The “Hot Potato” School

This school house, built in Smithfield in 1850, was once commonly known as the “Hot Potato School.”

This school house, built in Smithfield in 1850, was once commonly known as the “Hot Potato School.”

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – April, 2012

By Jim Ignasher

School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days.
Readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic,
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.
Music by Gus Edwards; Lyrics by Will D. Cobb, 1907.

If one follows Whipple Road eastward away from Douglas Pike into the Town of Lincoln, they will come to the intersection of Angell Road where one of Smithfield’s (now Lincoln’s) earliest one-room schoolhouses remains standing.  Although the building has seen better days, it can still evoke images of a simpler time when teachers called students to class by ringing a bell, and when lessons for all grades were taught in the same classroom.  

This was the Pullen’s Corner School, and prior to the division of the Town of Smithfield in 1871, it was located in what was once the heart of Smithfield’s School District No. 19.   Few former schools of this type have withstood the ravages of time, most having succumbed to neglect and the wrecking ball.  The Pullen’s Corner School is therefore special for having survived in its original condition, and at its original location for more than 160 years.  

Not only has the school survived, but so has a rare hand-written ledger which contains the minutes of school committee meetings held in the building between 1859 and 1888.  The ledger, presently in the possession of the Historical Society of Smithfield, recounts teacher appointments, contracts, operating expenses, and other business concerning the building itself.    

The first school districts in Rhode Island were established in 1800 with the passage of the Free School Act, which allowed for the free public education of children. It is said that Smithfield was one of the first towns in the state to adopt school districts.  Each district was initially administered to by an elected board of neighborhood taxpayers who had the same authority and responsibilities as a town-wide school committee does today.  Each district committee consisted of a clerk, a trustee, a treasurer, and a tax collector. Elections were generally held every spring, and one had to be a “qualified” voter of the district to have any say in matters pertaining to the school.  To be “qualified” likely meant owning property and paying taxes on it.

The district school committees hired teachers, saw to necessary repairs of the school, and levied taxes to pay for such things.  Town-wide school committees didn’t come into being until after 1840.

By 1870, Smithfield had thirty-six school districts.  This was a time when the Town of Smithfield included the present-day municipalities of North Smithfield, Lincoln, Central Falls, and a portion of Woonsocket.  As the population grew, so did the number of school districts. Exactly how the district lines were drawn is unclear, but one could surmise that population density had something to do with it.  In a day before school busses, schools, it seems, had to be within a reasonable walking distance.

One-room school houses as we think of them today didn’t become part of the landscape until the mid-1800s. Prior to that, classes were usually held in a rented room of a private residence.  If a home was unavailable, there was always the back room of a business.  In Greenville, for example, school was once taught in the famed Waterman Tavern.

The Pullen’s Corner School was built in 1850 and closed in 1922.  Therefore, it can be assumed that the previously mentioned hand-written ledger was the second in a series of ledgers, but it is the only one known to have survived. 

Page one defines the boundaries of the district much like a land deed would describe the parameters of a large piece of property.  The district was irregular in shape, but the western boundary ran parallel to Douglas Pike between the pike and Ridge Road all the way to the North Providence line, while the northern boundary extended north of Jenckes Hill Road, and took in land presently owned by the Community College of Rhode Island. 

At a meeting held on April 23, 1859, the following people were elected to the district school committee for the term of one year: Lyman Arnold, Clerk; George A. Angell, Trustee; Ethan E. Angell, Treasurer; Alphonse A. Draper, Collector. The records also show that each man took an oath of office swearing to uphold the Constitution of the Untied States and the laws of Rhode Island.  

An entry dated October 15, 1859, indicates that the committee certified Edmund A. Angell as qualified to teach grammar school for the District adding, 

“This Certificate will remain valid for said purpose for one year from its date unless previously annulled by proper authority. (signed) John J. Richardson in behalf of the Examining Committee”

The next entry titled, “Contract With Teacher” outlined Mr. Angell’s compensation for his services, which was to be $30 per month.  The contract reads in part, that Mr. Angell agreed to teach, “for the term of four months and one half, commencing on the 14th day of November 1859, ending the 18th day of March 1860.”

It should be noted that district school committees set the parameters for the “school year” based on several factors, one of which being the needs of local farmers who required their children to help with spring planting and the autumn harvest.  It made no sense to schedule classes when parents would only keep their children home due to economic necessity. 

To make up for the short winter sessions, many schools also ran classes during the summer.  The carefree days of summer enjoyed by today’s youth were not so carefree back then.  Children would rise with the sun to do chores before heading off to school, only to return late in the day to do more chores. 

An entry for May 14, 1860, reveals that Miss Jane Smith was appointed to teach from May 14, to September 21, 1860, her salary set at fifteen dollars per month. 

Judging by the ledger, teacher compensation appears to have been arbitrary, with only one hard and fast rule; that male teachers made more than their female counterparts. Pay for male teachers ranged from $27 to $35 per month, while female teachers generally received about half as much.  Even when hired on a weekly basis, a female teacher could only expect to receive between four to six dollars per week.  While some teachers did receive pay raises, the raise was usually small for both sexes.

An entry from 1870 listed expenses incurred by the district for that year: one clock, two dollars; one dictionary, five dollars; brush and duster, eighty cents; stove pipe, thirty-five cents; one map, two dollars and seventy-five cents; broom and chalk, one dollar and four cents; wood for building fires, six dollars; one pail, twenty-five cents. 

Missing from this list of items is any mention of money expended on building maintenance, yet paging through the ledger it would appear that keeping the school house in good repair was an ongoing battle.  One might also draw the conclusion that allocating money for necessary repairs wasn’t a priority for some.

An entry dated December 21, 1863 under “Notice of Special School Meeting”, cites that the meeting was, “for the purpose of voting a tax on the said ratable property of said district for the purpose of repairing the school house.”  The actual meeting was held four days later, on Christmas, with nine qualified voters present.  A vote was passed to levy a tax of $150 to repair the school. 

This tax levy also had to be approved by the town school committee, which it was, on January 12, 1864.

In 1871, the Town of Lincoln was set apart from Smithfield, and District 19 of Smithfield became District 12 of Lincoln.  Records indicate that the transition was relatively smooth.  The first meeting for District 12 in the new Town of Lincoln took place at the school on June 24, 1871.

The matter of repairing the school was revisited in1876, but with much debate and controversy.  Some wanted to repair the present building which was barely twenty-six years old, while others wanted to build an entirely new school house at another location.   The argument dragged on for three years until it was voted four to eight to build a new school, the cost of which was not to exceed one-thousand dollars.  The old school was to be sold at auction.

It appeared that the matter had finally been settled, however it was not.  Another vote was taken two weeks later on June 27th, where five voted to build a new school, but eight voted to repair the old one.  The vote might have been tied had all eight of those who voted to build a new school at the previous meeting had attended this one. 

Those wanting a new school vowed to fight on, and two days later yet another meeting on the matter was held.  The vote from the 27th was rescinded, and once again it was voted to build a new school.   However, that vote was declared null and void at yet another meeting held on the 29th, where it was once again decided that the old school should be repaired and not abandoned.

Despite the back and fourth in-fighting, it appears that no immediate action was taken either way, for there is no further mention of repairs until a meeting held on June 24, 1882, but it was written in the ledger that no vote was taken for lack of attendance. 

History shows that the Pullen’s Corner School was eventually repaired as it remained in operation until 1922. 

There is a charming legend connected to the school concerning how it earned the nickname as the “Hot Potato School”.  The story goes that a teacher, presumed to be a Miss Estelle Collier, donated a stove on which she would bake and boil potatoes donated by local farmers so that the children could receive hot lunches.  

The old school is a symbol of a bygone era; a piece of yesteryear Americana that has all but disappeared from the New England landscape.  For this reason there are those who feel it is worth preserving.  To that end, two Lincoln residents, Richard A. Di Mase, and David Sale, have formed a two-man preservation committee dedicated to saving the building.  Over the last sixteen years they have raised funds through the sales of special Christmas ornaments depicting the old school.  Each year, a Lincoln company known as Chem Art has produced a different customized ornament to help the cause.  According to Mr. Di Mase, the long term goal is to have the building moved from its present location to the grounds of the new Lincoln Middle School where it can be restored to its former glory, and once again used for educational purposes.

If Walls Could Talk

A chance discovery in 1985 revealed the walls of an old school had been keeping a long forgotten secret. (Photo from author’s collection.)

A chance discovery in 1985 revealed the walls of an old school had been keeping a long forgotten secret. (Photo from author’s collection.)

First published in Your Smithfield Magazine – January, 2012

By Jim Ignasher

Nothing to do Nellie darling,
Nothing to do you say,
Let’s take a trip on memory’s ship
Back to the bygone days.Sail to the old village schoolhouse,
Anchor outside the school door.
Look in and see,
There’s you and me,
A couple of kids once more.
Lines from the song, School Days, by Gus Edwards and Will D. Cobb, 1907.

It’s been said that if the walls of old buildings could talk, imagine the tales they could tell. The East Smithfield Library is a case in point.  Originally built as an elementary school in 1908, the sturdy brick building once known as the Dorothy T.P. Dame School has stood silent witness to more than a century of change.  If they could talk, the walls of that vintage building might recount many a child’s first crush; the enthusiasm of a playground adventure, or even a time when students brought apples for their teachers. They might also relate the sentimental farewells bade by generations of children moving on to the next phase of their lives.

In later years the old school served as a community center, and by the 1980s it was a library.  It was during its conversion to a library that someone discovered the building had been keeping a charming secret, for hidden behind some old blackboards, were some even older blackboards, on which was a message from the past; a hail to the future from a long ago teacher.   

Most elementary school teachers in 1931 were women, so I will refer to this unknown educator as such.  Perhaps she had an interest in history, or was someone who thought about the future in terms of the past.  Unfortunately, we will never know, for her name was not recorded, nor was her motivation.  Maybe she did it just for the fun of it, or as a way to say “hello” to some future generation of students yet to be born.  In any case, she carefully covered the slate chalkboards of her classroom with artwork of her own doing that included, among other things, flowers, musical notes, and rabbits.  More importantly were the names of her students, each carefully written, and what was perhaps a phrase she used to instill confidence in her pupils, “Not I Can’t, But I Will Try!”  After that she wrote, “Class of 1931”.  

Even though eighty years have passed since her words were written, there are certain things that can be deduced.  It was likely the end of the school year, for otherwise what she wrote would have been lost to the following day’s lessons.   

When the last bell rang signaling the freedom of summer, the class of 1931 filed out.  Although the warm weather no doubt beckoned, the parting was likely bitter-sweet, for the class of ‘31 would not be returning in the autumn to the school they had come to know for the last six years of their young lives. Instead they would all attend another school to begin the 7th grade.

The original chalkboards of 1908 were set into the plaster of the walls when the school was built. Not long after the 1931 school year ended, they were covered by new ones.  Those doing the work had either been requested to leave the old ones as they were, or saw no reason to expend the effort to erase them.  In either case, that un-named teacher’s work became a time capsule of sorts that lay hidden and forgotten. 

Generations of children came and went afterwards, sitting in the very same seats, or at least the same classroom, as the Class of ’31.  In January of 1985, as renovations for the library were underway, workmen discovered the long forgotten treasure.  Although decades old, it was reported that the chalk lettering looked like it had been scrawled just the day before.

Writer Doug Hadden recorded some of the names in an article he wrote soon after the discovery: Winetha Pechie, Nellie Green, Veronica Tobin, Doris Schenck, Rose La Tour, Dora Provost, Donal Joya, Albert Hudson, Odelon Jolly, Angelina Moffit, Leo Monfits, Russell Chalmiers, Leo Fortin, Emilio Morselli, and Casare Bruno.  Unfortunately, the rest are lost to history, at least for the time being.

The Class of ’31 would have been born about 1919 or 1920. They entered elementary school at a time when Prohibition was the law of the land, and left at the start of the Great Depression.  Coming of age during the Depression would have made them used to sacrifice and doing without.

It was a simpler time when teachers focused on basic learning. There were no televisions or computers in the classrooms, and sending mail meant writing with pencil and paper.  The class of ’31 could not have conceived of the luxuries afforded the students of today.    

By 1942 the Dame School Class of ‘31 was doing their part to help win World War II, and went on to become what famous newsman Tom Brokaw has dubbed, “The Greatest Generation”.  It’s likely that many of the boys names found on those blackboards can also be found on local war memorials. 

At the end of the war, the same Class of ’31 settled down to jobs and careers, married their sweethearts, bought homes, and started families.  Some probably remained in Smithfield throughout their lives while others moved away traveling far and wide.  Fate would bring each to fulfill his or her own destiny.  Their generation witnessed the greatest advances in technology of any that had come before them: the advent of television, personal computers, jet aircraft, and even space travel, just to name a few.

By 1985 they were in their mid-sixties, getting ready to retire and start enjoying their grandchildren. Today, those who remain would be entering their nineties, and possibly enjoying great-grandchildren.

“Not I can’t, but I will try!”  Hopefully, they carried those words with them as they went through life, for that long ago teacher was trying to instill a valuable lesson; it is better to try, than to never try at all for fear of failure.  She knew that even if her students didn’t succeed in everything they did, they could one day look back on their lives with the satisfaction of knowing they had made the attempt, instead of wondering, what if?

The year 1985 was not so long ago in the scheme of things, but time enough for another generation to be born, go to school, grow up, and now be at an age where they are ready to make their mark on the world.  Each will walk a different path through life, and the journey will be easier for some than for others, but the words of that long ago teacher can still apply.

As to the East Smithfield Library, the hallways that once echoed with the shouts and laughter of school children are now comparatively silent, as any library should be.  The long forgotten blackboards still exist, although they now lay hidden beneath a layer of drywall that was carefully applied by workmen when the old classroom was converted to office space.  The chalk words and drawings are likely still as clear as the day they were written, waiting for a time when future renovations will once again bring them to light.

Hidden History in Plain Sight

A portrait of Abraham Lincoln has hung in a Smithfield school since 1939, yet few today know the tragic story connected to it.

A portrait of Abraham Lincoln has hung in a Smithfield school since 1939, yet few today know the tragic story connected to it.

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – September, 2013

 By Jim Ignasher

Sometimes, metaphorically speaking, things can hide in plain sight simply because they’ve always been there.  They become part of the landscape, and we pass them by, perhaps many times, hardly noticing and never realizing they have a story connected to them.  The following tales concern three such items in Smithfield: a portrait, a statue, and 133-year-old bell. 

The Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

There is a large oak-framed print hanging in the library of the Smithfield High School depicting a statue of President Abraham Lincoln. One can tell it’s an old print, but only if they take the time to give it more than a passing glance, and even then, there is no plaque citing as to why it is supposed to perpetuity hang in a Smithfield school. 

The story connected to the picture began on beautiful Sunday afternoon, April 22, 1939, when 13-year-old Wilfred Louis Emin Jr. and his two friends, Joseph St. Jean (15) and David Ward (13) ventured out on Stillwater Pond in a canoe.  The boat capsized near the middle of the pond pitching the youths into the cold water.  None were wearing life jackets.  Ward and St. Jean surfaced immediately and clung to the overturned canoe, but Emin had disappeared.  Ward, being a strong swimmer, set out for shore to get help. 

Meanwhile, three men on shore witnessed the boy’s plight and quickly commandeered a row boat to attempt a rescue, but barely twenty feet from shore the tiny boat took on water and sank beneath them. 

After watching the boat founder, a housewife dove fully clothed into the water attempting to reach the boys, but was forced to turn back.  

David Ward made it to shore on his own, and Joseph St. Jean was rescued by Georgiaville firemen, but Wilfred Emin wasn’t found until the following day.  

Wilfred was to graduate from the Irving S. Cook School (Today the administrative offices of the Smithfield School Department) on June 20, 1939.  The picture of Abraham Lincoln was presented to the school by the graduating class as a perpetual memorial to Wilfred.  That is why to this day it still hangs in a Smithfield school.

(The author wishes to thank Dorothy E. (Schenck) Reynolds, formerly of Smithfield, for contributing information relating to this story.  She was a classmate of Wilfred Emin.) 


The Statue of St. Michael

St. Michael’s Church in Georgiaville is named for St. Michael the Archangel, who is the patron saint of police officers.  There is a life-sized statue of St. Michael that stands watch over the church from atop a small hill on the property.  Few may realize how it came to be there.

The statue was made sometime in the early 1950s for a Providence order of Franciscan nuns located in Olneyville.  Years later, when the order re-located to newer quarters, the statue was left behind.  There it remained until 1990, when Richard Kless, a Providence Fire Department arson investigator, happened upon it during an investigation. Realizing that the Statue was of St. Michael, Kless thought of St. Michael’s Church in Georgiaville, and thought it might be nice if it could be re-located there. 

Ownership of the statue was traced to a Massachusetts man who agreed to sell it to the Church for one dollar.  The sale was completed on April 2, 1991.  It was now up to the church to figure out the logistics of transporting the seven-hundred pound statue to Smithfield.  Due to its age and condition, many moving companies weren’t interested in assuming the liability for possible breakage.  Finally Dan Ciotola of Smithfield agreed to undertake the task, and managed to get the statue to his home in Smithfield in one piece.  Over the next four months volunteers painstakingly restored the statue before it was brought to its present location. The official dedication ceremony took place on September 29, 1991, with Father Robert Valentine officiating.

Had the statue not been rescued it would most likely have been destroyed, for the location where it stood for nearly forty years was bulldozed shortly after its removal to make way for new development.


The Old Greenville School Bell

It’s hard to fathom today that there was a time when the average citizen didn’t carry a watch.  Perhaps they didn’t have to, for ringing bells generally told the time.  Churches, mills, and schools of the 19th century typically rang bells to announce when it was time to worship, work, or learn.  The sound of each bell was unique due to its size, shape, and material content. Therefore, there was usually no mistaking which bell was being rung.   

Large bells were usually cast in bronze by professional bell makers; an occupation virtually extinct today.  Bell making was an art, and certain makers were known for producing high quality bells which rang in perfect tune.   Bronze is also more durable than wood, and it is perhaps for this reason that some bells have outlasted the buildings they were meant for, such as in the case of the Old Greenville School Bell.    

The school itself was built in 1874, erected where an art studio and a lawyer’s office now stand near the Greenville Post Office.   The two story structure was actually the third school house to occupy the site, replacing the old Greenville Academy, which replaced an even older building dating to 1804.  

In 1880, a belfry was added to the school to contain a bronze bell cast by the William Blake Company of Boston, Massachusetts.  

The Greenville School remained in operation until 1930, when the William Winsor School on Putnam Pike was completed to accommodate Smithfield’s growing population.  The modern Winsor School had no use for the antique bell so it was left behind.   

In 1939, the old Greenville School was acquired by the Greenville Grange No. 37, an agricultural and fraternal farm organization.  The unused bell remained in the building, and was thankfully overlooked for scrap during World War II.  

On November 29, 1969, a fire broke out in the building, but thanks to some intrepid volunteers, the bell was rescued from the flames, but not before it suffered “battle damage” in the form of chips along its rim from being dropped and dragged.  (The bell is quite heavy.)

Afterwards, members of the grange felt the historic bell should be placed in a more secure and practical place, but the question was, where?  After much discussion it was decided that the bell should go to the Greenville Public Library.  The reasoning was that the land the library currently stands on was donated by Irene Jenckes, who had been a school teacher, and committed to preserving town history.  Unfortunately, the library had no place to properly display the bell so it was kept in storage until 1989, when the library announced plans for a major expansion project.  The new project didn’t include plans for displaying the bell, which revived the debate as to what to do with it.

Some felt the bell should go to the Historical Society of Smithfield.  One man suggested it be placed in the foyer of the Smithfield High School.  These were great ideas, but it was not to be.  The bell was eventually obtained by State Representative Thomas Winfield, who brought it to the Anderson Winfield Funeral Home located in the heart of Greenville.  There, he put it on display where it remains to this day as a piece of local history preserved for future generations. 

A Place to Call Home

Among the forgotten tales connected to the former St. Aloysius Home in Greenville is the story behind these stone ruins.(L to R, Fran Luminello (Payette), Denise Howard, Joshua Howard.)

Originally Published in Your Smithfield Magazine – August, 2011.

By Jim Ignasher

Mater Ecclesiae College on Austin Avenue in Greenville occupies the former St. Aloysius Home and St. Peter’s School once owned and operated by the Catholic Diocese of Providence.  For over fifty years, St. Al’s, (as it was sometimes affectionately called) was a place of refuge and safe haven for parentless children and youngsters who found themselves in dire circumstances.

For some it was a merely a way-station; for others, it was the only home they knew.   

The origin of St. Aloysius Home dates back to 1858, when the Providence Diocese opened St. Aloysius Orphanage on Prairie Avenue in Providence.  By the 1930s their building had become obsolete, and Bishop Francis P. Keough began looking for another location to build anew; one away from the confines of the city which would allow room for expansion. Such a place was found in Smithfield on property owned by a Catholic Charities organization known as the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Ground breaking ceremonies for the new building were held on October 23, 1939, and the event was well attended by church officials, politicians, and local dignitaries.  The shovel used for the occasion was later placed in the cornerstone of the main building at the dedication ceremony held about a year later.  (That shovel and other artifacts remain there to this day.)  

“There is no finer place in New England for such an orphanage development.”  Bishop Keough announced to those present.

The location was perfect for what the Bishop had in mind.  At that time Greenville was the heart of Apple Valley, and fruitful orchards lined both sides of Austin Avenue.  There was also a lake for swimming and skating, and room for gardens and athletic fields.

Brick construction was chosen for its fire-proof capabilities, for the dorms were designed to house two-hundred children and thirty-six nuns. Besides dormitories and classrooms, a beautiful chapel was erected with stained glass windows worthy of a magnificent cathedral. 

(Saint) Aloysius Gonzaga was born to a well-to-do Italian family in 1568.

Deciding at an early age to devote his life to God, he entered a Jesuit order where he took religious vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

 In 1590 he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who told him he would die within a year.  A few months later he became ill with plague, and it was during this time he had another vision where he was told he would die on June 21, 1591, the feast of Corpus Christi.   He recovered from the plague, but died just as the angel had predicted at the age of 23.  He was beautified as a saint in 1605.   

St. Aloysius is known as the patron saint of young students and Christian youth.  Perhaps this is why his name was chosen for the institution.

Within a year after the new St. Aloysius Home opened, the United States found itself embroiled in World War II.  Not long afterward, the famous ocean liner, Queen Mary, was pressed into service as a troop carrier.  The ship was well known for its luxurious accommodations; however, with a war on, certain amenities needed to be scaled back, such as the fancy bed linens normally found in the liner’s staterooms.  This led to an unexpected windfall for the children at St. Aloysius, who received the richly appointed bed linens through a donation in October of 1942.

In addition to the linens, the home also received some fine wooden tables with matching leather upholstered chairs that had once graced the French Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. 

To help in the war effort, the children of St. Al’s planted a large “victory garden” on the property to grow their own food.  Mother Superior, Sister Mary Mark, felt working in the garden built character, and the children of St. Al’s continued to maintain the garden well after the war.

The population of the home varied, rising at one point to 224 children.  The Sisters of Mercy, the order of nuns who served as surrogate mothers, tried their best to create a home-like atmosphere rather than one of an institution.  When asked about runaway children, one sister remarked to a Providence Journal reporter, “We don’t have trouble with children running away,” and then went on to relate how one young man who had worked in the kitchen, graduated from St. Al’s to make his way in the world, only to return two years later to ask for his job back; for it was there he felt at home.

Besides a home, the Diocese also provided an education through St. Peter’s School located on the grounds.  However, enrollment at St. Peter’s wasn’t limited to those residing at St. Aloysius.  It included area children as well, as attested to by Fran (Payette) Luminello of Greenville, who graduated from St. Peter’s in 1961.  When asked to relate some of her memories, Fran recalled the clothing worn by the sisters.  “The nuns wore habits in those days, and it hid their hair and made them look older.  It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized that nuns actually had hair!”  

The nuns taught school, and Fran remembered two that she was fond of: Sister Pious, and Sister Bernarda.  Sister Pious taught first grade and was much admired by the children. 

When speaking of Sister Bernarda, Fran recalled her “magic pocket”.  Sister Bernarda had a hidden pocket sewn under her robes from which she would “magically” produce things like candy, erasers, pencils, etc. and pass them out to children who committed acts of kindness.  On the other hand, children who misbehaved were told they might be put into the magic pocket.

“Nobody knew how deep the magic pocket was’, said Fran, ‘and as little kids, we thought it was entirely possible to hide a child under those robes!”

Another who stood out in Fran’s mind was Father Rene Guertin, the administrator of the home.  She recalled how Father Guertin was always getting tickets to things like hockey games, the circus, or the Ice Capades.  Unfortunately, the home only owned one bus, which Father Guertin often drove, but it wasn’t big enough to take all of the children at once. To remedy this, the priest would contact a St. Peter’s School organization known as the “Mother’s Club”, of which Fran’s mother, Anita Payette, was a member. 

“We had a big family, so we had a station wagon.”  Fran related.  “Sometimes we would take up to four or five kids from the home with us to see the circus, or the Ice Capades.”

The residents of St. Aloysius had a communal pet bulldog named Queenie.  How the snub-nosed canine came to be a resident of the home is not clear, but a newspaper account from 1947 relates that the dog was a great comfort to the children.

It seems that Queenie wasn’t the only pet to reside there.  At one point the property also had a small barn which housed two horses that the children could ride.  

St. Aloysius had its own Boy Scout troop that built a campsite and shrine in the woods about three quarters of a mile to the west of the school.  Remnants of this site can still be found today in what is now the Cascade Brook Conservation Area.  The ruins of what was once a fireplace on one side, and a grotto on the other, can still be seen, along with what once served as an altar and table.  The date, May 4, 1942, can still be seen etched in the concrete. 

On a recent trek to the site, Fran recalled seeing it while a student at St. Peter’s, and later as a young mother when she brought her children there for picnics. She remembered that a religious statue once stood in the grotto side facing the altar.  Sadly, that statue is long gone as the site has suffered considerable vandalism over the years.

One mystery of the site is a nearby boulder with the words “Let It Be” carved into it.  Is this a reference to the famous Beatles song, or does it have another meaning?  Who took the time to carve it, and why?

In 1949 the Scouts of St. Al’s took on a more ambitious project by constructing a beach on the shore of Oak Swamp Reservoir in Johnston, on property owned by the Providence Diocese.  The boys worked hard clearing trees, brush, and boulders before hauling in beach sand to create 114 feet of clear sandy shoreline.  They also built two floating platforms, a small shelter, and a stone fireplace.  When they had finished, Mother Superior Mary Mark commented that the beach would be a tremendous timesaver when it came to bathing the children.   

In May of 1962, six girls, aged nine through thirteen, arrived at St. Aloysius Home with a story to tell.  They were Cuban nationals who had been smuggled out of Cuba to escape the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro.  Newspapers only identified the girls by their first names to protect their families still trapped in Cuba.   

One can only imagine how difficult it was for the girls.  They spoke little English, and the nuns didn’t speak Spanish, but after awhile communication became easier for all concerned. It was stated in the Providence Journal that the girls might stay at St. Aloysius for as long as two years.  What became of them is not known, but one hopes they were one day re-united with their families.

In the 1950s and 60s, St. Aloysius would hold a Harvest Supper every October followed by a Casino night in the school gymnasium to raise extra funds.  Fran Luminello recalled how eighth grade girls were allowed to be servers at the supper, and would often receive tips. 

Although he didn’t attend St. Peter’s School, another who helped was Michael Cavanagh of Georgiaville, whose aunt was Sister Mary Alexine, the principal of St. Peters School at the time.  “They usually had me selling cokes at the game tables.” he remembered.

In 1971, St. Aloysius was able to boast the largest outdoor skating rink in Rhode Island.  Covering nearly a half-acre, the rink was built over a layer of asphalt that could be utilized as tennis or basketball courts in warm weather.  Construction was done by volunteers from Local 37 of the Iron Workers Union as a Christmas present to St. Al’s residents.  Martin Byrne of Local 37 related that the idea came about while planning a Christmas party for the children.  The Union had planned to give all St. Aloysius residents a new pair of ice skates for Christmas, and then took the idea a step further by deciding to build a rink too. 

In addition to the rink, an outdoor fireplace was built so skaters could enjoy a warm fire and hot chocolate.  Total cost of the project would have been about $50,000 had labor and materials not been provided for free.

By the 1970s, the population of St. Aloysius had dropped to less than seventy-five wards and twelve nuns.  Times had changed, but the mission of providing a safe-haven had not.  By the early 1990s St. Aloysius was forced to close for a variety of reasons, ending more than 130 years of service.  For awhile, the future of the old campus seemed uncertain until Mater Ecclesiae College acquired it and moved there in 1998. Thus began a new chapter in Smithfield’s history which continues to this day.

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