Michael B. Lynch—an Apponaug Legend.
Many present day residents remember when Jim Lynch owned the sprawling building complex at 1331 Greenwich Avenue and a few even remember Jim's grandfather, Sheriff Michael B. Lynch, who lived at 116 Tollgate Road. While Chief James Lynch is recalled fondly by many, Sheriff Mike is remembered with awe. Sheriff Lynch didn't retire until he was 85 years old and, until he reached his nineties, could be seen around Apponaug.
An Irish mill hand
There were few early law enforcement officers who captured the imagination of the press as did Michael B. Lynch. Like many other Irish immigrants, Lynch came to Rhode Island to work in the textile mills of the Pawtuxet Valley. In 1859, he went to work at Riverpoint, which was then part of Warwick. At the time, the mill was owned by Stephen, Caleb and Cyrus Harris, and it was called the "Greene Manufacturing Company." When Lynch worked there, the complex consisted of three small mills. Cyrus Manchester was the superintendent, John Warner was the boss weaver, and one of the owners, Stephen Harris, was the Republican "boss" of Warwick. Lynch, writing about his early days for the Sunday Tribune, said, "When I lived at Riverpoint the population was principally Yankee, English, Scotch and Irish. There were some few French families." Looking back over a fifty-year period with the gift of nostalgia, he concluded, "It seems to me that in those days these nationalities were more united and content than appears to be the case to-day. If a favor was asked for, without hesitation it was usually granted. I do not recall any friction between those nationalities as they congregated and rubbed elbows in the Valley."
A career in law enforcement
Lynch began his career in 1878, when Warwick included the mill villages that today are part of West Warwick. It was a time of general lawlessness with illegal saloons and roadhouses attracting the most unsavory elements in the state. Very few constables and sheriffs had the ability or the courage to attempt enforcement of the law. Lynch did. He not only worked against the illegal establishments, but he also took the unpopular position of defending the mill owners in the violent strike that tore the Pawtuxet Valley apart in 1921.
Lynch was active in law enforcement for fifty years. He was still serving as the High Sheriff of Kent County well into his 80s. Lynch died at age 92 in 1933.
A dangerous job, to say the least
Wilton P. Hudson, editor of the Pawtuxet Valley Times, the leading newspaper in the area for many years, was a great admirer of Sheriff Lynch and helped to promote the Lynch legend. Lynch’s courage, he relates, was often tested as violence resulted in many of the raids led by the sheriff. Hudson tells us, "Then the raiders' fists and blackjacks were brought into play, or a revolver drawn to accentuate their orders to the disobeying parties, and for the most part the exciting episodes ended right then and there with the prisoners being handcuffed and taken to the courthouse at East Greenwich."
Editor Hudson, in his fine early 20th century prose, also noted that Lynch engaged "...in hand to hand encounters with bad men, being struck in the leg by a bullet from a mad man's revolver and his neck and wrist severely cut by the knife of a drunken rowdy are only a few of the incidents which mark the long career of Michael B. Lynch of Apponaug, … retired High Sheriff of Kent County."
Ironically, one of the most serious injuries received by Sheriff Lynch came, not as a result of his police investigations, but from a motorcycle accident. On November 14, 1920, Sheriff Lynch, on his way home from Kent County Superior Court, was hit by a motorcycle near his home on Tollgate Road. Fortunately, Dr. S. H. Long of Apponaug, and Dr. Charles E. Chagnon, of Arctic went to Lynch's aid and helped him to recover.
Michael Lynch, even in his advanced years, could recall with a great deal of clarity the events that happened in Rhode Island and in the late 19th century and was well acquainted with the leading business and political figures of the time. His observations were acute and his recall has proved to be valuable to later generations.