A New Lease On Life For The Former Smithfield Exchange Bank

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, May, 2020

A New lease On Life For

The Former Smithfield Exchange Bank  

Bu Jim Ignasher


A circa 1900 view of the Smithfield Exchange Bank, Greenville, R.I.

     The former Smithfield Exchange Bank in Greenville Center has recently undergone extensive renovations under the new ownership of local businessman Jerry Haggarty.  Although the well-known landmark hasn’t been used as a bank for decades, it’s still referred to as “the old bank building” by many longtime residents.      

     Mr. Haggarty owns Alliance Business Products located at 7 Industrial Drive South in Smithfield. He’s an avid history buff, and the old building has always caught his interest when he would pass through Greenville. Then one day last year he noted a sign in front indicating that it was for sale and decided to buy it.   

     The Smithfield Exchange Bank was chartered in 1822, and its offices were originally located in the back ell of the Waterman Tavern.  (The ell still stands today and is currently undergoing restoration by the Smithfield Preservation Society.)  In 1856, the bank administrators built the brick structure that we think of today as “the old bank building”, and relocated their offices there.  The new building signified the success and security of the institution, and put forth an image of prosperity for Greenville.   

     In 1865 the bank became The National Exchange Bank of Greenville, and in 1928, the name changed to The Greenville Trust Company, which was later acquired by Citizen’s Bank in 1954.  When Citizen’s Bank relocated to another part of Greenville, the building was occupied by various businesses over the ensuing years.      

    The bank’s money was protected by a cement-lined walk-in vault entered through two solid steel doors.  In the years after the building was no longer a bank, it served as storage space. Today the former vault is bathroom, and with the antique steel doors no longer needed, they have been given to the Smithfield Preservation Society to be re-purposed. 

     From the street the former bank building appears to have two floors, but it actually has three, as well as an unusually deep basement.

     The first floor, which is accessible through the back of the building, once housed the Greenville Volunteer Fire Company.     

The Water Witch

     In 1870 Greenville obtained its first fire engine dubbed “The Water Witch”.  It was a horse-drawn apparatus known as a “hand-tub” and required a team of able bodied men to operate.  It was initially kept in a nearby barn until 1885, when the lower level of the bank was converted to a fire house.  The fire company remained there until the Greenville Fire Station was built in 1939. 

     The second floor is where the bank offices were located.  Old interior photos show dark raised-panel wood adorning the walls, and an ornate teller’s counter with caged windows.  Unfortunately this has all been lost over time as the building changed hands.  However, the ornate wood work surrounding the interior clock and main entrance has survived. 

     The third floor once had apartments, of which there were at least two – possibly more.  It seems odd today to think that there would be living space  above a bank, thereby opening the possibility to someone breaking in through the ceiling, but there was a time when such things were fairly common. 

     The apartments were still in use in the 1950s as evidenced by a newspaper article about a Georgiaville woman named Marion E. Lakey, who was the first woman assistant treasurer of the Greenville Trust Company.  Not only did she work for the bank, but she lived in one the third floor apartments.        

The interior clock and woodwork above the front door after restoration in 2020. The clocks were added in the 20th century.

     Mr. Haggarty’s decision to purchase the former bank came after much thought because it needed extensive work.  For starters, the water pipes had burst ruining vast areas of the first and second floors and requiring the removal of walls back to the studs.  Wood floors needed refinishing and replacing. The electrical and plumbing systems needed to be completely replaced, as did the ancient furnace in the basement.  There was also some work to be done on the outside bricks and mortar, as well as certain interior cosmetic work such as replacing ugly florescent light fixtures with decorative chandeliers.    

     And then there were the two clocks; the one on the outside-front of the building facing Putnam Pike that has read ten minutes after four for the last umpteen years, and an interior one, set in the wall above the front doors.  Both are now working again.

     “From the day I saw it,” Haggarty related, “I said I’d make those clocks work.”

     All throughout the process care was taken to preserve the historical integrity of the building as much as possible. 

     The renovations began in September of last year, and were completed by Ocean State Properties in March of 2020.  Mr. Haggarty says he plans to rent the building as office space.  And thus the story of one of Smithfield’s iconic historical structures continues. 

East side of bank looking out towards Rt. 44.

Photo taken 2012.






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