Save This Old House: One of the Last Browning Cottages on Matunuck Beach

The iconic beach house was built in 1905 and looms over the ocean's edge.

When will the Atlantic Ocean claim the last of the iconic Browning beach cottages?

The cluster of homes, built at the turn of the twentieth century on land once owned by the Browning family and designated an historic district by the National Register of Historic Places, served as a summer colony for generations of preeminent Rhode Island families, including the Noyes, Knights, Bontecous, Metcalfs and Chafees. Their five cottages were connected by a boardwalk and the families shared a tennis court and beach cabana.

And now, one of the last standing cottages is on the market. The summer home, 392H Cards Pond Road in Matunuck, was built in 1905 by the Knight family. After the Hurricane of 1938, Frederick Bontecou bought up three of the Browning cottages for a sum of $17,000 and passed them on to his eldest children. His youngest, Jesse, purchased the Knight bungalow for himself when he came of age. It’s been in the Bontecou family for more than sixty years.

Originally a flank-gable chalet-style cottage with decorative board-and-batten, today’s structure — which was moved back to escape sea level rise — is only a portion of the original one. But its iconic stone chimney has withstood the test of time.

There are pros and cons to saving this old house. Yes: an angry sea laps at its feet. It mocks our gall. (See for yourself on the Roy Carpenter Beach webcam.) But it’s one of the last on-sand beach houses in the Ocean State. There will never be another; modern building codes would never permit it. The listing, via Lila Delman, deems it a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” and agent Bob Bailey was not hyperbolizing when he wrote that.

When you stroll the beach and gaze up at the last two Atlantic-facing Browning cottages — only at low-tide; otherwise you’d be walking on water — you can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped back to a simpler time, where kids “didn’t wear a stitch of clothing on the beach all summer,” writes Bob Wyss in a 2010 story on the cottages in Rhode Island Monthly. “They were part of the many generations at Matunuck Beach who learned how to swim in the ocean and who used Cards Pond behind the houses to discover how to sail.”

Like the final days of summer, we know this Browning cottage won’t last forever. But maybe someone — a special someone, with a soft heart and a couple of million to spare — can make the most of the time it has left. The memories, ones from its past and ones destined to be made, are worth every penny.

Won’t somebody save this old house?

For more information, contact Lila Delman’s Bob Bailey at 401-371-4100 or visit liladelman.com.

 

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