NORTH SMITHFIELD – With dozens of bands, marching units, floats, local dignitaries and more signed on to participate, North Smithfield’s sesquicentennial anniversary parade is on track to be the largest of its kind in the town’s 150 year history, according to organizers.
Local historians Louise Vanhouwe, Irene Nebiker and Ruth Pacheco have been named grand marshals of the event, set to step off from Slatersville Plaza at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 7.
The two mile parade will feature five divisions representing local and regional businesses, fire and police departments, non-profit organizations and more. Participants include veteran group Rolling Thunder, Bristol Fife & Drum, the Hot Tamales Band and the Tir Na Nog Irish Dancers, to name a few. There will be classic cars and color guards, horse-drawn carriages and floats – and even a mime.
Parks & Recreation Program Coordinator Kate Pasquariello said the event is on track to be a worthy – if delayed – celebration of the North Smithfield’s 150th year. It was March 23, 1871 when the governor of Rhode Island signed a bill that subdivided the town of Smithfield into two new twin towns North Smithfield and Lincoln.
But officials held off on planning large-scale celebrations due to pandemic concerns through most of 2021.
Planning for the event finally got underway in December, and a parade committee has been hard at work since, organizing a celebration that will make a fitting tribute to the town’s rich history. Pasquariello, who is co-chairperson of the event with North Smithfield Heritage Association President Richard Keene, said the team felt it was important to create something special that would bring the community together.
“The town’s 150th anniversary only comes around once in a lifetime, and we wanted to do something great to celebrate, especially after coming out of this pandemic,” Pasquariello said.
Vanhouwe, Nebiker and Pacheco were honored as grand marshals in recognition of both their contributions to the town’s preservation as members of the NSHA – and status as elder residents who are keepers of North Smithfield history.
All three longtime residents have been featured in NRI NOW in stories by contributor Karen Iacobbo, and all are now more than 90 years old.
Vanhouwe, who will head up the first division, has served for decades as caretaker a one-room school that opened just years after the town’s incorporation: the Forestdale Schoolhouse.
Pacheco, grand marshal of division four, is the seventh-generation owner of Hi-On-A-Hill Herb Farm & Gardens, and has also been active in conservation issues, working with the North Smithfield Land Trust.
Grand marshal Nebiker, in the final and largest division, is a well-known former teacher who has also been an advocate in both land and preservation issues – including restoration of her own historic farmhouse on Grange Road.
“The three have all just been great community volunteers and they’re all around the same age,” Keene said.
The trio will have plenty of company. Youth groups signed on to participate include scouting troops, sports teams, church and school organizations. A bevy of unique vehicles that will travel the route along Route 146A, Greene Street and North Main Street include cruisers, motorcycles, antique fire trucks, military machinery and at least 15 floats.
The city of Woonsocket will send enough participants to create its own division, and town officials have been working with longtime Autumnfest parade coordinator Linda Plays to organize that community’s entries in division 3. The city will also send its own grand marshal, whose name Pasquariello said has been kept secret – even from parade organizers.
While some details are still subject to change, the current parade lineup lists more than 90 entries, with participation that Pasquariello said has exceeded the group’s initial expectations.
“We have a great committee, and it just grew exponentially,” she said. “I think we’re all super pleased with the amount of participation and involvement we have gotten.”
Due to its size, the parade, she notes, will take place rain or shine. It will also shut down roads from 9:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. May 7, not just on areas of Victory Highway, North Main and Greene Streets, but also throughout a staging area that surrounds the plaza along Quaker Highway, Central Street and Mechanic Street.
With most of the major elements now laid out, Pasquariello said the full scope of what’s been achieved has begun to sink in, and anticipation is growing.
“Most of the hard work is going to be behind us this week, and I’m going to enjoy seeing the community come out and celebrate a grand parade – the biggest one that we’ve ever had,” she said. “I think it’s just going to be a fantastic day.”