By mid-century, the population of Warwick had more than tripled, growing from 2,532 in 1800 to 7.740 in 1850. By the end of the century, Warwick’s numbers had grown to 21,000. Much of the increase came from the influx of the first major immigrant group of the 19th century, the Irish. As the new immigrants were mostly Roman Catholic and Celtic, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant native population, prejudice soon reared its ugly head. Some mill owners, with very little compunction, used the prejudice as justification for keeping wages low, while unscrupulous politicians quickly saw the advantages gained by playing upon the nativists’ fears of a growing foreign population.
The Civil War proved to be another turning point in the history of Warwick as it brought unimagined suffering for some and great wealth for others. Mill owners, while at first concerned with the lack of workers, found a new source of inexpensive labor in the French Canadian immigration. Unprecedented profits resulted from war contracts and great fortunes were made. The new “captains of industry” found Warwick ideal for establishing large estates along the coast and fancied themselves as the “landed gentry” of the New World.
In addition, Warwick became famous for its summer resorts. An especially significant one was Rocky Point, which had been started by Capt. Winslow in 1847 as a place for steamboats to dock for Sunday school picnics. By 1884, Oakland Beach was also established in Warwick as a resort and playground area. The Warwick Railroad, as well as steamboats, brought holiday crowds to these new amusement centers. By the end of the century, it became obvious that the needs, lifestyle and problems of western Warwick and the area east of Apponaug were very different. For political as well as economic reasons, agitation for separation began during the last decades of the century.
By mid-century, it was obvious that the paternalistic mill villages were firmly entrenched and the mill owners were dominating the town. The Sprague family led the way as its textile empire grew and prospered. By 1821 the Sprague family became interested in the Pawtuxet River Valley and moved into the section. While Samuel Slater is usually regarded as the “father of the American textile industry,” William Sprague, the sixth of that family to bear the name, is considered to be the man who developed it. Along with the purchase of mills I the area, Sprague obtained about 150 acres of land and the homestead of Thomas Holden in 1827. It is generally believed that before his death in 1836, he built the house at the Natick Farms that stands at 486 East Ave. His mills and property went to his sons, Amasa and William, who formed the A & W Sprague Co., one of the leading manufacturing firms in the United States.
Amasa Sprague concentrated his attention to the business and lived at the beautiful family mansion in Cranston, while his brother William devoted much if his time to politics. William became governor (1838-39) and U.S. senator (1842-44). He made Warwick his countryseat, added to the property and developed a suitable “governor’s residence” at Natick Farm.
William Sprague’s venture into politics was cut short when his brother, Amasa, was murdered in 1843. This murder of one of the leading industrialists caused a great upheaval in the state. William retired from politics to devote all his time and energy to the family business, determined to find and punish his brother’s murderers.
William 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, which included Rocky Point, and sold his intere4sts to his cousins.