Smithfield’s Early Post Offices

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, July, 2020.

Smithfield’s Early Post Offices

By Jim Ignasher     

    Click on images to enlarge. 

Greenville Post Office Sign on old Benney’s store, date unknown.

     Fun fact: The first official mail route in America was established in 1673 between New York and Boston, and it took fourteen days for a lone post rider to travel from one city to the other, which meant that a person might wait a month or more for a response to a letter.  This might seem laughable in the 21st century, but given that Colonial Era roads left much to be desired, fourteen days was considered reasonable. 

     Imagine the dangers and hardships those early postmen had to endure.  Besides hunger, bad weather, and potential for accidental injury, the desolate woods contained wild animals such as wolves, cougars, and bears, as well as hostile natives, and ruthless highwaymen. Firearms carried for protection contained a single ball of lead.  It was dangerous work.  One could potentially vanish without a trace and never be seen again.       

Greenville Post Office – 1960s-70s

     Smithfield was incorporated in 1730-31, decades before stage coaches and railroads were a routine part of the American landscape. Therefore mail was still primarily delivered on horseback.  Home delivery as we know it today was non-existent unless one happened to live along the postal route.  Otherwise, all correspondence was delivered to a designated location such as a tavern, a general store, or even perhaps a private home which served as a post office.  It was then up to the mail recipients to come and collect their mail.

     One of the earliest regular mail routes was designated The Boston Post Road, which ran from New York to Boston, and is commonly referred to today as U. S. Route 1.     

Georgiaville Post Office
Homestead Ave.
Date unknown.

     According to several sources, the first mail boxes came into use after the Civil War.  However, a small news item which appeared in The Wilmington & Delaware Advertiser on May 11, 1826, indicates that mail boxes were in use much earlier.  The snippet related how blue birds nesting in a man’s mailbox had forced him to build a second one. 

     The first official post office in Smithfield was established in 1812, however this was prior to the town division in 1871, and the exact location of the office is unknown, but it was likely in Central Falls which was at one time, for lack of a better term, “downtown” Smithfield.  The town’s first postmaster was Marwil Arnold who served from 1812, to 1817.     

Esmond Post Office Sign
Esmond Street
Date unknown.

     Present-day Smithfield has had several designated post offices, but today only two remain.    

     Greenville’s first post office was established in 1823, but its original location is lost to history.    

      An interesting editorial about a Greenville area post office appeared in a now defunct Providence religious newspaper on March 21, 1845.  It asserted that the post office was located in a tavern, the name of which was not given, where, “all who come to the Post Office have to step up to the bar the same as the drinker; both occupy the same place, as we are told.  This is mixing up business much like the business of rum selling and drinking.”    

     In later years Greenville’s post office was located in Oscar Tobey’s general store once located at the corner of Rt. 44 and Smith Avenue, and in the 1960s it was located next to the former Greenville Pharmacy on Rt. 44 at Austin Avenue.  Today a music store occupies this space.   

     Georgiaville’s Post Office opened in 1852, with Robert H. Steere as postmaster.  This post office remained in operation until 1955 when it merged with the Esmond office.    

Esmond Post Office
Waterman Ave.
Date unknown.

     Esmond was once known as Enfield, which didn’t have a post office until 1881.  Ira B. Sweet was the first postmaster. The name of the village was changed to Esmond in 1908 while Horace G. Thornton was postmaster.

     In the early 20th century the Esmond post office was located in a stone building which still stands on Esmond Street next to the former Esmond Recreation Center.  Later the post office was relocated to Waterman Avenue just south of Esmond Street.  Today it stands in Georgiaville.  

     Two all but forgotten post offices include the Smithfield and Stillwater braches, neither of which is still in existence. The Smithfield PO was located in a tiny train station that once stood on Brayton Road just east of Farnum Pike.  The station opened in the 1870’s, and remained a designated post office until January of 1914.  This restored train station is presently located on the grounds of the Smith-Appleby House Museum. 

     Another obscure PO was in the village of Stillwater, located in the area of present-day Thurber Blvd.  It opened in 1877 and remained in operation until 1924.  

     Postal memorabilia collectors seek cards and letters bearing postmarks from these defunct PO’s.  Unfortunately, such items are rare.  Perhaps someone reading this would like to share an image of one?    

 

     Special thanks is given to historian Tom Greene of North Providence for supplying information used in this article.    

 

 

 

Greenville R. I. Pharmacy Ad – 1980

     The Greenville Pharmacy and the Greenville Post Office occupied a building facing Putnam Pike (Rt. 44), at the intersection of Austin Avenue.  This advertisement is from 1980. 

Click on image to enlarge.

Greenville, R. I. Post Office Documents and Photos

The following items were supplied by historian Tom Greene of North Providence, R. I. 

Click on images to enlarge.

Oscar Tobey’s store, early 1900s.
The general store also served as the Greenville Post Office.

A close up of the “Post Office” sign.

 

 

Note that there are two post office signs.

After the fire that destroyed Tobey’s Store, this building was erected in 1924 on the same location. It too served as a post office.

Greenville, R. I., Post Office
On Putnam Pike (Rt. 44)
Circa 1970
A music store now occupies this location.

Enfield & Esmond R. I. Post Office Documents

The following documentation was supplied by Historian Tom Greene of North Providence, R. I.  

Click on images to enlarge. 

Old Esmond Post Office

Esmond Street

Esmond Post Office Sign

Former Esmond Post Office

Esmond, R. I. Post Office

Circa 1980

Was on Waterman Ave. near Esmond St.

Forgotten Tales Of The Moshassuck Valley

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – June, 2011

 FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE MOSHASSUCK VALLEY

By Jim Ignasher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Butterfly Factory
(Click on image to enlarge.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grave of Henrietta Drummond.
Moshassuck Cemetery

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

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

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

The Town Seal Of Approval

     The following article was written by Glenn Laxton and appeared in the former Your Smithfield Magazine in November, 2009.  It concerns the current Smithfield Town Seal.  

THE TOWN SEAL OF APPROVAL

By Glenn Laxton

    Neil Salley loved growing up in Smithfield.  He loved the DeCotis Dairy Farm and its wide open spaces, the blueberries, the apples, the swimming. 

     Smithfield was nearly a wilderness in the 1940’s and ’50’s before the creation of Route 295.  When Neil’s parents, Neil and Helen, moved with their three sons to Stillwater Road in town Neil was five years old.  He’s now 71 and filled with memories  of that wonderful period growing up.   

     “The State of Rhode Island kinda forgot about Smithfield.  Everybody was moving to Cranston, Johnston, and Warwick,” Neil recalled.

     Neil put those thoughts into a letter to Town Manager Russell Marcoux in January, 2000, after finding a proposed town seal drawn in the Providence Journal.  Having spent his adult life in the jewelry industry at well known manufacturers Balfour, Josten’s and the C.W. Bristol Company, he decided to create his own seal using Marcoux’s as a guide.

     It brought back the memory of his Rhode Island Air National guard experience where he trained to be a cook, later landing a job at Brown University cooking and carving ice sculptures.  Told he was basically wasting his time as a cook, Neil was encouraged to find a job creating designs that would eventually be used in rings and other jewelry.  He did find such work, and it was that experience he drew upon to come up with a seal for his beloved town. 

     “I whittles around with wood when I was young and knew I could better the proposed design of a town seal which the town never had.”

     Neil produced a design depicting Smithfield’s history, a mill, the body of water upon which the town was originally built, apples, the town hall, a church, the Smith-Appleby House and a farm.

     There is the sun rising over Wolf Hill and three hammers which depict the town’s coat of arms.  Those blacksmith hammers represent Esmond, Georgiaville, and Greenville. The date  of Smithfield’s incorporation was always controversial…either 1730 or 1731, depending on which calendar was used: so both dates are on the seal.  It is surrounded by a green circle with yellow lettering.

     Feeling he would be able to give back to the town where his life happiness began, Neil presented his work to Marcoux, who took it to the town council which unanimously approved it.  In the winter of 2000 the town of Smithfield had a new and permanent seal.

     Previous attempts at a town seal were unremarkable.  Now the town had a beautiful and informative one widely used on letterheads and other documents as well as some vehicles and, of course, the Internet. 

     “I was very pleased and proud,” that it was accepted, Neil said. 

     Creating a town seal is hardly the only accomplishment of Neil Salley’s to derive from his hobby of carving and creating.  In the rear of his spacious home are tall, multi-colored totem poles spread throughout a wooded area, and in a small shop are the tools he uses to make them. 

     His wife Jean has been a life long supporter of her husband’s work and proudly points to one of his earliest pieces above the fireplace in their living room.  It is a wooden eagle telling folks, “Welcome to Our Hearth.”

—————

      The original artwork of Mr. Salley’s town seal design is on permanent display in the front lobby of the Smithfield Town Hall.   

     To learn more about Smithfield’s town seal click here: The Death Moon of March and Other Historical Curiosities

50 Years Ago – September, 1969

50 Years Ago – September, 1969

     Airman Walter J. Abbott of Smithfield completed basic training with the U. S. Air Force.

     PFC Wilfred R. Beaudoin of Esmond was serving in Vietnam near Saigon. 

     On September 2, the first automatic bank teller machine, (ATM), went into service at a bank in Rockville Centre, New York.

     Miss Robin Lynn Marshall, age 11, was crowned Homecoming Queen for the Smithfield Raiders football team. Members of the Queen’s court included: Kathy Troy, Cathy Averill, Chris Dio, Judy Harrison, Leisa Halligan, Suzanne Payette, Kathy Nangle, Rochelle Gagnon, and Barbara Zuba.

     By the way, the Raiders won the homecoming game.

     Smithfield High School Senior Gail Wilbur won an essay contest in which she articulated why her school should receive a free video tape recorder. Her essay was one of thirty-two entered.

     Thanks to Miss Wilbur, the high school received a new SONY video tape recorder valued at $2,395. Keep in mind that this was 1969, when $2,400 could purchase a new car.  

     On September 13, the popular kids cartoon Scooby-Doo premiered on Saturday morning television. It was reportedly created in response to complaints that cartoons had become too violent.

     Other well-known television shows introduced later in the month included The Brady Bunch, and Love American Style.    

     If one went to the movies in September of 1969, they likely saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford which, by the way, featured the popular song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”.  

     Fifty members of the Apple Valley Barbershop Chorus competed in the Eastern Seaboard Barbershop Chorus Contest held in Albany, New York. They brought with them fifteen bushels of locally grown apples to give out.     

     The Greenville Grange, once located on Austin Avenue just in from Putnam Pike, elected new officers. They were: Joseph P. Connetti, Master; John Aiello, Assistant Steward; Ernest Smith, to the Executive Committee; Howard Horton, Secretary; Earl House, Steward of the R. I. State Grange, and Installing Officer; J. Lester Tobin, to the Executive Committee, Christopher Cabral, Overseer of the Executive Committee, Americo Capanelli, Gate Keeper; Ruth Smith, Lecturer; Eleanor Wood, Chaplain; Mildred Steere, Flora; Anna E. Connetti, Ceres; and Mary Sheffield, Pomona.      

 

 

50 Years Ago – August, 1969

50 Years Ago – August, 1969

 

August, 1969

     Army Private E-2 Anthony Caito of Greenville finished basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was to be stationed in West Germany.

     Airman Richard E. Knight of Greenville was serving in the U. S. Air Force as an aviation mechanic.

     Army Private E-2 Allen H. Uttley of Greenville was serving in the U. S. Army.

     Senior Cadet 2/c Stephen E. Votolato of the Smithfield Junior Naval Cadets of America took a two-week trip to Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, as part of an international exchange program.  

     Members of the Pleasant View Aviation Club, chaired by Mrs. Thornton, a teacher at Anna McCabe School, were awarded free airplane rides at North Central State Airport as a reward for achieving the school honor roll, and for perfect attendance during the school year.

     Those students included: Judith Brown, Nancy Gilman, Patricia Ledbetter, Jo Ann Scorpio, Richard Stelle, Frank Tassoni, Brian Monfils, and William Steere.       

    On local retailer was advertising a “fully transistorized” 8-Track stereo tape player, with mounting hardware, for $44.44. By a show of hands, how many had an 8-Track in their car? Me too.

     In case one needed a car to put their 8-Track in, a local auto dealership was offering a 1965 Chevy Malibu Super-Sport convertible, with a V-8 engine and four-on-the-floor shifting, for a mere $1,295. Care to guess what that car’s worth today?

   A hamburger restaurant known as Custer’s Last Stand was once located at the southwest corner of Routes 44 and 5 where ironically a Burger King stands today. In August of 1969, if one clipped a coupon from a local newspaper, they could receive a free “Wild Western – All Beef Hamburger”, “Healthfully broiled over an open flame.”

     The Family Store, once located at 625 Putnam Pike in Greenville, offered back to school button-down shirts for $4, “bell-bottom” and straight-leg pants for $6, and sport coats for $15.95. It was a time when kids still dressed up to go to school.

     Between August 15th and 18th the famous Woodstock Music Festival was held in upstate New York. Fun fact: the festival was named for the town of Woodstock, New York, where the event was originally scheduled to be held, but circumstances arose that required a change in venue. Therefore, the concert was actually held in Bethel, New York, located about 60 miles from Woodstock.

     Julio Giammarco, and Robert Ricci, owners of The Town & Country Club once located on Farnum Pike across from the present-day Elks Club, sponsored a water show at the pool to benefit the Smithfield Boys Club.  

     Smithfield’s Chief of Police Arthur B. Gould, was awarded the Legion of Mary by Our Lady of Providence Presidium.      

     With the first manned moon landing barely three weeks earlier, NASA announced that manned space missions to Mars and Venus might be possible by the early 1980s. The estimated cost to fund the projects was 24 billion dollars.  Unfortunately history has shown that this didn’t happen, but imagine if it had!      

     On August 30, the first “Interface Message Processor”, a device that allowed one computer to “talk” to another, went into service at UCLA. This was the world’s first baby-step towards what we know today as “The Internet”.

East Smithfield Water District $1,000 Bond

East Smithfield Water District Water $1,000 Bond 

     The East Smithfield Water District was established in 1934, and in its final years was located at 307 Waterman Avenue in the Esmond portion of town.  It merged with the Providence Water Supply Board in January of 2017.

     To learn more about the history of the E. S. W. D., click here: The Battle To Bring Water To Smithfield

Click on images to enlarge.

Seal used by the East Smithfield (R. I.) Water District

Woonasquatucket Railroad Newspaper Articles – 1870s

Articles from the Woonsocket Patriot newspaper.

     The Woonasquatucket Railroad was chartered in 1857, but due to financial setbacks and the American Civil War, work wasn’t begun until 1871.  In 1872 the name was changed to the Providence & Springfield Railroad.  It later became the New York & New England Railroad in 1890, and in 1895, the New England Railroad.  The name was changed again in 1898 to the New York & New Haven Railroad.

     Passenger service to the Smithfield portion of tracks was discontinued in 1931, and the tracks were torn up in 1962.

Click on images to enlarge.

Woonsocket Patriot

February 18, 1870

Woonsocket Patriot

November 24, 1871

Woonsocket Patriot

March 15, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

April 5, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

April 12, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

April 19, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

June 28, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

August 16, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

July 19, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

September 6, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

October 4, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

November 15, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

November 28, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot

December 6, 1872

Woonsocket Patriot January 24, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

February 21, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

March 7, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

May 2, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

May 23, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

August 15, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

August 22, 1873

Woonsocket Patriot

May 22, 1874

Woonsocket Patriot
December 25, 1874

Woonsocket Patriot
January 29, 1875

Woonsocket Patriot January 29, 1875

Woonsocket Patriot
April 30, 1875

Woonsocket Patriot
February 4, 1876

Woonsocket Patriot
February 4, 1876

Woonsocket Patriot
October 27, 1876

Woonsocket Patriot
December 27, 1878

     Other known railroad accidents that have occurred on the Smithfield portion include the following:

     On August 14, 1888, a 55-year-old man was struck and killed by a moving train.  The exact location is not recorded.

     On May 16, 1924, a 37-year-old man was killed when he fell under a moving train in Stillwater.

    On April 14, 1925, an automobile containing a man and three women was struck by a train at the Brayton Avenue crossing.  All four were killed.

     On November 30, 1928, a husband and wife were injured when their automobile collided with a train at the Brayton Avenue crossing.

     On September 18, 1945, an automobile was struck by a train at the “Bull Run” crossing at Farnum Pike and Leland Mowry Rd.  One person was killed and six others were injured.

     On September 28, 1955, one man was killed when his car collided with a train that was crossing Douglas Pike near the North Smithfield town line.      

 

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲