NORTH SMITHFIELD – On a farm in North Smithfield, some things never change.
The calendar says 2020, yet life on Old Smithfield Road has little changed from 1841 or so when Moses “Socky” Aldridge owned the farm. In those days, when the stage coach stopped at the end of the road, Aldridge married a woman from the Allen clan.
Seven generations later, that 53 acres is Hi-On-A-Hill Herb Farm & Gardens, and is still owned by an Allen.
Nestled off the beaten track, the farm is an oasis of simplicity. A historic reproduction covered bridge is fronted by carefully tended gardens, ripe with medicinal and culinary herbs, flowers, and vegetable plants. And Ruth (Allen) Pacheco, 90, is blooming and bright as the gardens she cultivates.
Pacheco is the primary tender of the gardens – the way she likes it, she says. Strolling the farm on an idyllic September day, she shares tidbits of her vast knowledge of herbs, such as about purple-blue Russian sage, yellow Evening primrose, and orange Jewel Weed with miniature orchard-like flowers.
Jewel weed, Pacheco says, is a traditional remedy for poison ivy and found growing near the notorious itch-inducing plant.
Pausing at the fountain, Pacheco admires scores of buzzing bees busily sipping the water. She notes that the winged workers bring the cooling moisture to their overheated hive.
Reworking a stone garden path and border is one of Pacheco’s projects. Her late husband Joseph Pacheco built roads and would have been taken aback by her imperfect execution of the project, she says, joking that she does things her own way.
Pacheco remembers one Christmas as a child receiving equipment for cutting trees. She says couldn’t have been more pleased; she liked working with her father, who had a saw mill. Her mother worked in retail at McCarthy’s in Woonsocket.
The farm was not all work and no play for Pacheco. She recalls spending winters ice skating and sliding down the snowy road with other children when few vehicles came into the area.
“People didn’t even know the road existed,” she said, a tinge of nostalgia apparent in her tone.
As a member of a Brownie troop of the Girl Scouts in 1943, the World War II era, Pacheco and her fellow troop members knitted scarves for the Army. She attended Bushey School in the building that now houses the police station by Park Square. Pacheco was six years old in first grade when the teacher put her and a male classmate into the dark broom closet for talking in class.
When she was in fifth or sixth grade reading class, “a boy bopped me on the head.” The teacher Miss Phoebe Hendricks told her “to bop him right back,” Pacheco remembered with a laugh. She remembers other teachers such as Miss Franklin who taught art. The teachers “were not supposed to be married” unlike the principal, Mrs Gillette.
Pacheco’s “very prim,” teacher Miss Anna T. Gottwald periodically read to the class from the novel Anne of Green Gables. The teacher lingered over the story so long that Pacheco had to wait until the novel was made into the 1985 TV mini series before finding out the ending, she says.
During a snow storm of 1944 or 1945, the school bus was grounded, Pacheco recalls, and that there were no phones, no communication. She remembers walking home from Woonsocket and having to get plastic bags from the drug store. She wore the bags on her feet and had on snuggies under her clothing, knee length knitted undies. As she was walking home a plow came by.
“It went by me and plowed me in,” Pacheco says, laughing at the memory.
Students who resided in “the Outlands,” rural areas of North Smithfield, attended Woonsocket High School. Pacheco says she walked half a mile to the end of the road to the bus stop where she caught the green and white school bus. She still can recall the sound of the bus – “rickity-rackity,” – moving along the roads.
After school she went to the library to do homework assignments.
“Our main mode of transportation was the bicycle,” she says, and in those days “nobody had locks on their bikes.”
As a Girl Scout during her high school years, she and her fellow troop members collected used cooking grease for the war effort. Pacheco worked in Woonsocket in retail at the W.T. Grant store earning 75 cents an hour, and also worked the popular one-day woman’s sale at McCarthy’s store, where she immediately sold a luxury item coat, astonishing the on-commission sales ladies.
Pacheco attended high school dances at the Woonsocket YMCA. She danced the polka and waltz, and says the music in those days was romantic, including the hits by Guy Lombardo, Paul Whitman, and Vaughn Monroe. For the last dance of the night, the lights were dimmed. She said some people attended dances at the exclusive Blackstone Hotel.
After graduating from Woonsocket High School in 1947, Pacheco intended to prepare for a career as a laboratory technician. However, in her last year of high school she says, “love got in the way,” smiling at the memory.
She met Joseph Pacheco at one of those frequently held high school alumni gatherings. He lived in Union Village and worked in construction.
Joseph received his draft notice.
The war ended.
Joseph and Ruth married in 1948. Their daughter was born in 1949 and a second came along in 1951. The happy couple built their house in 1955 on Old Smithfield Road and raised their family.
Fast forward to the 1980s when Pacheco’s love for herbs began upon visiting Daze End Herb Farm.
“I was hooked on herbs,” she said beaming. The couple established Hi-On-A-Hill Herb Farm & Gardens in 1985.
Fascinated by the historic uses of herbs, Pacheco says she educated herself by reading old herbals, such as one from Egypt. Many herbs have multiple uses, she notes; for example, oil from thyme has been used in cough syrup and at the dentist’s office. The plants don’t affect every person the same way.
“An herb can be good for me, and not for you. Some people love cilantro. I can’t stand it,” she said.
Pacheco became a certified Master Gardener. One of her specialties is creating potpourri and wreaths.
Pacheco said her enthusiasm for herbs resulted in meeting, “so many wonderful people in this industry. It was a wonderful time.”
People from all walks of life came to Hi-On-A-Hill.
“We were all about education,” Pacheco recalled. “The farm was not about any big business deal.”
“Back then everything was done with a pen and paper. Computers are not my cup of tea” Pacheco said.
One of her correspondents, a pen-pal, is a renown herbalist author from Tasmania. He visited Pacheco in 1994 and included her story in a book about herb farms.
Pacheco gave garden club presentations, and she was also involved in promoting agri-tourism. She recalls working with friends on a trolley trip through the Blackstone Valley for which they were wearing. “crazy Christmas hats.”
“We had a ball,” she said.
Pacheco has many other tales to tell. Meanwhile, she and her children, and now their families too, have residences on Old Smithfield Road, the family compound. Pacheco has grandchildren and more are on the way.
It seems, at least on this historic farm, some things never change.