Esmond Mill interactive exhibit celebrates local history at Smith-Appleby House

Esmond Mill interactive exhibit celebrates local history at Smith-Appleby House

Esmond Mill blankets are highly collectible and, at one time, gained great notoriety. (Breeze photos by Jackie Roman)

SMITHFIELD – The historic Smith-Appleby House on Stillwater Road will host an interactive exhibit of Esmond Mill memorabilia, including blankets, Skookum dolls, and 1920s advertising posters, in June.

The exhibit features the extensive private collection of Smithfield resident Sandra Achille, who has dedicated years to researching and sharing Esmond Mill history and its impact on Smithfield.

She has been interested in local history ever since she was a child living near the Woonasquatucket River in Providence. The mill is located off Waterman Avenue, across the river, and today houses Benny’s warehouse and other businesses.

Achille first began collecting the blankets in 2010. Today she has approximately 60 Esmond Mill blankets in her collection.

“I’ve always had a thing for blankets,” Achille said in an interview with The Valley Breeze & Observer, which included a tour of the exhibit.

Esmond Mill opened in 1906 and was owned by Clarence Whitman, who employed many men and women in Smithfield. Whitman also built dozens of mill houses for his employees to live in, some of which still stand today. The company closed its doors in 1948.

In its 1920s heyday, Whitman’s company became the well-known producer of the “Esmond Jacquard” blanket. Only two companies in the country produced this exact blanket – Esmond Mill and Beacon Manufacturing Company.

“It really put us one the map,” Achille said. “It really gave people decent jobs.”

The Jacquard blanket was known for its cortex finish and two-in-one design.

The June exhibit also includes original Ladies Home Journal advertisements from the 1920s which described Jacquard as “a new way to beautify blankets.”

Sketched images of young women wrapping themselves in the blanket accompany the text.

Esmond Mill was also known for its Navajo blanket, renamed the Indian blanket after objections from the Navajo tribe.

These items are highly collectible. One vintage Indian blanket on eBay will sell for more than $700, while the other blankets are marked for hundreds less.

The exhibit also includes the wool Woonaska blanket, named after the Woonasquatucket River that Achille grew up near.

Residents can also view a powder blue and bright pink baby room, full of the signature Bunny Esmond baby blanket. Bunny Esmond was the official mascot of Esmond Mill and the company came out with a children’s book in 1924 following his adventures. In the book, Bunny Esmond is always cold until, unsurprisingly, someone wraps him in a blanket.

But the displays are more than just cute designs to gawk at. Achille said they provide locals with a piece of tangible history.

Many residents of Esmond village in Smithfield have ancestors who worked in the mill.

“Now they have something to see that their family members touched and created,” Achille said.

The public can view more than 60 Esmond Mill blankets and other memorabilia on June 17, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and June 24, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A donation of $3 contributes to preservation of the museum.

Children especially loved the Bunny Esmond blanket and the storybook detailing the adventure’s of this miniature icon who was the official mascot of Esmond Mill.