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By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
This is the thirteenth 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.
Anyone driving on Waterman Avenue (Route 104) heading south in the area between Esmond Street and Esmond Mill Drive will pass the site on the east side of the road which once hosted some three or four-hundred victory gardens during World War II.
The May 1943 issue of Popular Mechanics reported that there were some 18 million victory gardens in the United States, 12 million in the cities and towns and six million on farms.
The aim of the gardens was to encourage citizens to grow their own food as a way to reduce pressure on the public food supply. In concert with rationing the plan was to free up commercial agricultural production to supply the military.
According to Mr. Bruno, in order to help their employees the Esmond Mills, maker of the famous “Bunny Blankets,” allocated a tract of land now occupied by businesses such as Cumberland Farms, Rainone Landscaping, and the Classic Café, but then vacant, to be used for victory gardens. Mr. Bruno says that the approximately 100 by 100 foot lots were available only to mill employees.
His memory is that the entire stretch between Coach’s Pub and the large house on the corner of Whitman Street, which Mr. Bruno says up through the war hosted a State Police substation, was occupied by the gardens.
Much has changed in the 73 years since the war ended and anyone waking up from a Rip Van Winkle sleep would find himself bewildered if he were to search for the plot he tended back then. Businesses and a large paved parking area show no signs of the patriotic purpose to which the land was once put.
In the accompanying picture, taken from the side of coach’s Pub, Mr. Bruno stands on the edge of the garden area, but he points toward the land’s patron, the Esmond Mills across the way.