War Memorial Park, West Warwick, Rhode Island
Explore Our Town: West Warwick
The local legends, historical happenings, and backyard secrets of West Warwick, Rhode Island, are the focus of Our Town, an ongoing Rhode Island PBS community project. Rhode Island PBS premieres the documentary Our Town: West Warwick on Wednesday, September 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Earlier this summer, neighbors in West Warwick became storytellers and filmmakers to capture the stories they wanted to tell in Our Town: West Warwick. These stories have been woven together into a visual tapestry of nostalgia, humor, enterprise, history, even a surprise or two, all representing life in West Warwick through the eyes of those who know and love it. West Warwick residents and friends involved in the production will be in the studio to share their experiences working on the project. Volunteers will also answer phones during this fund raising special to benefit Rhode Island PBS.
Among the stories that will appear in the film is a segment about “The Divide” that occurred in 1913, when the struggle between a strong Republican leadership in Warwick and a group of Democratic businessmen in West Warwick resulted in a “revolt” of sorts, led by a prominent mill owner.
Other segments include:
“The Mills” were the cornerstone of life in West Warwick in the early 1900s, providing income, housing, and fulfilling the American dream for many different immigrant populations. This segment describes the relationship between the families and the mills that were the foundation for the town of West Warwick.
“Bradford Soap Works” is the world's largest custom manufacturer of specialty bar soap, and one of the oldest manufacturers in operation in Rhode Island. The segment visits the history of this Original Bradford Soap Works, founded in 1876, and still manufacturing soap today from their granite mill building in West Warwick on the banks of the Pawtuxet River.
“The House on Maple” features excerpts of a book by the same title, written by life-long West Warwick resident, Edna Butler Holdsworth. In the segment, Edna’s descendants read excerpts from her book, sharing what it was like to grow up as the daughter of immigrant mill workers in the heart of a West Warwick mill community.
“St. James Church” delves into one family’s history with the church from its early years to the day the Catholic church closed its doors. In the 1900s, churches formed the centerpiece of immigrant community life, the site for prayer services, for schooling, and for social gatherings that united families.
“The Railroad” recounts the connection generations of one West Warwick family had to the railroad. West Warwick was on the main railroad corridor for the Northeast region, making it a great job for local residents. Describing a typical day, the segment explores different jobs railroad workers might have, and the type of living the railroad provided to families, as the town’s second main source of income.
“Union Cornet Band” may have been called the main entertainment for the town of West Warwick in the early 1900s. A group of town residents shared their love for music by playing at dozens of community and private events. A family member of one of the band’s original members provides a unique look into the history of the band, and displays some of the original instruments and costumes of the Union Cornet Band.
“Hometown Hero” profiles George Luz. He was a typical West Warwick resident who grew up in a family of 12 during the depression, working as a shoe-shine boy and sign boy for the town shops, doing anything he could to help his family put food on the table. In 1942, Luz joined the Army’s Airborne division and headed off to fight for his country. Luz’s unit landed in Normandy and became well known for their actions in WWII. Upon his return, Luz and his unit became the subject of a book, and eventually the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers.
“Theater & Arctic” explores the role theater played in the town’s early history. The main theatre in the Arctic section of West Warwick has deep roots in the town, but has also evolved and survived while some of the other businesses have not.
“The Jaycees” profiles the leadership group that has helped build self-esteem and leadership skills in West Warwick’s young men, as well as provide the community with a group of volunteers to help make West Warwick a better place. This segment also traces how the Jaycees were instrumental in bringing a central library system to town, spearheading the fundraising effort that made construction possible.
“A Central Library” takes a look at how the current library system in West Warwick was established, born from several smaller libraries throughout the mill communities. The segment also reviews how the library has changed over the years, in preparation for its 50th anniversary.
“Fire Department” and “Police Department” segments trace the evolution of the town’s public safety units.
“Historical Society” takes a look back at how the West Warwick group got started.
“Community: Then and Now” celebrates the resiliency and unifying community spirit of town residents, despite the changes to West Warwick over time.
Part fund-raiser, part community builder, part historical and cultural documentary, and part “day-in-the-life” video scrapbook, Our Town: West Warwick is the fourth documentary in the Our Town series. The first film, Our Town: Glocester, premiered in December 2014;Our Town: North Kingstown premiered in September 2015, and Our Town: Portsmouth debuted in December 2015.
The purpose of Our Town is to share the charm and character of Rhode Island towns and villages - in particular, untold or uncelebrated stories that capture the essence of life in the town. Building community by enhancing connections and relationships between Rhode Island PBS and town residents, the stories are told by resident storytellers and videographers, who choose the stories they want to tell about their town. The role of Rhode Island PBS is to offer technical advice and then stitch together the stories into a one-hour film. Next in the series will be Our Town: Westerly, now in production and set to premiere in December.