Al Campbell

Mashapaug Pond water

[You told me you grew up in the neighborhood, and you were born around the neighborhood. Can you tell me where and when you were born, and what your childhood was like growing up there?]

I was born in the Mashapaug pond area, 1945. And I lived approximately 150 yards from the pond...And the childhood up there was, it was a middle-class neighborhood, an awful lot of boys and girls my age to play with and grow up with down around there. And we spent a lot of time at Mashapaug pond. And when we were younger we used to skate there in the winter, and we would play hockey. And we would get very thirsty, in those days they didn’t have bottled water around, so during the hockey games we would break holes in the ice, and we would sip the water. Then the following spring, when we would be over by the pond, we would be looking at the water and it would have this green color, and we would think back to the winter when we were drinking that water, and we used to say, “geez, it didn’t taste that bad, but something’s wrong here,” you know. So we were growing up at the pond, people would fish there and, but no one swam in there because of the contamination I guess from the chemicals that were in there. And it was always on the green side. People lived along the pond, I remember I had a friend of mine lived on the other side of the pond, he had a speedboat, he used to go water skiing. And, we used to go out in his boat. But as far as swimming, we never did. But it was a nice neighborhood to grow up in. Like I said, middle-class neighborhood, hard-working parents and everything. And everyone kind of split what they wanted to do. It was the type of neighborhood where you either went to college, or you went into the military. And so everyone made their choice, what they were going to do, and went on from there. 

Calart Flower Company Christmas decorations

[Is there any place that particularly stands out for you, or is particularly memorable for you?]

Campbell: Yes. This neighborhood had a business called the Calart Artificial Flower Company...This was located approximately 350 to 400 yards from Mashapaug Pond on Reservoir Avenue. Every Christmas, they put up a Christmas display. Everyone in the neighborhood went over there to take a look at it. And - you can keep that - and that was one of the highlights. They stopped putting up the Christmas display years ago, getting a little expensive, and things have changed. But, and people in the neighborhood worked there, at the Calart. In the back of the Calart they had beautiful, lush garden of flowers. And as the pictures will show, not only were there beautiful flowers but there was a brook running back there, and that brook was fed by Mashapaug pond. So that, in itself, helped with the business at the Calart unofficial flour company. 

Calart brook and gardens

[And so you were talking about how, you talked about how the community changed over time during these years, so I was wondering what your sense was of how the Reservoir neighborhood has changed over time, or do you see how the pond has changed, transitioned?

Campbell:  Well the pond naturally has changed, you know there are no boats out there that I’ve seen. But people, I believe that you could still fish in there. They had a fish called carp. Large fish. And people that enjoyed fishing would go in there and catch the carp. And they were, it was an edible fish, you know, so people really enjoyed it. And the neighborhood people, I don’t think they use it too much at all. I’m really not sure what they’re doing. I know in warm weather I’m around there, but I don’t see too many people in there.

 

Horse-racing on Reservoir Avenue

[On horse-racing in the neighborhood]

Going back, if you want to go back in the history of what other people did on Mashapaug pond, back in the, 1904, they used to have horse-racing on the ice [takes out newspaper articles]. And I have some newspaper articles here. They used to have a horse and sleigh, and they used to race on the ice. And there was a private owner of Mashapaug pond. One of the newspaper articles in the journal, 1904, mention that he gave permission for the people to have their horse-racing after he harvested his ice. So evidently he was taking ice out of there for his ice houses to sell. You know, hadn’t refrigerators back then, there were no refrigerators but they had ice-boxes so everyone needed ice. And after he’d get his blocks of ice out of there, then he would say, ok, the rest of the pond is open to you, folks. And they had an association of horse racers that used to race on the ice every winter. And they also, if they couldn’t get out on the ice, they would race on Reservoir avenue. And they would start down near the Cranston line, come right up past Mashapaug pond, and Reservoir avenue. They did it on the snow, and they also did it on, when it was warm. Reservoir avenue wasn’t paved then for cars, it had ruts in it, but they had horse-racing there. Winter was a lot of fun, they used again, they used the sleighs, sleigh-rides coming right up Reservoir avenue. News articles in here describing, it mentions a lot of prominent people in these articles, who owned the horses. And it’s quite a history of that area. Not only were we ice-skating there, but here there are many years before that, horse-racing on the ice. 

 

 

Wada: What was the work at the drug store like?

Campbell: Working at the drug store was the greatest job I’d ever had. I couldn’t wait to turn 16 to go in there and work for a dollar an hour. It was, I thought I was a millionaire. Everyone in the neighborhood used to come in, we had a fountain there. Sundaes, Lime Rickeys, you name it, it was there. We had a good time working there. The person that owned it, John Maciel, he owned a lot of stores in the whole block. He was the pharmacist and the owner, he was a great guy to work for. And everyone wanted to work at the Friendly Pharmacy. Great way to meet the girls, too, when they came in. It was a great way. You know, if they wanted [chuckle], they wanted a Sundae and they give you the 35 cents for it, you’d only charge them a nickel. [laugh] Now, they thought you were the best thing since Wonderbread, “he only charged me a nickel.” And, but it was a lot of fun. And that store sold everything. They sold liquor there, naturally cigarettes and everything, and they had perfumes, they sold kodak cameras. They had a variety of things. Penny candy was a big attraction for kids in the neighborhood. All the little kids, they would come in all the time with a nickel, Nickel’s worth of penny candy. And that was a big attraction for them. And they had a telephone booth in there, where for a nickel you could call anybody up, and the guys would go in there and call their girlfriends at night, because they couldn’t, they didn’t want to do it at home. And the girls would go in there to call up the boys, because they weren’t supposed to call boys up at home, so that telephone booth was constantly busy. And I used to wait until I see one of the guys go in there, and I can see them writing down the name of a phone number on the wall. And I was working there, so when he was through I’d go in there, throw in a nickel, and call the number [laugh]. But, that was a fun place to work though. And we wore these smocks, these white smocks with collars, and we almost looked like doctors. Thought we were, you know, cat’s pajamas walking around there. It was good. 

 

 

Diving Gear

[Going back to the reunion, I was wondering if you had any favorite stories that people told you, or you like to tell people?]

Campbell: Well, one of the stories go, if you ever went into Mashapaug pond, took a close look, there’d be a lot of automobiles in there. Some people in the neighborhood were in the automobile removal business, which is now known as Grand Theft Auto. [chuckle] And if they stole a car, and they wanted to get rid of it, and have that person collect insurance, some people would just, you know, drive it in the pond, or leave it there. People who had junk cars, wanted to get rid of them - [gesturing sideways] right into the pond. And we often used to kid about it, you know, if we ever went scuba-diving in there, what would we find? You know, the number of automobiles that would be in there. And...that’s the fun we have about that. 

[On neighborhood softball team]

One of the other things you asked before about our neighborhood that I should mention is that, we had a neighborhood softball team that lasted about 17 or 18 years. So all the guys from the neighborhood, we all played softball together, for years. And we were talking about it during one of our reunions, “next year during the summer we should have another neighborhood softball game.” [laugh] After looking around at everybody, we decided it wouldn’t be a good idea, we only have like five people that could actually run to first base anymore. So that was out. But that’s the camaraderie, with the people we grew up with, you know. Imagine going to kindergarten with somebody, and then when you’re 25 years old you’re still playing ball with them, in a league. We always got a neighborhood bar room, because most bar rooms sponsor softball teams. Dealerships, drug stores, restaurants didn’t, most part didn’t. There was Tiffany’s restaurant in the neighborhood that moved in after the Windmill Diner moved out. They sponsored us, and then they kept the whole thing going in the neighborhood bar room. [inaudible] in the neighborhood, kept the team together by sponsoring us. But all those guys, you know, we all stuck together, a lot of us from first, second grade, kindergarten, well into our mid, late twenties. 

 

 

[On a neighborhood hero]

I remember one guy...drank constantly. Some people made fun of him. If there was a loud noise he would jump. I asked him one time, “Were you in World War II?” And he looked at me and said, “Don’t ask me that question again.” When we were coaching the neighborhood softball team, we made him our third base coach for about 7 or 8 years. It was probably the most important thing in his life. A few years ago, I get the paper – he passed away in the hospital. And the article in the paper described how he won every medal you could think of for bravery in WWII. That’s also another lesson: this person you’re looking at, you really don’t know who he is. This guy was a neighborhood hero. He’s buried in the veteran’s cemetery now, and a couple of us go up there and take care of the grave site once in a while to make sure it’s spruced up. That’s what neighborhood friends are supposed to do.