Coles Campground 3 - “Day trippers” and “Tenters”

Long before the trolley brought summer merrymakers to Cole’s Campground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the clambake along Warwick’s shore was one of the great attractions for Rhode Island’s rich and famous.

Civil War Clambakes

During the Civil War, both General Ambrose Burnside and Governor William Sprague were members of the "Saturday Club" and invited many northern generals to Cole's for a clam-bake.  Burnside entertained the Adjutant Generals of every one of the states of the Union at this Warwick location.    In 1874, one of the highlights of the resort season came when 200 "Sir Knights" of the Cavalry Commandary, a Masonic organization, came to Cole's farm for a bake.  They came in full dress uniform and were accompanied by two brass bands, one of which was the famed ‘American Brass Band’ of 25 members with its conductor David Wallis Reeves.”

With the coming of the Warwick railroad and the trolley, those less affluent found that a clambake at Cole’s was within their financial ability.  While some opted to ride the line to Rocky Point or to Oakland Beach, revelers from nearly all areas of the state found Cole’s more to their liking.

Tenting at Cole’s

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Camp Cole was one of Rhode Island’s most popular areas.  In addition to “day-trippers,” who came on the trolley, there were scores of campers who pitched tents for the weekends.  The first decade of the twentieth century saw scores of white tents along the water’s edge as the Coles began to allow campers to pitch their tents near the water for a fee.  Soon the camp became a profitable business as the Coles not only charged a rental fee, but sold milk, eggs and vegetables to the campers as well.

By 1909, large numbers of passengers came to Cole Station for the summer activities.  A Providence Journal article at the time said, “they came for the ‘Governors’ Bakes’, ‘Drummers’ Bakes’, ‘Masons’ Bakes’, bakes galore in those days.”    One of Edward A. Cole’s daughters in a 1900 interview, said, “In those days we used to put in clams, oysters, mussels, lobsters, fish, chicken and corn all in one bake.”  This type of clambake drew great crowds, as did Mrs. Cole’s Indian pudding and brown bread.

For many years, the Cole house, sheltered by Elm trees, was home to Edward Cole’s large family of eight children and many grandchildren.  When Edward A. Cole became an invalid, his five surviving children continued in their father’s tradition until his death in 1898.

It is interesting to note that Cole’s exemplified the rural atmosphere of Warwick in the first decade of the 20th century as the trolley began to make inroads in the area.  One of the more famous of the occupants at the Pawtuxet farm was Fred Cole.  His trip to Boston in 1909 was considered enough of an event to warrant a feature article in a Providence paper.  It seems that Cole’s valuable “turnout,” or horse drawn rig, had been stolen and was located in Boston.  Cole was advised to go to the Massachusetts capital to retrieve it.


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