Smithfield Town Hall designated a historic building

Smithfield Town Hall designated a historic building

Town Hall, above, built in 1939, and the Smithfield Fire Department Station 2, below, built in 1942, are both Georgian-revival style brick buildings built in the New-Deal era, recently added to the National Register of Historic Places as historic buildings in the Georgiaville Historic Distict.

SMITHFIELD – Until Town Hall, a Georgian Revival-style brick and wooden structure, was built in 1939 to conduct town business, those in local government held meetings at the Toll Gate Tavern from the mid-1880s to 1923.

When Georgiaville residents complained of the four-mile walk to the tavern, residents suggested that the meetings alternate between a tavern in Greenville and one in Georgiaville.

Residents continued a back and forth between Georgiaville and Greenville until 1923, when a town-wide vote let to the adoption of the former Georgiaville Universalist Church as Town Hall.

This story and others describing Smithfield developing town civic centers are told in the supporting documentation for the National Register of Historic Places registration form adding Town Hall and Smithfield Fire Department Station 2 to the Georgiaville Historic District last week.

Town Hall, at 64 Farnum Pike, was built following the Great Depression as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration giving federal funding for a variety of projects that got Americans back to work.

Providence-based architect Linwood Gardiner designed Town Hall and its neighboring fire station, but only Town Hall was constructed, costing $77,400, using $39,930 in PWA funds. According to the registration papers, additional funding was used to build the current Greenville fire headquarters in 1939. The same designer built Station 2 with the use of municipal funds through a bond issuance in 1942.

When the Georgiaville Historic District formed in 1985, the two buildings were not yet 50 years old and did not reach the criteria to be added to the list.

“The Smithfield Town Hall and the Smithfield Fire Department Station 2 on Farnum Pike are highly visible landmarks within the district and represents Georgiaville’s evolution from a textile mill village into the civic center for the town of Smithfield,” Elizabeth Warburton, of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, wrote in the nomination application.

Warburton said thatthough the buildings were accepted and are considered historical, there are no actual protections that come with the nomination.

“That’s a really common misconception, but it’s not true. It’s more about honoring the building for its history,” Warburton said.

A significant benefit to adding it to the National Register of Historic Places is that repairs and renovations are now eligible for state and federal funding. It was grant funding acquired by Town Planner Michael Phillips in coordination with the Smithfield Historic Preservation Commission that brought about the historic designation. By acquiring grant funding for the repairs, the buildings were noticed as eligible for the designation.

Commission Chairman Robert Leach said getting the buildings on the registry was a group effort that he was proud to be a part of. He helped with the window renovation plans, which included reglazing, refinishing and replacing parts rather than replacing the windows.

“Kudos to those people who didn’t just rip them out and replace them,” he said.

Compared to the fire station next door, which had its windows replaced, the difference is “night and day,” to Leach.

Leach added that the commission is still working to form a historic district in Esmond, which could possibly connect to Georgiaville as well.

Phillips said that for additional protection on the buildings to be in place, certified local governance will need to be in place allowing a committee to make decisions on the land. Though the town attempts to stop demolition or renovation on historic buildings, changes are still allowed.

“What we have now is a 60-day time period where it’s not an absolute bar but more of a delay to try to determine alternative actions,” Phillips said.

The town is looking into creating zoning areas to develop certified local governance, but are only in the early planning stages of that effort.