Warwick keeps the Town Hall after the Separation of 1913

Led by Patrick Henry Quinn, Democratic Party leaders in the western section of Warwick agitated for reform and a separation of the town in the early twentieth century. The chief opponent to the move was Charles R. Brayton, the almost legendary “political boss” of Rhode Island. Brayton had successfully managed to control the state by using some of the shortcomings of the old Constitution of 1661 to his advantage. Much of his power depended upon Republican control of the legislature. He knew that if Warwick were divided the new town in the western section would be controlled by Democrats, and present a threat to his control. Therefore, Brayton continued his opposition to the separation during the first decade of the century.

A town is created

In 1910, Charles R. Brayton died and the opposition to a new town lost its powerful ally. As a result, the western section of Warwick was able to make greater gains toward division. In 1912, the Warwick Division Club was successful in getting the General Assembly to authorize a local referendum for a change in Warwick’s political entity. In spite of many shrewd political moves to halt the split, Warwick's third, fourth, and fifth representative districts were chartered as the Town of West Warwick in 1913. The division created a number of questions regarding schools and buildings. Part of the agreement between the two towns resulted in the Warwick High School , built in 1905, going to the new town while Warwick kept control of the 1893 Town Hall.

Warwick becomes a city

The next two decades after the separation saw an increased growth in Warwick to the degree that the town meeting form of government had become too unwieldy. The result was a move to adopt a city form of government. It was only after a great number of heated debates, and two unsuccessful attempts, that Warwick was able to get a municipal charter in 1931. In January of 1933. the Town Hall officially became the City Hall. Peirce H. Brereton became the first mayor, and the city councilmen took office.

Difficult times for a grand old building

As the new city witnessed the problems of the Great Depression, the Hurricane of 1938, and World War II, the City Hall suffered from overcrowding and neglect. By mid-century, the problem of keeping abreast of the times had become acute. Warwick was one of the fastest growing cities in the United States in the period following World War II. The growth from a population of 28,757 in 1940 to over 68,000 in 1960, severely taxed the town and its buildings. It was feared that many of the old buildings in the town would completely disappear as a result of the demand for housing and industry.

The cry for preservation

Fortunately, Warwick has had a number of citizens who have been very concerned with the preservation of historic homes and buildings. With incentives from the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act and the Tax Reform Act of 1976, which contains some tax incentives for preserving historic income-producing properties, a number of Warwick's significant buildings have escaped extinction. In the 1970's, concerned citizens, led by David Stackhouse were successful in starting the Warwick Preservation Commission.

One of the most important of the buildings saved from demolition is the City Hall. This three-story, mansard roofed building, with its ornate facade and five tall chimneys, built in 1893-94, was selected as a special project. 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. The decision to spend $1.5 million to restore the ninety-year old building met with public approval.

Thanks to this expenditure and additional allocated funds, much of the interior has been restored to the beauty and opulence of the 1893 period, and more space has been provided for the modern needs of government. The first floor which houses the offices of the Mayor, as well as those of the City Clerk and the Board of Canvassers, has been renovated and is an excellent reminder of the beauty of the original building. The room at the end of the corridor houses the City's Archives and records. This has recently been improved, making it much easier for those needing the information contained there to work with modern conveniences and equipment. Under mayors Flaherty, Donovan, Chafee and Avedisian emphasis has been placed on preserving as many significant aspects of early Warwick as possible.

Preservation of “a pair of skaills”

One interesting piece of historic interest displayed here is the Town Scales. Warwick's Earliest Records, which are kept in the Town Clerk's office, show that, as early as 1657, its citizens were very much concerned with weights and fees. A protest was registered then against the owners of the grist mill that "the Tole dish is too bigg". The Toll Dish was used to weigh the amount of grain that had to be paid as a fee by the farmers for having his produce ground into flour. The town ordered that, "Mr Holliman doe gett a pair of skaills for the mill by the first of May next ensueing."


In addition, the city has provided an attractive number of displays that show the city as it was and as it is now. These include two by City Historian Don D’Amato which give us pictorial images of the city. The display is changed at regular intervals and and chronicals the city’s growth.

The 19th centry interior

Visitors to today’s City Hall who ascend the stairway to the council chambers, can enjoy the late 19th century features that are apparent in the balustrades, the carvings and the early benches. When the chamber was built, Warwick was still practicing a town meeting type of government. The upper story was used for the town meeting hall. It had tall arched windows, a balcony across the back, and a raised platform in front.

During much of the early period, the school system was relatively small and the administration offices of that department were housed on the second floor of the Town Hall. The water department offices were also on this level, at the top of the stairs.

Apponaug Free Library

At one time, the Apponaug Free Library, established in 1885, had quarters inside the Town Hall. The library remained in the Town Hall until the town grew to a point where space in the building was at a premium. Fortunately, Henry W. Budlong, one of the town's leading citizens and benefactors, realized this and donated $25,000 in 1925 for the construction of the simple Beaux Arts style, 2-story, flat-roofed, yellow brick structure next to the City Hall. The library is still housed in that building and has the advantage of maintaining all the positive aspects of a small library while enjoying the benefits of being part of the CLAN (Cooperating Libraries Automated Network) system.

The first floor

Also in the late 19th century, on the first floor the Council Chambers were to the left of the front door where the present Mayor's Office is located. The Town Clerk's Office, which was the busiest and most important in the early 20th century, was opposite the Council Chambers. Behind that were the offices of the tax assessor and tax collector. As Warwick still enjoyed the benefits accrued to a small town with relatively little crime, the police department had its offices across the hall and there were cells in the basement.

A small town becomes a city

In 1931, the citizens of the town, finally agreeing that the town meeting type of government could no longer operate efficiently because of the ever increasing population, voted to become a city with a mayor-council plan. In 1933, Peirce H. Brereton became Warwick’s first mayor. At that time, the Town Hall became the City Hall.

The Rittmann Portraits

Albert Ruerat who held the office of mayor from 1936-48, commissioned Warwick's talented artist, Karl Rittman to paint his portrait with the understanding that, if it were satisfactory, Rittmann would paint the earlier mayors. Today, the portraits of all of Warwick's mayors have been done by Rittmann and can be seen in the hall on the first level.

The Chambers

The beautiful, and sometimes ornate, appointments in the chamber and upper balcony recall Warwick's prosperous, turn of the century heritage. The display case which is in the rear of the chamber contains various documents and pictures of Warwick during Mayor Ruerat's term. It gives us a glimpse of Warwick during the Depression, the Hurricane of 1938, World War II. and of the unprecedented growth that followed.

In addition to the City Hall at 3275 Post Road. the former Kentish Artillery Armory ( 3259 Post Road), and the Henry Warner Budlong Memorial Library ( 3267 Post Road) comprise the Warwick Civic Center Historic District. In addition, Warwick has three historically important churches in the immediate vicinity. The Warwick Central Baptist Church (1834) at 3270 Post Road, St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church (1921-26) at 3257 Post Road, and St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church (1916) at 3248 Post Road bring variety to the area and supply the diverse needs of the community.

Warwick’s focal point

With the Apponaug Mills and the Town Hall as focal points, Apponaug became one of Rhode Island's most significant villages and, at one time, nearly every type of architecture and style for both public buildings and homes could be found in the immediate vicinity. Some of these no longer exist, but, fortunately, many of those which have survived have been well cared for and provide us with a key to Apponaug's most prosperous times.

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