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Smithfield

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Of Smithfield's seventeenth-century settlement, almost nothing remains. Much was destroyed in King Philip's War of 1675–1676, the rest by attrition. Hence the oldest extant buildings in the town date from the eighteenth century—the Mowry House, which appears to be the oldest, from 1701, and all others probably after 1725. As settlement progressed in the “Woods” north and west of Providence, demands for independent government grew because of the difficulties of reaching the central city. In 1731, Providence was forced to set up three large towns: to the north, Smithfield; to the west, Scituate and Glocester. Smithfield then included all of North Smithfield, Lincoln, and Central Falls, as well as the western part of Woonsocket—roughly all the territory between its present western boundary, the Massachusetts border to the north, and the Blackstone River on the east. What is now Cumberland on its east bank was then part of Massachusetts. With time, the clamor by some of this population for independence from Smithfield repeated earlier protestations to Providence and led to further division in 1871, leaving town boundaries as they are today.

Farming and logging on the choppy topography of glacial soils were inevitably the principal occupations, with plenty of boulders at hand for the walling of fields. As in other hinterland towns, transportation to markets was an early concern and led to the building of three turnpikes which ran across the town west and northwest from Providence. About 1733, the Providence-Woodstock Road, also known as Great County Road, was laid out along what is now the route of Putnam Pike (Route 44). Other turnpikes were not built until the early nineteenth century. The Douglas Turnpike Company, incorporated in 1805, was responsible (eventually under another corporate name) for Douglas Pike (Route 7). Finally, just as the Harris family in Lincoln initiated the turnpike from Lime Rock to Providence to transport their product to market, so the Farnum family, which had a forge at Georgiaville, began the effort, finally realized in 1819 by the Farnum and Providence Turnpike Company, to build what is now Farnum Pike (Route 104). This connects with Putnam Pike (Route 44) at Centredale (in North Providence), and thence goes on to Providence.

A surprising number of fine eighteenth-century farmhouses remain in Smithfield, their size—they are typically two-and-one-half-story, five-bay, central chimney houses— and their embellished doorways testimony to the relative prosperity of the town's early agriculture. When scouts for the White Pine Series combed New England in the late 1920s and early 1930s in search of colonial houses for an important corpus of publications designed to serve architects as a source for Neo-Colonial design (and also to sell lumber), they found no less than five examples in Smithfield. The examples described here, roughly twice that number, may seem to be too much of the same thing. But Smithfield provides a case study of ways in which a persistent architectural formula can be subtly manipulated to provide differences within the sameness.

Like neighboring towns where the water was sufficient, Smithfield had its share of textile mill villages along its streams and rivers—principally the Woonasquatucket River and its tributary, the Stillwater River. The largest villages ranged across the town just above its southern boundary: from west to east, in the order we will be visiting them, Greenville (with West Greenville), Georgiaville, and Esmond. Above these, where the stream of water was smaller, the villages, too, were smaller: Spragueville and Mountaindale withered away before the end of the nineteenth century, as larger industrial operations became necessary to turn a profit; Stillwater was finally done in as late as 1980 when a fire destroyed its mill, long after textile production had left it. Although small textile plants appear in Smithfield around 1810, nothing of much size appeared until the 1840s, which was fairly late. Doubtless Smithfield had to wait for the exhaustion of better sites elsewhere and the delayed arrival of the railroad. Two villages are particularly interesting for their early factory buildings, West Greenville and, especially, Georgiaville—although it is a sign of the suburban times that the most interesting factory buildings in Georgiaville have been converted to condominiums.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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