Carlton Brownell: Little Compton bids farewell to its historian


LITTLE COMPTON — Carlton Coggeshall Brownell's passing on Feb. 6, 2013, has become a part of Little Compton's history.

We asked a few of the many who knew him for a few Carlton Brownell memories (for much more about his many contributions to his hometown, see page 14) ...

Beth Ryan, director of the Brownell Library: "He was a great mentor to me. I worked with him for 33 years. He was fascinating to listen to. He was just a fascinating man. He had a wealth of knowledge. You could listen to him for hours. He'll be really missed."

Roger Wordell, trustee of Brownell Library Trust: “I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him because he’s such an interesting person. Almost every time I end up talking with him, I wind up learning something new about the town.”

Marjory O’Toole, managing director of Little Compton Historical Society: “You always want to leave extra time when you meet and talk with Carlton Brownell because you’re always going to hear a new story from him. If you wait long enough, or ask different questions, there’s new information there you’ve never heard before. The other thing is that you never know what he’s going to wear. We once had an exhibit preview party at the historical society, and we asked everyone to come in patriotic clothing. He came in his World War II uniform. And it fit him, and he won a trophy for it.”

Fred Bridge, nephew, retired: “In recent years as the library has become up-to-date with technology — computers and laptops — Carlton talked about the debate in the 1950’s, about whether the library should have a telephone or not. And then there’s his pickup truck, which he recently sold for $100. In our family we’d joke about which would break down first, Carlton or the truck. It was the truck.”

Jane Cabot, longtime friend, former town council president:

“I’ve know Carlton since the 1950’s, and always considered him a great friend, fun to be with, smart, intelligent and great historian. I don’t know what Little Compton is going to be like without him. If you needed him for something, to serve on a board, he’d always be willing.”

Questions he was asked about himself:

• What did you like most about teaching? “Getting kids who didn’t think about history who didn’t know they liked it until later in life.”

• What magazines do you subscribe to? “The Economist, Liberty, Newsweek, Time, Antiques, The Week, Mother Jones, The Nation, Reason. I read the New York Times and Boston Globe at the library.”

• What is your favorite place to go in Little Compton? “Wilbur’s Woods. Every farmer had a wood lot. Isaac Wilbur had the largest poultry farm in the world between 1850-1860. He took his old wood lot and turned it into a park, with trails. Stone cutters came and carved stones. It’s 30 acres of woodland.”

• What's your favorite animal? “Raised sheep for many years. Liked to eat them. Had 50 sheep once. I got too old and couldn’t chase them anymore. I like dogs.”

• What's your favorite food? "Steak, lamb chops, roast lamb, roast duck, pork chops. Raised all those things here.”

• Your advice to people in their sixties? “They better start doing the things they really want to do, not the things they should have done.”

• Any regrets? “That I didn’t do a lot of the things I thought were wrong.”


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.