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.    

 

 

 

A Post Office In A Bar Room – 1845

The following article appeared in a Providence, R. I., newspaper called “St. John The Baptist”, on March 21, 1845, page 1.  It was supplied courtesy of historian Tom Greene of North Providence, R. I. 

The article talks of an unnamed bar in the “south west” portion of Smithfield which also served as a post office.   

Click on image to enlarge. 

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