Apponaug’s Shamrock Café
The large, sprawling building at 1331 Greenwich Avenue, not far
from Apponaug Four Corners, has had an interesting and varied history.
It began its existence as a carpenter shop in 1870, when it was
owned by Frederick Hurst. Until recently, over 125 years later,
it was again a carpenter shop, housing the Tri-State Woodworking
Contractors. Today, the building is vacant and considered by many
to be an eyesore. If plans for a bi-pass of Apponaug busy 4 corners
becomes a reality, it will probably be demolished. At one time however,
it housed a thriving business. During the late 19th and early 20th
centuries it was most familiar to Warwickites as Mike Carroll's
Shamrock Café, Emil Bengtsen's Bar & Grill and Jim Lynch's
Ice Cream Parlor. In addition to the commercial use, the building
has served as a private residence for a number of residents, including
the Carroll, Bengtsen and Lynch families.
Apponaug’s most famous bistro
Dorothy Mayor, Apponaug activist and historian tells us, “MikeCarrolI's Shamrock Cafe was Apponaug's most famous bar from 1899 to 1924.” In her reminiscence of Warwick, she said. "The old Shamrock Bar was a well-known bistro in its day. know that Carroll added onto the building to increase space on the lower floor. "
Everett Eastman, another of those who vividly recall Apponaug during the early 20th century, commented in a 1990 interview, that when Greenwich Avenue was still known as the Pontiac Road, many of the men who worked at the Apponaug Company Mill would make Carroll's a regular stop on the way home. Everett said that when he was a boy he saw women who would often stand outside the café, waiting for a pail of beer to take home. He recalled, "Women were not allowed in Carroll's place, but they could get the beer in a container, like a can or pail, and take it home. This was usually, for their menfolk at lunch time. Sometimes kids would go down with a pail, but Carroll would not sell it to the kids."
Success despite opposition
During the twenty-five years that Mike Carroll owned the establishment, the cafe flourished despite the Anti-Saloon League, Temperance Groups, and the 18th or "Prohibition" Amendment, which became law in 1919. Prohibition, or the so-called "great experiment," which continued until 1933, seems to have had very limited success in Warwick.
On September 13. 1899, Mike Carroll purchased the land and buildings at what is today 1331 Greenwich Avenue from John Northrup, Charles R. Brayton and Antoinette P. Brayton. Northrup, with Albert D. Greene, had purchased the land and buildings at auction for $900 from Mary G. Baker in 1890. Prior to the Bakers' ownership, part of the land had been owned by Frederick Hurst who had a carpenter shop there. Dorothy Mayor concludes that Hurst built his carpenter shop on one of the lots in 1870 and that Albert D. Greene erected buildings on the adjoining lot prior to the purchase by Carroll. She further concludes that, "There may have been living quarters over the Hurst shop as there were over most shops during that period.”
After Carroll acquired the building, he made substantial changes on both the interior and exterior of Hurst’s carpenter shop. He added a second story porch on the north side and used the second and third stories of the building as a dwelling. While under Carroll's ownership, part of the building was rented out to I. M. Gan. According to Dorothy Mayor, "The bar was on the south side and I. M. Gan's first store was on the north side." For many years, the I.M. Gan store was Apponaug’s favorite grocery.
The fact that Mike Carroll, an Irishman, and I.M. Gan, a Jew, were able to establish businesses in the area is interesting as this was a period when there was a great deal of discrimination still prevalent in many areas of Rhode Island. The Irish had been in Apponaug as early as 1832, when they were used to help build the Stonington Railroad. Many more came around the middle of the 19th century to work in the mills along the Pawtuxet River. It was during this period that the greatest anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudices became prevalent. In nearby Cranston, the outcry against the Irish opening a liquor establishment reached its peak when an Irishman, John Gordon, was convicted of the murder of prominent mill owner, Amasa Sprague. Gordon and Sprague had quarreled over a liquor license and when Sprague was found murdered Gordon was blamed. Studies have shown that the prejudice of the time against the Irish and not the evidence was responsible for Gordon’s execution. Later, remorse over the injustice led to the abolishment of the death penalty in Rhode Island.
Mike Carroll’s popularity and keen business sense allowed him to ride over the prejudice and establish himself as a leading business figure in Apponaug.