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Al Bruno’s Smithfield Remembered – The Original Greenville Public Library

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

This is the twelfth 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. A profile of Mr. Bruno, now 86, was originally featured in the January, 2017 edition of The Smithfield Times. The first installment of this series ran in February 2017.

The original Greenville Public Library was next to St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Putnam Pike. It sat approximately on the site which the St. Thomas parish hall now occupies (photo above).

Established in 1882 the library was housed in a former store (shown in the accompanying old photo) which had once sold fabric made in a stone mill near Austin Avenue. That mill was built in 1845-46 by Anthony Steere and William Pooke. It produced cassimere, a woven twill-like cloth used for suits.

The library was co-founded by William Winsor in 1882. A Greenville philanthropist and supporter of education for whom William Winsor School is named, he donated a large collection of books to the library in 1883. He also served as town treasurer.

A rather typical 19th century storefront structure of frame construction with simple lines, the one story building was heated by an iron stove in the center of the floor. It had a porch at the front with simple pillars that met the overhanging roof.

By the 1950s the library had outgrown the antiquated facility. In 1956 the present day library was erected further east in Greenville on Putnam Pike opposite the William Winsor School.

During long summer evenings as the building neared its end, village youth including the younger members of the Greenville Volunteer Fire Company across the street, took to sitting on the steps of the empty structure drinking soda and telling stories. A few who were old enough drank beer. When the time came to demolish the old place the wreckers were startled to discover under the porch a mound of empty bottles and cans that testified to the amount of time spent in bull sessions while the village slept.

Current photo by Albert Tavakalov/The Smithfield Times. References include Wikipedia, Images of America, Smithfield, published by Arcadia Publishing in 2008, and Historic and Architectural Resources of Smithfield, Rhode Island compiled and published by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission in 1992.