Georgiaville Fire – 1897

From The Olneyville Times, October 28, 1897

     At the time of this fire, Georgiaville did not have a fire department.  The Georgiaville Fire Company wasn’t established until 1915. 


50 years Ago – June, 1968

50 Years Ago – June, 1968

By Jim Ignasher

     On June 9th members of the Greenville and Georgiaville Fire Companies held a firemen’s memorial parade. The procession began at Old County Road and proceeded down Farnum Pike to the Georgiaville Fire Station.  

     Smithfield has lost four firefighters in the line of duty. Raymond W. Segee was stricken while responding to an alarm in October of 1956. Robert D. Brown suffered fatal injuries on April 2, 1960, when he fell from a moving fire truck responding to a brush fire. Eugene E. Dorgan fell from a moving fire truck while responding to an arson fire on September 6, 1964. And Leo Kennedy, Sr., perished during a training exercise on October 29, 1979.

     Air Force Staff Sergeant Peter E. Anthony of Greenville was assigned to the 366th Combat Support Wing in Vietnam as an Electrical Power Production Specialist.

     U.S. Army Special Forces Major Roger L. Schenck graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor degree in Military Studies. He was now en-route to serve a second tour in Vietnam.

     U.S. Air Force Sergeant Donald Shaw of Esmond was serving in Turkey. His brother, Sergeant Edwin Shaw, Jr., was serving in Nebraska.

     Robert J. Buonaccorsi of Greenville returned home after serving in Vietnam with the U.S. Army. It was announced that he would begin teaching in the Smithfield School System in September.

     Cub Scout Pack 44 held a meeting at the Portuguese American Club where tenderfoot graduation certificates into Boy Scouting, and Arrow of the Light awards were presented to Jay Shirley, Clifford Barrett, Richard Giguere, and Joseph Paquette.

     A freshman semi-formal dance was held in the cafeteria of the Smithfield High School. Freshman class advisor Mr. O’Neal, and Mr. and Mrs. MacNamara served as hosts. Music was provided by “The Concepts”.

     158 students became the first senior class to graduate from Smithfield High School. The ceremony was held in the courtyard, but was interrupted by a sudden rain squall which drove the approximately 800 people in attendance indoors.      

     Suggested Father’s Day gifts at a local retail store included a pipe and tobacco, a box of cigars, or a cigarette lighter. (Not the disposable lighters we think of today.)

   For the dad that didn’t smoke, there was Hai Karate, English Leather, or British Sterling, after shave lotions. How many remember those?

     Construction on the new Route 6 expressway from Olneyville to Johnston was underway. The six million dollar project was expected to be finished June 30, 1969.

     Miss Linda Aitken of Smithfield was the 1st runner up in the Miss Rhode Island Pageant. She also wore the crown of Miss University of Rhode Island.

     How many remember that Greenville had a miniature golf course located on Route 44 at the A&W? It was billed as, “A pleasant garden spot for a couple or especially an entire family to enjoy a competitive recreational golf game.”

     A group of children held a carnival at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Picard on Tucker Road in Greenville to raise money for the Summertime Charity for Underprivileged Children. Those running the carnival were; Cathi Mancini, Barbara Mancini, Margy Mancini, Marion Picard, Lori Cook, Beverly Cook, Cheryl Dionne, and Gary Conroy.

     If one went to the movies in June of ’68, perhaps they saw the following: “Bandolero!”, a western, starring Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin, and Raquel Welch, and George Kennedy. Or perhaps they viewed “The Green Berets” starring John Wayne, David Janssen, and Jim Hutton, or the comedy film, “Never A Dull Moment”, with Dick Van Dyke and Edward G. Robinson. Then there was “The Thomas Crown Affair”, a thriller featuring Steve McQueen, and Faye Dunaway.

     If anyone under 30 is reading this they’re probably saying, “I’ve never heard of any of these people.”

Georgiaville Fire Company Expenses – 1933

Georgiaville Fire Company Expenses – 1933 

Click on image to enlarge.


Georgiaville Fire Co. By-Laws – 1932

Georgiaville Fire Company By-Laws – November, 1932. 

     The Georgiaville Fire Company was also known as the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Company, District No. 2.

     Click on images to enlarge.

Georgiaville Fire Co. Ladies Auxiliary – 1940

Georgiaville Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary Bylaws – 1940  

Click on images to enlarge.


Smithfield Fire Log – 1800’s

By Jim Ignasher

The following are but a few fires, accidents, and other calls that Smithfield firefighters have responded to throughout the years.  This compilation is by no means complete.  


New York Times, August 11, 1854

One of the earliest documented fires in Smithfield is this 1854 New York Times snippet reporting the destruction of Applebee Smith’s mill which is believed to have been located near the present-day intersection of Pleasant View Avenue and Indian Run Trail.  At the time of this fire, there was no organized fire department.



Woonsocket Patriot, June 24, 1870

It was after this fire that it was decided better fire protection than bucket brigades was needed for Greenville, and the town’s first fire engine, The Water Witch was purchased from Pawtucket.    






The Woonsocket Patriot, June 28, 1872, pg.1

These news snippets appeared together in The Woonsocket Patriot, September 6, 1872, page 1.  It is likely the Water Witch of Greenville saw action at one or both of these fires. 



The Woonsocket Patriot, December 22, 1876



The Woonsocket Patriot, December 27, 1876



The Woonsocket Patriot, November 2, 1877, pg. 1

Pawtucket Gazette & Chronicle
April 21, 1882



(Woonsocket) Evening Call, July 29, 1897, page 3. 



(Woonsocket) Evening Reporter, October 28, 1897, page 1.


In 1897, there was no organized fire protection in Georgiaville.

Long Lost Local Lore about Lightning

By Jim Ignasher

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – August, 2010

Long Lost Local Lore about LightningIt was May 3, 1878, and Daniel Aldrich was tending to his farm on Log Road when he heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, but thought nothing of it.  It was after all, mid-spring, generally not the time to worry about severe electrical storms. The next time he heard it the sound was closer, and he noticed the sky was now visibly darker.  The storm was getting closer, and even before the first drops began to fall, Daniel noted that the air now “smelled” like rain.  Just to be on the safe side, he went into the barn to feed the livestock until the storm passed.

He was hardly inside when the skies opened up and the rain began pelting the roof, but what came next was an experience he would always remember.  There was a blinding flash of light followed by a tremendous clap of thunder that seemed to erupt almost directly overhead, the sound of which seemed to shake the solid oak timbers of the barn.  That was startling enough, but what happened next was even more remarkable.  Almost immediately, several orbs of glowing light came bounding through the door and began dancing about the barn!  Before Daniel could even comprehend and react to what was happening, the orbs abruptly vanished leaving behind the distinctive smell of sulfur, often referred to in the 19th Century as “brimstone”, a sure omen of evil.

The whole ordeal was over in a few seconds, but Daniel and his livestock were left understandably shaken.  Emerging from the barn he could see that the only real casualty of the incident was an ancient Ash tree fifty feet away that had been split into three parts, its bark completely blown away by the bolt of lightning.  Even more intriguing were the three darkened pathways leading away from the tree; one directly to the door of the barn, where the lightning had evidently traveled underground.  

The incident was so unusual that it was reported in the Woonsocket Patriot where the event was described as one of “considerable excitement”. 

What Daniel had apparently witnessed was an extremely rare phenomenon known today as “ball lightning”.  It’s so unusual that some scientists dispute its existence, but it’s likely that if Daniel were around today he would argue the point.

A lightning storm can be fascinating to watch.  We see a flash of light, followed by a tremendous boom, and count off the seconds between the two to roughly determine how far off the storm is.  The spectacular light shows provided courtesy of Mother Nature can be beautiful, yet destructive and deadly, so we observe with reverent care.  Few spectators ever consider how lighting has played a role in the course of history.  

It is believed that early man got his first fire from lightning strikes.  Ancient civilizations thought of thunder and lightning as a sign that the gods were angry, and planned their politics and wars accordingly. 

Benjamin Franklin attempted to scientifically understand the properties of lightning, and the image of him flying a kite in the middle of an electrical storm comes to mind, although experts and historians are divided as to whether that actually happened.  What Franklin did invent was the lightning rod, no doubt responsible for saving many buildings (Some even in Smithfield.) that might otherwise have been destroyed.   

Lightning has even played a role in shaping local history, for it could be said that lightning was responsible for Smithfield obtaining its first fire engine which ultimately led to the formation of the Greenville Fire Company. On the night of June 20, 1870, as a thunderstorm passed over Greenville, lightning struck Whipple & Co. Wheelwright Shop located in the heart of the village on Putnam Pike where a florist shop stands today.  As shouts of “fire” sounded, a bucket brigade was hastily formed, but the flames had gotten a good start and before long a neighboring building was also in flames.  By morning, all that was left were piles of smoldering ruins.

The incident proved the need for better fire protection so a horse drawn hand-pumper, dubbed “The Water Witch”, was purchased shortly afterwards.  The apparatus arrived in Greenville in time for the July 4th celebration that year, and saw continuous service into the early 20th Century no doubt saving lives, livelihoods, and property that otherwise would have been lost.  

It could be argued that Smithfield’s landscape in the 1800s made for a greater potential for lighting strikes to buildings and people.  By the second half of the 19th Century, the land had been cleared of many trees, leaving large tracts of open vistas as wood was harvested for everything from lumber, to heating and cooking.  Although there are instances where buildings were set afire by lightning strikes, a search of town death records reveals that lightning strikes on people were just as rare then as they are today.  Unfortunately, when they did occur, it was with tragic results.

On May 27, 1878, just four weeks after Mr. Aldrich’s hair raising affair, four men arrived at Waterman’s Lake for a day of canoeing and fishing.   It was a beautiful day and the fishing was good.  After awhile, the men rowed ashore to an island in the middle of the lake where they cleaned their catch and built a small fire.  As they were preparing their meal a fast moving storm came over and rain started to fall.  The men weren’t overly concerned, and stayed relatively dry under the pines while waiting for the return of the sun.  Suddenly a bolt of lightning hit the very tree they were sitting under, blasting it apart and tossing the men several feet.  A newspaper account described the men as “mangled” by the strike.  Killed instantly were Daniel Norton, of Smithfield, and William Colvin, of Scituate.  The other two men, Jeremiah Angel, and Daniel’s brother Eugene, were severely injured.  

Even large and sturdy buildings such as textile mills were not immune from the destructive forces of lightning.  On March 21, 1940, Smithfield’s fire and police departments were summoned to the Lister Mill in Stillwater after a bolt of lightning had struck the 180 foot tall smoke stack and completely blasted away the upper two-thirds of the solid brick structure.  Tons of debris came crashing down through the roof smashing equipment, damaging machinery, and injuring three workers.  To make matters worse, the bolt had also set fire to the roof, and the whole structure could have been destroyed had it not been for the quick actions of both workers and firemen in dousing the flames.  Damage was estimated at fifty-thousand dollars, a substantial sum even today, and a remarkable sum for 1940.    

It has been said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, yet the very same chimney had also been hit by lightning two years earlier causing eight-thousand dollars in damage.   

Smithfield has seen its share of lightning strikes, and will no doubt see more in the future.  In recent times lightning has been responsible for the disruption of power and phone service.  A small inconvenience when one considers what else can happen.


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