East Providence Historical Society reprises 'Smithsonian Evening'


EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence Historical Society returned to the Weaver Library Monday night, Sept. 24, for a reprise of its popular “Smithsonian Evening,” highlighting interesting and little-known facts about the city.

Eight Historical Society members chose their favorite artifacts from those on display the Hunt House Museum, giving the audience of about 75 patrons a brief history and provenance of that object.

Like last year, Historical Society member Reinhard Wolgemuth presented the crowd with a "mystery" item. A year ago, it was horse tethering block. This time around, Mr. Wolgemuth led the audience on the journey of the clock that once stood in Watchemoket Square at the foot of Warren Avenue in front of what was once Sullivan's Bar.

Mr. Wolgemuth's investigation found the clock to have moved from there to Riverside Square at some point in the middle of the last century. It was once held under stewardship of the "Riverside Business Men's Association." After being hit by a car, it was moved across the street near the old Firestone building and Vinhateiro's gas station before ending up at its current location in front of the Crescent Park Carousel sometime in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Mr. Wolgemuth's presentation concluded the night's festivities. Rose Sirenski began the evening with a presentation on a Rhode Island Militia, the precursor to the R.I. National Guard, regimental uniform, the origins of which trace back to the period between the end of the Civil War to the Spanish-American War.

Pat Henry led a presentation on the McManus family's long relationship with the Rumford Chemical Works. Ninety-five-year-old Mary McManus was in attendance Tuesday, listening intently to Ms. Henry's talk. Ms. McManus, much like her mother and father before her, worked at Rumford Chemical from the time she graduated East Providence High School in 1925 until the plant closed in the 1940s.

Newly-installed Historical Society president Maggie Dooley discussed the old Hunts Mills Amusement Park. Though it lasted for only 25 years, the park became a favored landing place for many locals and residents from surrounding areas. The park, like its counterpart Crescent, had a carousel and was also noted for its Fay Dance Hall, which at one point was the largest venue of its kind in the state. Fire destroyed much of the park in 1923. The carousel was saved and moved to Misquamicut Beach in South County before it, too, was felled by the great hurricane of 1938.

Karen Panzarella's presentation on the history of the East Providence High School yearbook, "The Crimson," was given in absentia by Nancy Moore. Ms. Moore noted the Historical Society has an extensive catalog of yearbooks dating back several decades.

Ms. Moore led her own discussion on the history of parasols, which were a prominent wardrobe feature of young ladies who spent time each summer at Hunts Mills. The women used the parasols for protection from the sun while sitting on the shore or canoeing, a favored pastime of the day.

Ginny Burwick next displayed the bathing suits she and her husband wore as sweethearts while courting at Crescent Park during summers gone by. Mrs. Burwick noted the wool suits were "itchy," but that you never got cold coming out of the water.

Dot Thornley led the penultimate discussion of the evening on what some believe is paranormal activity at Hunt House, the Historical Society's headquarters. Ms. Thornley said an expect in the field, John Austin, led an observational team at Hunt House. His findings were inconclusive and another observation is planned for next spring. Some members of the Historical Society, including Ms. Moore, believe to have felt the presence of spirits in the house.

Monday's event was part of what is a week-long celebration of museums sponsored by Smithsonian Magazine. The East Providence Historical Society participates in the Smithsonian's National Free Museum Day Saturday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hunts Mills. Come enjoy the award-winning Rumford collection, the heritage gardens, the waterfalls and tour the site of Rumford’s only amusement park.

The Historical Society is a volunteer organization in its 45 year which is dedicated to the preservation of local history. It maintains the John Hunt Museum at 65 Hunts Mills Road, participates in the URI Master Gardening program, and provides educational programs open to the public.

The museum is open to all on the second Sunday of every month except January and February from 1 to 4 p.m. and by appointment. The society's meetings are open to all. Board meetings take place the first Wednesday of every month. A general meeting his held the fourth Monday of each month. For  more information visit the Historical Society online at www.ephist.org or call 438-1750.


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