History Notes is a biweekly entry in the Sun Rise that features a passage from the Johnston Historical Society. This week’s story comes from June 2001.
The village of Thornton is centered on the intersection of Plainfield Street and Atwood Avenue, and lies partly in Johnston and partly in Cranston.
Most of the industrial and commercial activity historically took place on the Johnston side. The first white settlers in the area were the Fenners, who built their home here in the 1650s. By the 1840s the village was known as Lower Simmonsville or Simmons Lower Village, named after James F. Simmons, a prominent Johnston textile manufacturer and U.S. senator. After Charles Fletcher bought the British Hosiery Mill in 1884 on Mill Street on the Johnston side, the town obligingly renamed the village Thornton after his birthplace in England.
The area grew rapidly after the reconstruction of the 1884 mill. By July 1885, a petition had been sent to Washington to establish a post office in the village. It was rejected. But the drive for a post office continued.
On the 1889 Location Paper Statement by Benjamin Berry to the Post Office Department for the establishment of a post office, Berry states that the population of Thornton was 1,400. So with the nearest office roughly three miles away in Olneyville and a large village population on hand, the Post Office Department approved the request. Thornton was granted its post office on Dec. 2, 1889. Benjamin Berry was appointed the first postmaster, a position he held until Dec. 16, 1892.
It was reported in the Jan. 3, 1890, edition of the Olneyville Times newspaper that the post office would be located in Benjamin Berry’s store and would open when blanks and papers arrived from Washington. The office did open in his grocery store on Plainfield Street.
At that time, Berry lived in the village across the street from his business. The next three postmasters – Ben Dalton, Alvin F. Miller and Henry B. Scott – headed the office in the 1892 to 1905 period and, it is thought, ran the post office from stores they owned or operated.
Dalton ran a grocery store and had a house in Thornton. It is not known what Miller did for a living, but it is assumed that he ran a store. He does not seem to have lived in the village. Scott was a pharmacist in the village, and the post office was probably in his drug store. From June 5, 1905, until the post office closed in 1927, Charles F. Holroyd served as postmaster. The office was located in his store on the Johnston side of Plainfield Street. The building was torn down a couple of years ago to make way for a Walgreen’s drug store.
The post office was not a big one and probably never handled a large volume of mail. Publications from the 1890s and the early 20th century, such as town directories and tax books, do make mention of the post office by name. In 1910, F.O. Sweet was listed as the carrier, and it is stated that foreign and domestic money orders were issued at the office.
Existing 19th-century mail seems to be rare from Thornton. The village was still relatively small in the 1890s and the workers at the only big employer, the British Hosiery Mill, were all from England. Most of their correspondence probably ended up in England. By 1900, though, the village had gotten much bigger. In 1898, two large textile mills were built here, the Pocasset Worsted Mill and the Victoria Mill. We, not surprisingly, find more mail sent from the village after the turn of the century.