the early days of the Providence settlement, the Moshassuck Valley was known as the “north woods”.  As time went on, large deposits of Limestone were discovered and quarried.  When the valley was incorporated as part of the Town of Smithfield in 1730, there was an attempt by Providence to retain the rights to these profitable quarries, however the measure failed.  Smithfield attempted to do the same when the town was divided in 1871, and was similarly unsuccessful.    

     Granite was also quarried from the area. Along the river bank was Arnold’s Ledge, also known as Smithfield Ledge, where a particularly fine type of smooth-faced granite was secured.  In 1810, stone cut from this ledge was used to construct St. John’s Church in Providence.           

The Butterfly Factory
(Click on image to enlarge.)

     Among the many manufacturing enterprises that dotted the Moshassuck River, one of the better known was the “Butterfly Factory”, built in 1811/12 by Stephen Hopkins.  The building earned its name because two colored stones placed next to each other in an outer wall resembled a butterfly. 

     The factory belfry once housed a bronze bell with a connection to early American history.  The bell was in service aboard the British war ship, HMS Guerriere, when she was captured by the USS Constitution during the War of 1812.  The Guerrier’s bell was then taken to replace the damaged one aboard the Constitution.  The bell was later removed and sold during a refitting of the ship in the early 1800’s, and eventually found its way to Smithfield.  It hung in the belfry until the early 20th century before it was removed, stored, and later given to the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where it can be seen today.    

     Across the street from his “Butterfly Factory” Hopkins built what became known as the “Hearthside House”, now a museum in Lincoln.  Hearthside is said to be the “House That Love Built”, for while still in his twenties, Hopkins began courting a beautiful woman from a prominent and wealthy family in Providence. She told Smith that she was used to the finer things in life, and expected a potential husband to have the resources to keep her in the life-style to which she was accustomed.  Smith was far from wealthy, but as fate would have it, he came into a large sum of money and built Harthside to impress his intended. The woman, so the tale goes, was not impressed, and the couple never married.  Smith lived out the rest of his life a broken-hearted bachelor.

      Just below the Butterfly Factory was a site along the river that seemed to be plagued with bad luck.  In 1816, the site was occupied by a distillery that went out of business.  The building was converted to a print works in 1826, but not long afterwards it burnt to the ground.  It was rebuilt, and again destroyed by fire in 1844.  The property then passed to a man named Schroeder, who erected a new building and established the Manchester Print Works.  On the morning of October 25, 1853, two young workers, Patrick Maguire, and Mathew McCabe, were near the boiler when it happened to explode due to low water levels.  Both were killed instantly, and several other workers were severely injured.  Despite the devastation, the business survived, but the boiler explosion wouldn’t be the last disaster to strike.  On December 28, 1854, a fire erupted which destroyed the building with an estimated property loss of $100.000.   Another fatal boiler explosion occurred in 1858.  The property changed hands and the print works were once again rebuilt, this time operated by Brown, Dean, & Macready, but their business later failed.  Others also tried their luck, until yet another fire destroyed the building in 1867. 

      One may be surprised to learn the Moshassuck Valley once boasted a railroad; albeit a small one.  The Moshassuck Valley Railroad Company was incorporated in 1874, and was one the smallest railroads in the nation. The line only ran for two miles between Woodlawn, in Pawtucket, to Saylesville, in Lincoln, passing through Central Falls. Its purpose was to service the Sayles Company textile mills, and it remained in operation until 1981.     

     Central Falls, once considered “Downtown Smithfield” before the town division in 1871, was originally known as “Chocolateville”, and “Chocolate Mills”, due to a chocolate factory once located there.   In 1824, Stephen Jenks, a locally prominent businessman, suggested the name be changed to Central Falls because the area was more-or-less centrally located between Valley Falls and Pawtucket Falls. 

     Central Falls remained the business center of Smithfield until 1871, when it became part of the new town of Lincoln.  In 1895 it incorporated as its own municipality. 

     The Moshassuck Cemetery is located in Central Falls, and was established in 1868 when it was still Smithfield.  In September of 1934, it played a part in a violent nationwide textile workers strike.  On September 10, more than two-hundred rioters retreated into the cemetery followed by National Guardsmen and Rhode Island State Police.  Numerous shots were fired, and some of the tombstones still bear the marks of bullets fired in that skirmish.  The violence continued into the night, and when the smoke cleared four people were dead and dozens more injured.  The incident has since come to be known as the “Saylesville Massacre”.        

The Grave of Henrietta Drummond.
Moshassuck Cemetery

    A visitor to the cemetery today might be drawn to a particular granite monument adorned with a red cross.  It marks the grave of Henrietta Isabel Drummond, a 25-year-old local woman who served as a nurse with the U.S. Army during World War I.  She arrived in France on October 4, 1918, and died ten days later of the Spanish Flu, a fast-acting, highly-contagious virus that killed millions of seemingly healthy individuals worldwide.  There was no treatment for the virus once one was infected, and those who became sick often died within hours of the onset of symptoms.  It took a special person with undaunted courage to minister to the sick knowing the risks involved.  Miss Drummond was such a person.   

     As a matter of fact, not far from Miss Drummond’s grave is an area of the cemetery containing over one-hundred victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic.  

     Although the Moshassuck Valley is presently in Lincoln, its early manufacturing and industrial base played an important role in Smithfield’s early development as a town. 

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