Nostalgia and Politics

Many of Pontiac's residents, looking back through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, recall with pleasure their days of growing up and living in the village during the early part of the twentieth century. While some of the older citizens remembered the long, hard hours at the mill, the low wages, crowded tenements, the fear of economic depression and the closing of the mill, others recalled only the pleasant experiences.

The peaceful times

Mrs. Hattie Anderson, interviewed in 1974 by Margie Bucheit for the Warwick Beacon, looked back at an age that moved slowly and seemed more enjoyable. She noted, "Before there were electric lights the lamplighter would come around with his lantern to light the street lamps in the village. The roads in Pontiac were dirt roads and the houses," she recalled, "were well kept up with flowers and gardens." Hattie Anderson went on to say, "Clothes were different then; they hung from the shoulder in a loose chemise style. Children had one dress for one week, another for the next and a good one for Sunday."

The need for Change

Life in the mill villages differed from life on the farm as most of the villagers were immigrants who worked at the mills. At first, differences among the ethnic groups kept them separated but, as early as the first decade of the twentieth century, it became obvious that there was a common cause and that the residents of the mill villages differed from their neighbors in the agricultural sections of Warwick in areas other than language or occupation.

New Political Alliances

Political needs and ambitions were also apparent as many of the newcomers had arrived after the Civil War and felt no loyalty to the Grand Old Party of Anthony, Brayton and Aldrich. Once the franchise was extended to them, discontent with the party bosses became apparent. For a period of time, ethnic differences kept them divided and impotent, but eventually the politically adept son of an Irish immigrant, Patrick Henry Quinn, succeeded in developing a potent political force. He convinced the leaders of the ethnic groups that their similarities were greater than their differences and allied them in the Democratic Party.

The Split

By 1909, the Democrats in the western section of Warwick, led by Quinn, gained control of the financial town meetings and broke the political control of the Old Guard in Warwick. The turmoil that resulted made it obvious that the needs and demands of the opposing elements could not be met with one government. After the death of Charles "Boss" Brayton, the demand for separation became greater and petitions to the General Assembly were finally heeded.

On March 14, 1913, 8.3 sq. miles of territory, half the population, and almost the entire industrial base of the town were separated. The third, fourth and fifth representative districts were chartered as the town of West Warwick. The transition was relatively smooth as both towns saw the advantages of the move.

While most of the mill villages were lost, Warwick still had the Elizabeth Mill in Hillsgrove, the Apponaug Company, and the Pontiac Mill. These were, at the time, all thriving and valuable assets for the town. In addition to the political changes, Pontiac high school students witnessed a major upheaval as West Warwick was given the new (1905) high school and, in exchange, Warwick remained in possession of the Town Hall, built in 1893.

The loss of the high school, as well as the industrial base, was sorely felt as Warwick's students moved to the old Grammar School on Post Road in Apponaug. In 1924, fire destroyed that building and, in 1925, the town constructed a new one, the James T. Lockwood High School on West Shore Road.

The story of Pontiac will be continued.


Life had its bright moments in the village as every Friday night during the summer months, the Pontiac Brass Band, shown here in 1890, entertained the village. They also played special programs at the school and Library.
From the Mildred Longo Collection

Demo Information

Important: This demo is purely for demonstration purposes and all the content relating to products, services and events are fictional and are designed to showcase a live shopping site. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.

This is not an actual store, non of the products are for sale and the information maybe inaccurate such as pricing.