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By Shannon McLoud
During the month of June, The Smith-Appleby House will be hosting the “History of the Esmond Mills Display”, a personal collection of local resident Sandra Achille. Achille became interested in all things Esmond Mills for almost 18 years now after she moved into one of the original mill homes. A postcard with her home in it sparked her interest and the rest as the saying goes, was history. Achille started scouring antique shops, yard sales, online auctions, for anything Esmond Mills related. How does one take a glimpse into history? Sure, there’s a History network on cable, and there are websites, and as helpful as they are, they don’t specifically go into local history as much. To capture the local eccentricities and more day-to-day activities of those of the past, we need local people for the job. The volunteers, the ones so passionate about their corner of the world that they delve right in and get to work. The searching, researching, making connections, cataloging. This is all done by volunteers, residents curious enough to learn about their community, and excited to pass that info on to everyone. Luckily we have people like that in our corner of the world at the Smith-Appleby House. The house, built (circa 1696) by a descendent of Roger Williams’s original group who left Massachusetts to start the colony of Providence, Rhode Island, began as a one room stone-ender. Centuries later it stands as a beautiful museum, an homage to the past nestled on some of the most beautiful acres in the area.
Archille’s collection focuses on the Esmond Blanket, a popular style from 1906 to 1948. From bunny blankets to Jacquad blankets, paperweights, manuals, trademarks, Skookum Dolls, advertisements and even employee pins, (where employees would be recognized, similar to today’s badges) this exhibit has it all! Achille also has a staff photograph that the Library of Congress has dated at 1920 complete with a magnifying glass for anyone interested in searching for their ancestors. Stepping into the interactive display makes you feel like you’ve stepped into time. From an entirely different time, the blankets were sold in pairs, and customers could cut and hem them. However, as Achille pointed out, not everyone did that as to not mar the prestige of owning an Esmond Blanket.
Achille feels that this display is an important one as Esmond Blankets is what “put Esmond onto the map. You can see what these mills made and how beautiful they were, keeping the history of Smithfield and Esmond.” Achille makes an important point. Certainly with the industrial revolution here in RI, we have quite a few mills left. Few still manufacture goods, most have been turned into high level apartments, or in the case of Esmond Mills, the Benny’s distribution center. As Rhode Islanders we are rarely offered a glimpse into the past to see what specifically was made in these mills, and in many cases in this display museum goers are encouraged to feel history as well.
Keeping the museum running is President Deborah Cote, and Vice President Julia Mendonca. These women, along with other volunteers like Achille, volunteer their time to keep not only the museum beautiful, but to keep our history alive. Achille’s collection adds an additional layer of history to the Smith Appleby House that you can only get with someone who is invested in their community. If every town had volunteers such as these women, we would never lose our history.
There was one giant takeaway I had after leaving the museum. And that was love. Love for the past, for the future of the museum, for Smithfield in general. It’s highly probable that you’ve been to the Smith-Appleby House, maybe as a student on a field trip, and if you’re looking for an excuse to go back, this could be it. Besides the exhibit, the grounds themselves are stunning this time of year. It’s worth it to bring your own blanket for a picnic lunch, and then learn about the what was once considered a premier blanket, made right here in Esmond. The Smith-Appleby House is located at 220 Stillwater Drive in Smithfield. To walk down memory lane for this exhibit, the museum is only charging $3, the proceeds of which will directly benefit the museum.
The dates for the exhibit are Saturday, June 17th from 11-4, Wednesday, June 21st from 5-8, and Saturday, June 24th from 11-4. This collection is uniquely Rhode Island, so don’t miss it! For more information, about this exhibit, or their upcoming summer exhibits, please visit their website at www.smithapplebyhouse.org.