Woodbury Union Church/ Conimicut Volunteer Fire Department

During the early 20th century, Conimicut evolved into a lovely village with a great deal of community activity centered around the Woodbury Union Church, the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Department, the train station, the school and the Conimicut Casino. All worked to make the seaside village an important segment of Warwick’s development.

The Woodbury Union Church

The church, built in 1907, was interdenominational and its members included a number of Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians as well as others of differing religious affiliation. All enjoyed the services and the sense of belonging and cooperation in both religious and secular events. One of Conimicut’s main attractions in the first two decades of the twentieth century was the fall bazaar sponsored by the Woodbury Union Church. In typical New England fashion, the consuming of large amounts of clamcakes and chowder was part of the festivities. In addition a variety of other food was available and the women of the church provided baked goods. In a 1982 interview, Mrs. Lily Tarring recalled how hard the women worked to make the event a success. She remembered how her mother would use Lily’s brother’s red wagon to traverse the neighborhood to collect the cakes and pies the women made for the church supper. In time, the church bazaars and other fund raising activities became so popular that the little 1907 church building could not accommodate the large crowds. As a result, the women held their events at the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company hall at Ocean Avenue (now called Ardway Avenue).

The Woodbury Union Church continues to be an integral part of the community life in Conimicut today as it has for nearly 100 years.

As the church congregation grew, it became desirous to have a regular pastor. This was not accomplished until 1925, when the Reverend A. Gordon Batstone, a student at Gordon College in Boston, came to the church. During the next twelve years, the church witnessed a large growth in membership, four pastors, a disastrous fire and rebuilding. In 1927, the church opened its doors to new members and 95 persons joined. The large congregation was shocked on January 11, 1933, when a fire broke out near the front of the church. Thomas F. Silva, the proprietor of a nearby drugstore in the village, saw the blaze and reported it around 3 a.m. Despite the efforts of four Warwick Volunteer Fire companies, the blaze destroyed the organ, piano, pulpit, altar furniture, Sunday School room, and part of the main room. Undaunted, pastor Arthur H. Wilde called for the Sunday School to meet at the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company hall and held church services at Stinson’s Funeral Chapel. Within a very short time, rebuilding began. In 1935, a basement was constructed at the front of the church to serve as a Sunday School and assembly room. The old organ, which had short circuited and caused the 1933 fire, was replaced by the lovely pipe-organ that is in use today. Renovations and improvements were made and the church continued to serve its parishioners as usual.

In 1938, disaster struck Conimicut in the form of a hurricane and tidal wave. The Woodbury Union Church aided the many victims in the area and allowed the building to be used by the National Guard as a headquarters for 10 days during the period following the devastating storm. During World War II, the church was again used by outside agencies such as the Red Cross, and was used as a canteen.

In February of 1948, the Woodbury Union Church, which had been interdenominational since its founding in 1907, became the Woodbury Union Church, Presbyterian. The choice to become united with a major denomination came as a result of the difficulties the church had in getting ministers to leave their chosen denomination to become pastor of a Union Church. The Church became part of the Congregation of Presbyterian Churches, U.S.A., but retained the word “Union,” as it was still an ecumenical congregation and that point was emphasized.

Since that time, the church continued to be very active in community affairs and has taken part in many community enterprises such as Meals on Wheels, Elizabeth Buffum Chase House, and the Conimicut Village Association. Its building has been opened to many organizations from Boy Scouts to a Well-Baby clinic. The Woodbury Union Church, Presbyerian, today, serves as a vital part of the community as it did in 1907, when it was first organized.

Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company

As the volume of passengers on the trolley lines continued to grow and more houses were being built, it became necessary to increase the fire protection in the village. One of the most important and colorful of all the volunteer fire companies in Warwick during the early twentieth century was the one in Conimicut. Fortunately, much of its early history has been recorded and from it we get an excellent reminder of the trials and tribulations of the volunteer fire companies.

The old Volunteer fire station in Conimicut was once on this site. For a number of years now, this house has occupied the fire station lot.

According to an excellent history of the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company taken from the records of Everett G. Scott, who served as chief from 1938-1941, a serious fire on Beach Avenue in Conimicut prompted a move to get an organized fire company. Not long after the devastating blaze, on January 11, 1911, a meeting of the Conimicut Rural Improvement Society put a plan in action for a fire company. Thirty-six men signed the rolls as volunteers at that time. They represented nearly all the permanent resident families in the village in the first decade of the twentieth century. Arthur W. Coffin was selected as the First Foreman or Chief and a hand drawn truck was purchased to carry brooms, shovels, fire-extinguishers, and other pieces of equipment.
According to a 1960 report on Volunteer Fire Companies, the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company had a horse drawn wagon. The report goes on to say, "In these days it is said that the first man to arrive at the fire barn with a horse to pull the apparatus was paid $1.00 for each fire." When the alarm was sounded, the rush was on as one-dollar represented a tidy sum at the time.

In 1913, the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company used buildings on West Shore Road near Grace Avenue as headquarters for the company. This lasted for a few years until the company purchased land for an Engine House on Ocean Avenue (now Ardway Avenue). A fire house was erected and in 1915, the station on Ardway Avenue was occupied. During the early period, money to heat the firehouse was scarce. We are told that very often the volunteer firemen went in the woods behind the station to chop wood to "get a little heat in a pot bellied stove for an evening's get-together.... "


In addition to facing the many problems that beset other volunteer companies, Conimicut’s proximity to the Bay added the danger of high winds and hurricanes. The company was really put to the test of all its abilities with the Hurricane of 1938. Conimicut was severely damaged by the storm as 123 houses were destroyed and 22 persons lost their lives. The Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company provided prestigious and continuous service for 23 days. In addition to providing fire protection, more than 42 members of the company assisted in relocating residents to shelter and aided the police in maintaining order. In 1954, when three hurricanes hit the village, the company was able to get all residents evacuated and, as a result, there was no loss of life.
In 1956, the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company became part of the Warwick Fire Department and, since that time, the old firehouse has been remodeled into a private home.

The contributions of the Woodbury Union church and the Volunteer Fire Company are still evident in Conimicut today.