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108-year-old Narragansett Brewery demolished in Cranston, RI.

Associated Press - Amid the crash of falling bricks and the screech of twisting girders, Rhode Island's link to its beer-making heyday disappeared on a sunny October day. Demolition began last week on the 108-year-old Narragansett Brewery in Cranston.

Mayor Michael Traficante and others hope removing the abandoned building will stimulate new interest from developers. Traficante, behind the wheel of an excavator, took the first swipe with its powerful claw.

Though officials are looking toward the future of the property, many former workers looked back fondly and accepted packets of beer labels as souvenirs. "Among the perks was the fact that you could have a few drinks while you worked here," said John Ormond of Warwick with a laugh.

A 28-year veteran of the brewery described a workday ritual. "You had to find out what the lottery number was for the night before - that was big - in case one of us had won. But then after that you went about your work," said Norm Gormley, 74. He praised his employers, the Haffenreffers, as "beautiful people, the best."

Former Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy worked at the plant in 1956, fresh out of the Air Force and newly married.

"Some of the old-timers here who have gray hair like I have will remember the storms and the hurricanes in South County and the floods in Woonsocket. Narragansett stopped the beer lines and they bottled water and they sent the water up to those communities to help the people in the state of Rhode Island," Garrahy said from a podium surrounding by bottling crates, labels and empty bottles.

The company's slogan was, "Hi, Neighbor! Have a 'Gansett!"

Built in 1890 by a group of German Americans, the sprawling factory once boasted its own barrel-making operation and a stable of 70 horses. It was taken over in 1965 by the Falstaff Brewing Company and then sold to a California businessman. When the brewery shut down in 1981, 600 to 800 people lost their jobs. In its heyday, the Cranston Street plant brewed 65 percent of the beer in the region.

In 1994, the city came close to salvaging the brewery with a proposal that would have converted it into state and other office space at a cost of $25 million. But in 1996, Gov. Lincoln Almond informed city officials that the state was pulling out of the project.

Robert Healey of Johnston described being trapped in the brewery during the Blizzard of '78 as "the best week of my life."

"It was wonderful, because we had all the beer we wanted to drink and the neighbors brought in food, baked hams, turkeys, the works."

Healey summed up the sentiments of others standing near him who laughed and smiled.

"When I started working in 1955, the best four places in the state to get a job were the gas company, the phone company, the electric company and here. But this was tops, because the other three didn't have beer."
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Nov 9, 1998
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