Carlton Coggeshall Brownell, 95, who dedicated his life to the preservation of local history, died Feb. 6, 2013, at Village House in Newport. Mr. Brownell was born and lived in Little Compton in a house built by his great-great-grandfather in 1804. He attended rural one-room schools in Little Compton, Hope High School in Providence and graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1939. He received a master’s degree from Rhode Island College and did additional graduate work at the University of Maine, University of New Hampshire and Oxford University.
Mr. Brownell enlisted in the army in 1942 and served four years in the infantry. He was awarded the Victory Medal, the European Theater Campaign Ribbon, the Central European and Rhineland Campaign Ribbon and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
After World War II he taught at Colebrook Academy and the Emerson School in New Hampshire before being recalled for military service in the Korean War. After military discharge, he taught in the Tiverton, Rhode Island, school system from 1952 to 1977, and was chairman of the Tiverton High School Social Studies Department for the last 15 of those years.
Mr. Brownell was a student of early American buildings and furnishings and for several summers he conducted furniture restoration courses as part of the Sakonnet Seminars. He restored numerous historical buildings in Little Compton and Tiverton. He also operated a small farm, raising sheep for 50 years and his thatched-roof sheep shed was a well-known landmark on West Main Road.
He served on town committees which converted the Odd Fellows Hall to new uses, enlarged the Town Hall and added historic lighting around the Commons. For 18 years he was chairman of the Congregational Church Building and Grounds Committee. He was Secretary-Treasurer of the Union Cemetery for over 50 years. He was appointed trustee of the Little Compton Public Library following the death of his father who had been trustee for 50 years and his grandfather who organized the library in 1878. In 1961 he was instrumental in merging the Public Library and Brownell Library, and in the early 1990s he oversaw the fundraising of $300,000 for improvements to the library.
Mr. Brownell was a director of the Tiverton and Little Compton Mutual Fire Insurance Company and secretary-treasurer of the Little Compton Mutual Trust, which was created from the resources of the Insurance Company.
Of all his interests, Mr. Brownell put the most effort into the Little Compton Historical Society, where he restored the Wilbor House along with five other buildings on the property and the Friends Meeting House. The Historical Society’s antique collection which ranges from horse-drawn vehicles to photographs to furnishings was mainly gathered by Mr. Brownell. In conjunction with his 90th birthday the Wilbor House and Friends Meeting House were added to the National Register of Historic Places. For many years he was also a director of the Tiverton Historical Society and restored the Chase Cory House at Four Corners.
Survivors include his long-time friend, Tony Ricci, sisters Louise Brownell of Newport and Josephine Brownell Bridge of Portsmouth and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service to celebrate Mr. Brownell’s life will be held at the United Congregational Church in Little Compton at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, 2013.
Memorial gifts may be made in his name to the Little Compton Historical Society, PO Box 577, Little Compton, RI 02837.