High Sheriff Michael Lynch looks at the past

Sheriff Michael B. Lynch, who lived at 116 Tollgate Road in his later years, was involved in many of the happenings in Warwick during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As all who knew him will attest, Lynch was a keen observer of human nature and his conclusions were highly respected. He liked to recall the changes made in Warwick and Kent Counties and commented freely to those who were interested in the rich heritage of the mill villages and in the politics of the time. Even in his advanced years, he could vividly recall events that happened in the late 19th century and his observations are most valuable to later generations of historians.

The Spragues of Rhode Island

The former High Sheriff of Kent County witnessed the hard fought and bitter campaign of I860. In the gubernatorial race of that year, William Sprague, one of the owners of the powerful A & W Sprague Manufacturing Co., successfully defied the Republican Party leader, Henry B. Anthony, and after a bitter struggle was elected governor of Rhode Island. Sprague was the state's Civil War governor and later U. S. Senator. The wealthy Sprague’s reputation and fame extended far beyond Rhode Island’s borders. As the state’s youngest chief executive, and probably wealthiest governor in the nation, he attracted a great deal of attention when he led Rhode Island troops to Washington D. C. to help defend the nation’s capital. His later romance and wedding to beautiful Kate Chase often took precedent over the war news in Washington. Much less flamboyant was his brother, Amasa, who lived on the family’s beautiful estate in Cowesett. He became High Sheriff of Kent County in 1888 and Michael Lynch served as his Deputy. Amasa’s main interest was in breeding and racing horses and much of the work of sheriff was left in the capable hands of Mike Lynch. The enterprising and ambitious Irishman made good use of his position and cultivated a number of friends in both political parties. When Amasa Sprague died in 1902, Lynch became High Sheriff. He remained in that office until 1929, when he retired at age 85.

The Benedict Lapham years

Lynch, we are told, clearly recalled the political struggles that went on during the years when wealthy mill owners were much more powerful politically than governors. He especially remembered how Benedict Lapham, owner of the Centerville Mill, defeated Stephen Harris for control of Warwick's politics. Lynch said. "And the great issue between them in that campaign was whether or not the 'Gate road' should be built. Lapham won and the Gate road was laid out and opened to traffic."

The Road to Apponaug

He explained that the road, now called Tollgate Road, "...is the road running from Westcott to Apponaug.” To reach Apponaug from what is now West Warwick before that road was laid out was difficult. It was necessary to go either by way of Centerville and follow the road to Apponaug, or to go through Riverpoint village to Westcott, then across the railroad and on to Natick and over what is now called East Avenue to Apponaug. The building of the Tollgate Road simplified matters and made it possible for Lapham to persuade the town council to build the 1898 Town Hall, which still remains as one of Warwick’s important landmarks. Lynch also took advantage of the new road. He built his house and raised his sons, Owen and Thomas, there.
When Michael B. Lynch first came to Apponaug, Frederick Hurst had his carpenter shop nearby on the road to Pontiac (at what is now 1331 Greenwich Avenue). Lynch saw the building become Mike Carroll’s Shamrock Café and later Bengtsen’s Bar and Grille. Michael Lynch’s legacy in law enforcement has been continued by his sons, grandsons, and a great grandson. One of his grandsons, James B. Lynch, became Chief of Police in Warwick and was also the owner of the old building on Greenwich Avenue.

In his later years, Michael and his sister. Catharine, lived in the house that he had built in 1884. According to his biographer and admirer, Wilton P. Hudson, editor of the Pawtuxet Valley Times, Michael lived comfortably with the help of his sons. Owen and Thomas, his grandchildren, and a housekeeper.

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