Then and Now

The Coles 'Clambakes'


In 1823 the property was purchased by the Cole family. The Greenes had begun a tradition of planting elm trees on the property and the Coles continued this practice, naming their farm “The Elms.” Henry A.L. Brown tells us the Coles were soon famous for their clambakes, especially for those held on Saturday. This was the time when the camp was reserved for about 50 of Providence’s most affluent citizens. They called themselves the “Saturday Club” and became well known for their lavish entertainments. Both Governor William Sprague and General Ambrose Burnside were members and they invited many northern generals and influential politicians to the clambakes. Eliza Cole, in 1900 noted, “In those days we used to put in clams, oysters, mussels, lobsters, fish, chickens, and corn all in one bake.”

In time, the Coles allowed guests to have the use of the farm and campers began pitching tents there and staying for the weekend. As it was conveniently located on the Buttonwoods-Oakland Beach trolley line, it became a favorite spot for campers who were charged a small fee for tenting and were able to buy produce from the farm.

One of the most serious hazards of the early 20th century was fire. From 1891 until the formation of the Warwick Fireman’s League in 1926, major fires in the town brought about the creation of a number of fire departments. In 1891, after a very serious blaze that destroyed a large part of the Cranston section of Pawtuxet Village, Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, Pawtuxet, was incorporated and purchased a hand engine called “Fire King.” Within a year, the hand engine and the new company gained fame and made the cause for fire companies more popular when they played a key role in a Pawtuxet fire that threatened to destroy the village. Fighting that blaze, the volunteers quickly dropped the engine’s suction pump into one of the deepest areas at the Cranston side of the Pawtuxet River dam and quickly had a steady stream playing on the burning buildings.

The first two decades of the 20th century saw a series of fires at Rocky Point, Oakland Beach, Potowomut and Apponaug.

In 1903 fire destroyed the Oakland Beach Hotel, which was built in 1874 at a cost of $100,000. In addition, the flames took the hotel stable, icehouse and Hope Cottage. Newspaper accounts at the time noted, “The flames burned with great rapidity…and within a few minutes the structure was a mass of fire against which nothing at hand could cope.” Further comments added, “In fact, there was nothing at Oakland Beach with which to fight the fire, the only quantity of water being in a large tank on the roof of the hotel building, which could not be reached and which soon was licked up by the devouring element.” A volunteer bucket brigade worked to save the surrounding cottages and was successful when the wind finally died down.

Another fire at Oakland Beach in 1916 destroyed the old post office, general store, barbershop, bowling alleys and moving picture theater.

In 1906 Rocky Point suffered another in a series of devastating fires. In the 1890s, the Rocky Point Hotel, ice cream parlor and Shore Dinner Hall had been totally destroyed, as there was no fire apparatus to aid in putting out the blaze. Once again, in 1906, it was reported that “there were no means at hand with which to combat the flames.” Buckets of water were the only means available and, as there was a shortage of men on hand to pass the buckets, women form the area rushed to the scene and volunteered their services. Col. R.A. Harrington, in true showmanship style, accepted the loss and “genially added that he will charge his patrons nothing extra for a view of the ruins.”

In 1909 the magnificent Col. William Goddard Mansion in Potowomut was destroyed and there was no means of fighting the fire. Help came to man the fire buckets and many of the farm hands at the estate braved the flames to enter the house to save some of the valuable works of art. Within two hours after the fire broke out, the mansion was nothing but a smoldering ruin.

In 1910 a devastating fire destroyed a large section of Beach Avenue in Conimicut and, once again, there was no available means of fighting the fire except bucket brigades.


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