The Sounds – East Greenwich News
Above: The Bleach Factory at Cedar Avenue and Post Road.
Over the past few years, Bruce Mastracchio has shared fond memories of East Greenwich as well as those classmates, friends and neighbours. During a visit to my home in Tennessee a few years ago, he also asked me to share my memories. I didn’t choose at that time until reading the last furnished memories. The only thing I noticed was that there were few or no East Greenwich memorabilia that dealt with the 1930s or 1940s. are no longer with us. I’m one of the few East Greenwich veterans to stay and have a few memories I’d like to share. They all take place over a 10-year period, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. I have categorized my fond memories of East Greenwich into six categories: Sounds of EG, Main Street, Parades, World War II, Schools and a General.
My earliest memory of East Greenwich as a youngster was of the many sounds that were very meaningful to the citizens of the town. The first sound was the jumble of the railroad train traveling two tracks along the shoreline. He would sound his whistle at each crossroads. There were four level crossings, at Division Street, Queen Street, Long Street and London Street. No whistle needed for King Street as a magnificent arched bridge was built in 1837. The train made two stops each day at Duke Street Station. It would take passengers to Providence for 35 cents each way. In my youth, like many of my classmates, I would go down the track that crossed Division Street and put pennies on the track to make the train flatten out. There was a crossing guard stationed there in a small shack type building whose job was to drive to the center of the road with a small round stop sign.
The second sound was emitted from many textile factories located in the city center. The rattling of hundreds of looms was deafening and had a distinct sound. I first heard the sounds of the machine in summer, when the factory windows were open. It was long before air conditioning. I was on my way to swim at the Nock shipyard, later Harris and Parsons. There was a lifeguard and a small raft. The beach wasn’t much to speak of. East Greenwich’s mills provided a large part of the employment of the townspeople. Many of the workers were recent immigrants and very good workers. Most walked to work each day. Very few people owned an automobile at that time. Fortunately, the mills were nearby. 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 living quarters for its workers: nine two-story white buildings located at Main and Green streets. The CVS Mall 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 condominiums) and finally the Bleachery, which was at Post Road and Cedar Avenue.
The next distinct sound heard by the townspeople was once an hour for 24 hours. It was the city clock located in the 70-foot tower of City Hall. The clock was made by Seth Thomas and the bell weighed 1,200 pounds. I remember my neighbor, Mr. Miller, walking a block from his house every day around 4 a.m. to wind up the clock. He never missed a wind. The tower clock had four faces: North, South, East and West. When the clock struck, you could hear it all over town.
The fire siren was well known to the townspeople, but it served more than to announce that there was a fire. Before the advent of mass communications, it was used on bad weather days to announce school closures. The siren would sound for about 30 seconds at 8:30 am much to the delight of the children that there would be no school.
The last of the sounds was the Bleachery Whistle. It took off every day at 4 p.m. It was very loud and you could hear it for miles.
Glenn King grew up in East Greenwich and lives in Tennessee. We will be posting columns on Glenn’s memories in the weeks to come.
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