Oakland Beach History
The village of Oakland Beach was founded in 1670 as an extension of the early settlements in Shawomet. The peninsula was used mostly for grazing livestock as it naturally eliminated the need for extensive fencing. Development in the village did not begin to really expand until the late 1870's and the advent of the industrial revolution bringing railroad and trolley transportation. To build ridership, many railroads established trolley parks - destination picnic grounds along or at the end of the rail line. Oakland Beach benefited from the draw of nearby Rocky Point, where the trains and steamships from Providence would dock. A bridge spanning Warwick Cove was built, and tracks extending across the lower end of the Oakland Beach peninsula and across Brushneck Cove to the religious colony at Buttonwoods completed the line.
A beautiful destination hotel was built on the southern shore with a sweeping lawn to the bay. A large tent was erected on the lawn and clambake dinners were regularly served. The Rhode Island Militia in 1840 near the end of the trolley line, from the late 1880s until the mid-1970s Oakland Beach was home to a small midway, which over time included a wax museum, roller coaster, bowling alley, dance hall, theater, arcade, merry-go-round and restaurants.
The Oakland Beach hotel was tragically lost to fire at the turn of the century. Later, the amusements, with exception of the carousel, were damaged or destroyed when major hurricanes struck our coast in 1938 and 1954. Although it remained popular with the locals, the carousel and remaining amusements ultimately fell victim to the automobile and theme parks.
The original merry-go-round at Oakland Beach was owned by Joseph Carrolo, known around these parts as the "Carousel King". Owner and operator of five Rhode Island carousels, as a young man Mr. Carrolo worked for Charles Looff at his Riverside, Rhode Island carousel factory, learning the business that became his vocation and livelihood. He is remembered fondly in our area as being a generous man, who thoroughly loved our waterfront community and its residents. He was a regular at the dance hall and the sing-a-longs, which were a common form of entertainment at the beach in the 1930s.
By the mid-1970s, Mr. Carrolo had reached his 90s and was not longer able to care for the carousel, by then boarded up and vandalized. The carousel was sold in its entirety and rumored to be heading overseas. Later we learned it remained in the United States and was resold to its current owner, the Perrons, who operate the International Museum of Carousel Art in Hood River, Oregon. Last we heard, the animals are on loan, riding on other operating carousels.
Mr. Carrolo also donated the former movie theater to two community churches, First Congregational Church of Warwick and St. Rita's Catholic Church, stipulating that it always be used as a community center. Now known as the JONAH Community Center, it remains active to this day.
Below you see the other common form of entertainment in Oakland Beach during it's early years :)