Goddard Memorial State Park (1927)

In 1927, the son and daughter of Colonel Robert Hale Ives Goddard gave one of the family estates to be a state park in memory of their father. Colonel Goddard (1837-1916) was the son of William G. Goddard, first Chancellor of Brown University and Charlotte Rhoda Ives Goddard. Through his mother’s family, he was related to the Ives family who partnered with the Browns of Providence to form the banking and merchant firm of Brown and Ives. He was a Brown University graduate in 1858.

When the Civil War broke out, just a few years after his graduation, Robert Goddard left the safe confines of the family counting house and enlisted as a private soldier and fought in the first Battle of Bull Run. Mustered out of service, he joined again and became an aide to Rhode Island General, Ambrose Burnside, taking part of the battles of Fredericksburg, Cumberland Gap, Blue Springs, and Campbell Station. He was in the sieges of Knoxville and Petersburg and was present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. As a northern businessman whose company’s narrow self-interest was intimately tied to southern cotton he could have elected a ‘wait and see’ stance.  His wealth and position could have bought him a safe seat to observe the war; he chose, instead to meet it head on.

As a military aide to Governor Burnside he returned to active service in 1874 and later retired with the rank of Colonel. As a progressive reformer he joined the Lincoln Party in 1906 and served in the state senate as an independent in 1907 and 1908. He ran as a Democrat in 1907 for the open United States Senate seat against Samuel P. Colt and George P. Wetmore. He died in 1923.

With the gift of his estate for park purposes in 1927, Rhode Island received nearly 490 acres of land on Ives Road in the Potowomut section of Warwick. The park formally opened in 1930.The gift included a 33-room Victorian-style mansion, known as “The Oaks,” a smaller home for the state’s horticulturalist, a carriage house, a large barn, and several smaller buildings.

The gift of Goddard State Park provided a number features for the Metropolitan Park System. Nestled on Greenwich Cove and Greenwich Bay, Goddard Memorial provided geographical balance to the system. It was more convenient for citizens living in Kent County. While both Lincoln Woods and Goddard offered horse-back riding, Goddard had salt water swimming, a better opportunity for sailing, and it offered golfing. Although it did not own its carousel outright, it had a Loof carousel which had once been at nearby Rocky Point. The Goddard mansion was used for an “insect zoo,” and the estate, which had been developed as a private arboretum, sported fine groves of local tree species and some of the best ‘specimen’ trees in New England. Much of the landscape had already been laid out in a park setting. Lastly, its acquisition pointed in the direction of the possibility of adding Atlantic beaches to the park system, one which foretold the buying of Sand Hill Cove (1929) and Scarborough (1937).

The history of the land comprising Goddard Memorial State Park goes back to the early settlement of Warwick. In King Philip’s War, 1675-1676, most of the homes in Samuel Gorton’s Shawomet Purchase, which stretched from the shores of Narragansett Bay across modern day Kent County to the Connecticut boundary, were burned to the ground. As in the case of Providence, the two decades following the war witnessed as slow period of growth until the beginning of the 1700s. The part of Warwick where Goddard Memorial State Park is located has been known as Potowomut. It was the one of the ancestral homelands of the Greene family of Rhode Island which produced two colonial governors and two prominent Revolutionary War personalities, Major General Nathanael Greene and Colonel Christopher Greene. Nathanael Greene’s father had a prosperous iron forge near the state park which gave the name Forge Road to the area. The first Greene, James, settled in 1684.

In 1792, Nicholas Brown, one of the four famous Brown brothers of Providence, bought up indebted lands of Loyalist Richard Greene, and the farm in question passed to his daughter Hope Brown upon her marriage to Thomas Poynton Ives. These acres comprised most of Potowomut Neck, and the Brown/Ives country estate built there acquired the name, “Hopelands.” In time, the property passed to Hope and T.P.Ives’ daughter, Charlotte Ives Goddard. In the following generation, the next daughter, Hope Brown Ives and her husband, Henry C. Russell built the mansion, known as “the Oaks,” which became the centerpiece of the estate given for use as the park. It was Mr. Russell who collected specimen trees from all over the world, some 62 deciduous species and 19 varieties of evergreen. Despite storm ravages, such as those inflicted in the Hurricane of 1938, the arboreal beauty of the park has survived to later generations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the 1876 Victorian mansion, “the Oaks,” which burned in April of 1975.

One of the popular features of the park was its carousel. It made its appearance in 1931 shortly after the park opened. The carousel was a product of the Charles I.D.Loof factory of Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 1890. It was set up a year later in Lakeside Park, Syracuse, New York and later moved to another park in that city. In 1901, the carousel was dismantled and sent for repairs to another Loof factory in the Riverside neighborhood of East Providence. Here, near Crescent Park which served as a kind of working ‘show room’ for Charles Loof the carousel was refitted before going to Rocky Point amusement park in 1907, entertaining thousands until 1929.

Two years later, the carousel was installed at Goddard Memorial State Park and twirled successfully until it was sold and dismantled in 1973. Intended for a California destination, it ended up in Jacksonville, Florida. The empty pavilion has since been refurbished by the park and is available for events and private parties.

The person most responsible for overseeing the fortunes of this ride for nearly three quarters of a century was Joseph L. Carrolo. As a young man he worked for the Loof organization and managed the carousel in Syracuse, then Rocky Point, and finally at Goddard Memorial. At age 100, in 1978,  Carrolo was known as the ‘Carousel King.’ In 1958 he had carousels in Oakland Beach, Lake Mishnock, Goddard, and Lake Nipmuc in Mendon, Massachusetts.

Over the years, Goddard Memorial State Park performed many functions for the state as one of Rhode Island’s most popular recreational attractions. During the 1936 three hundredth anniversary celebration, The Tercentenary, Goddard hosted a Native American village and was the home of state history pageants. Dozens of new picnic fireplaces, built by the Depression-era, WPA, dotted the grounds. The fireplaces were built by un-employed young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who labored throughout the parks and forests of Rhode Island, playing a major role in the massive clean-up in the wake of the great hurricane of ’38. From 1936 until 1940, the state’s park division headquarters was at Goddard Memorial.

Today, following numerous repairs and upgrades over nearly eighty-five years, Goddard Memorial State Park continues to adhere to the wishes of the donors ‘for the public use and for the enjoyment, recreation, and education of the public.

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