By Glenn King
This is another of Glenn King’s articles about “his” East Greenwich, the East Greenwich of the 1930s and ‘40s. You can read his first installment HERE.
I believe that most of my classmates will agree the most meaningful and enjoyable 12 years of their lives were spent getting an education at our two first class school facilities, the James H. Eldredge School and the East Greenwich Academy prior to the East Greenwich High School in 1943. Most students walked to school and went home for lunch.
The Eldredge School was built in 1927 and named to honor Doctor Eldredge, an icon in his day. The school had a vacuum system. As a prank the students would lift the vacuum cover to hear the screeching sound. This system was used daily by the school custodian Hub Wilson. Mr. Wilson had a pet monkey that he kept in the boiler room. Often we would look into the boiler room to see the monkey smoking a cigarette. The school playground was not only very large but well equipped with slides, swings, and a Maypole. For the boys there was a very large field in front of the school where they played baseball, kick the ball (a prelude to soccer) and many running games. Most teachers were local residents and walked to school so there was no need for a large parking lot. In later years the playground with all of its equipment was razed for a parking lot. There were very few bus students.
Eldredge was perhaps the only school in the area that had a fully equipped dental office. Once a week Dr. Scott would visit the school to tend to the dental needs of the students. The charge was 25 cents but if you couldn’t afford to pay it was free. At Eldredge, Mrs. Bertha Carr taught a dance class after school in the gym for 25 cents. There were several dances given each year. At the dances some of the girls rapidly found out how popular they were. There were no dress codes for the students however everyone always looked neat and clean.The girls always wore dresses or skirts and always had their hair looking nice. The boys always looked very casual. Most wore blue jeans and high-top tennis shoes. Most students had only one pair of shoes. In the late ‘30s, the shoe fad for boys was lumberjack boots (high cuts). The boots had a small pocket on the upper left boot for a jack knife. Every boy played a knife game called Mumbly Peg. The girls played jump rope, hop scotch, tag, and jacks. My classmate Gwendolen Ellis was the best and fastest jacks player that I have ever seen. She could grab up a handful of jacks in the blink of an eye.
The first order of the day in the classroom was the morning exercise. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag was changed in the early ‘40s. You no longer extended your arm when you said “to the flag,” since this looked like the German salute. Instead, as now, you just kept your hand over your heart. The next exercise was the Lord’s Prayer. In the third grade our teacher Mrs. Adams chose for us to recite the 23rd Psalm in lieu of the prayer.
Every Tuesday at Eldredge was Bank Day. Most students with the permission of their parents opened a bank account with the local bank. Most weekly deposits were very modest, hardly over 25 cents. This was a chore that the teacher had to contend with since she had to deposit the children’s money in the bank each week. When World War II started we all purchased War Stamps once a week. When you filled your stamp book with $18.75 worth of stamps you started another book. At the end of the war you cashed in your book at the Post Office for $25.
I have a vivid recall of all teachers I would consider as East Greenwich Icons: Mrs. McPartland, Miss Adams, Miss. Teff (affectionately called Old Lady Teff, but never to her face), Mrs. Barker and Hub Wilson, our custodian.
Until 1943 East Greenwich did not have a high school.The town paid the tuition to the school of the student’s choice. Most Catholic students went to school in Providence each day. The boys went to Lasalle Academy and the girls went to Saint Xavier Academy, the rest of the students went to the East Greenwich Academy. The Academy was called “The Heart of East Greenwich.” The Academy was located on Peirce Street across from the Kentish Guard Armory. The school was built in 1802. It was constructed of red brick, three stories with two towers. In one of the towers was a series of bells. It was a common prank of the Academy students to sneak into the school on Halloween night and ring the bells. The last time I went to the bell tower it was filled with pigeons.
On the third floor was an elegant chapel with a large pipe organ. The boarding students would man the huge organ pump. The first and second floor held classrooms. A large cherry dining room was in the basement. The school was the educational and cultural center of East Greenwich for 141 years. The school had a very large and well equipped gym – a gift to the school from the Swift family. The gym had two bowling alleys, showers, locker rooms, trophy room, equipment for gymnastics, indoor track, a stage for performances and a large field for baseball and football. The school owned the Rose Cottage in front of the school. It was the home of the headmaster.
In June 1938, President Roosevelt approved a grant of $112,500 for the erection of a new high school but it was voted down 345-175 at a special town meeting. This meant that the town still had to pay tuition. In August 1942, the citizens went to the town meeting and in nine minutes approved the purchase of the Academy for $41,750 to be used as a town high school.
All baseball and football games were played on the field behind the school. All games were played right after school let out for the day. No schools had lights for night games. Our teacher and coach was Mr. Nicola Carcieri*, a local boy. Going to school in East Greenwich in the ‘30s and ‘40s was somewhat of a melting pot. I attended school with many classmates that were first generation Americans. Many of my classmates were bilingual. A cross section of American East Greenwich was represented by several nationalities such as Jewish, Irish, French, Italian, Swedish, Black, English, and Armenian.
In the 12 years that my classmates attended school in East Greenwich some were given nicknames such as:
Dan “Fearless” Harrington
Donald “Squeaky” Anderson
Eugene “Fire” Byrnes
Wilber “Tiny” Wilson
Kenneth “Farmer” Hamilton
Ernest “Mussolini” Franzone
Donald “Soda” Soderlund
George “Creppy” Crepeau
Elsworth “Ebby” Spencer
Albert “Saint” Martin
George “Senator” Bristol
John “Flash” Olson
Russell “Red” Wilson
Gerald “Hut Sut” White
The population of East Greenwich in 1940 was 3,842 a gain of 176 in a 10-year time frame. In the 1930s the average full-time earning per week for a man was $25.75 and for a woman $22.14. Very few people in town could afford a telephone; instead they had a party line. The phone stood up on a pedestal. When making a call you were greeted by a “Hello Girl,” you gave the number you wanted and she would connect you. Most numbers were very short, mine was 536W, some of my classmates’ numbers were 67J, 131R, and 93. Very few people had an electric refrigerator, We all depended on the ice man who delivered ice once a week by a horse-drawn wagon. The children would beg the ice man to chip off a piece of ice. They all loved to pet his friendly horse. To inform the iceman how much ice you needed, you put a card in the window with a color code for the size of the ice block. One of the very important jobs for someone in the house was to empty the ice drip pan each day. Ice was cut at the Bleachery Pond and stored in a very large barn on the property. In the winter the roads were kept free of snow by Mr Sweet and his large truck with a plow. There were only three streets that were too steep for him to plow. King, Queen, and Church Street from Peirce to Main Street. Often Queen Street was closed so the children could have a thrilling slide down as far as Duke Street. Very often adults would beg a ride. Payne’s Pond was a favorite place to go after school to skate and play hockey. We never owned a puck, we used the rubber heel of a shoe or a piece of coal.
There were two town characters. One was Fat Henry. He was very much overweight. He ran the only taxi service in town. When he sat in his cab it would lean on the driver side. The other well known and well liked character was Rose Koralewsky, “The Waking School Teacher.” She never owned a car and walked at a stiff pace everywhere. She was run over by an automobile while crossing the street in front of Earnshaws Drug Store.
East Greenwich was a wonderful town to have lived in as a youth. I along with my many classmates were provided a fine education and pointed in the right direction by our teachers, coaches, Scoutmasters and other fine civic leaders.
*Carcieri Field at East Greenwich High School is named for Nicola Carcieri, father of former Gov. Donald Carcieri.
Glenn’s series so far: