D. Russell Brown house/Top of the Bay part 2
In the summer of 1919, Joseph Carrolo stood on front of this beautiful house at 898 Oakland Beach Avenue in Warwick and watched the large, happy crowd as they waited for the trolley to come and take them back to Providence. It was getting late in the day and there were still many people on the beach who were reluctant to leave. Carrolo heard the crowd’s laughter and then someone singing. More and more people began to sing and then some started dancing. He knew then that this was the place he had been looking for.
Fortunately for him, the house was for sale. It was the summer mansion of D. Russell Brown, a very wealthy Providence merchant who had been governor of Rhode Island from 1892-95. It was a beautiful, well-constructed house with a magnificent view of Narragansett Bay. Mr. Carrolo felt it was a home to be proud of and well-suited to his needs.
Carrolo was 40 years old when he fell in love with Oakland Beach and the “governor’s mansion.” He lived there until 1981, when he died at 103 years of age. When he bought the house, he was already a successful businessman. He owned and operated a carousel at Rocky Point during the summer and another at Syracuse, N.Y. in the winter. In time he was to own carousels from Goddard Park and Lake Mishnock to East Providence. The one at Oakland Beach, however, was his favorite. This was his “heart and soul” and he never wanted to leave it.
The house is very impressive. It was built at the turn of the century to afford Governor Brown a striking view of the bay. The Browns had summered at 10th Avenue in Buttonwoods before this and decided to leave that area and build this large house at what was then called “Horseneck” Beach. They lived in this comfortable home with their servants for over a decade before selling out to the carousel owner. The Carrolos were thrilled with the size of their new home. This was a time when the family meant more than one generation. Alice Carrolo Rounds recalls it as the home of her parents, Joseph and Florence, and also as the home of her grandmother, Anna McElroy, her uncle, Mike, and her sister, Anna. It was also home to her and her husband, Bert Rounds. With very few changes, the governor’s house became their home. Mrs. McElroy had her beautiful stone fireplace from Syracuse installed in the house as part of her contribution. It was already 75 years old when it was added in 1920 and is as beautiful and well-maintained now as it was then. The butler’s pantry and the maid’s room of the Browns’ era became a kitchen and the old washroom was expanded to become Joseph Carrolo’s workshop.
Mrs. Rounds had lived in this house for over 61 years. Carousels, dodge-em cars, fireworks and thousands of happy people strolling down the Midway are among her cherished memories of the “old days.” Oakland Beach was in its greatest glory in the 1920s, and Alice’s family was at the center of it. Joseph Carrolo was an excellent craftsman and entrepreneur. His carved wooden horses were works of art. He had learned to carve as a boy of 13 from Charles I.D. Looff, the New York woodcarver famous for his Crescent Park carousel and his merry-go-round factory in East Providence. Joseph learned the carousel and entertainment trade form the master. He made Oakland Beach a famous resort for Providence’s working class citizens who couldn’t afford the long ride and high prices of Narragansett Pier or Newport.
At Oakland Beach, nearly everyone cold escape from the oppressive summer heat of the city and enjoy the salt water and beautiful scenery of the bay. It was easily accessible by trolley at the turn of the century and the amusements made the day at the beach an event to be remembered throughout the long winter months. After the carousel and the other rides closed down for the evening, friends would gather at the Carrolo house to be entertained by their hosts’ piano playing and singing. Even late in life, Joseph played the piano and mesmerized his audiences with songs and stories of old Oakland Beach. His memory was phenomenal. He could even recall details of his voyage from his native Italy when he was only a very small child.