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Union Village

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Woonsocket before Woonsocket! This little village seems originally to have gone by that name from its location on Great Road at the intersection of Woonsocket Hill Road. The first houses in the future village were built around 1690 by Richard Arnold, Jr., and his brother-in-law Samuel Comstock. They and other early settlers were mostly Quakers, and, in 1721, the Society of Friends built a meeting house (the predecessor to the present building). It was the first, and for a century, the only one in the Woonsocket area. Though on the Woonsocket side of Smithfield Road, which marks the boundary between Woonsocket and North Smithfield, it is associated historically with Union Village and so is described here (see NS4).

As the main street of the village, Smithfield Road (Route 146A) appropriately retains its colonial name of Great Road (in the eighteenth century, the road between Providence and Worcester). Its intersection in the village with Woonsocket Hill Road and Pound Hill Road also brought traffic from eastern Connecticut and from central Rhode Island. Moreover, a short jog at the village from either of these routes connected to highways linking Providence and Boston. Well before the end of the eighteenth century, the village at this junction of major crossroads became known as Smithfield.

Innkeeping began with the Arnold family during the eighteenth century. During the first half of the nineteenth century, which saw the pinnacle of the village's prosperity, at least three inns, which survive in residential use today (see NS10NS12), occupied corners at the principal intersections. In addition to stores and blacksmith shops, the village was home to the Smithfield Union Bank, the first bank chartered in northern Rhode Island. Its establishment in 1805 was an event of such magnitude that village recognition gravitated toward the name of the bank, and Smithfield became Bank Village, then Union Village. (The bank building, much modified as a house, is located at 21 Pound Hill Road.) By the mid-nineteenth century two academies also existed in the village: Smithfield Academy for boys and Linden Hall Seminary for girls. Prosperity from all these sources, together with the professional and cultural life of the village during the first two decades of the nineteenth century, encouraged the construction of large houses. Most are set well back from the highway—so far that many retain generous lawns, even after the widening of the highway during the twentieth century. During its peak building period, Union Village was fortunate to have an outstanding resident master builder in Walter Allen. His Federal houses and those of his disciples characterize the village and account for its appeal.

Bypassed by the railroad, which also snatched the bulk of Providence–Worcester traffic from Great Road, and without waterways, Union Village stagnated after the mid-nineteenth century. The bank left for Woonsocket in 1851; Linden Hall Seminary went to the same city (where it eventually folded). Smithfield Academy withered away. This economic decline, during which “old families” resolutely held onto ancestral homesteads, preserved Union Village for twentieth-century rediscovery as a suburban town, when colonial and Federal houses were once again prized. Thus, in addition to work by Walter Allen and other houses described in the following entries, houses in Union Village are worth examination because, with few exceptions, its building history virtually vaults the latter half of the nineteenth century. At the west end of the village are the Lapham House (1790, 212 Great Road) and the Anson Arnold House (1806), 188 Great Road, one-and-one-half-story Federal structures which provide convenient small house comparisons to the predominating two-and-one-half-story variety. The Southwick House (c. 1825), 171 Great Road, shows Greek Revival monumentality in mass, but still in combination with Federal refinement of detail. The full-blown Greek Revival appears in a barn (now a house; c. 1830), at 6 Pound Hill Road. After the Jacob Morse House ( NS9) and another Italianate house (c. 1860), at 202 Great Road, building virtually ceased for half a century. Then, twentieth-century suburbanization brought the rediscovery of the old-fashioned charm of colonial and Federal houses: first shingle houses with white trim and a “colonial” feel to details, as in the Charles H. Stebbins House (1909), 61 Great Road, the George W. Lathrop House (1916), 91 Great Road, and a third at number 115); then two fine colonialized bungalows (c. 1920), 108 and 115 Great Road; and finally full-fledged Georgian Revival (c. 1935), 150 Great Road.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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