Profile of Oscar A. Tobey
OSCAR A. TOBEY
A Local Figure for Many Years
by James Ignasher
Photos courtesy of Priscilla Holt
One of Smithfield’s most distinguished public figures was Oscar A. Tobey who served the Town of Smithfield in different capacities for almost fifty years.
He was born in Greenville, January 10, 1837, the son of William and Sarah Ann (Angell) Tobey. His father owned and operated a successful general store in the village where Oscar worked as he grew up. His father believed education was important and when Oscar had completed his studies at local schools, he was sent to an academy of higher learning in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where he graduated in 1856. He then returned to Greenville and continued working for his father.
After gaining more practical experience working for his father, he left Smithfield and went to Hebronville, Massachusetts, where he took over as manager of a general store owned by the B. B. & R. Knight Company. Running the store gave him valuable knowledge in retail practices and when his father retired a few years later Oscar returned to take over the family business.
In 1868 he entered politics and was elected to the Smithfield Town Council. He held his council seat until 1871 when the town division took place and the new towns of North Smithfield and Lincoln were established. After the division, Oscar was elected to the position of Town Clerk, a position he was to hold until his death over 45 years later.
As Town Clerk, Mr. Tobey administered his office from a room in his general store. Anyone wishing to conduct official town-related business with Mr. Tobey simply came to his store and he would show them to an office he kept in the rear. The basement was used to store official documents and records and at one point it was even used to house prisoners in a make-shift jail.
Besides serving as Town Clerk, Mr. Tobey also served as Greenville’s Post Master for twenty years from 1882 until 1902. He was forced to relinquish this position when he turned 65 due to federal law mandates. While serving in that position, the post office was located in his store.
Despite leaving the Post Master’s position, Mr. Tobey continued serving as Town Clerk. He was so well liked by the people of Smithfield that many times he ran unopposed, and some years his name wasn’t even posted on the ballot; for what would be the point?
Mr. Tobey died suddenly at his home July 16, 1917, at the age of 81. He had been Smithfield’s Town Clerk for 46 years and a dedicated town servant for 49 years. He held the distinction of being the senior Town Clerk in the state having held the position longer than any other Town Clerk in Rhode Island.
Funeral services were held at his home on July 19th and burial took place at Harmony Cemetery in Glocester. He was survived by his wife and three children.