221215ind history

This property, located at 170 West Main St. in Wickford, has been through many iterations but for 40 years served as a flower shop owned by Russell Greene, who died Dec. 8.

The recent death of Russell Greene has got me thinking about the history of the Greene’s Flowers Building and the 108-year-old business that was sited there for all those years. Russell Greene was a swamp Yankee through and through, and although he loved to play the part of a cantankerous old curmudgeon, he was one of the kindest men I have ever known. In 1974, I became a member of an elite group of folks — a delivery person for Russell Greene — and took on one of the best jobs I ever had. Think about it, who doesn’t love getting flowers delivered to your doorstep. Just about everyone I interacted with had a smile on their face. What could be better?

So when Russell passed on, the memories of him flooded back. So lets take a stroll down memory lane and examine the story of the flower shop he ran for nearly four decades. That story begins, interestingly enough, with a horrific fire and an extraordinary entrepreneur who came here as a boy from Ireland.

In November of 1905, florist and greenhouse operator Peter Byrnes purchased a parcel of land from Roy C. Nichols. This piece of land was once home to the popular summer hotel “The Elms” which in turn had once been a fine double house owned for many years by the Spink family. It had burned to the ground on Friday the 13th in January of that year, and when Byrne purchased the lot, the only structure standing that had survived the intense blaze was a large circa 1875 barn/carriage house. Peter Byrnes had that barn converted into a large home, and constructed his florist shop and greenhouses upon the exact location where “The Elms” had previously stood.

Peter S. Byrnes was born in Ireland in 1857 and came to this country as a child with his parents John and Jane Byrnes. He learned the florist trade as a young man and moved here to Wickford with his wife Mary (Ward) Byrnes to open his own shop. His innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit made him a success in this difficult business.

He not only ran a full service florist shop here in Wickford, but for many years also operated a satellite store during the summer months at the Narragansett Pier. He would often travel down to Narragansett each day in the summer, with his flowers in hand, on the Sea View Electric Trolley that ran through Wickford stopping on West Main Street near its present day intersection with Newtown Avenue.

Peter also kept a large array of palms and large tropical plants in his greenhouses that he would rent out for use at weddings and parties. The entire Byrnes family, including their adopted nephew Luke Ward worked alongside Peter running this business.

Indeed, upon Peter’s retirement, Luke Ward took over the Byrnes Flowershop. Peter Byrnes was also very active in the Wickford fire department and served as Fire Chief for many years. Additionally he served as Commissioner of the Town Poor Farm for a time and also held a position as Town Sergeant.

Peter Byrnes died in November of 1928 and is buried in Elm Grove Cemetery. His wife Mary continued to live in the adjacent house and help her adopted son Luke run the shop until her eventual death in 1941. Luke Ward, who had also served a stint as the Wickford postmaster and was the only male to graduate in North Kingstown’s very first high school class, had gotten a degree from Bryant College and was just as successful as his adoptive father was at the florist’s trade. He spent a whole career here as well, assisted by his family including his son John Ward a popular Providence Journal writer and reporter.

The Ward family eventually sold the shop to another young local florist named Russell Greene. Russell Greene too, made a lifelong career of the flowershop and eventually sold it to the Schartner family. It was later sold and was modified to serve the community as a veterinarian’s office.

I will miss you Russell. Fair winds and following seas to you my friend.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.