'Our Town' makes PBS debut Sept. 12

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Anthony Ursillo and his mother Bea Ursillo are about to have three to six minutes of fame.

The same holds true for the award-winning Johnston Historical Society as well as landmarks like Snake Den Farm, Verde Vineyards and the Citizens Bank campus that just opened in Johnston as well as the villages of Thornton and Graniteville.

Ursillo, as well as places like Rhode Island Resource Recovery, Wicked Tulips and King’s Cemetery are among 16 places in Johnston that will be featured during the Sept. 12 debut of Our Town, a television production of Rhode Island PBS that will air on WSBE-TV beginning at 7:30 next Wednesday evening.

Our Town Johnston will be the RI PBS’ eighth installment of the series which features residents and business owners in the town sharing view of what they love about their town, including the history and lives of early settlers to the stories about the people, places and events that make this community what it is today.

Ursillo, for example, will demonstrate his hometown pride as well as his appreciation of understanding the importance of preserving a historic local landmark – the Shang Bailey Roadhouse at 2737 Hartford Avenue – which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 10, 1984 and has been both his home and location of a family business known as The Log Gift and Curtain Shoppe.

What some people might not know – or will learn about during the PBS television production – is that history surrounding this roadhouse dates back to the early 1800s and the 21-room roadhouse includes two Greek revival doorways and colonial revival columns, windows with paneled aprons, framed by elaborate arches and bulls eye corner blocks.

PBS viewers will also learn about the four colonial revival fireplaces, two well-preserved federal and 19th century stair cases and the basement features colonial rubble stone masonry walls and beams cut from the surrounding woods all in landmark where Ursillo – along with his parents Tony and Bea Ursillo – ran their business for some 36 years.

Ursillo’s Our Town story, which like the other interesting parts of the show will be thrust into three to six minute segments, will also be about when his residence was known as the Shang Bailey Roadhouse, named for the late 6-foot, 8-inch colorful character named Frederick Augusta Bailey who was born in 1842 and was once compared to PT Barnum to when his roadhouse was failing in business turned it into a brothel and gambling casino.

“This is and has been special for everyone involved,” Ursillo offered of the PBS presentation. “It’s a wonderful opportunity and it’s unique because you choose one topic for a story tat will be included in the show.”

Ursillo will also talk about when, back in 1975, his late father was looking for a place to expand the family business and was traveling up Hartford Avenue when he came across this dilapidate old house. He worked with the RI Historical Preservation Society for six months and restored the house.

“Now, some 42 years later I’m sitting her with my mother telling our story on Our Town Johnston,” he continued. “This place obviously has a colorful history and is a famous local landmark. It is our hope that his hour remains a tribute to an eventful past, renewed for an adventurous future.”

Our Town Johnston is produced by Nicole Muri, a veteran media specialist who once worked for all three Rhode Island-based television stations as well as other media outlets. Jodi Mesolella is the PBS Project Director and Gretta Jacobs is in charge of sponsorships.

Muri, meanwhile, noted: “This is a project unlike most television shows we produce; we do not come up with the topics or even execute the interview and video gathering. This is truly, like the tag line of the show states: their vision, their voice.

The Ursillo part of next week’s TV show, for example, was filmed by Trevor Lick, a senior at New England Institute of Technology in Eat Greenwich where he studies Digital Media Production. He filmed the segment back on June 18 inside the one-time Shang Bailey Roadhouse.

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