Early 19th century recollections of Drum Rock

While the Drum Rock remains much the same as it was for centuries, modern developments have changed the area considerably. Much of the site where Oliver Wilbur and Dorothy Mayor once picked blueberries and played as children is now part of the Cowesett Hills apartment complex

For much of Warwick's history, the "Drum Rock" at Apponaug has been an important part of the village's identity. Not everyone agrees as to what part the rock played in pre-historic times. Some, such as John Brown of the Narragansett tribe, believe it had no significance while others insist it was an important signaling device for the Indians.

The Plaque

Local historian Dorothy Mayor concluded that the Brown objections were caused by the deceiving appearance of a plaque that was placed upon the stone. She explained that the plaque, which was made by the state and dated 1908, had been removed in the 1930's by Daniel Lambert, former owner of the land. Mrs. Mayor noted, "The plaque was being destroyed by vandals, so he (Lambert) took it off to save it. It (the plaque) was damaged from the effort to remove it, and was turning green. When Lambert's survivors sold the land after he died in1982, they sent the plaque back to Gorham Manufacturing Company where it had been made. They cleaned it up and fixed the dents." She concluded saying, "Brown was probably disturbed that the plaque looked as good as new, and thought it may have been phony...."

The booming sound

No one disputes the fact that the large rock made a deep, booming sound. A number of early residents have testified to that and, during the early 19th century, geologists investigated the Apponaug Drum Rock and came to the conclusion that the rocking stone was composed of "indurated ferruginous clay" and was once united to the rock upon which it rests. They said the separation occurred through the action of "frost and by decomposition affected through the medium of a natural fissure." Geologist Charles T. Jackson indicated that it gave off four distinct pulsations when it was rocked and the sound was much like that of a drum or of a horse cantering, only much louder.

When, in the 1930's, the National Geographic Magazine traced an underground river from Canada through New Hampshire and Massachusetts into Rhode Island, many speculated that Gorton's Pond was fed by this river and that the bubbling brook at Drum Rock was part of the subterranean system. This led to the belief that the underground river was the cause of the echo given off by the rocking action of the stone.
While no 17th century literature is available, there are oral accounts of the use of Drum Rock as early as 1800. Mrs. Vaughn, a very elderly lady who lived in the Cowesett section in the 19th century, is reported to have told residents of the Godfrey farm that she could remember Indians in the woods around the Drum Rock and that these Indians drummed on the rock.

The commercial aspect of Drum Rock

It was during the 1930's that a number of businesses took advantage of the Drum Rock to use the name for their enterprises. The Warwick City Times, a very short lived newspaper (July 13 to Oct. 20, 1932), edited by Arthur W. Paine, carried ads for a Drum Rock Filling Station on Post Road and a Drum Rock Diner on the East Greenwich Road. During the early 20th century it was not uncommon for a float depicting the Drum Rock to be used in parades as it was considered an important part of Apponaug's heritage.

Dot Mayor remembers the fun times

Dot Mayor, in her recollection of Apponaug during the early part of the 20th century, recalled playing on Drum Rock. She said, "Drum Rock was so much a part of my life...it was so distinctive a landmark. It was private land and there were only cows around it." She recalled that the rock was not easy to move and, "It took four or five little kids to rock it."

The rock apparently had its greatest popularity during the 19th century. Oliver Wilbur, a native of Apponaug, or "Fulling Mills" as it was known then, wrote about the rock in 1846. Over a period of a number of weeks, Oliver Wilbur wrote his brother a series of letters he called "Recollections of Fulling Mills." Fulling Mills was the common name used by villagers for Apponaug in the early 19th century. Henry L. Greene, who was a son in law of Oliver Wilbur, sent the Wilbur letters to the editor of the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner in 1882. Greene noted it was "a picture of Apponaug and its vicinity, eighty years ago, it seems to me to be exquisitely delineated." Wilbur's stories tell us not only of the rock, but of life in Apponaug as it was nearly two centuries ago.

Reflections of "Fulling Mills" Village

According to Henry Lehre Greene, a kinsman of Oliver Wilbur, the Wilbur house was on the east side of the street (now Post Road) leading toward East Greenwich. Greene tells us, "…the Wilburs had a store in Apponaug which traded in dry and West India goods, and in one part was kept the usual supply of New England rum."

In his fond recollections of his home town, Oliver Wilbur refers to Drum Rock in a number of instances. In his letters, he recalled the days when his family would go south of Apponaug to pick "whortle berries" or "blueberries." He wrote, "Leaving this spot we will start toward the south, and soon, taking the path, we approach Drum Rock. Hark; do you hear it boom? Some persons are already there to give it a few rocks, for as they pass they esteem it a duty to do this. Nearly all that go to and come from these fields must make the pasture resound with its rumbling sounds."

Wilbur tells of filling his basket with the whortle berries and then, "Our dinners were eaten on the rocks under the shade of the oaks and towards the close of the day all the company start for home in high spirits, not neglecting to give the Drum Rock a visit, as each party came along, and thus they would keep it rumbling for hours."

A nostalgic 20th century view

Nearly a century later, Dorothy Mayor in her memories of Apponaug recalls similar experiences near the Drum Rock. She remembers going to the same area for blueberries and, like Wilbur, played among the rocks in the vicinity. Mrs. Mayor vividly described the rocks that attracted her and other children at the time. One, she said, resembled a pig and was called "Hog rock." Others were called Indian rocks and it was "a daring feat for the little kids to scale them.” She recalled, "It was great fun to climb to the top of the hill to a rock called Indian Seat. From here, in those days, you could see all the way to Providence and out into the Bay."

The best fun of all, according to Dot Mayor, was playing on the Drum Rock. In her memory, the rock wasn't so

Dot Mayor drew this sketch in 1980 showing the Drum Rock and the “kids playing there.” She noted, “Old timers used to say that when the top rock was in the right position, the sound would carry for a distance of ten miles.”

easy to move. She recalled, "It took four or five little kids to rock it." Dot agreed with Wilbur's comments on the fascination of the rock and remembered that nearly everyone took turns at rocking it as they passed. She remembered a loud "boom boom" noise rather than the four beats described by early writers. In her recall, the sound didn't seem to bother anyone during the day, but in the still of the night, it could be a nuisance.

Rocky Point's bid for the Rock

In 1980, Conrad Ferla, then president of Rocky Point Park, offered to have the Drum Rock moved to the Warwick Neck amusement center. Because of the value of Drum Rock to Apponaug's heritage, Dot Mayor and the Apponaug Improvement Association felt it should not be moved. They hoped to have the city set aside an area around the rock so that residents would be able to see the rock in its natural setting. During the early 1980's, members of the Apponaug group cleared the area of brambles to show that the rock was nestled in a charming natural glen, and while it would be impossible to return the area to open meadows and high bush blueberries, at least a small part of the 19th century beauty might be retained.

Today, the stone is again marked with a plaque as it was in the 1930's. The general feeling among the area's historians is that Drum Rock serves as one of the few reminders that long before Roger Williams and Samuel Gorton came to the old Pequot trail, there was a thriving Indian community. The devastation of the Narragansett Indians as a result of King Philip's War, along with the ever-increasing English population, destroyed much of the native civilization. Therefore, when in 1696 John Micarter was given permission to erect a "fulling mill" at Kekamewit Brook, the Indian influence in Apponaug ceased to exist. The mill would mark the beginning of the village that is today the administrative seat of Warwick.

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