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By Jim Ignasher
Since the early spring Smithfield residents have seen the detour signs for Capron Road due to the dismantling and replacement of the Adin B. Capron Memorial Bridge that crosses the Woonasquatucket River at the bottom of Capron Hill, and those who live in the area have suffered the inconvenience. The good news is that those signs are about to come down and the road re-opened, and the better news is that the new bridge will be christened amidst much fanfare and celebration as a bit of local history is commemorated – and everyone’s invited to attend.
The new bridge will be dedicated on November 11th, at exactly 11:00 a.m. The reasons for choosing this time and date will be explained shortly, but first a brief history of the area.
According to a report published by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the earliest documentation of a bridge spanning the Woonasquatucket River on Capron Road dates to 1814. It can be surmised that this early bridge was likely a simple wooden structure, perhaps modified or rebuilt over time. Try to imagine what the road leading to it looked like in 1814, probably little more than a dirt path connecting Farnum Turnpike with Stillwater Road.
In the years that followed several structures were erected in close proximity of the bridge such as homes and outbuildings, a blacksmith shop, a grist mill, a stone dam and sluiceway, a railroad depot, and a water tower for topping off the boilers of the train locomotives which once passed thorough on a regular basis.
Sometime around 1870 the grist mill was purchased by Adin B. Capron, for whom Capron Road is named. Besides being a successful businessman, Mr. Capron was active in local, state, and national politics, even holding a seat in Congress, before his death in 1911.
By the 1880s the grist mill was thriving, reportedly processing 152,000 bushels of grain a year, and remained in operation into the early 1900s. Anyone who has ever traveled Capron Road may have wondered why it has those “plateaus” every so many feet as they climb the steep hill out of Stillwater. Oral tradition has it that they were engineered for the horses that had to haul the heavy grain filled wagons from the grist mill up to Farnum Pike. The plateaus gave the wagons a piece of level ground to stop on so the horses could catch their breath.
Today the mill and railroad structures are gone, but some of the stone and cement foundations can still be seen poking through the thick overgrowth. The former route of the train tracks is now a walking path, and an interstate highway looms in the background. However, two nearby historic homes of the period remain intact.
In 1932 the old wooden bridge was replaced by one made of reinforced concrete. It was dedicated at 11:00 a.m., on November 11, 1932, as the Adin B. Capron Memorial Bridge.
At that time two bronze plaques were attached to the new structure; one honoring Mr. Capron, and the other honoring the eleven men of Stillwater who’d served in World War I. Of those eleven men, three of them, Manuel J. Arsenault, John A. McGrory, and Antonio Marzulla, lost their lives, and another, John M. Capron, the son of Adin Capron, was wounded. The other seven names are Carlo Cancieliere, Antonio Caranci, Arthur Ricard, Henry Scrogey, George Tesoniero, William A. Timson, and Henry Vadenais.
The time and date of the dedication were chosen because World War I ended at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918. For this reason the new bridge will also be dedicated on November 11th.
The 1932 bridge ceremony was well attended by war veterans, private citizens, and public officials. The plaque honoring Mr. Capron was unveiled by his daughter Helen. The other was unveiled by Mrs. John McGrory, who’s son John Jr., who died during the war.
By 2015 the Capron bridge was 83-years-old and in need of attention. The question to repair or replace was discussed. Despite its potential historic significance, the bridge was too narrow for modern traffic, and the approaches needed to be re-aligned for safety reasons. Therefore it was decided to replace the aging structure.
As per town ordinance, final approval to remove any such structures must to be granted by the Smithfield Preservation Commission headed by Robert Leach of Greenville. Leach approved the town’s request, and in a twist of irony, subsequently learned that the engineer who designed the bridge was his own grandfather, Nahum Franklin Leach, who by the way only received $37.50 for his services. In effect, Robert authorized demolition of the bridge his grandfather had created.
As a point of fact, Nahum Leach was also a veteran of WWI, having served in the Army.
In preparation of demolition, the two bronze plaques, which had taken on a green patina over the years were removed and carefully restored to their original luster. They will be permanently installed on the new bridge, which will retain the name, “Adin B. Capron Memorial Bridge”. A third plaque has been created to indicate to future generations that this is not the original 1932 bridge.
Although the bridge will be new, the original fitted stonework underneath has been saved as a way to preserve part of the structure’s historical character.
Those driving down Capron Road will also notice that the new bridge is wider, includes a sidewalk, and sits more in line with the road for safer traveling.
For the past several weeks plans have been underway between local veteran’s organizations and the Smithfield Preservation Commission to make this bridge dedication as meaningful as the first. All are welcome to attend. The ceremony will start at approximately 10:00 a.m. and it is suggested that people should park on the Stillwater Road side of the bridge. Free apples will be provided by Robert Leach, who owns Leach Farms on Austin Avenue.