The Inn History
George I. and Etta Champlin built “The Dewey Cottage” as a 15 bedroom family style, seaside boarding house hotel in 1898. The “Dewey Cottage” offered its’ guests, “good rooms and table board, all modern improvements with stable, pleasant location, good surf bathing, terms reasonable.” The Champlin’s named the cottage after Admiral George Dewey (1837-1917) who was was an instructor at Newport’s Naval Academy and more notably as the victor of the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay. He sank and captured the entire Spanish Pacific fleet destroying it without a single US casualty. He returned to America in 1899 to a hero’s welcome and a New York City parade solely in his honor.
The Champlin’s continued to operate their seaside cottage until the late 1930’s at which point the cottage changed ownership. By the early 1970's, the cottage had become vacant and would remain vacant until Joan LeBel rescued it in 1986. She renamed the “Dewey Cottage” to the Admiral Dewey Inn. She then set out on the daunting task of fully restoring the cottage. This meant the first time ever, installation of plumbing and heating as well as ensuring the structure met all fire codes. She even moved the structure temporarily and gave it a new foundation! Joan truly restored the spirit of the cottage and successfully re-established it as a seaside resort.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Rhode Island shore gained in notoriety as a place of resort and recreation. The area 1915 “Directory of Summer Residents” reveals that visitors traveled from as far away as Brooklyn and Peeskill, New York; Waltham, MA; and New Haven, CT; while, the majority of visitors were from Rhode Island, most notably Providence and the towns of the Blackstone Valley, and nearby Massachusetts, especially the Attleboroughs. Carriages from “The Dewey Cottage” met trains at the “Wakefield Station” and in the area’s heyday (1898-1925) as many as 500 visitors a day arrived at Matunuck Beach. Summer families, who didn’t maintain permanent residences, usually came to stay for the season – July 1 to August 15th. The “Dewey Cottage” was one of six such popular Matunuck Beach hotels (the Atlantic House, Buena Vista Cottage, Matunuck Beach Hotel, the Ocean Star, and the Park House). A Providence Journal article (c. 1895) reported that the life of Matunuck Beach’s visitors was “a dull and stupid life when you compare with the Pier folks but it suits them and gives them rest and health.”
Matunuck was known and continues to remain a “simple seaside destination, not a fashionable resort like Narragansett Pier or Newport”. And today, the Admiral Dewey Inn is the only one that remains intact and in its original use.