Al Bruno’s Smithfield Remembered – The Textile Mill on Austin Avenue

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

This is the fifth 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 edition of The Smithfield Times, and the first installment of this series ran in February.

Know by various names through the years, the textile mill at 20 Austin Avenue was long an important part of the fabric of community life in the Greenville section of town. Originally the location was the site of a woolen mill built by Pooke and Steere in 1845-46. Later in 1891 it became the Whipple Woolen Mill and later still in 1909, under the auspices of Austin T. Levy, it became The Stillwater Worsted Mill.

Levy, an innovative modern industrialist and a pioneer of enlightened treatment of employees, instituted reforms that were heralded in the press of his day, earning him a measure of fame as a manufacturer. It is the Levy name that was associated with the property for much of the 20th century, even after it was no longer a site for textile production.

For a while it was known as Sparling’s Mill, and housed a company that made sandbags. After that the facility housed a variety of small manufacturing businesses. Al Bruno recalls that at that time he was the assistant building official for Smithfield, and due to observing the transient nature of these often unincorporated enterprises he proposed to his superior, Fred Austin, the creation of an ordinance requiring all businesses in town to be registered. Austin took the suggestion to the Town Council, Bruno recalls, and it was enacted.

“They were in and out of there like jack rabbits,” he says, adding, “It was impossible to keep track of them and properly tax and regulate them before the ordinance.”

Today, the extensively refurbished structure is home to Cortland Place, a modern senior living facility established in 1997 by the Audino family.

According to the company’s Facebook page: “Cortland Place offers independent & assisted living, respite, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, long term and Alzheimer’s and dementia care.”

(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, and Smithfield by Ken Brown Sr., Jim Ignasher, and Bill Pilkington, published in the Images of America series by Arcadia Press in 2008)