Panels celebrate history of local waterways

Panels celebrate history of local waterways

The panel at the Esmond Park on the corner of Esmond Street and Farnum Pike features history of the river and the Esmond Mill and has historic photos and fun facts about the area.

SMITHFIELD – This town is celebrating and sharing its rich mill history with four educational panels installed along the Woonasquatucket River and other waterways this week.

The four panels highlight the “Jewels of Smithfield,” or the reservoirs created for water storage to power mills along the Woonasquatucket River into Providence in the 1800s.

The reservoir system created a permanent water supply to power downstream mills lining the river in Johnston, North Providence, and Providence by storing water in the wet season and releasing water during the dry seasons.

Reservoirs no longer power mills and are used for recreational purposes such as boating, fishing and swimming.

Panel locations include Esmond Park, Georgiaville Pond (Smithfield Town Beach), Stump Pond (Stillwater Reservoir), and the fishing area at Stump Pond.

The Smithfield Historic Preservation Commission teamed up with town administrators and the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council to bring the panels to town.

Ben Caisse, of the SHPC, said that 88 percent of Smithfield land and tributaries run off into the Woonasquatucket River, which is why the WRWC chose it to recognize.

Caisse said the panels, made from weather-resistant material seen at most national parks, were funded by a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. He said it is essential to share the rich history that the Woonasquatucket River played in Smithfield to understand its role as a mill town.

“We want to remind people what makes Smithfield special. I think that Esmond, Georgiaville and other parts of town has such a rich history, and we want to share it,” Caisse said.

Each panel features educational information about the area, including uses of the river or reservoir, fun facts, and historical pictures.

“I think it connects people to the past and gives these locations context,” Caisse said.

He said while some mills were destroyed in fires, others remain in town and were repurposed as apartments or mill spaces.

One of the two Stump Pond panels features traditional Native American use of the river, and explains Native American fishing practices.

(FUN FACT: “Woonasquatucket” is an Algonquin word meaning “where the saltwater ends.” It is one of 14 rivers in the U.S. designated as an American Heritage River for its role in the American Industrial Revolution.)

Smithfield will celebrate the panels in a grand opening ceremony on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at Georgiaville Pond off Stillwater Road, starting at 5:30 p.m. The event will include a tour of the new signs. The WRWC asks that attendees wear a masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines during the event.

WRWC summer recreation activities also include a bike tour of the signs on Aug. 6 and a canoe or kayak paddle on Aug. 11. Visit www.wrwc.org for more.