Then & Now

Beating the Bosses


Two of the key figures in leading the fight for separation were Walter G. Hartford and Patrick Henry Quinn. Hartford took the initiative and formed the Warwick Division Club, made up of some of the town’s leading citizens. He called for a general referendum on the issue and even offered to pay for the cost. IN 1913 Hartford defeated Warwick Senator Walter A. Brown on the single issue of dividing the town, and the State Legislature, no longer controlled by Brayton, who had died in 1910, was willing to move in that direction.

While Hartford’s work in the legislature about the division, it was made possible only through the political maneuvering of the brilliant lawyer Patrick H. Quinn, the son of an Irish immigrant.

Quinn’s record in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was truly impressive. In 1898 he was elected secretary to the Democratic State Central Committee and later became its chairman. For 10myears he also served as chairman of the Warwick Democratic Town Committee. In 1899, despite the fact he was a Democrat, he was named town solicitor.

Quinn’s control over the financial town meeting was the key in bringing the pressure to bear for a division of Warwick. When he discovered I 1908 that the Republican town treasurer, Herbert W. Barber, acting on Republican Town Council recommendations, was paying each council member $200 per year rather than the $50 voted at the town’s financial meeting, Quinn took positive action. He brought suit in Superior Court and eventually in the Supreme Court, where, in the case of Quinn v. Barber, Town Treasurer, an injunction was granted against Barber. This was a major breakthrough for the cause of separation and indicated that it was possible to win a case against the firmly-entrenched establishment.

Quinn and Hartford were rewarded for their efforts in 1913 when the Republican General Assembly granted permission for Warwick to be divided and incorporated West Warwick as a town. The Republican governor at the time, Aram Pothier, appointed Hartford, Quinn, Charles A. Wilson, William P. Sheffield and Oliver A. Langevin to a five-man commission to complete the process of separation.

In 1913, when the town was divided, Warwick’s municipal assets were divided as equally as possible. Of the two major assets, West Warwick received the high school, Warwick kept the Town Hall. Other assets were carefully appraised and divided even to the stationery supplies on hand. When it came to the question of the town debt, West Warwick assumed a debt of $300,000 and Warwick’s share was determined to be $224, 114. both bonds were retired on July 1, 1944.

When Warwick ceded the 8.3 square miles to the new town of West Warwick, she lost the mill villages of Crompton, Centreville, Arctic, Riverpoint, Clyde, Phenix and a large portion of Natick. With these villages gone, Warwick’s industrial base was centered around the important mill villages of Pontiac, Hillsgrove and Apponaug. The old town went from a population of over 26,000 to 13,000 and lost three of her five representatives in the General Assembly.

In addition to losing the industrial area, the stores, shops and theaters were gone as well. Two of the largest retail stores at the time were the Star Clothing House (St. Onge) and Sinnot’s Clothing Store in Arctic. While most of Warwick’s mill workers and farmers wore simple and durable garments, businessmen and the more affluent were going to Providence or Arctic to get the latest styles. Suits in Arctic sold for as little as $9; derbies, fedoras and straw hats for a dollar or two; and shoes for men and women could be bought for two or three dollars.

While men’s suits tended to be conventional and mostly black, brown or gray, women’s fashions were becoming more daring for those who could afford it. Women wore very large hats and “hobble” skirts, which were often so narrow that walking was difficult. Lace garments were coming into vogue and, for those who dared, there were V-neck blouses, commonly called “pneumonia” blouses.

By mutual agreement, when the high school went to the new town, the Warwick students in the class of 19813 were allowed to graduate as scheduled. They had already paid their senior dues of 15 cents per month and were entitled to the senior banquet, prom and graduation. The only hall large enough at the time to accommodate the large crowd that gathered was Thornton’s Theatre, then known as the “Opera House,” in Clyde.

Despite the split, the young men of West Warwick headed for Rocky Point on the trolleys every Saturday night and, as former governor Robert E. Quinn observed in a 1953 interview, “Friday night was band concert night at Arctic, Phenix and Crompton. The crowds were so large that it was impossible to walk on the sidewalks.” During the summer people were flocking to Rocky Point to enjoy dining at the Shore Sinner Hall, which was out over the water and supported by pilings. Those very fortunate ones, such as Joseph Fitzpatrick’s family, were able to spend the summer at the Rocky Beach campgrounds when a season’s rental was about $25.


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