Father & Son Café, an Apponaug landmark
Then and Now
One of Apponaug’s longest continuously used buildings is the one known to thousands of Rhode Islanders as the Father & Son Café. Its history as a restaurant began before World War II and has continued through two World Wars, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. For 60 years the Father and Son Café was a popular dining and drinking establishment. Its patrons were residents from all walks of life, including the rich and the poor of the state as well as politicians and famous actors and actresses from the Warwick Musical Theatre. It has survived not only the major wars, but also Prohibition, the Great Depression, the rush to suburbia, hurricanes and blizzards. Eventually, near the close of the century, the old restaurant at 3301 Post Road had run its course and today it is the Eastern Star restaurant.
Long-time Apponaug activist and historian Dorothy Mayor tells us that the building came into existence in 1832. This was a time of serious expansion in Apponaug, as the village was fast becoming the hub of Warwick’s growing industries. The textile industry had been well established in Pawtuxet Valley by this time, and while Apponaug was no longer the thriving seaport it had once been, it was the municipal and retail center of the town of Warwick. Josiah Westcott, who saw Apponaug as a fast growing village, used the building as his house and store. Dorothy Mayor tells us that the structure was once on the south side of the street before being moved to its present location.
In 1880 the dwelling became Blackmar’s store and a handsome porch was added to it. Blackmar did well in this post-Civil War period as the mills attracted businessmen and workers. Stores during this time sold a great variety of goods and served as a communication center for the town. As the mills prospered, immigrants from Ireland, French-Canada and Italy changed much of the ethnic background of the town. Many of these newcomers were males looking for places to room and board. A number of the householders in the area rented out spare rooms and provided meals for the mill hands. It soon became obvious that a restaurant close by would be a welcome addition.
Albertine Coutu, recognizing the potential for a restaurant near Apponaug’s Four Corners, purchased the building in 1914 and the Father and Sons Restaurant became a reality. At first, only a small part of the property was used as a restaurant. The section of the building closest to the Four Corners was a post office for a number of years before the Coutus changed it to a poolroom and then a bar.
Felix Coutu Sr. drastically changed the appearance of the restaurant by bringing the front out to the width of the porch. He built a second story above this, removed the pitched roof and gave the building the appearance it has today. As was common during the early 20th century, the second story of the building was used by the Coutu family as their dwelling.
During the difficult 1930s, when many of Warwick’s mill hands were desperate for work, Felix Coutu added a light touch to the times by painting his Austin motor car to advertise the Father & Son Café in the 1930s. At that time, the café’s address was 250 Main Street. When Main Street became Post Road, it was changed to 3301 Post Road.
The car became a familiar sight and the advertising was a morale booster. The idea of good food and plenty of it, at a very reasonable price, kept the Father & Son Restaurant a popular spot for many decades. During the post World War II years, when many were leaving the city for the suburbs and Warwick was growing at an unprecedented rate, new residents quickly learned that Coutu’s restaurant was one that could be counted upon for good food and service.
Much of the same might be said today as the area supports a number of restaurants, including the Greenwood Inn on Jefferson Boulevard and the newly renovated Remington House (formerly the Boathouse Tavern) on Post Road as well as the state’s oldest McDonald’s and a relatively new Burger King.
Unfortunately, the 20th century saw the demolition of many of the finer buildings of the village. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries there were two taverns, a blacksmith shop and a house owned by Samuel Greene on the Four Corners.
The most famous tavern was the old Arnold Tavern. It was a stagecoach stop in the 1700s and a favorite place for town meetings before the 1835 Town Hall was built.
Dorothy Mayor, in her booklet “I Remember Apponaug,” notes, “It is difficult to accurately date this old tavern which stood on the northeast corner of the Four Corners…. It existed in the 1700s and the east end, which was the manor house of Joseph Stafford, was probably erected in the late 1500s….”
Other historians, such as L. Hazard Knowles, point out that the function of a tavern in colonial times was a great deal more than what the term implies today. He indicated that it was a welcome stop for weary travelers and a place to get fresh horses. While serving as the equivalent of our hotels and restaurants of today, it also functioned as a meeting place for town officials and a gathering place for the citizens of the area. “In order to run a tavern, a man had to have a very good reputation and be a ‘man of quality.’”
The Arnold Tavern, which was on the northeast corner where, until recently, there was a Shell gas station, became the Apponaug Hotel in the mid-19th century. It was rebuilt in the Victorian style with a Mansard roof and was one of the village’s most important landmarks until it was torn down in the 1960s. At its height, many salesmen and textile industry representatives found it a very convenient place to stay while doing business with the Oriental Print Works and the Apponaug Company. During the 20th century there were a number of shops in the old hotel.
Unfortunately, the old Arnold Tavern, which later became the Apponaug Hotel, was demolished to make room for a gas station. Early in the 21st century, the Shell gas station closed, and at the present time the lot is unoccupied.
Beyond the gas station, until it was demolished in the closing years of the 20th century, was another Mansard-roofed building. This was the Harrop-Moore house, which had a long and colorful history. Around the time of the Civil War, there was a demand for rooming houses and other commercial buildings. It is generally believed the house was built by Orin Kinne, a well-known merchant who ran a general store there in 1870. At that time, the house was a two-story structure with the third floor and the handsome mansard roof of the Second Empire era was added, circa 1882. A number of other buildings in Apponaug acquired Mansard roofs at about this time. One fine example is the present day Chamber of Commerce building, which was once the Abbot Hotel.
Eventually, the house was owned by George Harrop, one of Apponaug’s most colorful characters. Under Mr. Harrop, the house was used as a rooming house for men boarders from the Apponaug Print Works, as a millinery shop and as his private residence. Harrop, one of Apponaug’s early plumbers, was often seen driving around town well into the 1930s in his old Model T Ford with solid rubber tires. Despite the fact that he was a plumber, he never got around to adding bathrooms in the old house. George Harrop died in May 1938 and the house became the property of his niece, Beatrice Hunter. She recalled that the hurricane of that year did a great deal of damage to the old building and knocked down the old outhouse. Harrop was also the man who was the projectionist at the movie theatre in the village for many years. He is most remembered, however, for his refusal to allow the state to remove his front porch when they wanted to widen the road in the 1930s. Harrop, then in his 80s, camped on the porch and refused to move. After a number of threats and attempted bribes, the state relented and the road was built with a jog in it around the house, leaving the front porch intact. When he died in 1938, the state again widened the road and this time the Harrop porch was removed. In 1983 Charles A. Moore III did a wonderful job of renovating the old building. In time, however, the need for space and the demands of the modern era witnessed the demolition of the old house shortly before the end of the 20th century.
The story of Apponaug, its houses and businesses will be continued.