October 22, 2014
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D. Russell Brown House/Top of the Bay part 3
Don D'Amato and Terry Spencer
Terry D'Amato Spencer
A feeling of nostalgia engulfed historian Don D’Amato as he stood before the fireplace in the original Governor D. Russell Brown house.

Under Joseph Carrolo’s leadership, the “beach” grew and prospered. Alice remembers the excitement of the many “Mardi-gras” held there and still chuckles over one of the incidents that turned out advantageously. There was an old barge that had been sunk off the beach. Efforts to remove it had failed repeatedly. With imagination the “liability” was turned into an “asset” by using the old hulk as a base to set off fireworks over the water. The attractions of the beach were so great that many built small, inexpensive summer cottages in the area. The rich had Narragansett Pier, Watch Hill and Newport, but in the eyes of most Rhode Islanders the ideal summer was one spent at Oakland Beach.

In time, the Depression of the ’30s took its toll. Even the trolley fare to the beach was a luxury. When the hurricane of 1938 devastated the area, many were forced to leave. Much of the beach was destroyed and the roof of the mansion house was severely damaged. The Carrolos never gave up and rebuilt a great deal of the site. Throughout Joseph’s long life he worked for the area as did his family. They were very active in civic affairs. For many years whist parties were held to raise money for worthwhile causes. Bert Rounds served as a councilman and, like his father-in-law, was very interested in all aspects of Oakland Beach, from the fire company to the library.

In 1981 Alice reluctantly decided to sell. The 14-room house had become too much for her to handle after her husband and her father died. She was very pleased to sell it to another Oakland Beach family. The Laphams, who turned the lovely old house into a restaurant, the Island View Inn.

E.J. “Red” Lapham Jr., who manages the restaurant, says he and his wife searched from St. John’s in New Brunswick to Myrtle Beach, S.C. for a building like this and had just about given up.

“We couldn’t see the forest for the trees,” he said.

Here it was, right under our noses.”

Governor Brown picked the best place with its great view of the bay, and the house has been well kept up by the Carrolos, he commented. Mr. Lapham makes his point when he says, “There is always something to be seen on the bay. From large, lumbering ocean-going tankers to the graceful sailboats, there is never-ending activity.”

The present owners have left the house untouched except for making changes required by law. They feel that Oakland beach is a great place for people of all ages. Besides its natural beauty, it is close to the geographical center of Rhode Island, is easily accessible and has plenty of parking place. Lapham is amazed that none of the big hotel-restaurant chains have built here. He noted that the present city administration has done a great deal for the beach and has been most cooperative. In his opinion, there is a growing interest in the area. He feels that a permanent bathhouse and information booth would be a large step in the right direction for further improvements. The restaurant’s plan for the future is to preserve the house with as few changes as possible and to have the exterior shingles sand-blasted and painted in the original color.

The “old house” has seen all the changes of this century, from doughboys and G.I.’s of two world wars, the economic prosperity and depression, major hurricanes and styles from the bustle to the bikini. Today, you can sit in one of the governor’s rooms, partake of a fine meal and enjoy a great view of the bay as he once did. Oakland Beach seems to be coming alive again from the vantage point of the house at 898 Oakland Beach Avenue.


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