Just the thought of clam cakes and chowder can conjure memories, images and smells and set taste buds watering for most New Englanders. The nostalgia of clam bakes of the past has been preserved with the publication of a new “Images of America” series called “Rhode Island Clam Shacks.” The book was created by clam cake experts David Norton Stone, a Warwick native and resident, and Christopher Scott Martin, co- creator and curator of the popular online site Quahog.org
Stone, a Hendricken High School graduate and a self-proclaimed food historian, has also penned “Clamcake Summer: One Man Eats Every Clamcake in Rhode Island (Or Dies Frying),” “Stuffie Summer,” and “Chowder Summer.” The two have been researching the clam shacks project for about a year, gathering and scanning antique postcards, ephemera, family photos and information shared by clam shack owners and their descendants. The book, published by Arcadia Publishing Company, was the subject of a launch party at the Providence Public Library on May 15 – images from the library’s digital collection appear in the book – and the duo have been traveling to local libraries, museums and historical societies to share their work.
Stone and Martin recently participated in a “clam cake crawl” around the state, sampling (re-sampling) some of the best that Rhode Island has to offer. The book includes more than 200 images, anecdotes and history of many well-known (some no longer in existence) clam shacks, all pre-dating 1970.
The authors visited the Johnston Historical Society on Wednesday, June 28, where Martin is a longtime member and where Stone has spoken in the past, to talk about their new book and sign copies. (Johnston Historical Society president Louis McGowan, a post card collector, also contributed images for the book.)
Stone and Martin are planning future talks, and have been invited to visit the Crow’s Nest of Apponaug to speak on July 16. They were recently invited to attend an invitation-only 30th anniversary party for Evelyn’s, also featured in the book.
The book includes several clam shacks from the Warwick area, including Gus’s and Mrs. Gus’s, both formerly located in Oakland Beach (now the site of Iggy’s). Of particular interest are reproductions of old menus (and their prices), as well as photos of proper Rhode Island clam bakes.
Also included, Rocky Point’s “World’s Largest Shore Dinner Hall” – Stone points out that there were four different buildings over the course of its history – “built not near the bay, but right over the water.” (Stone worked at Rocky Point for a summer during college).
The book also includes information on the devastating effects of hurricanes in 1938 and 1954 to the Rhode Island shoreline, where many of these clam shacks were situated. According to information from a caption in the book, Rocky Point’s Conrad Ferla “watched the roof of his shore dinner hall fly off and into the parking lot.”
Other Warwick connections include interviews of Warwick historian Henry A. L. Brown, who attended many Rhode Island clam bakes in his day, who also contributed images for the book.
Other notable names include George’s of Galilee (which started as a small lunch room), Champlin’s, Flo’s, Ballard’s, The Hitching Post, Dead Eye Dick’s, Aunt Carrie’s.
Aunt Carrie’s, which is often credited with creating the clam cake, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. Stone noted that clam cakes pre-date Aunt Carrie’s, but the restaurant should be credited with refining the clam cake as we know it – although they were called clam fritters. Both Stone and Martin counted the clam cakes at Aunt Carrie’s among their favorites at the recent “clam cake crawl.”
The authors lamented that several clam shacks which could have been included in the book had not responded to queries for information – leading those in attendance at the recent talk asking about the possibility of a Volume II. The book includes ephemera from the personal collections of Stone and Martin, both of whom collect “Rhode Islandiana.” Stone is currently working on three future book projects, researching information about restaurants of Rhode Island no longer in existence.
Copies of the book are available from arcadiapublishing.com and Amazon.com online, or locally at Barnes & Noble Bookstore, or from the authors as they travel around the state. Future talks are listed at Martin’s website, http://www.quahog.org/calendar