Along Apponaug’s ‘Judges Row’
Then and Now
In addition to the stately home built by Caleb Greene on Centerville Road, there are a number of other fine houses in Apponaug that date back to the same period. A short walk south from the Greene Memorial House and the Four Corners to Apponaug Bridge takes us to what was once a thriving seaport and the area then known as “Judges Row.”
Changes in national policy in the early 1800s, the coming of the railroad, the Hurricane of 1938 and the ravages of time have greatly altered this area, which at one time was favored by Apponaug’s most affluent citizens. Many of the buildings have been demolished or moved with the exception of a fine house at 3351 Post Road and the two handsome Federal Period houses on the east side of Post Road, just beyond the bridge. The restoration of these houses is an indication of the growing concern and pride that has developed in Apponaug in the last two decades of the 20th century. Great efforts have been made to preserve our rich heritage and to make the village more attractive.
The two houses on the south side of the bridge are excellent examples of five-bay, center chimney homes with fine, pedimented, fanlight doorways and have been renovated in the late twentieth century.
The house at 3376, for many years the property of Landing A., Inc., and later of Paul Lancia and Frank DePetrillo, is currently owned by Michael and Patrick Berek. The handsome old building is now the Remington House, one of Warwick’s finest restaurants.
The house was once owned by Henry Remington, a Revolutionary War soldier and the son of a well-known sea captain, Thomas Remington. Henry purchased the land from Thomas Arnold, one of the area’s largest landholders, and built this house in 1801. Remington was a judge of the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1801-1808 and one of Apponaug’s most influential residents.
In 1828, when Judge Remington, age 65, married his second wife, Lucy Ann Arnold, 39 years his junior, he gave Apponaug one of its most celebrated December-May marriages. Much to the surprise of many of the village gossips, the marriage thrived and Lucy and the judge spent many happy years together. When Henry died in 1841, he left the property to his three daughters, the oldest being only 12 years of age at the time.
The two-and-a-half story, gable-roofed dwelling was remodeled during the Victorian era, with a large bow window on the south side. Until 1997 the fine old structure had been uninhabited and used as a storehouse for the building at the rear. This long, low building was once the notorious Biff’s Cafe, a favorite haunt of Warwick’s quahoggers and rough and tumble seamen. During the first half of the 20th century, the café was noted as Apponaug’s “trouble spot” and Saturday night almost always saw the Warwick police force called to the tavern to quell fights and arguments. One time police chief Forrest Sprague noted that all communities have the equivalent of Biff’s Café, “but in Warwick we are fortunate as it is close to the police station….”
Eventually, Biff’s Café became the Boathouse Tavern and brought a new restaurant to the area. Since then, the Berek brothers have entered the scene. At first, they rented the restaurant, changing its name to the Remington House, and in 2002 they purchased the establishment. The young men have been working in the restaurant business for a number of years and have brought a special expertise to Apponaug. The restaurant, open every day from 4-10 p.m., specializes in American and Italian food.
Both Michael and Patrick are well-versed in the trade and feel this restaurant is a “dream come true.” Patrick emphasized that while they had great hopes, “We hadn’t believed the restaurant would be so great.” Many of the finest features of the old house have been preserved and now the Remington House has been renovated and transformed into a beautiful Apponaug showplace. The preservation of the past and the practicality of the present have been admirably brought together.
Next to the Remington House is the lovely, restored center chimney structure at 3384, which is now an office building. This impressive house once belonged to Thomas Warner, a descendant of John Warner, Warwick’s first town clerk. John Warner holds the dubious distinction of being the first Warwick resident to be barred from public office and disenfranchised. In 1652 John Warner had threatened to kill all the mares in the town, asked Massachusetts to assume control, and said he would “beat out the brains” of a town officer. His descendant, Thomas Warner, 150 years and five generations later, was also town clerk, but much more sedate and respected.
It is believed the house was built in the late 18th century and that Thomas Warner added the Federal Period doorway. Warner left the house to his daughter, Catherine, who married sea captain William Harrison. Their son, William Henry Harrison, remained in possession of the house until his death in 1920. For a number of years in the 20th century this house was also uninhabited and had deteriorated.
The Warner-Harrison house has been restored by the Architectural Preservation Group. Research by Steve Tyson, whose firm has done the restoration, indicates that the Warner-Harrison house was not only a fine dwelling during much of the 19th century, but was probably at one time a funeral parlor. Tyson has found paint scrapings that indicate that one of the large rooms was painted red and black, which would be in keeping with the concept of a funeral parlor. In addition, the north wall once had a large opening that could have been used to bring in large objects such as caskets. There is also evidence that points to woodworking apparatus that would not be incongruous with the idea of casket making. Fine houses such as this one are excellent examples of how practical and adaptable our early buildings have been. The Harrison family, after ownership of over a century, sold the house in 1920. During much of the late 20th century it was owned by Landing A, Inc.
The Warner, Harrison, Remington and other families in the area were much concerned with the China Trade, the controversy over the War of 1812, and the textile industry. These families contributed a great deal and left us a rich and colorful heritage. Thanks to the recent restoration, Warwick has two very fine visual reminders of some of the happenings on “Judges Row.” Both the Remington and Warner-Harrison houses are excellent examples of the type of homes that were built during the Federal Period when this country was in its early years. These large, solidly built, 2½-story, gable-roofed dwellings fit in well with the other fine houses on Post Road at a time of Apponaug’s 19th century prosperity.
One of Apponaug’s early landmarks, the Arnold house, however, met a different fate. The area south of Apponaug Four Corners has witnessed a great deal of change during the last two decades of the 20th century. A new Walgreens now occupies the area where the S & S Drugstore and I.M. Gan’s grocery and package store once stood, and one of the village’s finest houses, the Arnold residence, in danger of being demolished, has been dismantled and moved to Buttonwoods. The original owner of this house, Thomas Arnold, was one of Apponaug’s early residents and a descendent of the Arnolds who were so prominent in Warwick’s early history.
Steve Tyson’s Architectural Preservation Group has been able to save the old Arnold house that was once located across from the Remington and Harrison houses on Post Road. It was at one time one of the most imposing residences south of the “four corners.” At one point an itinerant artist visited the house and, perhaps for room and board, painted a mural for its owners that has been discovered and restored by Steve Tyson. The house itself has been moved to Mill Wheel Road in Buttonwoods and has been beautifully restored.
The story of Apponaug, its history and its fine houses will be continued.