Community shares story ideas for ‘Our Town: Cumberland’

Community shares story ideas for ‘Our Town: Cumberland’

Next virtual meeting is April 12

CUMBERLAND – From a hotel on Diamond Hill Road that burned down in the early 1900s to the former Ann & Hope giant, ideas were flowing at the latest community meeting for the upcoming “Our Town: Cumberland” episode, produced by Rhode Island PBS.

At a virtual meeting March 31, for which more than 65 people registered, residents and folks with connections to Cumberland pitched ideas for potential video segments to be included in the hour-long episode that will air in September.

“It went really, really well. … We had great participation from a variety of folks,” Project Director Jodi Mesolella told The Breeze. After showing a presentation that overviewed the project and included video examples from past episodes, residentsasked questions and shared ideas in a chat window, communicating with Mesolella and her Rhode Island PBS colleagues, Greta Jacobs and Abbey Oldham.

As with every “Our Town” episode, the people contributing act as the storytellers and videographers, and no previous experience is necessary. Rhode Island PBS staff won’t decide what stories will be included, but they will stitch together the submitted videos.

The next meeting for the project will be Monday, April 12, at 6 p.m. via Zoom to “really hone in on the stories,” according to Mesolella, but anyone is welcome to attend and new story ideas can be pitched at that time. It will be a chance, she added, to weed out folks who tossed out ideas but don’t plan to follow through on making segments about them and to assist people who need help filming. “We try to make it as painless as possible.”

Each episode contains approximately 12 to 15 stories that last from three to five minutes each, she noted. The filming deadline is May 14.

Last week, in addition to ideas that had already been floated, including about Cumberlandite, new pitches were about the former Ann & Hope retailer, Phantom Farms, the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone nonprofit group and their cleanups at Pratt Dam, a train service that used to bring folks from Providence and Pawtucket for day trips to ski and explore in Cumberland, and more, including about historic figures such as Sullivan Ballou and William Blackstone.

While Bill Dennen suggested including famous people who are natives of Cumberland, including the Farrelly brothers, Mesolella said she’s not sure how realistic that is unless someone has connections to them. “It would be great for that to happen,” she said.

Some people associated with the Cumberland School Department suggested sharing the history of the department, and while Mesolella welcomes that, she said it would also be great to hear about more modern-day topics from the students’ perspectives to create a more well-rounded episode. “That’s probably the one section of town I haven’t heard from a lot,” she said.

Bill Gardner, a longtime resident of Cumberland who now lives in New Jersey, shared about a former hotel, the Diamond Hill Hotel, that members of his family owned and which burned down in 1912. Gardner said his grandfather used to run a boxing training camp at the hotel for world-famous boxers. His brother, George, was the first light heavyweight champion of the world, Gardner said about his great uncle.

“I doubt that there are many people in town that know of its existence,” he said, adding that he plans to keep the location a secret for now. He has a lot of photographs that he said he plans to put together in a Ken Burns-style and add commentary.

Jim Schwartz, fourth-generation owner of the historic Cadillac Mills off Meeting Street on the Blackstone River, said he wants to share the story of his family’s former mill, once a manufacturer of broadcloth, which currently includes a dozen tenants.

“The building itself has a long history in the area,” said Schwartz, who lives in New Jersey. “The oldest part of the mill was built in 1902.”

Bernadette Geddes Andrews pitched an idea for sharing the history of Geddes Farm on 44 Angell Road, formerly the Follett/Carpenter Farm. In the early 1900s, she said, her grandparents bought the property and started the farm, producing dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables for 50 years. The teenagers in her family, she said, had to sell and deliver to customers before going to school. Her brother Bob and his wife Janice bought the farm and rebuilt the home, she said, adding that the farm continues to thrive.

With questions about “Our Town: Cumberland,” contact Mesolella at or 401-222-3636, ext. 209.

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Anything about the monastery included, the history of it when the monks lived in it, the fire that took it away, etc....?