Conimicut: A place in which to grow and thrive

Memories preserved in family albums

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During my early childhood, my parents, Arthur and Gladys Mansfield and brother, David, left Providence and Trinity United Methodist Church for a change of scenery (more country-feel desired at the time). 

We all wished to find a new home, plant flowers, choose a new church, experience living “By the Bay,” and to hopefully make new friends. We were quite pleased at the new adventure, though a bit apprehensive about the move and missing our Providence pals. We were a bit nervous as well about being the “newbies” at the time with the understanding that we needed to “fit in” with the new folks, new school, etc. However, that isolated feel rapidly disappeared as we realized just how many people we were privileged to choose from, in order to form these relationships. There was no lack of supply! 

We chose Woodbury Union Presbyterian Church on the corner of Beach Avenue and West Shore Road. This church was a good bit smaller than the larger Trinity United Methodist Church we had left, but felt welcoming and cozy by comparison. There were many neighborhood families, thus many children, which made quick work when choosing companions.  

We, particularly loved, living in a village setting rather than a busy city. There was a “cozy feel,” though we felt a bit isolated in some respects as we drove more than once a day down and back along a solitary main road - West Shore Road. This road boasted curvy two lanes with one traffic light as I remember, then on toward Hoxsie Four Corners. As well, there were many side streets while traveling in both directions, and streets leading out toward other neighborhoods and businesses. 

There was also the St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church situated on Beach Avenue. Our friendships were made up of children from both churches, for the most part. Most of my friends were Roman Catholic and I waited patiently on the sidewalk of that church on Friday afternoons while they went inside to confession. Afterwards we all went to the local fish & chip restaurant, Doug Heinz, for dinner. We so enjoyed tasting those privileged treats. There was also Silva’s Drug Store for Cherry Cola drinks after school and a Conimicut Pharmacy, Rexall’s if I recall correctly. There is also, still in business, the local barbershop, Louie’s, where my brother, Dave, still has his haircuts with old-time friends. There was Rainville’s Market along with another Market (Duquette’s) where my husband, Walter and brother, David (again) worked for Ernie Duquette. All these entities and others became the landscape of business along West Shore Road. Mr. Pike, the local beekeeper, was the exception in that he ran his home and unusual business along Bellman Avenue, where our nearby friends and neighbors watched him work his particularly interesting craft/livelihood. 

Conimicut Village was not a particularly affluent community but folks did all they could to help make up for the deficits. There were also many other hardworking laborers who were grateful when an unexpected package arrived with some extra goodies or just a friend dropping by to see that all was well with the elderly and/or handicapped. 

Many lovely, larger homes spanned the waterfront, along the Bay facing East Providence and Barrington, which made a particularly lovely breakfront view for the Bay. As well, there was swimming at Conimicut Point, therefore, my friends and I walked the long hot walk to that beach all summer long, weather permitting! By the time we arrived back at our homes, we were, each and every one, as hot as when we started out. It was worth it all – as we continued this tradition for many years. Conimicut Point area is privileged to have a beautiful lighthouse and surrounding beach area with other amenities open to the public – stunning!

Conversely, we kids also walked through the ice and snow to our secondary school (Gorton Jr. High). The distance was a mile and six-tenths, which seemed long to us in the dreadful weather, but joyous in good weather as we had the time to visit, laugh, tell jokes, stories and grumble about homework, etc.

As we grew older, we selected differing hobbies and activities including Girl an Boy Scouts, baseball at the Conimicut oval off West Shore Road, summer camps, etc. and still found time to go the local Kennedy’s Bakery and grab a cookie or two, depending on how much change our parents allowed.  

As time goes on and as life progresses, so do the choices of career begin to be important. People separated from the long-held traditions of sun and fun and became serious about studying, choosing junior college, other universities or selected chosen job offers.  

My Dad was greatly influenced in particular, having been chosen to be a substitute preacher in turn with other elders including, Elwood Brown. Pastor William Lover was in the National Guard and was absent during summertime. My Dad, Arthur Mansfield, wrote sermons and delivered them a-la Billy Graham style, (as he admired him greatly). He, as well, was a Boy Scout Leader for Troop 1 Conimicut, and received the highest Scouting Award, the Silver Beaver Award.

He took his boys on white water rafting trips and on mountain climbing trips, which literally “scared my poor mother half to death,” while waiting for their safe return. Dad and many others did manage to bring together a wonderful group of people who were interested in protecting the Village from potential crimes and vandalism and that group and meeting house in the Shawomet area lasted for a long while. The results were wonderful.

As well that particular building on Bend Street, (off Church Avenue at the West Shore end) was used by the BSA Troop 1 Conimicut. This property was leased for $1.00 per year from the Audubon Society. The Scout House was very well appointed, hardwood floors, stone fireplace – all built and paid for by Boy Scout Troop’s families, area merchants and through various ongoing fundraisers, by the Scouts themselves.  

As well, my Mom was fortunate enough to have befriended Dorothy Leach and family. Dorothy’s parents, Burmese Missionaries, lived with them, in one of the lovely homes on the waterfront. They were Merrick Lyon Streeter, Doctor of Divinity and wife, Mary Wealthy Hall Streeter. Mary prepared “Curry and Rice” often, one of their traditional cultural recipes, which were served with condiments made up of peanuts, banana and coconut alongside. (I do own that recipe). Best food of my life.

I will always treasure the memories of their prayers and their intellect when relating stories. I, in turn, read books to Dorothy’s daughters, Lorana and Gloria. I was reminded by Lorana recently that they particularly loved the story taken from the Grimm Fairy Tale “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf,” a story that I read to them on a rainy day. I shall refresh my memory on their beloved story. Mother, Dorothy Leach, became a Librarian who worked at Pontiac Library and became my mom, Gladys Mansfield’s, best friend! As often occurs with best friends, they began to look alike over time, were often taken for sisters.

I would not have traded my childhood-teenage years, up until marriage, for another set of circumstances in which to be raised, as those were so well-rounded.

I am now 72 years of age and time has not dimmed my memories. Walking through the village occasionally helps keep said memories intact.  

In truth, at that time, the beauty of it is that Conimicut Village was noted to be quite a “tough town” as far as some of the juveniles went; however, I never knew it! If I did, it simply did not register as important; it never touched me personally. 

In fact, my husband, Walter, and I are still involved in the Village today, as we attend the annual, summer Music in the Village Concert and Talent Show, annual Woodbury Church Christmas Bazaar and other social programs that go on at St. Benedict Church, by way of entertainment opportunities.  We are, indeed, blessed!  

I am indeed, blessed twice to have had some serious input from brother David, while we traveled down memory lane (together) for this effort. What a joy!

P.S. My own nephew, Keith and family, have recently moved into a lovely home in the Village. They are remodeling the home from top to bottom and are so enjoying living there. And my thanks to my brother David, Lorana Isacco-Fabrizio and many others who contributed with bits and pieces to make us “whole.”

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