Old East Greenwich: The Sounds 

by | Feb 4, 2022

Above: The Bleachery Mill at Cedar Avenue and Post Road. Their 4 p.m. whistle could be heard for miles.

For the past few years Bruce Mastracchio has been sharing his fond memories of East Greenwich as well of those classmates, friends and neighbors. On a visit to my home in Tennessee a couple of years ago he asked me to share my memories also. I didn’t choose to at that time until reading the latest furnished memories. The one thing that I noticed was that there were few if any memories of East Greenwich that addressed the 1930s or 1940s. Most of the East Greenwich citizens born in the ‘30s and ‘40s are no longer with us. I am one of the few East Greenwich old-timers left and I have a few memories that I would like to share. They all take place in a 10-year time frame from the mid ‘30s to the mid ‘40s. I have arranged my fond memories of East Greenwich into six categories: Sounds of EG, Main Street, Parades, World War II, Schools and a General. 

My first recall of East Greenwich as a youth was the many sounds that were very meaningful to the citizens of the town. The first sound was the clutter of the railroad train that ran on two tracks along the shore line. It would sound its whistle at every road crossing. There were four crossings, at Division Street, Queen Street, Long Street and London Street. No need for a whistle for King Street since a beautiful arched bridge was built in 1837. The train made two stops each day at the Duke Street train station. It would take passengers to Providence for 35 cents each way. As a youth, like many of my classmates, I would go down to the track that crossed Division Street and put pennies on the track for the train to flatten. There was a crossing guard stationed there in a small shack-type building whose job was to go to the center of the road with a small round Stop sign. 

The DrySalters Mill on Main Street at Union Street.

The second sound was made by many of the textile mills located downtown. The clatter of hundreds of looms was deafening and had a distinct sound. I first heard the machine sounds in the summer when the plant windows were open. This was way before air conditioning. I was on my way to swim at the Nock’s Shipyard, later Harris and Parsons. There was a lifeguard and a small raft. The beach was not much to speak of. The mills of East Greenwich were a large part of the employment of the town folks. Many of the workers were recent immigrants and very good workers. Most walked to work each day. Very few people owned an automobile during this time. Fortunately the mills were near by. The Shore Mill was at the foot of King Street, Greenwich Worster Mill was at Duke and Ladd streets, the Bostitch Mill was at Division and Duke streets, the Farrington Mill was at the foot of Division Street. The Drysalters or Union Mill was located at Main and Union streets and had housing for its workers: nine two-story white buildings located on Main and Green streets. The CVS shopping plaza is located where these buildings once stood. During World War II, the Dry Salters produced dye for military uniforms. The Shore Mill was at King and Water streets (and is now condomiums) and lastly the Bleachery, which was at Post Road and Cedar Avenue. 

The next distinct sound heard by the town folks was once per hour for 24 hours. It was the town clock located in the 70-foot tower of the Town Hall. The clock was made by Seth Thomas and the bell weighed 1,200 pounds. I remember my neighbor Mr. Miller walking one block from his home each day at around 4 o’clock to wind the clock. He never missed a wind. The clock on the tower had four faces: North, South, East and West. When the clock rang you could hear it all over town. 

The fire siren was well known by the town folks but it was used for more than announcing that there was a fire. Before the advent of mass communications it was used on bad weather days to announce that the school would be closed. The siren would sound for about 30 seconds at 8:30 in the morning to the delight of the children that there would be no school. 

The last of the sounds was the Bleachery Whistle. It would blast off every day at 4 p.m. It was very loud and could be heard for miles.

Glenn King grew up in East Greenwich and lives in Tennessee. We will be running more of Glenn’s columns in coming weeks.

Value the news you get here on East Greenwich News? As a 501-c3, we depend on reader support. Become a sustaining (monthly) donor or make a one-time donation! Click on the Donate button below or send a check to EG News, 18 Prospect St., East Greenwich, RI 02818. Thanks.

20 Comments

  1. Donna fogarty

    I was born in 1954 and grew up in East Greenwich. This was a very interesting piece. I had no idea there were so many mills.
    My dad grew up on Marlboro street.
    I look forward to the next issue. Thank you Glenn.
    Donna Fogarty

    Reply
  2. KarenLu LaPolice

    Wonderful memories and information. Looking forward to more.

    Reply
  3. Mark

    Glenn – Thanks so much for sharing…”sounds” lovely!

    Reply
  4. Joe

    Glenn – Thank You !! Loved reading your story ! Looking forward to the next one

    Reply
  5. Lil

    Now I can’t wait to read your next category about Main Street!

    Reply
  6. Judith Stenberg

    I grew up across the bay in Riverside. We had some sounds too. There was an oil refinery whistle that blew at 8am and 4pm. Our mothers used that to get us home in the afternoon: “Come home when the whistle blows.” There was a train that ran from Bristol to Providence that passed through Riverside Square a few times a day and a small station which Mom referred to as “the depot.” Our fire horn was used to signal a no-school day as well. It sounded 2-2-2 at 8 in the morning if the schools were closed that day. This article brought back many of my memories. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Jenn Foisy-Leigh

      Thanks for sharing! I’d love to share with my fifth graders… love local history! Can’t wait for the next story!

      Reply
    • John

      Hi Jude Do have any memories of Bold Point and Green jacket shoal? Nice the you remember the active rail line Thanks

      Reply
  7. Ro

    I literally could hear my grandmother’s deep accented voice whispering in my ear – telling me all her work stories about “Rukets” (spelling) as I read about it! Thank you, Glenn.

    Reply
  8. Native EG

    Thank you for keeping the memory of old East Greenwich alive !!!
    One big Lafamilia

    Reply
    • Carole O'Brien Pomaski

      Wonderful. It brings back memories that I’d forgotten. Can’t wait for the next one. Thank you for bringing the sounds back to life.

      Reply
  9. Josh thompson

    Well written piece about my(our)town that I love. I love the stories my mother shares (she is 82 and a true townie). Her family grew up in those days of the ’30s and ’40s her family are the Wilsons and my mom is a Jones. I’m in my 50s and can’t get enough of the stories my mom tells me of the people that she knew growing up below the Hill and if I was lucky enough to know them too or maybe a relative of this person. We must all know what we are talking about when we say the Town of East Greenwich had heart like no town I ever know… story’s of the Rag man to the shore line (which is where I grew up also) to my gram Wilson, who lived in town. I can go on and on, and someday I hope too go on about such a wonderful town that has so many memories for me, keep them coming.

    Reply
  10. Barbara Marden Blutoo

    Thank you Glenn for reviving many fond memories of growing up in East Greenwich. Eagerly awaiting your next column.

    Reply
  11. Laurie Greaney

    Hello Glenn,

    Do you remember Mrs. Annie Riley, who lived just north of the Bleachery Pond on Kenyon Avenue? There is a spring house in the front yard which is memorable. This might be a decade before your time. She was a mill worker and at one time her husband owned all of the land around the north/west portion of Bleachery Pond.

    Thank you for sharing your memories!!!

    Laurie

    Reply
  12. Marianne

    I thoroughly enjoy reading and picturing the town as you remember it. There is such a rich history in EG, and we are very fortunate to have you sharing your memories. Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Laura Sullivan

    Let me add my own ‘echo’ of praise to this wonderfully written and interesting reflection on the ‘sounds’ of the Old Town! When visiting my grandmother as a little girl, I’d cover my ears when the noontime horn blew from the Fire Station, or when a fire alarm was sounded. My grandmother had a little reference pamphlet that provided the codes for where the fire trucks were headed, and which alerted the volunteers. She certainly knew if the alarm was in town (District 1) or over in Cowesett, where my uncle and his family lived. Nice to have another ‘old-timer’ (a relative term!) reminisce about this period of time. Looking forward to the next installment!

    Reply
  14. Janet Z. Carter

    I have only lived in EG 22 years but plan to be here for the duration. Thank you for sharing this history. I look forward to the next chapter.

    Reply
  15. Gertrude Kinnecom

    MY GRANDFATHER WAS THAT CROSSING GUARD AT THE DUKE STREET CROSSING. I HAVE A PHOTO OF HIM THERE WITH MY OLDEST SISTER AROUND 1920. ONE SUMMER IN THE 1930s, I WAS VISITING AT MY GRANDPARENTS’ HOME ON DUKE STREET AND ALLOWED TO CARRY HIS LUNCH UP TO THE CROSSING. MY PARENTS MET AT A FIREMAN’S MUSTER IN EAST GREENWICH AND WERE MARRIED THE NEXT YEAR IN MY GREATGRANDPARENT’S HOUSE ON MAIN STREET. I HAVE LOTS OF E.G. MEMORIES. I AM 94.

    Reply
  16. karen

    Hope someone decides to put all of these articles into a booklet to read and treasure.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

RELATED STORIES

Yesterday’s Names

Yesterday’s Names

The Hilltop is filled with seniors And the theater’s long since gone While walking past the...

Newsletter Sign Up

* indicates required

Archives

Latest Streaming