History Notes

What's in a name? A bridge


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 March 2013.

A particular gravestone in the Manton Cemetery (Johnston Historical Cemetery #18) carries an intriguing epitaph: “Sarah Cushing wife of Mathew Cushing … accidentally drowned at Littletown Bridge, North Providence.”

Where was Littletown Bridge, and what was the derivation of the name? Since the Town of North Providence was mentioned, Tom Greene had to be contacted, he being their Town Historian. Both of us agreed that the location of this bridge was in fact basically where the present-day bridge carries traffic over the Woonasquatucket River, at the Johnston/Providence line, as lower Greenville Avenue ends and the other side of the bridge becomes Manton Avenue.

Tom Greene stated that the area on the east side of the river was once part of North Providence, and that this particular section of town was at one time referred to as “Littletown.” However, he did not know the derivation of the name. Having come across this name before, I checked the Johnston Town Council records.

A useful research tool is to study the Highway Districts, which are detailed in the Council records. Basically, the residents of a given area were assigned to maintain the roads where they resided; the Council entries described the area covered and the people assigned to maintain the roads in that particular area.

Though there was probably a bridge over the Woonasquatucket River from the earliest days of the colony, the first official note I found in the Johnston records comes from a Town Council of Oct. 7, 1768: “Jeriah Kawkins District of Highway to begin at a rock at Belknap’s Upper Dam so far as to take half the bridge by Edward Tripp’s House …” The area described was present-day Greenville Avenue where Pine Hill Road meets it, then all the way down to lower Greenville Avenue, where it meets thuebridge over the river, quite a distance.

The naming of Edward Tripp’s house is important, for the Tripp family owned land and lived on both sides of the river in this general area, and did so from early days. Richard M. Bayles, in his seminal work, “History of Providence County” (1890-1), states that a John Tripp located to the Johnston side of the village from Cranston as early as 1700.

The Town Council of July 25, 1772, is notable because it puts a name to the locale where the bridge over the Woonasquatucket River was located: “Resolved that Daniel Manton’s District of Highway begin at a Chestnut stump near the lower end of Richard Clemence’s wall and to extend to the River at Tripptown, taking in half the bridge at said River …” Thus, at least by the 1770s this area of town was known as “Tripptown.”

At this point, however, as far as Johnston records go, there was no particular name for this bridge; several other Town Council meetings just refer to the “bridge.” However, in the Town Council of Aug. 17, 1782, there is the following entry:

“Resolved that Richard Thornton’s District of Highway begin at Nehemiah Sheldon’s house and to extend northerly on Killingly Road as far as the fork in the road that leads to Tripp Bridge…”

The section of roadway described here refers to Killingly Street as it meets Greenville Avenue. Thus at this time the bridge is referred to as “Tripp’s Bridge,” and rightfully so, as previously mentioned because of the presence of the Tripp family in this locale. However, just four years later the bridge carries a new name.

The Town Council of Aug. 12, 1786, has two references to “Littleton Bridge”: “Resolved that Richard Thornton’s District of Highway begin at Nehemiah Sheldon’s house and extend northward on Killingly Road as far as the fork in the road that leads to Duelton Bridge …”; also: “Resolved that Esek Olney’s District of Highway begin at a Chestnut stump near the lower end of the wall of Richard Clemence deceased, and to extend down the road to Littleton Bridge, taking in the half thereof …”

The bridge is referred to by this name for many years, but in the Town Council of June 30, 1801, there is a reference to “Tripptown Bridge.” However, the Town Council of May 19, 1810, describes Edward Manton’s District of Highway as including “little Town Bridge (so-called)…” And so it went on.

There were references to Littleton (or Littletown) Bridge in the years 1813, 1819 and 1826. Then again, the name Tripptown bridge is used at least in the years 1825, 1830 and as late as 1850. This indicates one of the perils of carrying out research in the old records, whether it involves Town Council, Town Meeting, or even deed records: the recording clerks or officials could be quite inconsistent and/or informal in their work. It is obvious that there was no official name for this bridge.

The name Tripptown seems to make most sense; I have no idea where the name Littletown or Littleton is derived from. It seems as if the various Town Clerks couldn’t make up their minds. Richard M. Bayles in his work states: “Edward and Jeremiah Manton owned considerable property in this vicinity, and the place after the establishment of a post office was change from Tripp-town to Manton, in honor of that family. The name was hanged just before the late war.” Considering that Bayles published this work in 1891, the war being referred to must have been the Civil War, meaning that the name change occurred just before 1861.

It is interesting to note that the name of the village was changed from Tripptown to Manton, because the two families were related in some way. A deed executed on March 25, 1755, by Edward Manton refers to his “Cousin John Tripp.” The connection is further reinforced by the fact that there are many members of the Tripp family interred in the Manton Cemetery in Johnston.

This is quite a large burial ground, and the Tripps have their own section in it. There are four gravestones inscribed with the Tripp name, but nearby are also stones from other families related to the Tripps through marraige, such as the Thirsfields (three stones), the Angelis (five stones) and probably also the Cushings (three stones).

Oddly enough, while some deeds indicate that the Thirsfields, Angelis, probably the Cushings and at least one Tripp resided in North Providence, their final resting place is in Johnston.


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