Then and Now

The hurricane of 1938


The hurricane’s damage to Oakland Beach was so great that many totally abandoned any hope of saving their cottages. Many residents of the area, such as Father Valmore Savignac of St. Rita’s Church and the Reverend Albert A. Gaisford of Oakland Beach Union Church, will be long remembered for their work in rescuing people from the flooded areas and providing shelter for them. The National Guard was needed to help in the disaster, and Rev. Gaisford allowed them to use the church vestry as a billet. The Oakland Beach Yacht Club, the waterfront roller skating pavilion and many other landmarks were gone forever.

The devastation in Conimicut was also great. Mayor Ruerat remembered, “Conimicut Point house was gone. There was nothing left on that part of the peninsula.” The same tragic story could be told in nearly every section of Warwick. For 109 days, most of the city had no power, no generators and no telephone service.

The effects of the hurricane lasted for years and put an additional strain on the city’s budget. By November of 1938, six emergency W.P.A. projects were in operation. They included repairs to bridges and culverts, repairs to Lockwood High School and repairs to water mains. The pipes in the Buttonwoods section were left exposed when the water washed away the bank along Promenade Avenue and the pipelines had to be lowered quickly before frost set in. Buckeye Brook as so cluttered with debris that it had to be cleaned in order to allow Warwick Pond to drain.

When Warwick began the long road to recovery after the hurricane of 1938, it was obvious that the shore resorts would never be the same. Strangely enough, six monkeys that had escaped from Rocky Point in 1937 and were living in the woods on Warwick Neck not only lived through the winter but managed to survive the hurricane as well and were seen on the Neck and Spring Green for at least another year.

Warwick was still trying to clean up the wreckage caused by the hurricane of 1938 as she entered the decade of the 1940s. For a while, it seemed that even Warwick’s oldest and largest amusement center, Rocky Point, had reached the end. The park was returned to its earlier owners, the Harringtons, as the entire area began to stagger back from the effects of the storm. The owners, however, never gave up hope.

In less than a year after the storm, plans were made to rebuild the park. In 1939 Thomas F. Wilson and a few others formed an organization that began building a great dining hall large enough to seat 3,500, and they restored the mechanical equipment of the huge covered swimming pool. When the project of restoration ran into difficulties there was talk that the park would be divided into house lots. When this failed, representatives of the petroleum industry sought to use Rocky Point to locate its oil tanks. The Harringtons rejected this, as they feared it would be detrimental to the beauty of Warwick Neck and, instead, attempted to operate the park on a reduced scale in 1940-41.

Mainly due to restrictions placed upon them by World War II, the Harringtons were forced to curtail their activities and the park was not reopened to any great extent until 1945. At that time, it was sold to the Studley Land Company. In 1947 ownership passed to Rocky Point, Inc. under the leadership of Frederick Hilton, Joseph Trillo and Vincent Ferla. In 1949 Vincent was joined by his brother, Conrad, who remained with Rocky Point through a number of changes in ownership.

The outbreak of war in Europe pushed the everyday problems of the 1930s to the background as new crises arose. Prejudice and fear of the type Warwick witnessed with the Know-Nothing movement of the 1840s and the anti-Catholic, anti-black rallies of the Ku Klux Klan came to the fore. This time, it appeared as anti-German. In May 1940, when over 200 German-speaking persons gathered at the Norwood Hofbrau on Post Road, protests were heard. Residents of the area claimed, “They drank beer, sang German songs, gave the Nazi salute…and made anti-American speeches.”

Fortunately, the city administration refused to be panicked, as Mayor Ruerat calmed irate citizens by promising to make a thorough investigation of the episode. No action was taken and, within a short time, the charges were forgotten.


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