A Pilgrim’s Quest For Mary

Originally published in the Smithfield Times – September, 2015 

A PILGRIM’S QUEST FOR MARY

By Jim Ignasher    

 

Nick Cerbo

     They come from all walks of life, from all over the world, for many different reasons. For each of them the pilgrimage is unique and personal, but they all share one commonality – faith. And they come by the millions, twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, waiting and praying in long lines leading up a mountainside in France, hoping for a miracle.

     Recently, Nick Cerbo of Saint Philip’s Church in Greenville became one of those pilgrims and traveled to Lourdes, France, a spiritual place known throughout the world for miraculous healing. Nick is a 20-year-old sophomore at Saint John’s University in New York City studying psychology and theology, and hopes one day to be able to help troubled children.

     Lourdes has been a religious destination for those suffering various afflictions since 1858. On February 11th of that year, 14-year-old Bernadette Subirous, (Later Saint Bernadette), her younger sister Toinette, and a friend, were looking for firewood near a naturally formed grotto in the side of a rocky cliff. It was there that Bernadette experienced the first of eighteen visions of the Virgin Mary. Since then, the water that flows from the grotto has been associated with miraculous healings.

     The trip to Lourdes was sponsored by the university, and Nick was one of eleven students and three chaperones chosen for the journey. Yet going wasn’t simply a matter of signing up.

     “We had to fill out applications.” Nick explained. “Thirty-five students applied, but only twelve could go.” Questions on the applications included citing one’s reasons for wanting to go, and about one’s faith and their relationship with Mary. Nick’s not sure how the selection committee made their decisions, but he’s very grateful for the opportunity.

     Each in the group had different reasons for wanting to go. For Nick it was a chance to grow in his faith. He’s been involved with the St. Phillip’s youth group and other church activities, and says he felt drawn by the Holy Spirit to go. During our interview, he spoke of the fourth station of the cross, where Jesus is carrying His cross to the site of His crucifixion, and He meets His mother, Mary. Nick has a devotion to the Blessed Mother, and metaphorically speaking, we all have our crosses to bear. Therefore, he saw it as an opportunity to meet Mary and carry his burdens to her.  

     In preparation for his trip, he placed a book containing blank pages in the lobby of St. Phillip’s Church. At mass it was announced by St. Philip’s pastor, Father Francis Santilli, that any parishioner who wished to do so, could write their prayer intentions in the book, which would be brought to Lourdes and placed before a statue of the Virgin Mary. According to Nick, many took the opportunity to write (anonymously) in the book. The prayer requests covered a broad spectrum, ranging from asking for help with certain difficulties they or their loved ones were experiencing, to cures for various ailments, to general prayers for peace. He saw it as a way to bring other people’s burdens to Mary and ask for Her intercession on their behalf.  

     When he got to Lourdes, Nick placed the book in a basket located in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. The basket is there specifically for pilgrims to put pieces of paper containing their prayer requests. “I put the book in the grotto and prayed over it,” he said, “and we had mass everyday, and we prayed for our intentions and all the intentions other people gave us.” The prayer intentions are collected each day by local nuns who burn them as a way of offering and protection of people’s privacy.

     According to the Lourdes website, six million travelers come to Lourdes each year. Nick witnessed the long lines of people first-hand. “There were thousands of people there from all over the world praying in different languages,” he recalled. “I never felt so insignificant. It made me realize just how world-wide the Catholic religion is.” And despite language barriers, everyone seemed to generally understand each other, for they were all there for a common purpose.  

     “There are places where people can bathe in the waters,” Nick said, and he went on to explain how his group had volunteered to help those wanting to be immersed. They each wore special Polo shirts to designate their volunteer status. Wearing robes or bathing suits, those entering the baths gratefully accepted the offers of help for many were battling infirmity or disease. Some had come with family or friends, while others were all alone, and many carried rosaries.  

     “When the people came out of the baths they cried a lot,” he recalled.

     While Nick didn’t witness any healings first-hand, he saw empty wheelchairs, canes, and crutches left behind by those who had. He also saw a lot of Rosary beads draped over statues of Mary and Jesus in the Stations Of The Cross area.

     The first documented healing occurred not long after Bernadette experienced her first vision. Mrs. Catherine LaTapie had suffered a severe hand injury which left two fingers on her right hand paralyzed. When she submerged her hand in the water outside the grotto it was instantly healed! Over the years, thousands of people have reportedly claimed to have experienced unexplainable cures from all sorts of maladies including physical deformities, chronic illness, and cancers. As of this writing, the Catholic Church has recognized sixty-nine of them as miraculous.  

    Nick and his fellow students spent ten days at Lourdes, and his first impression of the town was one of awe. “I was taken aback by all of the beauty.” He said, “It’s surrounded by mountains and hills, with a beautiful church with a cross at the top. It was the closest thing to Heaven for me.”  

     As a point of fact, this was not Nick’s first trip abroad connected to his faith. In 2013, he and other members of the St. Phillips Youth Group went to Jamaica with Father Nixon to volunteer at an orphanage.  

   It would seem that those who visit Lourdes come away with a stronger sense of spirituality. Nick told me he definitely felt Mary’s presence, and had found what he had hoped for, a chance to grow in his faith. That growth has given him a better understanding of his own cross that he’s been carrying since his youth, for he has a stutter that at times makes it difficult to speak.

     “I believe God can use my stutter for something greater”, he said, “and I’m happy that I can carry that. Perhaps it’s for a bigger purpose to help others who need healing in their lives.”  

     If one is so inclined, they can take water from the healing spring with them, which Nick did. During the interview he presented me with a small bottle of holy water from Lourdes. Holding it in my hand, I thought of the millions who have traveled to France just to touch what I had in my hands. I thanked him for the gift, for as a Catholic I believe in what the water can do. With Nick’s permission, I passed it along to someone who is battling cancer.

     Nick hopes to one day return to Lourdes, but first he has to graduate. He knows what he wants to do with his life, and as a man with strong faith, he’s open to God’s plan for him. And he feels there was a reason he was selected to go, but isn’t sure what the reason is – yet. “I believe there will be ripples down the road where I’ll see the effects of the trip, “he said, “where something couldn’t have happened without it.”      

 

 

A Spiritual Journey Along The Camino De Santiago

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – October, 2014

A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY ALONG

THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO

By Jim Ignasher

     In O’cebreiro, Spain, stands the Catholic church of Santa Maria la Real which contains relics and a statue connected to a 14th century Eucharistic miracle. The story relates that in the year 1300, a priest was celebrating mass during which the communion wafer and wine that Catholics believe to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ were suddenly transformed into real flesh and blood.   It is said that when the transformation occurred, a nearby statue of the Virgin Mary turned towards the altar and bowed her head. The church has been regarded as a holy pilgrimage site ever since, and this past August, Father Francis Santilli and Dennis Sousa, both of St. Phillip Church in Greenville, stood before those very relics contemplating the miracle before beginning an eight-day trek, by foot, across the Galicia portion of Spain from O’cebreiro to Santiago de Compostella, a distance of nearly 100 miles. They were not alone, for each year tens of thousands of religious pilgrims travel to O’cebreiro to view the relics as part of their walk along the Camino de Santiago.

     The Camino de Santiago, a.k.a. the Way of Saint James, is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes dating to the 9th century. Some begin in France, others in southern Spain, ending at the Cathedral of Saint James in the city of Santiago de Compostella. Those who travel the pathways do so on foot and each must decide for himself where to begin their journey.  

     Those who walk the Camino do so for many reasons. For Father Santilli, the trip was the fulfillment of a desire he’s had since he was a seminary student.   For Dennis Sousa, the Director of Religious Education at St. Phillip’s, it was a response to God’s call to experience and grow in his faith.  

     Their walk along the Camino required them to cover between 12 and 13 miles per day, which left their knees and feet somewhat tired by evening. They traveled “light”, using walking sticks for support on hilly terrain, and carrying only the bare necessities in their backpacks. The path they traveled dates back more than a thousand years. Some parts are paved, others gravel, but most portions are no more than a dirt foot path which in some places is worn deep into hillsides by the trodding of millions of feet over the centuries. The trail meanders past picturesque medieval towns and beautiful rolling countryside dotted by farms.

     Looking through photographs that Dennis had taken of their journey, I noted the isolated rural character of the route and asked if they ever feared for their safety. Neither man did. “The Camino lends itself to a dependence on God,” Dennis explained, “All you carry is what’s in your backpack.” Both trusted in the Lord to provide the rest.

     “There are places to stay along the route,” Father Santilli added, “and people told us we would need reservations, but we never made any. We trusted in God to find us accommodations, and we always had a nice place to stay and ate good meals.”    

     The trail is well marked with yellow arrows, but on one occasion when they came to a fork in the road they inadvertently took the wrong way. After they had gone about 75 yards they heard people calling to them. Although they didn’t understand the language, they understood they were on the wrong path. ‘Who knows where we would have ended up.” Father Santilli said. “We weren’t carrying any maps.”  

     Father Santilli also recalled a day the two of them became lost in the town of Sarria. As they stood on a street corner contemplating which direction to go, a man from a second floor window suddenly called out, “Do you want the Camino?” and then gave them directions to get back on the trail. “In moments like that,’ Father Santilli stated, “God provided to keep us from getting lost.”

     Both men were pleasantly surprised at the camaraderie they encountered with fellow pilgrims who ranged from college students to the elderly. Most pilgrims can be identified by a scallop shell worn on a lanyard around their neck, or attached to their backpack. The scallop is the traditional symbol of the Camino and is seen virtually everywhere along the route. There are several legends explaining its significance. The most popular states that the sarcophagus containing the body of St. James was lost at sea during a storm while it was being transported by ship to Spain for burial. A few days later it was said to have washed ashore in Galicia, Spain, covered with scallops. Scallop shells are plentiful in Galicia, and it is said that early pilgrims carried them home as souvenirs.   

     Metaphorically speaking, the ribs in the shell of the scallop merge together and meet at bottom, thereby representing the different pathways of the Camino leading to the tomb of Saint James.  

     Of symbolic importance to Father Santilli was the reoccurring image he encountered of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose feast day is June 27th, the day he was ordained a priest. He also encountered images of St. Francis of Assisi, whom he is named for. Father Santilli also noted that like himself, St. Francis also made a pilgrimage to Galicia 800 years earlier, in 1214.  

     Just outside the city of Santiago de Compostella the men encountered a seven verse poem about the Camino scrawled on a bridge and took note of the words. The poem, signed by Eugenio Garibay, asks passing pilgrims, “Whose voice is calling you?” The last four lines read, “The force that drives me on, I can never explain or show. The force that draws me to it, only the One above can know.” Both found special meaning in the poem.

     Later that day they entered the city where the Cathedral of St. James is located. The cathedral is the final destination of most that walk the Camino for it is there that St. James is buried in a crypt below the main altar.  

     Saint James was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles who was martyred in 44 AD which is why the cathedral is considered an important site to Catholics. As one enters they pass an ornately carved stone pillar atop of which sits the image of St. James holding a pilgrim’s walking stick. There was a time when pilgrims completing their journey would touch the base of the pillar, but over time countless hands have worn portions of it away, so physical contact is no longer permitted.

     The cathedral is a magnificent piece of architecture and craftsmanship. Construction began in 1075, and improvements have been taking place ever since. Mass is held daily, and Father Santilli was one of several visiting priests from different parts of the world who were honored with an invitation to help concelebrate mass.

  Father Santilli and Dennis feel that their journey was very rewarding, but found it hard to sum up into just a few words. “It’s one of those experiences that needs to be “unpacked” over some time” said Father Santilli. “I’m sure that the lessons of the Camino will be part of me for weeks and months to come as I continue to unravel its treasures and cherish its moments.” Both were extremely grateful, which Dennis summed up in this way, “I was grateful that we had made the journey safe, I was grateful for the opportunity to go on this pilgrimage, and I was most grateful that God had made Himself known to us in an intimate and personal way throughout each and every step we took.”

 

The Mysterious Snake Man

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – October 2011

 THE MYSTERIOUS “SNAKE MAN”

AND OTHER FORGOTTEN TALES

By Jim Ignasher

     New England folklore is wrought with stories of lone travelers who have wandered the highways and bi-ways of the northeast leaving strange tales and mysteries in their wake. Perhaps the most famous case concerns the legend of Peter Rugg, a stubborn man who in 1770 was foolish enough to press on towards his home in Boston instead of wisely seeking shelter as a violent electrical storm approached. As he was about to resume his journey, he is said to have remarked, “Let the storm increase. I will see home tonight in spite of it, or may I never see home!” Rugg’s oath proved prophetic, and for more than a century later countless witnesses throughout New England claimed to have encountered his ghostly apparition riding hard before an approaching storm, always stopping just long enough to ask the way to Boston. Despite the tale being a work of fiction, some 19th century newspapers printed the alleged encounters as fact, thereby giving validity to the legend.

     Mysteries and legends can be fun to ponder, especially as Halloween approaches. While there are no written accounts of Mr. Rugg ever visiting Smithfield on his eternal journey to Boston, other ill-fated, yet very real travelers passed our way and left a few bizarre tales of their own.    

     A case in point is the story of a wanderer known only as the “Snake Man”. (Nobody knew his real name because he died before he could give it.) His story comes to us through an essay written by Miss Dorothy Whipple in 1929, which was presented by her father, Dr. Lucius A. Whipple, at a meeting of the Western Rhode Island Civic Historical Society on May 24, 1949.

     The date of the incident is not given, but the story goes that the “Snake Man” appeared at the famed Waterman Tavern one evening carrying a sack which contained his pet rattlesnake. After a few drinks, he announced to those present that his snake could do tricks, and pulled the reptile from its cloth confines and laid it on the bar. As one might guess, the snake bit him, and he died a painful death shortly afterwards. His body was reportedly buried somewhere, “in the wilds of the country”, the location of which has been lost to history, but was apparently still known to some longtime area residents at the time Miss Whipple penned her essay.

     A ghost story connected with the Waterman Tavern concerns a traveling peddler who mysteriously disappeared while sleeping in the basement because all the upstairs rooms were occupied. As with many ghostly legends the details are vague, but the story relates that it was presumed he had fallen down an open well and drowned. However, it seems odd that nobody would verify this presumption before taking another drink of water! Whether his demise was accidental or by design is not stated. In either case, his physical form was never seen again, but his ghost was said to haunt the place for years afterwards.  

   Then there is the legend of John Noforce, a Narragansett Indian said to have lived in a cave along a rocky cliff off Mann School Road sometime in the 1700s.  In 1929, local apple grower T.K. Winsor related the story to a Providence Journal reporter as it had been told to him by his father and grandfather.

     One day, so the story goes, John was found dead at the base of the cliff, but the circumstances surrounding his untimely demise were a mystery. Some speculated he jumped because of a Romeo and Juliet situation that existed between his tribe and another. A continuation of that story relates that the maiden he was in love with threw herself off the same cliff upon learning of his death. Another version went that John jumped while being pursued by an enemy, choosing death before capture, while others theorized his fall was purely accidental.

     The rocky precipice where the incident is said to have occurred later became known as “Noforce Rocks”, and was still called such at the time Mr. Winsor gave his interview. Although the exact date of the incident is not recorded, nor is the disposition of John’s remains, historical research conducted by Merrilla Steere in the 1960s, and further research by Laurence J. Sasso Jr. in the 1970s, indicates there is truth to the legend.  

    There was a time when tramps, vagabonds, and hobos routinely roamed the country setting camp wherever it suited them; usually out of the prying eyes of the authorities. Smithfield saw its share of these “kings of the road” as evidenced by the following tale which one newspaper headline termed, “an unfortunate occurrence”; which although accurate, definitely understated the entire affair.

     On March 31, 1873, Albert Barnes of Greenville ventured into the woods behind his home to look for a missing cow and stumbled upon the body of a man.    

     Authorities were notified, but by the time they came to view the scene a heavy rain had begun to fall, so the remains were brought to a store in Greenville. Nobody recognized the man, who was described as being about forty years old, 5’ 10”, 160 lbs., with dark hair and beard. Nothing was found amidst his clothing that would help with identification, but once the clothes were removed, investigators quickly discovered that the man was infected with Smallpox; a highly contagious and often fatal disease of the day!

     The store was closed to prevent further exposure, and a local undertaker was quickly summoned to remove the body – forthwith – and bury it at town expense.

     The incident created quite a stir in the community, and before long, someone started the rumor that authorities knew the dead man had been infected with Smallpox prior to his removal from the woods, and thus deliberately risked infecting the entire village. Of course this was not true, and the reasons for initiating such a preposterous rumor can only be speculated at this late date, but perhaps a political enemy of one of the town officials involved with the investigation was the culprit responsible.

   All who had been exposed to the corpse were vaccinated at town expense, which apparently was enough to stem an outbreak. As to the dead man, he was never identified, and his place of internment also remains a mystery, for although the incident was recorded in the newspaper, there is no mention of the case to be found in town death records!    

     Another mystery was brought to the attention of authorities shortly before Thanksgiving in 1919 when the skeletal remains of an unknown man were found on Wionkhiege Hill about two miles from Farnum Pike. It was estimated the bones had lain there for two or three years. They were given a proper burial at town expense, but neither the man’s identity nor the circumstances surrounding his death were ever established.  

       The true identities of these unfortunate souls will likely forever remain a mystery. The once wooded hillsides where some of these wanderers met their untimely ends are now covered with homes whose occupants have no idea as to what occurred prior to modern development. And these aren’t the only tales that could be told.

     Now that you’re wondering about the land your home sits on…happy Halloween.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wionkiege Valley Fire Company

The Wionkiege Valley Volunteer Fire Company

 

Some of the members of the Wionkhiege Valley Volunteer Fire Department

(In Photo – Left to Right) Rutledge Mollander Jr., David Russell, Tom Fagnant, Walter Goudie, Milton Lizotte, Rutledge “Ray” Mollander Sr., and Frank Maxcy.  

 

     Many paid fire departments across the country can trace their roots to volunteer fire companies, and Smithfield’s fire department is one such example. Before there was a “Smithfield Fire Department”, the town was protected by two volunteer fire companies; one in Greenville, the other in Georgiaville. Few may realize that there was also a third volunteer fire company that protected the Wionkhiege Hill and Wionkhiege Valley portion of town. Although only in existence a relatively short time, it was a hotly contested aspect of Smithfield’s fire-fighting history.

     In the 1950s, Smithfield was still considered to be a close-knit, New England town. The villages of Greenville, Georgiaville, and Esmond, were well established commercial centers with much of the rest of the town still farmland and apple orchards. During the later part of the decade, the Wionkhiege part of town experienced an increase in growth prompting some who lived in that area to lobby for the creation of a new fire district.

     The proposed Wionkhiege Valley Fire District would service roughly eighty-five homes that were located within a two mile radius of the Latham Farm, which was located near the intersection of Log and Burlingame Roads. Area residents felt that better fire protection was needed due to the distance they lived from the Georgiaville and Greenville fire stations, as well as the narrow, twisting, roads leading to the area that would hinder a fire engine’s response time. The plan wasn’t to eliminate the need for the other fire companies, but to simply shorten response time and slow a fire’s progress until fire engines from Greenville and Georgiaville could arrive.

     The driving force behind the proposal was Mrs. Corielynn Latham, the only woman to ever organize a fire company in Smithfield. She began her project by going door to door asking for monetary donations to start the company. When enough money had been raised, Secretary of State John A. Notte granted a charter for the formation of the fire company, and in the second week of September, 1958, the Wionkhiege Valley Volunteer Fire Company was formally established.

     A garage that once stood on Log Road at the intersection of Burlingame Rd. was used to house the company’s fire trucks, and the first company meeting was held there at which time company officers were elected. Daniel W. Latham was elected president; William Martineau, vice president; Edward Jacques, secretary; and Harry Gardner, treasurer.

     Mrs. Latham, Mrs. John Mura, Rutledge Mollander, Hugh Brown, Walter Goudie, Ralph Farrar, and Charles Campbell were all elected to serve as a board of directors, with Mrs. Latham and Mrs. Mura also serving in the ladies auxiliary.

     The signers of the charter were Daniel Latham, Edward Jacques, John Mura, Wyit Wright, John McGirr, and Burton Mowry      

This cast aluminum plaque once adorned a volunteer fireman’s vehicle.

The new fire company held a square dance three weeks later to raise funds for equipment. Before long, the W.V.V.F.C. purchased a second-hand Ward LaFrance pumper truck from Richmond, Rhode Island. Members of the company also hand-built a custom Ford tank-truck which carried eight-hundred gallons of water.

     Volunteers also created twenty cisterns throughout the district from which the pumper could draw water in the event of a fire.

     The new firemen received training from Lt. Ronald R. Jones of the Cranston Fire Department, as well as courses in first-aid and lifesaving from the Red Cross.    

     Things seemed to be going well. Wionkhiege residents had the fire protection they were seeking, and the town gained two additional pieces of fire apparatus that could be called into service if needed.   Yet surprisingly, not everyone was in favor of the new fire company as evidenced by newspaper articles of the era. There were those who claimed the added fire protection wasn’t needed, and actively sought to have the W.V.V.F.C. abolished!

     The issue wasn’t personal, but political, and residents and officials from all sides weighed in. In 1961, voters were asked to decide if town funding should be granted to the W.V.V.F.C. to allow it to continue operating. Despite some objections, voters granted funding.

     Yet the debate continued prompting members of the Town Council to request a comprehensive study as to the necessity of having a third fire district in town. The study was conducted by the Smithfield Planning Board, which released its findings in early 1962.

     Their report stated in part, “That the adequacy of fire protection needs in the Wionkhiege Valley area does not warrant the creation of a new fire district but does warrant the establishment of an Engine Company in this area.”

     It went on to state, “That said Engine Company should be completely subject to and made an integral part of, the established Fire Department in Greenville.” Adding that, “Training programs, equipment needs, personnel matters, general administration and finance should be the sole responsibility of the chief of the Greenville Department.”

     The report also recommended a fire engine capable of pumping 500 gallons of water per minute, a suitable fire station in a central location, and the installation of a fire alarm system that would simultaneously ring at both the Engine Company station and the Greenville fire station.

     The report concluded with, “If the above recommendations are approved and carried out, the Rating Assn. has assured the Board that there would be a reduction in the fire insurance rates within this area.”

     While some viewed the report as a victory, others saw it as a contradiction, for there already was a fire station with two fire engines in the area.      

     The Wionkhiege firemen decided to fight back, and on May 10, 1962, two days before the Town Financial Meeting, the following letter appeared in The Observer.

     Dear Editor:

     It has been a year since the people of the Town of Smithfield voted their approval of expending funds for the operation of the Wionkhiege Valley Fire Company. The Volunteers of the Company are extremely grateful for this recognition and have sought to spend their appropriation wisely. As you know, this appropriation was voted by the people in spite of the Town Council’s stand that we did not need fire protection in this area. This year, however, the Council has changed its position in view of reports from the Planning Board and the New England Fire Insurance Rating Association. Having been enlightened by the experts, their position is that we should have a permanent station, a new pumper, and other equipment in accordance with N.E.F.I.R.A. regulations. This is more than we planned to ask for on our own and naturally has great appeal. However, the Council has sought to take away from us our greatest asset. Their recommendation is that we eliminate the Wionkhiege Valley Fire Company and be swallowed up by the Greenville Fire Company. Our finances, personnel matters and general administration would be taken over solely by the Chief of the Greenville Department. In effect, we would lose our identity. This would kill the spirit which has carried us along to where we are; and the one most important asset of a volunteer organization is spirit. Once that is lost the organization slowly falls apart. We are therefore appealing to you, the voter, to continue your faith in our work, and give us our appropriation, or any portion of it you feel is proper, after hearing the discussion at the meeting. But, don’t be a party to our downfall and give our appropriation to the Greenville Company. All we ask is the opportunity to govern ourselves in the American tradition. Give us this opportunity by giving careful consideration to our request from the floor at the Town Financial Meeting on May 12.

      The letter was signed, The Volunteer Firemen of the Wionkhiege Valley Fire Company.    

     Despite their best efforts, the Wionkhiege Valley Fire Company was forced to disband. Following the Planning Board’s recommendations, the town built the Log Road fire station, (Today known as Station 3), which opened in June of 1964.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brazen Bank Bandits of Slatersville

Originally published in the Smithfield Times, January, 2016

The Brazen Bank Bandits Of Slatersville

By Jim Ignasher    

The First National Bank of North Smithfield was once located in this building on Main St. in Slatersville.

     Louis Bruno awoke to the sound of a “bang”, as if someone had just fired a revolver. At least that’s how he described the noise to a newspaper reporter a few hours later. The light of the moon allowed him to make out the hands of the clock on the wall. It was 1:25 a.m., and at first he wondered if he’d been dreaming. Then he heard more noises. Fully awake now, he identified them as coming from the space below his apartment, which was occupied by the First National Bank of North Smithfield. Then came another “bang” that rattled the dishes in the kitchen cabinet, and he came to realize what was happening – someone was robbing the bank! The date was March 15, 1904, and for the Burno’s, and other nearby residents of Slatersville, it was going to be a long and suspenseful night.

   The First National Bank of North Smithfield was located in the village of Slatersville, and is not to be confused with the National Exchange Bank of Smithfield, that was located in the village of Greenville. (Neither bank is in existence today.)

     The bank in Slatersville was chartered in 1815, and opened for business three years later under the name of the Burrillville Agricultural & Manufacturers Bank. In 1824 the name was changed to “Village Bank”, and in May of 1865, the bank was nationalized, and became the First National Bank of Smithfield, and after 1871, North Smithfield.        

     Mr. Bruno and his wife lived in an apartment directly above the bank and post office; an arrangement that would hardly be acceptable today due to security concerns. In an era before burglar alarms, institutions such as banks relied on fortress-like vaults to protect their assets. The money in this particular bank was surrounded by twenty inch thick granite blocks, with an outer layer of brick for added thickness and fire-proofing. The outer door to the vault consisted of heavy iron and was secured with a padlock. The inner door was constructed of four layers of iron, each one-inch thick. The frame and hinges were set in stone. When locked, the inner door was held in place by a sophisticated tumbler mechanism which controlled six steel pins, each one-and-a-half inches thick that extended into holes drilled in the granite.

     Inside the vault itself was a solid steel, Hibbard-Rodman-Ely Maganese No. 5, “burglar proof” safe, which contained the bank’s cash assets.

     To penetrate such a vault required time, and some expertise relating to safes and explosives. It also involved the risk of being blown to Kingdom Come. Perhaps it was for this reason that many bank robberies occurred during the daylight hours when vaults were generally left open.  

     The Bruno’s weren’t the only people awakened by the safe cracker’s attempts to blast his way into the vault, but home telephones were scarce in 1904, and most of the citizens were too frightened to even leave their beds to investigate what was going on. Mr. Bruno was braver than the rest and thought of going for the police, but when he peered outside his window directly above the bank’s front door he saw two men standing in the shadows of a tree. Another figure lurked outside the door at the bottom of the stairs leading to the upstairs apartments, and a fourth was stationed at the back of the building. Bruno was basically trapped in his apartment with nothing to do but listen and wait.  

     Even if he’d managed to slip out un-noticed, the town’s police force consisted of a handful of constables led by an elected Town Sergeant. Any show of force would have to come from the neighboring city of Woonsocket which had an established police department.

     Over the next two hours Bruno secretly watched as a fifth man went in and out of the bank setting more charges. Moments after he’d rejoin his confederates in the street there’d be another explosion. This process was repeated over and over, with each explosion being bigger and more powerful than the last. Apparently the vault was more secure then the burglars had anticipated, and even though the echoes of each blast reverberated throughout the area, they didn’t seem concerned about getting caught.

     After several unsuccessful explosions, Bruno heard one of the men remark “Fine morning this is!”

   After four more blasts rocked the building and shattered several windows, one man commented, “This time, give it a good one!”

The twelfth explosion was the biggest yet, dislodging plaster from the ceiling, shattering crockery, and even knocking over two chairs in the Bruno’s apartment.

   Once again the hopeful safe cracker entered the building to inspect his work, but emerged a minute later. There was some animated discussion between the group, but Bruno couldn’t make out the words. It was clear they didn’t have the money, yet no more attempts were made to get it. Instead, they simply strolled, (Yes, strolled.) up Main Street towards the Slatersville Congregational church. The time was now 3:30 a.m.

     Sometime afterwards, someone notified Charles Seagrave, the bank’s cashier, who arrived by first light to see the bank in shambles. In one corner stood a small safe, which the bank used to store documents, its lock broken and door ajar. The documents were strewn about the floor, but were otherwise untouched. It was surmised the burgers had begun their work on this safe before concentrating on the vault.

     The vault’s outer door had been blown open and was now irreparably twisted.    This door, it was reported, had been in use by the bank since 1818. As to the inner door, one of the iron layers was blasted outward, while the other three were stove inward and wedged against the front of the “burglar proof” safe inside the vault, thereby preventing any further attempts to get at the money.

     The only clues left behind were a rusty axe, two chisels, and one dynamite fuse. Evidently the burglars had used all of the dynamite they’d brought for the job.

     North Smithfield’s Town Sergeant, William J. Allaire, determined that the gang had likely arrived in a horse-drawn wagon which they’d hidden in a shed at the nearby Congregational Church. One witness reported seeing them heading towards Millville, Massachusetts.  Authorities there discovered a small railroad station had been burglarized, but nothing was taken. It was estimated that the gang had “laid low” and warmed themselves by the pot bellied stove before proceeding further.

     Woonsocket’s Chief of Police detailed Detective Sutton to assist North Smithfield authorities and bank examiners with the investigation. Agents of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency were also called in. Unfortunately, as far as research could determine, nobody was ever charged with the crime.

   Some criticism fell to the night watchman of a nearby mill who admitted to hearing the explosions as early as 2:00 a.m., but told investigators he thought someone was shooting at Muskrats – even though it was the middle of the night. The mill was not only equipped with a telephone, but it also had a large bell that the watchman could have rung to scare away the culprits.

     Chief Dodge of Woonsocket told reporters that had someone telephoned his department to report the crime in progress he could have had a contingent of well armed officers on the scene within half-an-hour.

     Despite the damage, the bank was able to re-open for business later that morning. Before long, new doors for the vault were constructed and fitted, and the bungled bank-job of 1904 faded into history.

     The reader may be interested to know that the former bank building is still standing, but it hasn’t been used as a bank for decades. While apartments are still located on the upper floors, Gusto restaurant currently occupies the first floor. Its walls are adorned with historic pictures of the area. And, yes, the vault is still there, in the back behind some refrigeration units, with, I’m told, the “burglar proof” safe still inside.    

 

 

 

50 years Ago – November, 1967

50 Years Ago – November, 1967

 

By Jim Ignasher

     November is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving, a time to reflect and take stock of our blessings. As a point of fact, although the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621, it wasn’t celebrated as a federal holiday until1864 when President Lincoln proclaimed it a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”    

     November is also the month we honor all military veterans.

     Richard N. Kanea, of Greenville, was home on leave while serving in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam as part of Assault Craft Division 12.

     Ensign Andrew H. Aitken, Jr., of Greenville graduated from U.S. Navy Officers Flight Training School with honors.

     William H. Finlay, (U.S. Army) of Esmond, was home after completing his service in Vietnam.

     Airman Mark D. Sullivan of Greenville completed basic training and was assigned to the security police at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

     T/Sgt. John T. Paquette of Esmond was serving as an aircraft mechanic in Vietnam.

   Airman Edward C. Hilbert of Esmond was receiving advanced aircraft weapons training.  

     Airman 1st Class Brian P. McCaffrey was serving in Vietnam.

     Airman Richard M. Johnson of Greenville was serving as an electronics and communications specialist at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

     Cub Scout Pack 3 of Greenville held their monthly meeting at the St. Phillip’s Parish Center. Bobcat pins were awarded to Terrance Oates, Vincent Ianuzzi, Jr., Mark McKay, Alfred LaPrade, Michael Lupo, Steven Ganz, Robert Hamel, and David Brown.

     Weblo Awards were presented to John Colasante, Jeff Muto, Conrad Giroux, David Lowe, and James Buonaccorsi.

     To the relief of many who regularly drove or walked through the Greenville center area, Representative Angelo R. Ianniteli, and Senator F. Monroe Allen announced that traffic lights would soon be installed at the intersections of Rt. 44 and Pleasant View Ave., and Rt. 44 and Smith Ave. For years, local residents had been complaining to the state that the lights were necessary due to the increasing volume of motor vehicle traffic speeding through the village making it hazardous to cross the street or enter from side roads. It was reported that the lights should be in full operation by the spring of 1968.

     The Smithfield Players were scheduled to give a performance of “It Happened At Midnight”, a mystery-comedy about a writer who while seeking peace and quiet accidentally uncovers a spy ring. The performance was to be held at the Smithfield High School auditorium on November 24th and 25th, but had to be postponed until the following month due to the lead character taking ill.  

     On November 17, the “Chestmobile”, a bus-like vehicle operated by the Rhode Island Department of Health came to town and offered free chest x-rays to local residents.  

     The newly constructed Almacs supermarket held its grand opening at the Apple Valley Mall. (For those who don’t remember, it stood where the CVS and T.J. Max store are located today.)

     It was reported that “thousands” attended the event, filling the parking lot to capacity. Local officials, the mall developers, and Miss Charlotte Steere, Rhode Island’s Apple Blossom Queen, were all on hand to greet visitors who were offered free apple cider and red balloons, as well as something new called “Apple Swirl” ice cream.

     It was further reported that the next group of stores currently under construction would be occupied by the spring.

     The Smithfield Raiders pre-teen football team beat the North Providence Jets in a closely contested, (and muddy), game, 14 to 13.

     One local car dealer was offering a 1966 Buick Skylark for $1,995. A 1966 Corvette was on the lot for $3,495, bit if one was looking for something a little less sporty, there was also a 1966 Cadillac that could be had for only $200 more at $3,695.  

     The Village Squares, a local square dancing club, held a dance in East Greenwich.

 

 

 

 

The Capron Road Bridge

Originally published in the Smithfield Times, November, 2017

A New Chapter In The History

Of The Capron Bridge Is About To Begin

By Jim Ignasher

 

     Since the early spring Smithfield residents have seen the detour signs for Capron Road due to the dismantling and replacement of the Adin B. Capron Memorial Bridge that crosses the Woonasquatucket River at the bottom of Capron Hill, and those who live in the area have suffered the inconvenience. The good news is that those signs are about to come down and the road re-opened, and the better news is that the new bridge will be christened amidst much fanfare and celebration as a bit of local history is commemorated – and everyone’s invited to attend.

     The new bridge will be dedicated on November 11th, at exactly 11:00 a.m. The reasons for choosing this time and date will be explained shortly, but first a brief history of the area.  

     According to a report published by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the earliest documentation of a bridge spanning the Woonasquatucket River on Capron Road dates to 1814. It can be surmised that this early bridge was likely a simple wooden structure, perhaps modified or rebuilt over time. Try to imagine what the road leading to it looked like in 1814, probably little more than a dirt path connecting Farnum Turnpike with Stillwater Road.

     In the years that followed several structures were erected in close proximity of the bridge such as homes and outbuildings, a blacksmith shop, a grist mill, a stone dam and sluiceway, a railroad depot, and a water tower for topping off the boilers of the train locomotives which once passed thorough on a regular basis.    

     Sometime around 1870 the grist mill was purchased by Adin B. Capron, for whom Capron Road is named. Besides being a successful businessman, Mr. Capron was active in local, state, and national politics, even holding a seat in Congress, before his death in 1911.  

     By the 1880s the grist mill was thriving, reportedly processing 152,000 bushels of grain a year, and remained in operation into the early 1900s. Anyone who has ever traveled Capron Road may have wondered why it has those “plateaus” every so many feet as they climb the steep hill out of Stillwater. Oral tradition has it that they were engineered for the horses that had to haul the heavy grain filled wagons from the grist mill up to Farnum Pike. The plateaus gave the wagons a piece of level ground to stop on so the horses could catch their breath.

     Today the mill and railroad structures are gone, but some of the stone and cement foundations can still be seen poking through the thick overgrowth. The former route of the train tracks is now a walking path, and an interstate highway looms in the background. However, two nearby historic homes of the period remain intact.  

     In 1932 the old wooden bridge was replaced by one made of reinforced concrete. It was dedicated at 11:00 a.m., on November 11, 1932, as the Adin B. Capron Memorial Bridge.

     At that time two bronze plaques were attached to the new structure; one honoring Mr. Capron, and the other honoring the eleven men of Stillwater who’d served in World War I. Of those eleven men, three of them, Manuel J. Arsenault, John A. McGrury, and Antonio Marzulla, lost their lives, and another, John M. Capron, the son of Adin Capron, was wounded. The other seven names are Carlo Cancieliere, Antonio Caranci, Arthur Ricard, Henry Scrogey, George Tesoniero, William A. Timson, and Henry Vadenais.

     The time and date of the dedication were chosen because World War I ended at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918. For this reason the new bridge will also be dedicated on November 11th.

     The 1932 bridge ceremony was well attended by war veterans, private citizens, and public officials. The plaque honoring Mr. Capron was unveiled by his daughter Helen. The other was unveiled by a family member of one of the deceased servicemen, but their name has been lost to history.

     By 2015 the Capron bridge was 83-years-old and in need of attention. The question to repair or replace was discussed. Despite its potential historic significance, the bridge was too narrow for modern traffic, and the approaches needed to be re-aligned for safety reasons. Therefore it was decided to replace the aging structure.  

     As per town ordinance, final approval to remove any such structures must to be granted by the Smithfield Preservation Commission headed by Robert Leach of Greenville. Leach approved the town’s request, and in a twist of irony, subsequently learned that the engineer who designed the bridge was his own grandfather, Nahum Franklin Leach, who by the way only received $37.50 for his services. In effect, Robert authorized demolition of the bridge his grandfather had created.

     As a point of fact, Nahum Leach was also a veteran of WWI, having served in the Army.  

     In preparation of demolition, the two bronze plaques, which had taken on a green patina over the years were removed and carefully restored to their original luster. They will be permanently installed on the new bridge, which will retain the name, “Adin B. Capron Memorial Bridge”. A third plaque has been created to indicate to future generations that this is not the original 1932 bridge.      

     Although the bridge will be new, the original fitted stonework underneath has been saved as a way to preserve part of the structure’s historical character.

     Those driving down Capron Road will also notice that the new bridge is wider, includes a sidewalk, and sits more in line with the road for safer traveling.  

     For the past several weeks plans have been underway between local veteran’s organizations and the Smithfield Preservation Commission to make this bridge dedication as meaningful as the first. All are welcome to attend. The ceremony will start at approximately 10:00 a.m. and it is suggested that people should park on the Stillwater Road side of the bridge. Free apples will be provided by Robert Leach, who owns Leach Farms on Austin Avenue.          

     To see photos of this event go to the Historic Images page of this website.

 

 

Origin Of The Greenville Fire Co.

Origin Of The Greenville Fire Company

 

     The origin of the Greenville Fire Company can be traced to a devastating fire which occurred on the night of June 20, 1870, when lightning struck Whipple & Co. Wheelwright shop in the heart of the village. Volunteers rushed to the scene and formed bucket brigades, but the flames had gotten a good head start and before long the building was consumed by flames, which then spread to an adjacent building and it too was lost. During the firefighting operation, one man was seriously hurt when he fell from a ladder.

     The incident made it clear that something better in the way of fire protection was needed, and it was decided to purchase a used fire engine from the Pawtucket Fire Department. The engine was a vintage, horse-drawn, hand-pump dubbed the Water Witch, which became the nucleus of the Rescue Fire Engine Company. In later years a hose cart, and a hook & ladder wagon would be added. (For more detailed information see The Water Witch And Its Mysterious Disappearance.)   

     The Rescue Fire Engine Company eventually came to be known as the Greenville Fire Company, which later became part of the Smithfield Fire Department.

     Click on images to enlarge.

Woonsocket Patriot, June 24, 1870

Woonsocket Patriot. July 29, 1870, p.2

Woonsocket Patriot, August 26, 1870

Smithfield’s first fire engine, the Water Witch. Chief Andrew Whipple in photo.

Rules & Regulations of Greenville’s First Fire. Co.

Woonsocket Evening Call
February 3, 1916

 

     Greenville’s original fire station was located in the basement of the National Exchange Bank in Greenville Center.  In 1939, the Fire Company moved into a new station about 200 feet away from the bank.  In the 1950s an addition was added to the east side of the building.  Today this building serves as Fire Headquarters for the Smithfield Fire Department.

An artist rendition of the Greenville Fire Station

     To see more historic photos of the Greenville Fire Company, look under the Historic Photos section of this website.  

 

 

If Smithfield Had A “Black Book”

First published in the Smithfield Times magazine, April, 2015.  

IF SMITHFIELD HAD A “BLACK BOOK”

By Jim Ignasher

     Fellow Smithfield Times author Dick Martin got me thinking when I read his “Meanderings” column in the March issue; “Smithfield Needs a Black Book. In fact, every town should have one of these.”  In case you missed it, Dick’s article referred to The Black Book of Burrillville, a compendium of untimely deaths connected to the northwestern corner of our state.

     Such a book may seem morbid, yet a quick browse of Amazon.com reveals that there are enough non-fiction books on the subject of death to indicate that the public likes to read about it. The books must be selling, or publishers wouldn’t keep producing them. Some have catchy titles like, “What a Way To Go!” a book about weird ways people have met their end, and “Over Their Dead Bodies”, a collection of tombstone epitaphs. One publisher even has an entire “murder & mayhem” series!

     As a historian, I’m always looking for vintage newspaper articles about Smithfield which I keep in manila folders in a file cabinet. (Not very hi-tech, but it works.) I’ve discovered that no matter what the subject, sooner or later these articles come in handy.

   So I got to thinking, if Smithfield had such a “black book”, what would it contain?   I guess a more important question would be; do we really want to know?

     Take for example the old saying, “If walls could talk…” How old is the house you live in? Did anyone ever die there? Are you sure?   What about on the property?   And, do you really want to know?  

     There was a time before hospitals and nursing homes when the sick and elderly were cared for at home. If they died, their wake and funeral was likely held in the home’s “parlor”, what we today call the “living room”. Afterwards, they were usually buried in a “family plot” somewhere on the property.

     A perfect example is the Smith-Appleby House Museum. The hillside cemetery is filled with those who lived and died in the house. The museum’s “best parlor” was not only where funerals were held, but weddings as well. The last person to pass in the house was Maria Appleby, of heart trouble in 1959.  

     Some people won’t buy a home if they know someone died in it – peacefully or otherwise. In some states real estate agents and homeowners are required to disclose such things, but in Rhode Island it’s more or less up to the buyer to do their own research.

     Rental properties can have a sordid past too, and most landlords aren’t anxious to reveal it. I once lived in an apartment complex in a neighboring town where a man upstairs committed suicide. I’m not so sure the new tenants were informed of this, and with the passage of more than thirty years, I’m willing to bet the current occupants know nothing about it.

     Trying to discover if a particular piece of property has a dark past can be difficult. Older town death records don’t always list an address, leaving one to rely on newspaper accounts – if they can find them. A case in point occurred in Georgiaville on January 11, 1884, when a man abruptly left his job as a weaver at a nearby mill, and returned home to kill his wife. According to one newspaper article of the incident, “The weapon used was a razor, and with it (he) literally severed his wife’s head from her body.”

     There is another house in town which dates to the 1800s with a garage behind it that was once used as a carriage house. According to a (Woonsocket) Evening Call article dated July 27, 1910, a young man committed suicide in that carriage house with a shotgun.

   Learning such things about our home can be quite unnerving.  

   One has to wonder in the days before routine post mortem exams, just how many murders went undetected. One possible case involved Smithfield resident Colonel Tyler Mowry, who passed away in June of 1860, presumably of heart disease. According to an article which appeared a month later in the Woonsocket Patriot on July 6, 1860, it was alleged by one of his daughters that he may have been poisoned. The body was exhumed, an autopsy performed, and tissue samples were sent to Brown University for further analysis. The results of the study are not recorded, but forensic medicine at the time was nothing like we know it today.      

     Sometimes it’s not the dwelling which holds a dark secret, but the land that it sits on. Take for example the day in 1873 when Albert Barnes of Greenville ventured into the woods behind his home to look for a missing cow and stumbled upon the body of a man. The cause of death was determined to be Smallpox, a much feared disease for the time. Today a housing development occupies the place where the corpse was found.

     On November 16, 1919, skeletal remains were discovered on Wionkhiege Hill, and were thought to have been there two or three years.

     In the spring of 1920 the body of an elderly man was found in a field in Greenville. He was last seen in February walking in a driving snowstorm, and it was presumed he became disoriented and lost.  

     A body that was never identified was discovered in a wooded area in June of 1929. Death was thought to be of natural causes.    

     In 1977, a Putnam Pike man discovered the skull and bones of a young girl while excavating a tree stump to widen his driveway. The bones were at least fifty to seventy-five years old, and there are no known cemeteries in the area.  

     According to town records, virtually every body of water in the area has been the scene of at least one drowning, but certain locations such as Waterman’s Lake, Sprague Reservoir, and Georgiaville Pond for example, have borne witness to numerous tragedies. Before the days of automobiles and paved roadways which made getting to Rhode Island’s beaches an easy day trip, people swam in local ponds and lakes to beat the summer heat, and sometimes tragedies occurred. However, such incidents weren’t confined to the summer months. One of the earliest recorded drownings at Georgiaville Pond occurred in December of 1858 when a 32-year-old man fell through ice in the upper portion of the pond. The accident was witnessed by his brother who tried to save him.  

     In a sad twist of irony, there is the case of 17-year-old Frederick Kendricks who was aboard the steamship Metis when it sank just two miles off the coast of Watch Hill on August 30, 1872. Kendricks survived the disaster, but seventy others did not, including his father.   One year later, Frederick drowned within a few feet of shore while swimming in Georgiaville Pond.

     Even the roadways in front of our homes may have been the scene of a tragedy. On December 29, 1870, a 32-year-old man was killed instantly when he was thrown from his wagon in Spragueville.  

   Smithfield’s earliest known automobile related fatality involved a young man who fell from a moving truck on November 5, 1911, as it passed along Putnam Pike through Greenville.

     A strange accident occurred on Limerock Road in November of 1923 as a North Providence man and some friends were returning from a hunting trip. The truck they were riding in hit a bump in the road, which allegedly jarred the butt of a shotgun one of the men was holding. The gun discharged fatally injuring him.

   It doesn’t take long for an incident, no matter how horrible, to be forgotten with the passage of time. A “black book” would preserve these and other tales of forgotten misfortune thereby allowing us to research the place where we live. However, do we really want to know?

Smithfield’s Early Schools

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, September, 2017.

Smithfield’s Early Schools

By Jim Ignasher

     Everyone’s heard the old story about the father who tells his children how hard life was when he was young; “When I was a kid, we had to walk to school barefoot, in the snow, uphill, both ways!” We laugh at it today, but there was a time when such a statement wasn’t that far removed from fact. In the days of the iconic “one-room school house”, youths of all ages walked to school, or if they were lucky, rode a horse. They probably weren’t barefoot unless it was summer, (yes, school was sometimes held in summer.) but it’s likely that some weren’t adequately clothed for harsh weather. It was a time before electric lighting, central heating, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing. The classroom was lit with oil lamps, heat came from a pot-bellied stove, AC consisted of open windows, and the outhouse was just a short hop, skip, and a jump through the schoolyard. Perhaps that’s why the father who first uttered those words began with, “Kids today have it too easy!”      

     It’s September, the month that signals the end of summer and the start of a new school year, so an article about early schools in Smithfield seemed appropriate. In the archives of the Smith-Appleby House Museum is a lengthily research paper written by a former Smithfield teacher, Thomas B. Davis in 1933 titled “District Schools of Smithfield, R. I. Before 1871”. Part of the information in this article was derived from his research, and some from other sources.

     From 1730 to 1871 the town of Smithfield included the present-day municipalities of Central Falls, Lincoln, North Smithfield, and Woonsocket south of the Blackstone River, and by 1871 Smithfield had no less than thirty-six separate school districts. (The boundaries of each district can be seen on the Beers 1871 map of Smithfield, found in the Beers Atlas, at the Greenville Library.) Space does not permit mentioning all of them, so this article will only focus on those seven districts that were within the boundaries of present-day Smithfield.  

     As a point of fact, the “one-room school house” commonly depicted in art and literature didn’t become a common part of the American landscape until the early 1800s. Before then, school was generally held in comparatively informal settings such as homes or businesses.   And although many tend to picture a “little red school house”, photographic evidence from the 19th century indicates schools were just as likely to be painted white, and in some cases, made of brick.

     District 13 was the “Evans District”, and included Evans Road and Mann School Road. Between 1806 and 1826, Daniel Mann taught school in his home, (Hence the name of the road.), before a proper school house was erected in the vicinity of Mann School Road and Burlingame Road. That school house was later replaced by a new building in 1853.  

     Greenville was District 14. According to Mr. Davis, the first school in this area consisted of a room in the Greenville Tavern, a.k.a. the Waterman Tavern, sometime around 1750. This seems laughable when one considers that no establishment that serves alcohol can be located within 200 feet of a school in Smithfield today.

     The first school house in Greenville was constructed sometime later in the vicinity of the present-day Greenville Post Office. In 1804 it was replaced by a two-story structure known as the Greenville Academy, which was later relocated on Smith Avenue and converted to housing. In 1874, another two-story school was built on the site of the former academy and remained in use until the William Winsor School was completed in 1930.

     In 1939, the former school was acquired by the Greenville Grange and utilized as a meeting hall until it was demolished to make way for new development in the 1980s.

   The Village of Stillwater was District 15. As with other early districts the first “school” was taught in a private home – in this case the home of John Smith Appleby, which everyone knows today as the Smith-Appleby House Museum. Stillwater’s first school house wasn’t built until 1828, but its exact location is unclear. In 1856, (Some sources state 1869), a new school was erected just to the north of the intersection of Stillwater Road and Hanton City Trail.

     Georgiaville was District 16. Up until 1820, school was held in the home of John S. Farnum before classes were conducted in a building owned by the textile mill. The first school house was erected on Railroad Street in 1850. It was originally a one-story structure, but a second floor was added in 1873.

     From 1924 to 1942 the building was utilized as a fire station by the Georgiaville Fire Company before the present station was built. It later served as a DPW garage before being burned for training by the fire department in 1962.

     Esmond (formerly known as Allenville and Enfield) was District 17. The first school was erected in 1820 on Maple Street, but was replaced in 1849 by a new building on Esmond Street. Another school was later built on Chamberlain Street and is today a private residence.

     West Greenville, District 20, was one of the smallest districts in town. Its school stood on Route 44, just before West Greenville Road. The building reportedly began its existence as a grist mill, but was moved to that site by Captain Elisha Steere to serve as a school.

   The first school house in Spragueville, (District 28), was constructed next to the Spragueville Dam in 1808, and stood until 1920.   

     Mr. Davis also noted that Smithfield had a school house that wasn’t designated its own district. He wrote in part, “Levi Barnes built a small school house at his own expense on Wolf Hill about 1825.” Levi had nine children, and hired a teacher to educate them, as well as any of his neighbor’s children who wanted to attend. The building was later converted to a home, and was still standing as of 1933.  

     Today, Smithfield has six public schools which are all under one school district, and although school buses have replaced horses, the story of trudging to school barefoot in the snow endures.

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲