The Spragues at East Avenue Farm

The man responsible for developing the farm along present day East Avenue was William Sprague, the seventh of that family to bear the name. He and his brother, Amasa, had inherited a number of mills from their father and organized the A & W Sprague Manufacturing Company. During the 1830s, the company prospered and Amasa Sprague concentrated his attention on the business. He lived at the beautiful family mansion in Cranston, while his brother William devoted much of his time to politics.

The first Governor Sprague

The early 1800s was the period before the days of the secret ballot and the Spragues dictated to the workers when it came time for voting. William Sprague became Governor (1838 39) and U.S. Senator (1842 44). He made Warwick his country seat, added to the property, and developed a suitable "governor's residence" on what is known today as East Avenue. Sprague's home was a large and handsome 12-room structure with seven fireplaces. The original building, circa 1835, has been altered and expanded over the years.

A time of transition

Styles of architecture were changing rapidly during that period, as were ideas and means of transportation. The first train between Boston and Providence made its initial trip in 1835, canals and railroads were being built throughout R.I., and great fortunes were being made in the textile industry. The house, owned by William Sprague, who was involved in much of the activity of the State, reflected the changes of the period.
The mansion has been described as a federal type building with a central hall plan and a symmetrical 5 bay style. It combines this with a Greek Revival front with Ionic columns. Later alterations included the addition of porches, a dining room, and a master bedroom. These changes have been skillfully blended and the result is a very attractive structure.

The Murder of Amasa Sprague

If William Sprague had hoped to lead a quiet life on his estate and enjoy the prestige of a political life, he was seriously mistaken. His venture into politics was cut short when his brother, Amasa, was murdered in 1843. As might be imagined, this murder of one of Rhode Island's leading industrialists caused a great upheaval in the State.

William Sprague retired from politics to devote all his time and energy to the family business, determined to find and punish his brother's murderers. Emotions ran high, and as it was a time of rampant prejudice against the large waves of Irish-Catholic immigrants who had come to work in the mills, suspicion fell upon an Irishman named John Gordon.

Earlier in 1843, the Gordons had been involved in a vicious quarrel with Amasa Sprague who was responsible for their failure to obtain a liquor license. Although the case against the Gordons was weak and the evidence circumstantial, the combination of anti Irish sentiment and the Temperance Movement worked to convict and execute John Gordon. Violence was feared as over 200 Irishmen marched in protest at Gordon's funeral. Later evidence indicated that Gordon was not guilty and, partially in atonement for the injustice against Gordon, the state of Rhode Island abolished the death penalty in 1852.

A new Era in Textiles

The surviving Sprague brother, William, now resigned from politics, resumed control of the family business and under his very capable supervision the company expanded. Upon his death in 1856, his son Byron and his nephews William and Amasa inherited a very prosperous financial empire. Byron was more interested in other developments and sold his interests to his cousins. Under the leadership of young William and Amasa Sprague, the A & W Sprague Mfg. Co. reached unprecedented heights.

The story of the Spragues and the property on East Avenue will be continued.

The A & W Sprague Label showing the Arctic Mill which was built by William Sprague, who once lived in the house now a part of the CCRI property.
From the Mildred Longo Collection

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