Oakland Beach 3 - Hard Times and a Hurricane

Without doubt, the 1930s decade was not a good time for Warwick’s Oakland Beach.  The times saw many unemployed and desperate.  Summer cottages were considered a luxury item and many families were forced to sell as very few could afford to keep two houses.  The price of cottages fell and the status of the beach changed.  It became known as a place for inexpensive housing.

All was not gloom and doom however, for the need of inexpensive amusement and escape was more necessary than ever.  People saved their pennies throughout the winter for a summer’s day at the amusement park.  Prices were drastically cut and a dollar went a long way.  There were dances at the Casino, inexpensive movies, and always the rides and amusements.  In a 1985 interview, long-time Oakland Beach resident, Alton Wilbur remarked, “While money was tight and there wasn’t  much work, we always liked it here.  There was freedom and fresh air.  You couldn’t beat this.  We worked together in the 1930s and fixed up the beach house.”

It was this spirit that kept Oakland Beach alive and vibrant throughout the thirties and enabled the residents to reach out and help others less fortunate.  Many older residents can remember when a spaghetti supper at St. Rita’s was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children and when it was 10 cents a dance at the Oakland Beach Dance Hall.  Those who remember the “good old days of the 20s and 30s” also recall the devastation of the Hurricane of 1938.

Hurricane of 1938

One of the most tragic events in the history of Oakland Beach occurred on Sept. 21, 1938.  This is the date of Rhode Island’s most devastating hurricane.  Before the storm was over, it left in its wake 262 persons dead and an estimated damage of $100,000,000.  With winds clocked at 95 miles per hour and two tidal waves of almost 30 feet in height, the hurricane destroyed many waterfront homes and much of the amusement park at Oakland Beach.

The hurricane’s damage to Oakland Beach was so great that many totally abandoned any hope of saving their cottages.  Many residents of the area, such as Father Valmore Savignac of St. Rita’s Church and the Reverend Albert A. Gaisford of the Oakland Beach Union church, will long be remembered for their work in rescuing people from flooded areas and providing shelter for them.  The National Guard was needed to help in the disaster and the Reverend Gaisford allowed them to use the church vestry as a billet.

Oakland Beach never did get a chance to fully recover from the devastation of 1938.  When the clouds of the Hurricane of 1938 cleared, there were 309 homes that had been demolished.  The Oakland Beach Yacht Club, the waterfront roller skating pavilion, much of the amusement park and many other landmarks were gone forever.  Plans to rebuild and rehabilitate the area were cut short when the United States entered World War II in 1941.

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