On May 23, 1916, the City of Providence paid Frank and Lyman Knight $12,150 for their holdings in rural Scituate, according to records on file with the Providence Water Supply Board. The father and grandfather sold 406 acres, two barns,
a sawmill and an ice house on Knight Brook. The bill of sale included two houses, "1 burned." Lyman Knight's ancestors think they understand the peculiar entry. Rather than sell his house to the builders of the Scituate Reservoir, the Knight family patriarch
set it afire, they believe. They imagine he stood in his fields and watched as two centuries of family history burned so that the city would have its water. "The Knights were very strong, stubborn people," said Shirley Arnold of Scituate, a descendent of Frank
and Lyman Knight. "They did not want to leave that house." A lot of others didn't want to leave, either. Up the road, in the once-upon-a-time village of Ponaganset, a farmer told his daughter he was going outside to feed the livestock, walked into his barn and
hanged himself. A neighbor slit his throat. Most others persevered, through depressing auctions, hurried moves, a cataclysm they never imagined possible. Eighty years later, their ancestors try to fathom a time and a story that lies, like Atlantis, in the watery
deep. Begun in 1915, the Scituate Reservoir by the mid 1920s flooded a great natural bowl at the headwaters of the North Branch of the Pawtuxet River, creating Rhode Island's largest body of fresh water. Some experts believe the ready source of clean water allowed
metropolitan Providence to grow and for Rhode Island to prosper. More than half the state drinks water from the lake, which forms a long, crooked V across the belly of Scituate. Managed wisely, said Richard Rafanovic, the reservoir's chief engineer, the tap could
run forever. But there was a price to pay for that consistency and that prosperity. It was borne by about 1,600 mostly quiet, hard-working, rural folks who in 1916 began answering alarming knocks at the door. It was a man from the city, and he had papers saying
their way of life was over. Kent, home to the Knights since 1708, fell first. Then all the rest: Richmond, Ashland, South Scituate, Saundersville, Rockland and Ponaganset, all abandoned, torn apart board by board, cleared and drowned. Like others connected to
Scituate's "lost villages," Shirley Arnold sometimes speaks of the decade with a lingering sadness. She tries to picture her mother, grandparents and great-grandparents living in a condemned village. She is a sunny, outgoing woman, but her voice softens when she
surveys the clues. "You can imagine how they might have felt," she said. "Over 200 years of family history, gone." The second decade of a new century was a time of building the infrastructure for a more affluent, industrial society. Smithfield was building its
own, smaller reservoir, Stump Pond, today one of the town's prettiest lakes. In Glocester, linemen stretched wires for the electricity that lit up Chepachet in 1914. The state was finishing turnpikes that linked northwest towns to a regional highway system.
As they built up the home front, Rhode Islanders also helped shape the world. Europe erupted into a great war, and recruiting stations in Johnston and North Providence were busy with volunteers. At the end of the decade, the towns welcomed their warriors home with
parades and monuments, but there was little revelry in Scituate. In the reservoir town, World War I offered only a respite from the breathtaking work under way. The city had been eying Scituate water since the mid-1800s. A half-dozen reservoir plans were
formulated, only to collapse. Perhaps a sense of complacency had settled on the town, historians say. And perhaps no one could really believe what was happening. Scituate in the mid-1910s was a network of little company towns linked by electric trolley lines.
People worked in textile mills for $15 a week or farmed their land. Many did both. "Everybody had animals, a cow, maybe a goat, something to live on," said Frank Spencer, 91, who pronounces his hometown the old way, with a long A at the end, "SICH-u-aate."
He was 8 years old in 1916, but a boy never forgets men behind mule teams digging a reservoir in an era without bulldozers. He recalls more vividly the muleskinners, exotic men from Arkansas, who on Sunday afternoons led their mules through tricks to the amazement of the Rhode Islanders. And he remembers the mill villages that to him were great, teeming cities. Richmond was home to four mills, a school, a town hall and tenements that housed 600 mill workers. But most of the condemned communities were more like Kent, a postcard village with a mill, a church and a few dozen families that had lived there seemingly forever. They were 15 miles but a world away from the State House in Providence, said town historian Barbara Sarkesian.
"People didn't really understand what was happening," she said. "This was pretty much a done deal when the folks heard about it." In 1914, the General Assembly rejected a bill to condemn the reservoir lands and seize them by powers of eminent domain. But the
very next spring, it passed the measure and the governor signed it. The state empowered a newly formed Providence Water Supply Board to appraise and buy property and clear it away. By December 1916, the condemnation notices went out. "They came to your house with
liens. They served them personally," said Spencer, who has amassed a large body of photos and history of the lost villages. Like a baseball statistician, he can recite the loss at season's end: 375 houses, 233 barns, 30 dairy farms, 7 schools, 6 churches, a
railroad. He said the mill owners generally did well in the exchange. The mill era was fading anyway. But the mill workers and small farmers received take-it-or-leave-it offers that few considered fair. Some protested. Some fought the condemnations in court, but
no one prevailed, Sarkesian said. William H. Joslin, a wealthy farmer and mill owner, built the Richmond Casino, a movie house and dance hall, in the condemned village of Richmond in 1919. According to Spencer, Joslin is reported to have said,
"We might as well have a good time until we leave." There's the inventory, the cold record of what the Knights sold to Providence in the spring of 1916 - 2 houses, 1 burned.
I have put the photo's back up on the website, there are 9818+ photos for 27448 individuals. For some individuals there are more than one photo,
look in the notes, if there are some labeled (MEDIA) and there is more than one number listed then there are more photos, email me direct and
I will be glad to email them to you. If you find a broken link to a photo, email me so I can fix-it. Due to the 12 1/2 hours of uploading it takes to update the web-site, I am only going to update it once a month. Enjoy the site your welcome to any of the information contained in the website. If you have any information that you would like to add or to correct a error, either email me or leave a message in the questbook.