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By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
This is the third article in an occasional series about Smithfield locations that have either been forgotten by time or are no longer remembered for what they once represented. The locations are selected from a list compiled by former Smithfield Building Official Al Bruno. Bruno was originally featured in the January edition of The Smithfield Times, and the first installment of this series ran in February.
Built in 1950, this handsome structure with four simulated Greek pillars across the front was acquired by the St. Philip Church parish in the summer of 1955. It was then renovated for use as the rectory. Located adjacent to the church, the building was owned by Nathaniel Latham and housed one of only two funeral homes in Smithfield at the time it was acquired. Commodious at 5,600 square feet of living space, the property blends well with the Greek revival homes that occupy or occupied nearby lots. Many of the buildings Mr. Bruno has cataloged in his list of “forgotten” Smithfield places no longer exist, but in this case, the edifice is in fine shape, although it was adapted from its original purpose. In Mr. Bruno’s recollection, the funeral home was a destination he reached traveling on Route 44 by bicycle to attend calling hours when he was a young man. “It was almost 4 miles to the funeral home from Esmond, all uphill,” he recalls. He describes the dramatic difference in the rural community he pedaled through then and the suburban one that exists today. “Most of Route 44 was farm land,” he comments. Vivid in his memory are the demolition of the basement church where St. Philip parishioners worshiped from 1952 to 1988. The final mass there was held on Easter Sunday that year, and the dedication of the present church took place Sept. 10, 1989. As the town’s Building Official during those years he recounts that he was “totally involved with the new St. Philip Church, all the inspections, and certificate of occupancy from day one.” Today he is enthusiastic in his praise of the “beautiful St. Philip Church next door to the Nathaniel Latham Funeral home of long ago.”
Sources include the history of St. Philip Church by Peter J. Connell and Smithfield town records.