Burrillville Then & Now: Jesse M. Smith Memorial Building

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Welcome to Burrillville Then & Now, a feature on NRI NOW.

With photos provided by the Burrillville Historic & Preservation Society, we take a glance back at how the town used to look, then show how the same space looks today. Betty Mencucci, president of BH & PS has provided historical information on the site.

Today, we look at the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Building, which once stood on the corner of East Avenue and Harrisville Main Street. To the right is the American Legion Hall.  To the left you can see the steeple of the First Universalist Church.  Beginning in 1933 during Austin T. Levy’s town building project, the Legion Hall was moved to Main Street near the Town Hall and the Universalist Church was altered to look colonial.

Photo courtesy of the Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society

Jesse M. Smith Memorial Building – Main Street, Harrisville  

by Betty Mencucci

The Jesse M. Smith Memorial Building once stood on the corner of East Avenue and Main Street in Harrisville.  This large, impressive building was 80-feet-long, 40-feet-wide and three stories high.  It was called the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Building because it was erected with funds left by Mary E. Smith in her will in memory of her husband Jesse M. Smith.  Mary E. Smith died in 1894 and she asked that the money she donated be invested, and the interest allowed to accumulate until there was enough to construct a library.  Instead of building just a library, the town built a huge three-story brick building. Construction began in 1905. In January 1906, heavy timbers for the roof were framed near the freight station and brought over to the building to be put into position. By February, the carpenters were finished, a tar and gravel roof was put on, and the staging was taken down. The first floor contained stores, the second floor served as a library and town offices, and the third floor was a hall with a seating capacity of 340 people.  It also had a stage and dressing rooms.

 In May 1906, the building was open to the public with an informal ball for the benefit of the library fund. More than 200 people attended. Later in May, entertainment was offered for the benefit of the San Francisco Earthquake Relief Fund. Mr. J. B. Mowry, state forestry commissioner, gave a talk on previous earthquakes and 50 stereopticon views of San Francisco before and after the earthquake were shown on a large screen with a powerful electric stereopticon. The scenes were described by Miss Harriet A. Olney of Harrisville, who was in San Francisco during the earthquake.

The corner store in the Memorial Building was leased to Peter L. Creighton.  He sold fruit, ice cream and confectionery items. Matthew Walsh operated a variety store in the Memorial Building. He had an immense variety of useful articles for the home, including rugs and carpets, and had a display of 5 cent and 10 cent items. Gaucher Bros. ran a bowling alley in the basement and also had pool tables. By late summer, the town clerk’s office was moved into the new headquarters on the second floor. Specifications for the interior of the vault were made by Town Clerk McCabe in September. Later on, the corner store occupied by Peter Creighton became Frank H. Potter’s office. Workers staying in houses owned by Stillwater Worsted Mill could pay their rents here and people living in the New Village of Harrisville could pay their light bills and water bills at his office. He also rented safe deposit boxes.

 In 1933, during the height of the depression, Austin T. Levy devised a new plan for Harrisville. He wanted it to look colonial. His plan called for the erection of new brick buildings, and the tearing down of old buildings and those that did not fit his idea of a colonial-looking village. He constructed the Town Hall, Assembly Building and Ninth District Courthouse. He demolished the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Building and constructed the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library in its place. In 2007, the new Jesse M. Smith Library was built on Tinkham Lane and the old library became the Town Annex, housing the Building Inspector’s office and the Planning Department. In 2009, it was renamed the Carlton F. Brown Memorial Building in honor of Carlton Brown, a World War II veteran who served as town treasurer for 37 years.

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