Owners of Warwick’s Atwood Hotel had stories to tell

Posted 6/21/22

The beautiful Atwood Hotel might have brought its owners a livelihood but it was also at the center of much grief.

The proprietor of the hotel, James Atwood, was a popular man. Travelers flocked …

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Owners of Warwick’s Atwood Hotel had stories to tell


The beautiful Atwood Hotel might have brought its owners a livelihood but it was also at the center of much grief.

The proprietor of the hotel, James Atwood, was a popular man. Travelers flocked to rent rooms from him while local organizations planned their parties there. The enormous suppers served regularly in the dining room earned raves; fish chowder, stewed oysters, clams, turkey, fresh fruit, cakes and pies always delivered satisfaction.

In 1879, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Saxon lived at the hotel where Mrs. Saxon was employed as a cook. One day that September, Mrs. Saxon ran to the office to tell James’s 28-year-old son Charles that she had been working in the kitchen when her husband came in drunk, grabbed her by the collar of her dress and pulled out a pistol. 

Charles searched for Joseph and found him upstairs in the Saxons’ room with two gunshot wounds in his head. The man survived and reported that he and his wife had argued about her desire to go for a walk without him and that she had chased him up the stairs and shot him.   After she was arrested, James paid her $1,500 bail.   

Despite the drama, Atwood’s hotel was a great success. James had a billiard room constructed above the hotel office in 1881. A glorious table manufactured in Boston was a magnet for men wanting to partake of friendly challenges. But a few months later, in December of that year, James died at the age of 59.

He left the hotel to Harriet to provide a certain income for the rest of her life. Upon her death, it was to pass to their sons Charles and Leroy. Harriet kept the hotel open with the help of Charles, who served as the establishment’s clerk while Leroy was employed as a bookkeeper at the print works.

About six years later, Charles fell into some sort of trouble. It appears it may have had something to do with alcohol, at a time when many people thought of imbibing as a ferocious sin. A man named William “Billy” Packard testified against Charles, igniting Harriet’s fury.

She went straight to the blacksmith shop run by John Ware, where Billy was employed and told him that he must either fire Billy or give up his shop. She reminded him that the shop wouldn’t exist had it not been for her husband.

Billy had arrived in town during the 1860s. He had no money and no prospects as the only trade he knew was blacksmithing and there were no blacksmith shops in the area. Sympathetic to the stranger’s plight, James Atwood built the blacksmith shop, paid the bills it incurred, loaned cash to Billy and found customers for him. Before long, Billy had more work than he could handle within the small shop so James built an even bigger shop.

When it became obvious that Billy could not keep up with business, despite the larger accommodations, James put John Ware in charge of operations and Billy became an employee. For the next 18 years, he was paid very well there for plying his trade. Now, having become very religious and appalled by certain things, he had played a part in getting Charles put in jail for thirty days.

John told Harriet that she would have to explain to Billy herself that he was being terminated. She therefore returned to the shop later that day, when Billy was there, reminded him nicely that he would have had nothing if it hadn’t been for her husband, and informed him that his services were no longer needed.

Billy responded with a barrage of ungodly words and assured her that he would be gone by Saturday. When the end of the week came, John gave Billy his last payment and watched him leave the shop without an utterance.

Within the next few years, Charles and Leroy became concerned about how their mother was handling the hotel. There were arguments between Harriet and others over mortgages, and concern that she was not taking care of the property. Finally, in 1889, Leroy petitioned to become guardian of the estate and it was granted by the courts.

This decision was not one taken lightly by Harriet. For years, she appealed to the courts to remove the guardianship. She complained that while the hotel was bringing in close to $1,000 per year, she was now only receiving $300 of that. Year after year, her petition was denied.

On August 30, 1900, Harriet died at the age of 65. Three months later, the estate was auctioned off and included hundreds of items such as furniture, two pianos, two black walnut chamber sets, parlor sets, sideboard, two Brussels carpets, silverware, two English carpets, mattresses, cook stove and utensils.

Within a short time, William Arnold became the new owner of the big hotel with a host of stories attached to it. 

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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