By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
This is the seventh 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. Now 86, Mr. Bruno was originally featured in the January, 2017 edition of The Smithfield Times, and the first installment of this series ran in February.
Located at the apex where Whipple Avenue and St. Michael’s Way converge in a V shape in the oldest part of Georgiaville is the former St. Onge’s Market. Built in the 1860s or 1870s, it was part of the so-called Boss Way, three mill-related buildings that made up part of the complex of houses and functional structures which comprised the original village.
Not far away on Homestead Avenue sits the house that was the home of the superintendent of the mill which originated as the Georgia Cotton Manufacturing Company in 1813, but which reached its potential in 1853 under the able and imaginative management of Zachariah Allen. The superintendent’s residence dates to circa 1860.
The building in the photos was probably a store from its earliest days. In the old photo it has a sign on the front that says Blackstone. However, in the 20th century, for many years, it was known as St. Onge’s Store or Market.
Al Bruno remembers it well. He worked there in his younger days. He recalls it as a busy, well-patronized business in a time when people lived near to their jobs and walked to work and to the store. Most families had one car, if that.
“It was noted for its meats. Mr. St. Onge was an excellent meat cutter,” Al Bruno observes. “The store seemed to do well. It had its own delivery service.”
A smile comes to his face, and he recounts how the owner’s mother would come in every Friday night and ask him, “would you get me ‘alf a leg of lamb, now,” in a thick English accent.
“I had trouble understanding her dialect, so I’d call the boss out of the back and let him wait on her,” he chuckles.
He goes on to point out that just a few dozen yards away on Homestead Ave. there sat another store called Menard’s Market. It was St. Onge’s chief competitor. Less than a half mile away on the other side of the Woonasquatucket River at Cross Street was Shea’s Store, which was featured is this series in the May issue. Apparently, the small but thickly-settled village of Georgiaville was able to support three stores.
In more recent times the St. Onge market building housed a pasta manufacturing business, but it was later converted to residential use, the purpose which it serves today.
(Old photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Smithfield. Current photo by Albert Tavakalov/The Smithfield Times. References include Historic and Architectural Resources of Smithfield, Rhode Island compiled and published by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission in 1992.)