History of Smithfield, Rhode Island

Rhode Island Reading Room
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History of the State of Rhode Island with Illustrations

Albert J. Wright, Printer
No. 79 Mille Street, corner of Federal, Boston.
Hong, Wade & Co., Philadelphia 1878.

The History of Smithfield.

pp.  306 - 311:

Prior to 1871 this town comprised the territory now included in Lincoln, North Smithfield, and part of Woonsocket.  Hence its early history includes that of the more recently incorporated towns.  The original town of Smithfield is situated in the northeastern part of the State, and is bounded as follows:  Northeasterly by the Blackstone River, which divides it from Cumberland; on the north by Massachusetts; on the west by Burrillville and Glocester; and on the south by Johnston and North Providence.  But since the division of the original town, and the separate incorporation of the town of Lincoln and North Smithfield, its boundaries have been materially changed and limited.

The present town of Smithfield is about ten miles distant from the city of Providence, and is bounded as follows:  On the east by Lincoln; on the north by North Smithfield; on the west by Glocester; and on the south by Johnston and North Providence.  The original town of Smithfield comprised an average territory of about sixty square miles, being one of the largest towns in the State.  Its surface was diversified with moderate elevations and sloping declivities, and was, in some sections, a little rough and broken.  Its geological structure consisted of several species of limestone, which was quarried in large quantities, manufactured into lime, and transported to various parts of the country.  This manufacture formed a very important branch of business, and large shipments, of a very excellent quality of this product, were made to the Southern States.  There was also an extensive quarry of stone, suitable for whetstones, used in the sharpening of edge tools.  Large quantities were manufacturing into suitable shape for this purpose, annually, and sent into the various markets of the country, where they acquired a great reputation for their excellent qualities.  There was also a quarry of white-stone, that sustained heat in a remarkable degree, and large quantities were used for furnace-hearths, &c.

The principal streams were the Blackstone, which washed its northeastern border, and a branch of nearly equal size, that intersected it in the northern part of the town.  Besides these there were several small streams running through the town, which offered valuable sites for manufacturing establishments, which formed in the past, as they do at the present, a prominent feature of the town's industries.

There were then three turnpikes running through the town, all leading to the city of Providence: -- the Louisquissett, running through the easterly part of the town, intersecting the post-road from Worcester; the Douglas turnpike, passing though the centre of the town, and leading direct from Providence to Douglas, in Massachusetts.  The other was known as the Powder-mill turnpike, and runs through the southwestern part of the town, and into Connecticut.  The cotton manufactories of this town are quite extensive, and form the most important branch of industry.  From their establishment have sprung numerous large and thriving villages, which mark the prevalence of untiring perseverance and personal energy.  These are all centres of wealth, and the nurseries of active industry.

Early Settlement.

The settlement of the town of Smithfield commenced about the time of that of Roger Williams at Providence, in 1636.  The first residents of the town were of that same stock so well exemplified in their leader.  The first settlements of this State were made along the shores of the Narragansett Bay, and the growth of this town, like that of others, was first developed in those parts nearest the bay.  During the first years of its settlement, it formed a part of Providence Plantations.  It was covered with a primitive forest growth, and inhabited by the wild beast and the roving savage.  With all these the early pioneers had to contend, and a rapid growth and development of their resources could not be expected.  This has been the experience of the early settlement of all the towns, and the history of one is that of all.  For upwards of a hundred years, no permanent record remains, except the scattered fragments of such things as pertain to the early history of nearly all the other towns.

The fertility of the soil, and the fine water-power which it afforded, attracted the attention of explorers, and, at an early date, we find the tide of civilization settling in, and in the course of a few years, the territory embraced within the limits of the original town of Smithfield was dotted here and there with the homes of a sturdy yeomanry, who have left an honored memory and a respected posterity.  These early settlers were often troubled by the incursions of the wild beasts, in the destroying of some of their domestic animals, and other similar depredations.  They at least became so troublesome, that a legislative enactment was solicited, and a reward offered by that body of £1 per head for all wolves killed, which offered remunerative employment to many of the early settlers.  This premium for the destruction of these troublesome creatures was soon raised to thirty shillings per head.  In 1736, we find a reward of £3 offered for each bear killed in the Colony.  They still remained so numerous and troublesome, that, in 1739, a much larger reward was offered.

As settlement increased, the advantages of its splendid water-power became apparent, and its ownership was protected by legislative enactment, as appears from a record of the General Assembly, in the year 1734.

'When any person or persons have already or shall hereafter set up any water mill or mills, upon his or their own lands, or with the consent of the proprietors of such lands legally obtained, whereupon such mill or mills are or shall be erected or built, that then such owner or owners shall have free liberty to continue and improve such pond for their best advantage, without any molestation.'  The statute further provided:  'That the damage done to land flowed by a pond so erected, should be apprised by a jury and no other action was to be maintained except for the amount of yearly damage.'  But his applied only to ponds of less that six acres flowage.

These enactments were made but a few years after the organization of Smithfield into a separate and distinct township, which occurred in 1730. It had formerly been comprised with the limits of Providence; but it was set off in the above year, and remained with its original boundaries until 1871, when it was divided, and lost from its original territory, what now constitutes Lincoln, North Smithfield, and a part of Woonsocket.  Although a census has been frequently taken, the statistics of the present town of Smithfield are inseparably connected with the other portions of the former town, of which it is but a fragment.

The name of the town is of interest, and yet there is no record from which we can derive anything positive as to its origin.  The probabilities are, however, that it originated from the family name of Smith, as we find, a few years after its incorporation, or in 1774, a census that gives the total population of the town by families, as four hundred and seventy-six families, and thirty-one of these were Smiths.  The prominence of this family name in the early settlement, may possibly be a clew [sic] to the origin of this appellation given to designate the name of the town.

Town Organization, Town Meetings, Officers, &c.

As has been remarked, the original town of Smithfield formed a part of Providence in its earliest settlement, and thus remained subject to its jurisdiction until 1730-31, when it was set apart as a separate and distinct township.  Providence was then divided, and the town of Smithfield incorporated by an act of the General Assembly, bearing date February, 1730-31, which was an act for erecting and incorporating the outlands of the town of Providence into three towns.

The territory comprised within the limits of the original town of Providence was quite extensive, and as settlement increased, it was thought advisable to subdivide it into three townships, for the better accommodation of the rapidly increasing population, in the 'transacting and negotiating the prudential affairs of the town.'

The act was as follows:  'Be it therefore enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that from Warwick township eight miles and a half be measured on the seven mile line (so called) in said Providence, and a boundary there fixed; and from the said boundary, a line be drawn to Pawtucket River, to the place called the Ware, about half a mile northerly of Pawtucket Falls; and that for the time to come, the town of Providence extend no farther west and north than the aforesaid lines.

'And it is also enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all the rest of the aforesaid outlands, to the westward of the aforesaid seven mile line, and to the northward of the bounds of the town of Providence, be, and they are hereby incorporated and erected into a town called and known by the name of Smithfield; and that the inhabitants thereof, from time to time, shall have and enjoy the like benefits and privileges with other towns in this colony, according to our charter.'

It was also enacted that the oldest justice of the peace in the town should issue his warrant to call the inhabitants together in town meeting, to complete their town organization, by choosing their town officers, and appointing the times and places of their town meetings, as the law directs.

The first town meeting held pursuant to this enactment was at the house of Captain Valentine Whitman, in Smithfield, in the county of Providence, and on the seventeenth day of March, A.D. 1730-31, whereof Mr. Jonathan Sprague, Jr., was chosen Moderator, Richard Sayles as Town Clerk, John Arnold, Captain Joseph Mowry, Thomas Steere, Samuel Aldrich, John Mowry, and Benjamin Smith were chosen Town Councilmen; Thomas Sayles, Treasurer; Uriah Mowry, Town Sergeant; Joseph Arnold, jr., Sealer and Packer; Daniel Comstock, Elisha Steere, and Joseph Herendeen, Jr., as Constables; Captain Valentine Whitman, Thomas Smith, Joshua Winsor and Jeremiah Arnold, Overseers of the Poor; Job Arnold and John Smith, son of Joseph Smith, Jr., Surveyors of Highways; Hezekiah Comstock, Daniel Arnold, John Dexter, Jr., and Jonathan Sprague, Sen., Fence Viewers; Joseph Bagley and Daniel Mathewson, Hemp Views; John Whitman, Pound-Keeper; John Wilkinson and Charles Shearlock as Hog Constables.

It was voted, at said meeting, that 'the 27th day of April next is the day perfixed for the freemen of the town of Smithfield to meet together at the house of John Sayles in Smithfield in order to choose Representatives to send to Newport next May Session, and also to send in their proxies for the General Officers of this Colony; and also to do other business as is necessary for said town.'  Smithfield was divided into three towns, March 8, 1871; and on June 5, 1871, the electors met at the house of Patrick Burke, at Georgiaville.  William Mowry was chosen moderator, and John A. Brown as clerk for the day.

The results of this meeting were the election of the following named gentlemen to the respective offices:  William Mowry, Moderator; Oscar A. Tobey, as Town Clerk; and the present incumbents, William Winsor, as Treasurer; and William P. Steere, Orin Barnes, William Mowry, John Shaw, and Daniel G. Aldrich, as Councilmen.  The annual meetings are held alternately at Georgiaville and Greenville.  The council meets at Greenville.  June 13, 1871, the council met for organization, and appropriated $2,600 for public schools; also appointed Burrill R. Mowry as a committee to settle the affairs of the late town, in connection with the committees appointed by the towns of North Smithfield and Lincoln.  In October it was voted to sell the old town-house and farm, thinking it was cheaper to board the dependent citizens of the town at the State almshouse, than to have a special place for them.

Early Mills, &c.

The first mechanical efforts of the settlers in this newly-incorporated town, were the erection of saw-mills and grist-mills.  These establishments facilitated the progressive development of the town, by furnishing suitable material for building purposes, and reducing some of the products of the soil into suitable form for consumption.  The splendid advantages derived from the numerous water-powers scattered through the town, were thus early foreseen, and in nearly every instance, where any form of water is now used for manufacturing purposes, their sites were occupied by these primitive mills.  Among the water privileges thus early occupied were those at Greenville and Georgiaville.

At an early date, a Mr. Waterman located at what is now called Greenville, and erected a grist-mill upon the site now occupied by the Whipple establishment.  He had two sons, Resolved Waterman, born in 1703, and Andrew Waterman, born in 1724.  It is said that the elder Waterman built for his home what is now a part, at least, of the old hotel at Greenville.  This being the fact, this place must be some two hundred years old, and probably antedates any house in this immediate vicinity, if not in the town.  Not much of the old original structure remains, it having been remodelled several times, and many improvements added.  However, some portions of the ancient edifice remain, and are yet identified by the close observer.  This early pioneer is said to have been a man of untiring perseverance and energy, and no doubt much of the rapid progress made in the development of the new settlement was attributable to his active efforts and persevering endeavors.  His son, Andrew Waterman, erected upon the site of the present Winsor mills a saw mill, and subsequently added a grist-mill.  Andrew, like his father, was a man of energy, and possessed more than an ordinary business ability.

These qualifications were indeed of great advantage in developing the business interests of the town, and in laying the foundations of a permanent settlement.  The necessities of the times demanded not only the strong arm and sinewy muscles, but brain, and a well-directed judgment, in turning into proper channels the growing interests of trade and commerce.  Andrew Waterman continued to occupy and run these mills for several years, when he enlarged his facilities and extended his business, by removing his saw and grist mills a little to the west, and erecting upon their former site an iron forge or furnace.  This furnace was supplied with charcoal, as large quantities of this article were manufactured in the surrounding woods, while the iron-ore was obtained from Cranston.

In this locality were deposited great quantities of this useful mineral, and many of these early forges were supplied from these extensive ore-beds.  To operate this furnace, Mr. Waterman employed some sixty hands, which gives evidence of the magnitude of the establishment, it being one of the largest of its kind in the town.  He at one time contemplated the construction of a slitting-mill, in addition to his iron-works, but, having the misfortune to become blind, this project was abandoned.  Much of the material for the building had already been sawed, and remained for a considerable length of time piled upon the ground now occupied by the school building.  Mr. Waterman erected and occupied as his home the building long known as the 'Long House'.  Here he continued to live, enjoying the respect and esteem of his fellow-citizens, until 1812, when he died, being in the eighty-eighth year of  his age.  His property passed to his three sons, Andrew, John and Thomas, but they soon discontinued the iron-works.  The estate of Andrew Waterman consisted of some eleven hundred acres in one tract, besides many parcels scattered in different sections of the town.

Resolved Waterman, the brother of Andrew, also owned a large tract of land, and was a man of untiring energy, and, like his brother, possessed many superior business qualifications.  He died in 1746, in the forty-third year of his age.  Both of these men are buried in the Waterman burying-ground, located upon a part of what was once their home farm.

As before mentioned, the elder Waterman, father of Andrew and Resolved, erected a grist-mill upon the site now occupied by Whipple's carriage manufactory at Greenville, and continued in possession until his death.  The property was inherited by his daughter Mercy, who married a Mr. Joseph Slack.  She died on March 10, 1810, in the eighty-third year of her age.  Some years after this, the property passed into the possession of a Mr. Welcome Aldrich, who enlarged the facilities and made extensive improvements, by building a new and more commodious structure, which he leased to various parties for manufacturing purposes.  It was at one time occupied as a twine and thread factory, and subsequently, as a place for the manufacture of jewelry.

About the year 1855, Pardon Angell purchased the property, and continued to occupy it as a carriage and coffin manufactory until September, 1865, when it was sold to William A. Whipple, its present owner.  It was burned June 10, 1871, but immediately replaced with the present fine and commodious building.  New and improved machinery was added by Mr. Whipple at the time of the purchase, and this, together with the entire stock, was destroyed by fire, which was caused by a stroke of lightning, in the year above mentioned.

Among the pioneer settlers at Georgiaville, was one John Farnum, who emigrated from Uxbridge, Mass.  He located at the above place and erected a forge and furnace, which were also supplied from the ore-beds at Cranston.  The iron thus manufactured was made into bars and other various forms, and found a ready market at Providence, and in parts of Connecticut.  He continued in the occupation until the year 1772, when he died, in the forty-fifth year of his age.  He had acquired a large property, which was inherited by his sons, Joseph and Noah Farnum.  They continued in business for many years, and owned large tracts of land round about their works.  This furnace was situated upon the same stream, but a little lower down, than the site of the present mills.  It was run by water from an adjacent pond, which was conveyed to the mill by means of a trench constructed for that purpose.  Some estimate may be made of the importance of the business carried on here, when we find that the turnpike from Georgiaville to Providence was almost entirely built by Mr. John Farnum for the accommodation of his works, and for the transporting of their products to market.

Joseph and Noah Farnum, and the other heirs, on May 10, 1813, conveyed by deed their interest in the mill and privilege to Messrs. Samuel G. Arnold, Thomas Thompson, and Samuel Nightingale.  These gentlemen united a capital of about forty thousand dollars, and constructed a cotton-mill, built of stone.  In connection with the mill they also erected a dye-house and several tenements.  A more complete history of this, and other cotton-mills, will be found under the head of the Manufactories of the Town.

Several years after John Farnum located at Georgiaville, a Mr. John Appleby erected a third mill.  It was situated a short distance to the west of the village of Georgiaville, and near the site of the saw-mill owned by Lamech Mowry.  This stream was the site of a saw-mill and furnace at an early date.  The saw-mill privilege was the same as at present, but the water for the furnace was conveyed from the pond by means of a wooden trough, a hundred feet or more in length.  Besides the ore furnished from the Cranston beds, considerable quantities were also obtained from a bed in a swamp, near Arnold Brown's pond.  This ore-bed was not, however, worked as extensively as the one at Cranston; nevertheless, it undoubtedly was used at all of the furnaces erected at this early date.  This last named forge or furnace was run by Mr. Appleby himself, assisted by five or six hired men.  This furnace was continued for some years, and many interesting incidents are connected with it; but time and space will not permit of a more extended review.  The old establishment has long since passed away, and nothing now remains to mark its location, but a small remnant of its foundation walls, and a few scattered fragments of ore and slag.  All of these furnaces were run by water-power, and the iron made into shape for transportation, by means of heavy trip-hammers.

At Fountain Springs, a mile or two below Greenville, a grist-mill was built at an early date, owned and occupied by one Rufus Hawkins.  Subsequently, Nehemiah and Alpheus Hawkins, in 1807, used this privilege in the operating of a machine-shop; the water-power was supplied by a waterwheel, and the shop contained shafting, gearing, and turning tools, for the manufacture of various kinds of machinery.  About 1830 or 1836, Mr. Alpheus Hawkins built a cotton-mill at this place, and put in thirty looms.  It was leased to Messrs. Saunders & Harkness, who continued its successful management for several years, when they were succeeded by Messrs. Barnes & Fisk, and they by Aldrich & Fisk.  Subsequently, Barnes & Champlin occupied it as a thread mill.  It was converted into a shoddy-mill some five or six years afterwards, by Mr. B. S. Wood, who was succeeded by Mr. John Brayton, its present owner.

The privilege now used by Sterry and Merrit Whipple, was occupied at an early date by a blacksmith-shop, under the management of Messrs. Holmes & Potter.  Here was a miniature machine-shop, as they manufactured several kinds of mechanical tools, and other implements.  The old gambrel-roofed dwelling now standing in the factory village of the Messrs. Whipple was erected before the Revolution, and this, together with the old part of the hotel at Greenville, is probably among the oldest buildings in this vicinity.  This old shop was afterwards occupied by Mr. Christopher Wilkinson as a spool and bobbin factory, which supplied the early factories about Greenville and Georgiaville.

A little below this mill, one Robert Colwell erected a shop, in which he manufactured spindles, fliers, and shuttles.  Subsequently, this shop was converted into a factory by Mr. Oliver Williams, for the manufacture of twine and wicking, and was thus occupied until 1845, when it was destroyed by fire.  Two or three years afterwards, this building was replaced by another, which  was occupied by Thomas Barnes.  It has since been used as a grist-mill, and sometimes used for grinding logwood and other barks, for coloring calicoes.

The next privilege below was occupied by a saw-mill from 1816  to 1840.  A grist-mill was added, and soon after a shingle-mill, the only one in operation in the town.  At the foot of what is known as 'Wolf Hill', Waterman Smith and Thomas Harris started a machine-shop, about the year 1826 or 1827, where they made machinery and factory tools.  This place now bears the appellation of Mountaindale.  The property was subsequently transferred to Mr. Silas Smith, who in turn sold it in 1843 to William Pooke, who formed a co-partnership, in 1854, with Mr. Anthony Steere.  Mr. Pooke at first engaged in the manufacture of spindles, rolls, and shuttles, but subsequently filled the mill with machinery suitable for the manufacture of a kind of goods known as negro cloth.  This was a coarse kind of goods manufactured for the southern market, and used in clothing the negroes.  There he continued in the business until the fall of 1855, when he leased it, on October 26, to Messrs. George Sloan and Junie Smith.  Of late, the property has been idle a portion of the time, but, when occupied, it has been used in the manufacture of hosiery and knit goods.

A short distance west of this, Mr. Appleby Smith started a grist-mill.  It was, however, shortly after converted into a fulling mill and coloring shop.  At a later date, it was re-fitted, and turned into a cotton factory, and leased to Messrs. Jonathan Allen and Joseph Briggs, who began the manufacture of satinets.  The buildings were subsequently destroyed by fire, and have not been rebuilt.

Thus is briefly sketched the history of some of the early mills, and their water privileges, which have been superseded by many large and improved factories, whose increased facilities and extensive business, have added much to the growth and prosperity of the town of Smithfield.

Cotton Manufactories.

The most interesting features of the history of the town of Smithfield, are those relating to the rise and rapid growth of her cotton and woollen  manufacturing interests.  Rhode Island early felt an interest in the development of the manufacturing interests of the Colony, and threw around them all the protecting influences their importance demanded.  We have already mentioned her legislative protection, in 1734, of the vast water-privileges within her borders, which added a new impulse to the better development of them, and an increased interest in the establishment of permanent manufactories.

As early as 1731, 'Bills of Public Credit' were granted to William Borden for the carrying on of the 'duck manufacture'.  This was a renewal of a former grant, and was to continue for the space of ten years, without interest.  Again, in 1757, a bounty of one-third of its appraisal valuation is offered upon cloth manufactured from wool or flax of certain length and texture, and a penny a pound upon every pound of cured or dressed flax.  Furthermore, the manufactures were to be exempt from all taxation and public duties.  These bounties were subsequently repealed, however, for fear of English jealousy in the infringement upon her favorite manufactures.  We find, in the Colonial Records, Vol. VII., page 281, that in 1774, it was proposed that a number of gentlemen should form themselves into a company, for the purpose of carrying on the woollen manufacture, upon the most extensive scale possible, as there were at this time sufficient quantities of this product, to clothe all of the inhabitants.  Large flocks of sheep were raised in the Colony, and numbers of them were sent to Boston, and other adjacent places, and in this transportation, we find Smithfield bearing honorable record.

On the seventeenth day of November, 1789, a man arrived from England, whose genius and untiring perseverance were soon to revolutionize the industries of all New England.  The name of Samuel Slater is inseparably connected with the cotton manufacture of the New England States.  He came to Providence, upon the invitation of Moses Brown, in the fall of the above year, and set about the construction of, or reproduction rather, of some of England's cotton spinning and weaving machinery.  He was successful in his efforts, and, in January, 1790, in connection with Messrs. Brown & Almy of Providence, established the first cotton-factory in this country.  This factory was situated at Pawtucket, and here was laid the foundation of New England's development in cotton manufacture.  Subsequently, he removed to the town of Smithfield, and established a factory at Slatersville, a name commemorating his memory.  A few years later, Connecticut had, in operation, 1,390 spindles; Massachusetts, 4,820; and Rhode Island, 14,196, or more than twice the number of her larger neighbors combined.

Georgiaville.  We have already mentioned the formation of the company of Arnold, Thompson & Nightingale, in the purchase of the mill and privilege formerly owned and occupied by Joseph and Noah Farnum.  This was at Georgiaville.  The new company put one thousand spindles into the mill, and commenced the manufacture of cotton goods.  The cotton was sent out among the families to be picked by hand, at a cost of two or three cents per pound.  Part of the weaving was done at the mill, and part was sent out into the surrounding neighborhood to be woven by hand.  The water-power, at this time, was quite insufficient  to run it.  In 1822, twelve hundred more spindles were added to the one thousand, and power-looms were introduced; also the cotton picker.

In 1828, a new building was constructed, and seventeen hundred more spindles added, and the number of looms increased to one hundred and four.  Other improved machinery was added, and the entire property was valued at $100,000.  In May, 1853, the estate was sold by the heirs of the original proprietors to Mr. Zachariah Allen, one of Rhode Island's pioneer manufacturers, who raised the dam until a fall of thirty-six feet was obtained, and a flowage of one hundred and thirty acres instead of forty acres.  About this time, a fine and large stone mill was built, being two hundred and fifty feet long, and seventy feet wide.  Several tenements were also erected, and the beautiful and substantial stone church.  At this time, sixteen thousand spindles were in operation at this factory.  In 1858, Mr. Zachariah Allen sold the property to Crawford Allen.  In 1863, one-half of it was re-conveyed to Mr. Z. Allen, which was again sold in 1872 to Moses B. I. Goddard, the guardian of the estate of Crawford Allen.  Mr. Goddard has since made quite extensive improvements by removing some buildings and remodeling others, and has enlarged the factory to twenty-six thousand spindles.  The old wooden water-wheels have given place to the turbine-wheels, and these even are supplemented by two fine steam-engines.

Allenville.  This place takes its name from its founder, Mr. Philip Allen.  It is nearly, if not quite, dependent upon the factory; and the growth of one is substantially the growth of the other.  This Mr. Allen purchased a tract of land from Mr. Eseck Smith, and erected a mill, it is said, about the year 1812.  This mill antedates the one at Georgiaville, and if the date of its erection be indeed correct, it can claim the honor of being the first mill of its kind built in the town.  In 1825, the mill was enlarged and improved by the addition of a building 40 x 80 feet.  In 1858, the property was purchased by Mr. Earl P. Mason, who subsequently sold it to its present owners, the Smithfield Manufacturing Company.  This was on July 10, 1860.  The property has been materially improved by the addition of new machinery, besides the remodeling of the buildings.

Stillwater.  About 1836, Israel Arnold erected a small cotton-mill, and three or four dwelling-houses, at the village now known as Stillwater.  About 1851, Robert Joslin occupied the mill, which was afterwards burned.  In 1866, a much larger and more convenient edifice was erected, which infused new life into the citizens of the village, who made corresponding improvements in the appearance of many of the dwellings and public buildings.  In 1872, this mill was again destroyed by fire, but immediately rebuilt.  It was not put in operation, however, until April, 1875.  It has the capacity of a ten-set mill, and its water-power is nearly sufficient for the purposes of the mill, with little assistance from its steam-engine.  It is run in the manufacture of woollen fabrics, and under its present management is doing a safe and profitable business.

Greenville.  In 1844, Elisha Steere erected a mill upon the site now occupied by Andrew Waterman, first for a saw and grist-mill, and afterwards for an iron forge or furnace.  This mill was leased to Mr. William Kelly, Edwin Manton, and George Nightingale.  They began the manufacture of cotton cloth in 1845, and continued it until June 11, 1855, when the entire property was purchased by Messrs. William Pooke and Anthony Steere.  They erected an addition, known as the weave-shop, which enlarged it to what is known as a ten-set mill.  On April 9, 1873, the property came into possession of the Winsor Mills Corporation.  The dwellings, and also the school-house, were erected by Mr. Elisha Steere, about the time of the erection of the mill.  The Winsor Mills Corporation has made quite extensive improvements, by raising the roof and adding new and improved machinery.  In 1845, or '46, Mr. William Pooke completed the stone mill located near where Messrs. Holmes and Potter had their blacksmith-shop, and a little below the site of the Winsor Mills.  Messrs. Pooke & Steere operated this mill in connection with their upper mill, the two combined being equal to a fifteen-set mill.  Nov. 9, 1872, it was purchased by Mr. Sterry Whipple, its present owner.

Knightsville.  At a point between these mills, Stephen Rand, Albert Winsor, and William F. Brown, erected a mill in 1846.  This mill was operated by them until Dec. 24, 1857, when it was purchased by Jeremiah Knight, who subsequently sold one individual half to Frank E. Sprague, on July 1, 1874.  The old wooden wheels have given place to iron ones, besides steam-power.  The village is about the same date as the factory, and its growth is dependent upon the business of the factory.

Granite Mills.  This was formerly called Spragueville.  It was originally the site of a grist and saw mill, owned and occupied by one James Smith.  In 1825, Thomas Sprague started a cotton-mill, consisting of about one thousand spindles and twenty looms.  He continued to run and occupy the mill until 1847, when he sold it to Mr. Benjamin R. Vaughn.  In 1855, Mr. Vaughn formed a co-partnership with Mr. Christopher Vaughn, and they continued the business until 1871.  Christopher Vaughn, at this time, disposed of his interest, and the present company was formed.  The number of spindles was increased to five thousand three hundred, and the number of looms to one hundred and eighteen.  The water-power has been much improved, but a steam-engine became a necessity in 1858.  The various buildings, including the school-house, were built by the owners of the mill, as the increasing number of laborers demanded.  The increase in the facilities for manufacturing was fully equaled by the improved quality of the fabrics manufactured, and now, in the present, as in the past, its products are of excellent quality, and find ready sale in the markets of the country.


As the number and variety of mechanical and manufacturing industries increased, they necessitated the establishment of banking institutions as a medium for the more convenient transaction of business.  Accordingly, in the June session of the General Assembly, in 1822, the Smithfield Exchange Bank was chartered, with the following-named officers:  President, Daniel Winsor; Cashier, Nicholas S. Winsor; Directors, Daniel Winsor, Nathan B. Sprague, Stephen Steere, Elisha Smith, Thomas Mowry, Charles C. Mowry, Reuben Mowry, Nathaniel Mowry, Silas Smith, Elisha Steere, Asa Winsor, Joseph Mathewson, Richard Smith.  Its original capital was forty thousand dollars.  At its organization the bank occupied a room in the present hotel at Greenville.  In 1865, it became, in compliance with congressional enactment, a national bank, and is now known as the National Exchange Bank.  It occupies a building erected for the express use of the bank, and its capital has been increased to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  Its present officers are:  President, Benjamin R. Vaughn, elected in 1870; Cashier, William Winsor, elected in 1845.  Under its present successful management its financial standing is rivalled by no like institution, and in spite of the depression of the times is doing a large, profitable, and safe business.

Smithfield Savings Bank.  The organization of the Exchange Bank, and its subsequent re-organization into a national bank, having proven so great a success, and added so largely to the business interests of the town, the advisability of organizing a savings bank became so apparent, that on the thirteenth day of March, 1872, a charter was obtained, and the Smithfield Savings Bank was organized.  Its present officers are as follows:  President, Benjamin R. Vaughn; Vice-President, George M. Appleby; Treasurer, William Winsor; Secretary, Oscar A. Tobey; Directors, Pardon Angell, E. W. Brown, William Winsor, G. W. Hubbard, John S. Sprague, George M. Appleby, and Andrew B. Whipple.  This institution has proven a decided success, and its faithful and judicious management commands the confidence of its patrons, as is attested by the large amount of deposits, which reached, in June, 1876, the sum of $270,250.  This is a large increase from its original start, and evidence the confidence and esteem in which it is held by the citizens of the town.


The construction of these important auxiliaries to the original water-power of the town, forms an epoch in the growth and history of the manufacturing interests.  We have already noted the disadvantages, and often inconvenience arising from the lack of sufficient water-power to keep many of the mills in successful operation during the entire season.  The one at Georgiaville was compelled, through this lack of water-power, to remain idle at certain seasons of the year, to the great inconvenience of the employees, and damage to the proprietors.  Such was the case with many other of the early factories throughout the town.  To remedy this difficulty, the General Assembly, in January, 1824, issued a charter to the Woonasquatucket River Co., among whom were Messrs. Zachariah Allen, Philip Allen, Samuel G. Arnold, Thomas Thompson, and Samuel Nightingale.  The object of this corporation was the construction of reservoirs along the line of the above-mentioned river, and its several branches, in which should be collected the water from the spring rains, to be held as a supply to aid the running of the factories during the dry season.  This was the first charter granted in Rhode Island to a company for this express purpose.  The gentlemen comprising this company united their capital, and commenced operations at or near the village of Greenville, and constructed what is known as Slack's Reservoir.

This is probably the first work of the kind ever completed by a corporation chartered for this purpose.  In 1827, the Sprague lower reservoir was completed.  The Waterman Reservoir was constructed in 1838, and, still later, or in 1853, the Stillwater Reservoir was built.  These reservoirs cover an average area of five hundred and sixty-six acres.  The following table will be of interest, as showing the date of construction, average area covered, average depth, &c., of each of these water repositories: --

Name            Date   Acres  Average Depth  Acres-1 foot deep. Days Mills supplied 
Slack           1823    153            10      1,530                   22 
Sprague Lower   1827     70             7        490                    7 
Sprague Upper   1836     25            13        325                    4 
Waterman        1838    318             9      2,862                   41 
Stillwater      1853      -             -         --                   -- 

The construction of these reservoirs has added materially to the manufacturing interests of the town and State.  With this increase of facilities came also an increased demand for labor, and all this is directly attributable to the enterprising efforts of the gentlemen comprising this incorporated company.

Stage and Stage Routes.

Successive steps, facilitating communication with other towns and villages, have in general enhanced values and proved favorable to Smithfield and the adjoining towns.  The earliest efforts to improve highways, were the construction of bridges over the numerous streams.  At most seasons of the year these streams, at an early day, were crossed at fords.  Soon came the laying out and construction of the main turnpikes, running through the original town, all centering in the city of Providence.   Many of the early settlers regretted their removal to a point so distant from the main channels of travel and communication, and little thought that, in the years to come, the shrill whistle of the locomotive would be heard in the villages, and the long train of well-filled coaches run to and fro through its borders, bearing the tide of emigration and the burden of a growing commerce.  The links connecting those early days are fast disappearing from the chain of memory, and posterity will only recall them in the traditions of history.

Stage-routes were early established, which ran through the town, forming a line of communication and public travel from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other points adjacent to the town and State, and coaches were continually arriving and departing, filled with their human freight, and often valuable baggage.  In our days of railroads and steamboats, these early modes of conveyance seem to us strange indeed, and we often smile at the mere mention of slow coaches, and relays of horses.  These primitive modes of travel were all that the necessities of the times demanded.  But as the country developed and settlement became extended, other and more convenient means of transportation became a necessity, and the ingenuity of man was employed in working out the vast improvements that at present facilitate the transit of a continually increasing commerce and travel.  The old stage-coach has been a familiar thing in Smithfield for many years, and notwithstanding the march of improvement, its going out and coming in is yet a noticeable feature, and it is still among the means of public conveyance.

Mr. John Wilkinson began, in the year 1829, to run a stage from Providence to Scituate.  There he continued to make his regular trips for four or five years, and it is said that he was always found at the post of duty; and in the fourteen hundred or more trips made during this time, he never lost a day.  From 1835 to the present time, he has been connected with the stage-routes running through the town.  At first the stage used to run from Providence to Southbridge one day, and back the next, and relays of horses were used.  From this point other stages conveyed the passengers and freight into Albany, and points farther west.  But the construction of the Providence and Smithfield Railroad has superseded these routes, and they have now passed away, to be numbered among the things of the past.  Although it was a slow and oftentimes wearisome mode of travel, nevertheless we can imagine many pleasant scenes and amusing incidents that occurred during the journey, and the general good feeling and friendly intercourse that prevailed among those early travelers.

Secret Societies.

Temple Lodge, No. 18, F. & A. M., was instituted Aug. 24, 1824.  First officers were:  W. M., Moses Aldrich; S. W., Reuben Mowry; J. W., Emor Olney; Treas., Thomas R. Eddy; Sec'y Zephaniah Keach.  Present membership, one hundred and one.  Regular communications, Saturday on or before each full moon, held at Greenville.
Lafayette Division, No. 37, Sons of Temperance, was instituted January, 1851, with one hundred members.  Rev. Mr. Hastings, of Georgiaville, was the first W. P.   Its present W. P. is Henry C. Collins.  Its meetings are held on Wednesday evenings, at the hall in Allenville.

Olive Branch Division, No. 7, Sons of Temperance, was instituted Sept. 1, 1871, with forty members.  The first W. P. was Ezra Whitford.  Present membership, thirty; and it meets at the residence of some of its members.
Fidelity Temple of Honor, No. 30, was chartered Jan. 26, 1872, with thirty charter members.  First W. C. was C. Winsor.  Present membership about fifty.  Present W. C. is C. P. Allen.  It meets Thursday evenings in Wilson's Hall, at Greenville.


The system of public instruction in the town of Smithfield will compare favorably with that of any of her sister towns.  The recent construction of new school buildings, and the repairing and improving of others, mark the prevalence of a growing interest in the cause of  education.  The early facilities for instruction were limited, and the schools were kept in private houses, or in rude, and often inconvenient school-buildings.  But as time progressed, and the growth of population continued, an interest began to be felt in regard to the proper education of the children of the town.  Better and more convenient and commodious school-houses were built, furnished with new and improved school furniture, and presided over by more accomplished and faithful teachers.

The town of Smithfield is divided into ten school districts, with twelve departments for instruction.  The total amount of teachers' salaries, $3,921.95  Total expenditures, $4,502.76.  Total number of children of school age, 647.  Total number of different pupils registered, 628.  Total number belonging to school, 363.  Total average daily attendance, 328.  Percentage of attendance of all schools, 95.  Cost per pupil, average daily attendance of all school, total expenditures, $73.07.  Thus it will be seen that the educational system of the town of Smithfield is well established, and in full operation.  Upon the interest manifested on the part of the citizens will depend its future success.

Baptist Church, Greenville.

The first building erected and expressly devoted to public worship, was that known as the Baptist Church in Greenville.  The lower room in the old academy had previously been used for religious purposes, and thus continued until the erection of the church edifice in 1826.  This society was organized in 1820 by Elders Joseph White and Daniel Quimby.  Rev. Joseph White was chosen pastor, and remained until 1827, when he resigned.  As has been remarked, the church building was erected in 1826, upon land donated by Major Nathan B. Sprague, and Welcome Seaver.  At first it was used by these different societies, each using it upon certain Sabbaths in each month; of these the Freewill Baptists two, Methodists two, and the Six-Principle Baptists whenever a fifth Sunday occurred.  This arrangement, being deemed impracticable, was soon abandoned, and the building has since been used only by the Baptists.

In 1827, the Rev. Reuben Allen became pastor, and continued in the pastoral charge of the church twelve years.  Rev. Maxcy W. Burlingame succeeded him in 1846, and remained one or two years. In 1853, Rev. James A. MacKenzie took charge of the society, and remained four years.  He was succeeded in 1857 by the Rev. Richard Woodworth, who remained until 1873, forming the longest pastorate of any since the organization of the society.  In 1873, Rev. Charles S. Perkins became settled over the society, and continued his labors for about two years.  March 1, 1875, Rev. Arthur Given succeeded him.  In June, 1826, an addition was erected, and in 1866 a convenient and commodious vestry was added.

Freewill Baptist Church, Georgiaville.

This church was organized in 1834, by the Rev. Maxcy W. Burlingame, with nine members.  He was chosen pastor and remained about two or three years, during which time the membership had increased to seventy.  Its pastors have been Revs. Martin J. Steere, Benjamin D. Peek, T. H. Bacheler, Junie S. Mowry, Mowry Phillips, George W. Wallace, C. E. Handy, and Rev. Lewis Dexter, its present pastor.  The society used to meet for worship in a room at the factory, but soon after occupied the school building.  In 1856, a church was erected and chartered as the Georgiaville Evangelical Society, and much credit is due to Mr. Phillip Allen for his large donations and fine taste in design.  In 1872 the building underwent a thorough repair, and now presents a fine appearance, and both pastor and members feel a just pride in their growing institution.

Central Union Church.

This church is situated a short distance north of the Providence and Douglas turnpike, in the extreme north part of the town.  The building is a neat structure, and was built in 1859, and dedicated September 1, 1859, and chartered as the Smithfield United Society, in January, 1862.  A fine Sunday-school, of about forty members, is connected with the church; also a library of four hundred volumes.  Preaching is supplied by the pastors of the different Protestant denominations.  The Central Union Lyceum has met here for several winters.

Free Church at Allenville.

Philip Allen built a neat little church in this village in the year 1848, for the use of his help.  The preaching has been supplied by the various Christian pastors.  A Sunday school is held here under the Christian Union management.

The St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

This church is situated at Greenville, and was erected in 1851, on land given by Resolved Waterman.  The first meeting of the parish bears date Feb. 5, 1851, but the church was not consecrated until March 9, 1852.  Rev. James H. Eames was chosen rector at its organization, and remained until March 8, 1857.  The church was built out of funds raised partly upon subscription, and partly from a fund furnished by the diocese.  The rectors following the Rev. James H. Eames, have been Revs. Benjamin H. Chase, George A. Coggeshall, Eben Thompson, Edwin C. Sweetland, and others.

St. Philip's and St. Michael's.

There are but two Catholic churches in the town, and they are erected under one parish, and presided over by one pastor.  St. Philip's is the older of the two, and has been in successful operation for some years past.  St. Michael's is of recent construction, its corner-stone having been laid on May 17, 1875, and the building consecrated October 24 of the same year.  These churches embrace a large membership, are in a flourishing condition, and form a potent agency for the spiritual welfare of the people.

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project.
Transcription 2004 by Beth Hurd
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