A New Town Hall and a divided town
By the late 19th century it became obvious that the old Town House was in such dire straits that it and its accompanying buildings had to be replaced. In 1892, the Town Council met at the office of Enos Lapham, owner of the Centerville Mill. Lapham, then a power in both the textile industry and the political scene, was able to persuade the 5-man council to go ahead with plans for a new building. He wanted the new town hall to be an outstanding building that would be admired for generations.
Under his leadership Warwick acquired the services of William R. Walker & Son, the same prominent architectural firm that built the Kentish Artillery Armory. There was considerable debate over the concept of spending a large amount of money for a public building. Many of the farmers in the western section were unhappy with the decision, but mill owner Enos Lapham was instrumental in getting the appropriation accepted. The result was an expenditure of $75,000. As we see the result, we can agree with Lapham that the sum was well justified, as the building is Warwick's most signifcant public structure.
The Walker touch
The result of the council's action was the present City Hall. This mansard-roofed building, with its ornate facade and five tall chimneys has been Warwick's pride for many years. The 1893 structure is an excellent example of the Colonial Revival style of the Late Victorian Period. Some of its most clearly defined features include an entrance portico supported by Ionic columns, and a six-story, square clock tower with a domed belfry. The Walker firm combined elements of different styles of the time to produce a most attractive and distinctive building.
Warwick's rapid growth during the first half of the 20th century took a great toll on the interior of the building. For a brief period of time, even Apponaug stawarts such as Dorothy Mayor wondered if the once beautiful Town Hall could be saved and restored. Fortunately, when former Mayor Joseph Walsh asked every community action group for priorities on the revitalization of Warwick, all voted for the restoration of City Hall as the focal point. This impressive, three-story, mansard-roofed building was built in 1893-94 and, thanks to the renovation and improvements that began in the 1980's is one of the finest city halls in Rhode Island. Fortunately, the building has been splendidly maintained and is a source of pride in the community.
One town about to be divided
At the time that William R. Walker & Sons built Warwick's Town Hall for the magnificent sum of $75,000, the makeup of the town was changing dramatically. The textile mills, the railroad, and the general prosperity of the 19th century brought about a much different town than had existed for the previous two centuries. Warwick had been a farming community with a strong attachment to the sea. Farms and seaports were giving way to paternalistic mill villages with different lifestyles and values. .
New inhabitants have different needs
While the eastern section remained predominantly agricultural and inhabited by Anglo Saxon Protestants, the mills of the western section of the town attracted large numbers of workers who were immigrants from Ireland, Sweden, Italy and French Canada. By the turn of the century, not only had the ethnic makeup of the town changed, but so, too, had its religious and political fabric. For many decades the eastern section resisted petitions from the mill villages for publicly financed streetlights, sewers and additional fire and police departments.
Led by such dynamic personalities as Patrick Henry Quinn increasing numbers of inhabitants of the western section began to get the right to vote and challenged political boss, Charles Brayton for control of the town. While Quinn did not originate the idea, and certainly did not do it alone, he was the guiding force that made the division of Warwick and the creation of the new Town of West Warwick a reality. Any description of this major accomplishment emphasizes P.H. Quinn's skills as an outstanding trial lawyer, a brilliant debater, and a master politician.
Patrick Henry Quinn
At the time of the creation of the new town, Quinn was forty-four years old with a long list of legal and political honors to his credit. His abilities were recognized and admired by his political friends and enemies. In the early years, Warwick and the entire state of Rhode Island were firmly controlled by the Republican "Boss," Charles R. Brayton who lived in Warwick and was solidly opposed to any action that might add another Democrat to the General Assembly. P.H. Quinn, as early as 1895, when he was first admitted to the Rhode Island Bar, established himself as a Democrat and challenged Brayton's iron rule. Brayton, a surprisingly fair man at times, recognized Quinn's abilities and respected his outspoken desire for the division of Warwick. Quinn, always the gentleman, was even able to win Brayton's support on a number of issues, a feat only rarely accomplished by members of the "Boss'" own party.
Control over the Financial Town Meetings
As a member of the Democratic Town Committee in Warwick, Quinn most often led the opposition to the town's Republican Town Council. He especially upset Republican plans by controlling Warwick's financial town meetings. As secretary, and later chairman of the Democrats, Quinn closely monitored every move made by the Town Council and fought every unwarranted expense. He attracted not only the Democratic votes in the town, but those of the economy-minded Republicans as well; he was able to exert an influence on the town far greater than his modest position warranted.
When, in 1899, Warwick finally separated the legislative powers of the Town Council from its judicial power of acting as a Probate Court, P. H. Quinn a Democrat in a strongly Republican town, became Warwick's first probate judge. Many, totally amazed that a staunch Democrat could achieve such a position in Brayton's "home town," referred to Quinn as the "judge" for many decades.
When Quinn discovered, in 1908, that the Republican Town Treasurer, Herbert W. Barber, acting on Republican Town Council recommendations, was paying each council member $200 per year rather than the $50 voted at the town's financial meeting, Quinn took positive action. He brought suit in Superior Court and eventually to the Supreme Court where, in the case of Quinn v. Barber, Town Treasurer, an injunction was granted against Barber. This was a major breakthrough for the cause of separation and indicated that it was possible to win a case against the firmly entrenched establishment.
A Democratic Coalition
Quinn was wise enough to realize that the mill workers, despite their varied ethnic origins, had the same common interests. They were primarily mill hands and wanted better wages and an improvement in working conditions. By finding the natural leaders among the Italian, French-Canadian and Irish, he put together an impressive coalition of voters and began to build the power of the immigrants.
He was opposed by the mill owners and the astute Charles R. Brayton, who was the political power not only in Warwick, but also in all of Rhode Island. Brayton, however, was growing old. He had lost his sight and was beginning to be opposed by reformers in his own party. Quinn and his coalition realized this and planned for a major political change.