Apponaug’s “good old days”

Thanks to Dorothy Mayor, members of the Apponaug Improvement Association, and other civic-minded residents, Apponaug has become one of Warwick's proudest villages. The spirit shown at recent Apponaug Day celebrations make it very obvious that Apponaug is a fine example of how the past and the present can complement each other.

The feeling of pride and progress in the village is also seen in the excellent condition of many of its buildings, the increase in the number of business establishments and in the sense of camaraderie displayed by those who live and work in the area.
There seems to be an ever-increasing interest in learning about Apponaug's past. New and old residents alike, now more than ever, listen attentively to the area's long time residents’ recollections of the village many years ago. The nostalgia these "old-timers" evoke is especially evident when they get together at their annual meetings. Apponaug Old-Timers Night attracts former residents from all over the United States and sometimes from foreign countries as well.

Apponaug has usually been pictured by old-time residents as a quiet, peaceful, quaint village during the early 20th century. This is true to a large extent, but there were exceptions to the peace and quiet. Often, when stories of the "good old days" begin to fill the air, the talk eventually gets to the shenanigans at Mike Carroll's Shamrock Café and Biff's Tavern. Carroll's Café was in the building now standing at 1331 Greenwich Avenue and Biff's was behind the present day, newly renovated Remington Inn.
Everett Eastman, one of the participants at the 5th Annual Apponaug Old-timers Night that was held in 1990, remembers when " old Ford truck smashed into Mike Carroll's barroom" and when the town drunk, who would be in Carroll 's bar until it closed, was found frozen to death along the fence behind the cafe.

Stories of Apponaug's notorious days precede the two colorful taverns, however, especially during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Dorothy Mayor, whose studies of Apponaug paint a very realistic picture, notes that when the village was still a seaport there were distilleries located across from present day Arnold's Neck Road. She says that during the busy times many came to Apponaug to celebrate the 4th of July. "The taverns were filled to overflowing; and people danced in the streets as fiddlers struck up lively tunes." Dr. Ernest L. Lockwood, writing in 1937 says that in the 18th and 19th centuries, "Variety stores flourished where dry goods and also wet goods consisting chiefly of rum were dispensed, the former appealing to the thrifty house wives and the latter providing convivial entertainment for the husbands." He adds. " Taverns where liquor was dispensed were located upon two of the four corners in Apponaug."

Margie Bucheit, writing for the Warwick Beacon in January 1975. commented that during the early 19th century, "The booming port of Apponaug soon attracted the railroad." This also brought immigrant laborers into Apponaug and a change in the village was immediately evident. Bucheit says:

'Shacktown,' an area along Sweetwater Brook was where ..laborers lived while building the tracks. The workers scandalized Apponaug with their rowdiness, women smoking clay pipes and walking through town in their bare feet, and make-shift shacks, around which stood vegetable gardens and chicken coops.
On May 18, 1847, the first train came through town and the 'shacktowner' moved on. With a sigh of relief, the men of Apponaug promptly burned their {the railroaders) shacks to the ground.

Ironically, the mid-19th century was a time when the Temperance Movement was fully under way in Rhode Island. Margie Bucheit tells us, "...and efforts in Apponaug by advocates of the cause to control the amount of (liquor) traffic coming into the town encouraged violence." She tells us, "A barn burning resulted, and the townspeople offered $500 for the capture of the culprit. He was never found."

Efforts to prohibit alcohol also failed and violence increased. From the collection of Henry A.L.. Brown we learn that the Rhode Island Weekly Pendulum on Saturday. April 6, 1861, reported:

Fighting in Apponaug .--The usually peaceful village of Apponaug was the scene of much brutal fighting on Wednesday. John Smith, James Smith, Thomas Smith, James Carroll, and Charles Mallory, who reside at Phenix,. went down to town meeting on that day among the crowd. After arriving at Apponaug they entered a groggery and commenced quarreling and fighting among themselves.

The article continues to say that two Constables Messrs. Spalding and Burlingame, attempted to restore the peace. The article also noted that Constables during the mid-19th century often held other positions as well and Mr. Spalding was also a school teacher at Natick. Unfortunately, he received a violent blow on the face with a club and was afterward stabbed. The report goes on to say:

. . .Spalding. . .now lies in critical condition. Mr . Burlingame was wounded in the face but with assistance he was enabled to arrest the five offenders. There was much other fighting during the day and clubs, knives, and pitchforks were used as common as household words.