September 20, 2014
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Then and Now
Too much too fast?
Don D'Amato

Because of its sprawling nature, many small town characteristics prevailed, and as Warwick struggled to become a modern city it found some areas reluctant to make changes. The Warwick Zoning Board of Review found it was busier than ever as requests for changes and protests against change came in rapid-fire succession. Zoning Board meetings often attracted crowds in excess of 100.

Cowesett residents successfully blocked attempts to establish a post-war seaplane base at Folly Landing, while residents of Oakland Beach Annex tried in vain to stop Carl A. Berg from rebuilding a bathhouse and concession stand at Sandy Beach. The proposal by Pilgrim Land Developers to construct a complete “city within a city” on 145 acres of land, formerly known as the Massasoit Golf Club, brought about an unprecedented joint meeting of the City Council, the Zoning Board of Review and the Planning Board, as Warwick tried desperately to grow in a logical manner.

In that same manner, Councilman George B. Salter was selected to serve on the newly created Kent County Water Authority and was made secretary to this very important agency, which was a step toward creating necessary facilities for a modern city.

Early in January 1948, Warwick faced a serious problem with a foul smog and horrible stench that emanated from the city dump on Sandy Lane. Despite repeated attempts to dynamite the site, drench it with water and literally tons of snow, residents of Oakland Beach, Shawomet and Hoxsie suffered for many weeks before the problem was arrested.

Amid all the growing pains and serious problems, there were some light moments. On Aug. 19, 1946 there was a wonderful time enjoyed by over 500 people when Warwick held its first full-scale block dance at Oakland Beach and, shortly after, its first soap box derby. In that same year, Buttonwoods celebrated Labor Day with a two-day holiday filled with festivities and Conimicut sponsored sports activities ranging from a five-mile marathon to an 18-foot crawl for babies.

Traffic to Warwick’s seashore reached an all-time high as the beaches attracted over-capacity crowds. It was soon obvious that the bathhouses couldn’t accommodate the numbers coming to the shore and two motorcycle officers drew the impossible assignment of stopping the dressing and undressing in automobiles at the beaches at Nausauket, Buttonwoods, Oakland Beach and Conimicut Point.

In the following year, Nausauket Beach held an “old-fashioned” Labor Day celebration starting with a “horribles parade” and ending with a clambake. Nearly every section of Warwick improved its recreational activities and more visitors decided to make Warwick their home.

The big news of the time was that Rocky Point was coming back to life. The 1938 hurricane had left 80 “abandoned and battered” acres in its wake and the amusement park hadn’t functioned since that time, serving only as a summer camp. In 1948, shortly after Vincent Ferla, a Providence businessman, acquired the park, the amusement section was opened and many concessions moved in.

Rocky Point’s opening on the first Sunday in June 1948 was the cause of a mammoth traffic jam as over 35,000 patrons swarmed into the park. At 4 p.m., bumper-to-bumper traffic extended along Warwick Ave. to Cranston and the effects were felt as far north as Allens Ave. and New York Ave. in Providence.

At about the same time that plans were being made for the reopening of the amusement park, a number of Warwick’s leading citizens were engaged in working toward another project of far-reaching significance. This was the creation of the long-needed and hoped for Kent County Hospital. The first step toward making this dream a reality came when Colonel Patrick Henry Quinn, dean of the Kent County lawyers, donated over eight acres of land on Toll Gate Road for the site of the medical facility. Shortly after, Mayor Albert Ruerat launched a drive for an $800,000 building fund. Robert H. Champlin, one of Warwick’s most successful businessmen and a philanthropist, started a campaign with a $25,000 donation. By 1951, the goal was reached when the hospital opened it doors for the first patients.

During 1948, Warwick became the center of one of the decade’s more exciting gubernatorial contests when Mayor Ruerat decided to run for governor. The campaign began on a very optimistic note for the Republicans on the national, state and local levels. The National Republicans had bypassed Robert A. Taft, “Mr. Republican,” in favor of the popular crusader, Thomas E. Dewey. Early polls showed that Dewey was favored highly over President Harry S. Truman and pollsters in Rhode Island felt the increased taxation and a sales tax would hurt Governor John O. Pastore and pave the way for a Republican victory. Within Warwick, Republican Party leaders selected George Salter to succeed Ruerat as mayor.

Local Republicans were visibly upset when Joseph Mills, Republican representative from Warwick’s District 1 since 1938, challenged Republican leaders Thomas Casey Greene and Ruerat by running for mayor. When Mills lost the primary he turned independent, rallied Democratic support and challenged what he termed the “party machine and bosses.” History tells us the pollsters were wrong, as Truman defeated Dewey, Pastore defeated Ruerat and Mills beat Salter by a vote of 7,881 to 7,335.

Within a few months of his inauguration, Mills was caught up in the difficulties caused by Warwick’s phenomenal post-war growth. Mills, without a solid party foundation at this point, found himself in the midst of a series of factional disputes and broke with the Democratic Party chairman. The voters defeated his plea for a strong mayor charter for the city. By the end of the decade, however, Mills was able to unite Independents, Democrats and discontented Republicans ion a drive toward the modernization of Warwick.

Don and Terry will write about some of the facts, fancy and folklore to preserve Warwick’s heritage as well as to lead the city into the 21st century.


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