The Old Esmond Post Office
By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
This is the sixth 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, 2017 edition of The Smithfield Times, and the first installment of this series ran in February.
Originally part of a textile mill complex in the early 19th century and later home to the Esmond Post Office, this building on Esmond Street has been dated back to 1813. Erected by early textile manufacturer Philip Allen, later Governor of Rhode Island and a U.S. Senator, it is considered the sole surviving industrial building from his early days of manufacturing in the state. It was once believed that it was Allen’s original cotton mill, but later research deems it more likely that it served as the company storehouse.
The volume Historic and Architectural Resources of Smithfield, Rhode Island describes it as a “two and one half story, 30 foot square, stuccoed rubble stone building, with a small, brick, center chimney, a recessed central entry in an asymmetrical 3-bay façade and a 2-story frame ell at the rear.”
For many years in the 20th century it served as the United States Post Office in the Esmond section of Smithfield. It also housed the office of the Smithfield Public Health League during this period. As the old photo shows, the nurses who provided public health services to the community had an automobile to facilitate their tasks.
Al Bruno notes that as a youth he once stepped on a broken bottle and cut his foot. “It hurt like hell,” he recalls. The nurse on duty bandaged him up, and he says “I was almost as good as new.
“The head nurse was named Agnes Parker. The registration number [on the nurses’ car] was G-52. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
He also recollects that the name of the postmaster when he was a boy was Elroy Chapman. Quite often Bruno’s family would send him to pick up the day’s mail. “I would go to the post office, and a lot of the time before I could even get through the door Mr. Chapman would say ‘no mail for Bruno.’” He shakes his head, and he adds, “He was kind of a gruff old man, at least it seemed that way to a young boy.”
Adding one more footnote to local history, Bruno points out that when the Public Health League was no longer a tenant, the Walter P. Rivers family resided in the space they had occupied in the building.