NORTH SMITHFIELD – Three historic town buildings maintained by the North Smithfield Heritage Association will continue to see improvements in the upcoming months thanks to focused efforts by the dedicated volunteer group.
Among the most apparent to passersby in recent months is work to restore the exterior siding and trim at the Forestdale School, a one-room structure built in 1877 to educate children in the village. The property has been maintained by the organization since the school closed in 1974, and ongoing efforts to restore the school are long overdue.
NSHA commissioned the creation of a master plan to detail needs of the property in 2016, and funding for much of the work, considered the first phase of the large-scale restoration project, came through in 2018. That year, the non-profit organization received a $48,221 grant from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, matched by town funding and private donations, and a $15,000 grant from the 1772 Foundation.
Now, NSHA Director of Preservation Jeffrey Harris is working with the Architectural Preservation Group to improve the building’s rotting exterior, including replacement of doors on the side and front.
The association also has plans to repaint the structure at 190 School St. once warm weather returns in spring, and has been accepting bids to install an underground electrical service to the building.
NSHA is also in the process of seeking grant funding to replace the roof and 14 original windows, before turning attention to the interior, where the group runs a small historical museum.
Many of NSHA’s relics and artifacts will soon have a new home thanks to the group’s recent lease of a second building: Memorial Town Hall on Main Street.
After municipal staff was relocated to the new Town Hall on Greene Street last fall, the town signed a five-year lease with NSHA for $1 a month, with the expectation that the organization would handle ongoing care and maintenance of that historic structure.
Since then, Charlie Desmarais of Desmarais Corp., Flooring Consultants donated new carpet tiles to replace worn-out carpets in the former Planning Department space on the first floor.
NSHA Director of Maintenance Charlie Dubois and a team of assistants, meanwhile, have completed renovations to the vault space, as well as the office at the front of the building. Next up for repair is the middle office area, where volunteers plan to paint the walls and ceiling, and install new carpet tiles.
And on Saturday, Jan. 2, NSHA had plans to move the archives from Heritage Hall into the the climate-controlled vault space.
Plans are also underway to get the community involved in the conversation about potential uses for that property, and local filmmaker Christian de Rezendes will soon film a video tour of the building.
NSHA had planned to hold an open house at the structure, a two-story brick building at 1 Main St. built in 1921, in November, but cancelled the event due to surging COVID numbers.
The organization reportedly hopes to reschedule that event soon, followed by a Zoom Meeting to receive feedback from the community.
Unlike the schoolhouse and Memorial Town Hall, which are owned by the town, the organization maintains full ownership of a third historic building slated for repairs: Heritage Hall. That property at 101 Greene St. was built in 1897 as a chapel for the St. Luke’s Episcopal Mission, and once served a congregation of families from the Slatersville textile mills. It was later owned by the Union Grange, and operated as a community building, before it was donated to the association in 1994.
Now, it serves as a rental facility, although in recent months it’s been closed due to the pandemic.
“The loss of rental revenues curtailed many of our preservation activities,” noted NSHA in a recent newsletter.
But fundraising efforts continue for all of NSHA’s ongoing restoration work.
Recently, the organization was named beneficiary of the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program for January. Each time a $2.50 reusable bag is purchased at the North Smithfield market this month, NSHA will receive a $1 donation.
Through the sales of calendars, ornaments, maps, books and other items that reflect local history, the town’s dedicated group of preservationists is also working to fund the efforts, $1 at a time.
The association notes that money raised through memberships dues and sales will allow them to paint the hall ceiling and interior walls at Heritage Hall in the coming weeks.
Those interested in purchasing a 2021 calendar or other items reflecting the town’s history can contact the association at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 401-447-6394.