While there have been buildings on this lot at the north-west corner of Main and Armory (formerly Kent) Streets since at least 1850. What had previously been here had been razed by 1884 when the Sanborn Insurance Atlas clearly shows an empty lot here. The heirs of James Russell Austin (1799-1854) had owned his property since his death. In June of 1887 Levi N. Fitts and Thomas H. Galvin, who were already business partners, each bought out half of the heirs, and built the existing building in the new, fashionable Mansard style, imported from France. The Mansard buildings have a steeply pitched top story, which gave the buildings nearly a full sized top floor, as they don’t have the usual lost space from the traditional roofline, which are much more angled. Fitts & Galvan were in the “Dry Goods” business; selling fabrics, sewing supplies (notions), blouses, and millinery (hats), mostly to women.
Levi Nathaniel Fitts (18551-1920) was born in New York, the son of Levi & Phebe Fitts. He married at Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, 1879 to Mertie K. (Freeman) Fitts (1857-1908), daughter of Jesse Harding & Louisiana K. (Newcomb) Freeman, of Wellfleet. Mertie was a descendant of Elder William Brewster, one of the leaders of the Pilgrims who came to Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620. She was an early member of the DAR through her descent from Revolutionary War soldier Simon Newcomb. Mertie attended the Musical Institute at EG Academy in 1874. Levi and Mertie had two surviving children: Louie F., b. 1882, and Levi N., b. 1886.
Fitts’ business partner was Thomas Henry Galvin (1859-1943), son of Martin & Mary Galvin. He married Alice Eleanor (Bashford) Galvan (1864-1932), who was born Ireland, emigrating in 1866 with her parents, John & Anne (Lynch) Galvin. In 1896, at the time of the EG Academy fire, Thomas was the Chief Engineer of the Columbia Hose Company. The 1920 census shows him as the postmaster. Thomas and Alice had 4 children, all born in RI: Mary B. Galvin (1890-1956), William Joseph Bashford Galvin (1894-1925), Louis Galvin (1899-1900) and Ann (aka Nancy) B. Galvin (1899-1964). In 1894, Levi & Mertie Fitts sold their one-half undivided part of the property to Thomas & Alice Galvin. In 1920, the Galvins sold the property to Herman N. Silverman.
Herman Nathan Silverman (1883-1977) was born in Troy, NY, the son of Joseph “Yosef Aaron” & Lena Silverman, who were born in Poland. The 1900 census reports that they both emigrated in 1881. Herman married in 1908 Jennie (Solomon) Silverman (1884-1953), daughter of Isaac & Rosa Soloman, and sister of Ben Solomon. The Silvermans operated a shoe business, and the Solomans a men’s clothing business. The storefront at 187 Main Street was ideal for the two complementary businesses, and they remained here together from 1920 until 1958 when the shoe store moved a short distance south on Main Street, finally joining forces again in 1970 with their move to 500 Main Street.
The 1951-52 EG School Census lists 10 people living on the upper floors of this 18 room, 4-story building with its 7,103 sq. ft. of retail and residential space. The following were listed as residing here: Irving & Pearle Manson; Frances M. Gardiner, b. 1916; Henry H. Graham, b. 1902, his wife Anna A., b. 1902, and their children Henry H. J., b. 1931 and Gail A., b. 1939; Arthur R. Miller, b. 1887, and Eva P., b. 1894; and finally Marylyn A. Gould, b. 1927.
In 1953 Herman Silverman transferred ownership in the building to his son Howard D. Silverman and his wife Ruth E. Silverman, where they continued the business as outlined above.
Howard David Silverman (1915-2003), was a summa cum laude of Brown University, class of ‘36, and worked at the family business for over 40 years. He married Ruth (Tenenbaum) Silverman (1915-2006), daughter of Samuel J. & Sophie (Buchwald) Tenenbaum. They had two sons Stephen and Fred. After his retirement, Howard continued to be extremely active in town, among many other things, being a founding member of the East Greenwich Rotary Club and president of the East Greenwich Free Library. He later wrote short stories based on his life growing up in East Greenwich. Howard and Ruth literally lived above the shop on Main Street, when they moved to Howard’s hometown to help manage the store. Ruth was also class of Brown ’36, and received her master’s degree from Smith College. She worked for a Jewish welfare society in Boston. She volunteered for the Red Cross during World War II. In 1972 Ruth began work at the Jewish Family Service, retiring in 1986.
In 1975 Ruth and Howard sold the property to Herbert C. & Antonetta D. DiTiberio, who owned it 1975-79. The owners since 1979 have been: John N. Renza, Jr., John A. Pezza and Quinlan T. Regan, 1979-85; David P. Iannuccilli, Leonard J. Iannuccilli and Vincent J. Meola, 1980-90; Frenchtown Associates Ltd partnership (David P. Iannuccilli, Leonard J. Iannuccilli and Vincent J. Meola, partners, 1990-93); Branco Associates LLC, 1994-2001; and the current owners since 2001, Tesler Properties LLC, Neil Tesler, Manager.
Bruce MacGunnigle is the East Greenwich Town Historian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book “Strolling in Historic East Greenwich” is available at the Green Door, 130 Main Street.