Memorial Day Ceremony – May 27, 2019

 

Memorial Day Ceremony at Deerfield Park – May, 27, 2019

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1921 Smithfield R.I. Tax Receipt

      1921 Smithfield, Rhode Island, Tax Receipt

Image courtesy of Dyanne Smith.

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Lyman Arnold Farm – Smithfield, R.I.

    Lyman Arnold Farm

      Photos of the former Lyman Arnold farm which was located on Whipple Road, east of Douglas Pike.  The land has since been developed.  Photos courtesy of Denise Firby & Katie Law of Smithfield.  

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Lyman Arnold Farm House

View of the barn on the Layman Arnold farm, Smithfield, R.I.

Smithfield Town Officers 1913-14

From the archives of the Historical Society of Smithfield.

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Thomas Appleby, Smithfield, R.I., Documents

Thomas Appleby, Smithfield, R.I., Documents 

From the archives of the Historical Society of Smithfield, R.I.

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Smithfield’s Woonasquatucket Railroad

     Originally published in the Smithfield Times, April, 2018

Smithfield’s Woonasquatucket Railroad

By Jim Ignasher

 

A locomotive of the type that once ran through Smithfield in the late 1800s.

  In the February issue I wrote about Smithfield’s Air-Line R.R. This month’s article is about another rail line that has long since disappeared.      

     If someone today were to propose the construction of a railroad through Smithfield, they would likely face strong opposition. The town hall would be inundated with residents demanding the tracks be laid elsewhere, and not through their “back yard”. Yet one might be surprised to learn that there was a time when just the opposite was true, and the citizens of Smithfield eagerly awaited the construction of a new railroad.

     After the division of the town in 1871, Smithfield, as we know it today, was left without a railroad. However, there were those who hoped to remedy the situation by reviving the charter for the Woonasquatucket Railroad Company. The charter had originally been granted in 1857, with a plan to lay tracks that more or less followed the Woonasquatucket River from Providence to Massachusetts. Unfortunately, financial setbacks, followed by the onset of the American Civil War delayed the project for nearly fifteen years.

     In 1871 the idea was revisited and planning of the route was begun. Although everyone agreed that a rail line would be good for the town, there was much debate as to exactly where the rails should be laid, for every mill owner and farmer wanted the trains to pass as close as to their property as possible. It was finally announced that the proposed route would run through the villages of Esmond, Georgiaville, and Stillwater, and then continue on into North Smithfield, and Burrillville, which was good news to some, but not for Greenville.  

     On November 20, 1871, a meeting was held at Tobey’s Store in Greenville to discuss the possibility of constructing a branch line that would run from Stillwater to Greenville. If it proved successful, the branch line would later be extended to North Scituate and Chepachet. The meeting was well attended, and efforts to have the branch-line constructed continued for several years, but history has shown that it was never built.

     By the spring of 1872 construction on the main line was begun, but sometime between March and June the name of the railroad was changed to the Providence and Springfield Railroad. The project moved quickly, and on August 11, 1873, the line was open for business.

     Smithfield had four railroad stations: the Esmond Station located behind the Esmond Mills; the Georgiaville Station, located on Station Street; the Stillwater Station, located on Capron Road; and the Smithfield Station, located on Brayton Road just to the east from Farnum Pike. The stations became social centers where people could catch up on the latest news, mail a letter, or ride to Providence in less time then it took to ride a horse from one side of Smithfield to the other.  

     By 1878, the Providence & Springfield R.R. was running three locomotives, three passenger cars, and seventy-seven freight cars along the Smithfield route.

     During the 1890s the rail line changed hands three times; to the New York & New England Railroad in 1890, to The New England Railroad in 1895, to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1898.

     The railroad had a great economic influence on the town as it allowed business owners and farmers to transport more goods to other markets than ever before, and at a lower price. It even played a part in World War I by transporting Esmond Mill army blankets destined for troops overseas.

     Unfortunately, just as rail lines eclipsed the horse-drawn stage coaches, improvements in roadways and automobile technology eventually eclipsed the “iron horses” of the rails. Passenger service along the Smithfield route was discontinued in 1931, and in 1962 the tracks that ran from Olneyville to Pascoag were abandoned and eventually removed. The only surviving rails known to exist were found under the asphalt of Esmond Street during road construction several years ago. Today they can be viewed at the Smith-Appleby House Museum next to the restored Smithfield Station.    

     As with all rail lines of the time, the Smithfield portion experienced its share of accidents. At a town meeting held on January 29, 1876, local citizens cited several instances of narrow escapes at rail crossings in town, and urged the Town Council to force the railroad to use flagmen. The council, however, didn’t have the legal authority to do so.

     The first known accident to occur along the Smithfield portion happened on Christmas Eve in 1878 when a wagon was struck broadside by a speeding train at the Brayton Road crossing. The driver survived, but his horse did not.

     According to town records, the first railroad fatality in town occurred in 1888 when a man was struck by a passing train. The exact location isn’t given.

     One of the more notable accidents involved a head-on collision between two trains on June 12, 1894 in the area of what is today the Stillwater Scenic Walking Trail. Ten people were seriously injured. The crash was blamed on human error.

     The Brayton Crossing was reputed to be one of the most dangerous for it was frequently traveled by those heading to or from Woonsocket. On April 15, 1925, it was the scene of what might be the worst accident to occur on the rail line. At about 7 p.m., a car carrying seven adults was struck by a southbound train. One man and three women were killed, and the others were severely injured.    

     Three years later on November 30, 1928, yet another accident occurred at the Brayton Crossing in which a husband and wife were injured when a train collided with their car.

     Other accidents are documented, but space does not permit their inclusion here.

     Until recently, it was thought that Smithfield’s only surviving train station was the Smithfield Station presently located at the Smith-Appleby House. However, recent information has come to light that Esmond may have had two railroad stations; a smaller one that was replaced by a larger one. The smaller one is indicated on early maps, and may possibly have been sold to a private party and relocated to Farnum Pike in Georgiaville. Research to confirm this continues.      

 

 

 

 

 

Written Record Of Smithfield’s First Town Meeting – 1730

Written Record of Smithfield’s First Town Meeting – 1730 

 

     The first town meeting for the town of Smithfield, R.I., was held in the home of Captain Valentine Whitman.  The house is still standing today at 1147 Great Road in Lincoln, R.I., and is open to the public. 

     Images courtesy of Robert Leach, Greenville, R.I.

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The original handwritten record of the first town meeting held in Smithfield, R.I., March 17, 1730

 

 

 

Smithfield Town Meeting – 1855

Smithfield Town Meeting – June, 1855 

     The following newspaper article came from the June 16, 1855 edition of the Woonsocket Weekly Patriot.

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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.

1848 Smithfield, R. I. Tax Receipt

 

    1848 Smithfield, Rhode Island Tax Receipt for Smith A. Ballou  

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