Bertha Brownell Belt
1892 – 1980
Bertha Brownell Belt and Molly Belt Levey came to Little Compton by way of their family roots. Bertha’s great grandparents, and Molly’s great-great grandparents, Humphrey Brownell and Sarah (Head) Brownell were both born in Little Compton and are buried in the Old Common Burial Ground next to the Congregational Church.
Bertha’s parents, Fenner Brownell from Tiverton and Avis Barker from Dartmouth, Massachusetts, married in 1879 and settled in Fall River where they raised their children Clifford and Bertha. Sadly, two of their children, Fenner Jr. and Florie, died in early childhood.
Bertha attended Maryland College, graduating in 1913 with a B.A. in Literature, and later attended Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, graduating in 1919 with a B.S. in Education, during a time when few women pursued their educations beyond high school. After graduating from Maryland, Bertha worked as a physical therapist in New York and soon after finishing at Columbia, she married Rigel Osborn Belt and they settled in Chevy Chase, Maryland where they raised their three children Avis, Ozzie and Mary (Molly).
During the Depression, Bertha started a nursery school with a group of friends that they named The Outdoor Nursery School. It was known for emphasizing the importance for young children of being outdoors in nature as a complement to learning their ABC’s. The highly-regarded school, in a new location and with a new name, continues to operate in 2020.
Bertha always had fond memories of her childhood on the Rhode Island coast and in 1949 she purchased a summer home at 8 Little Pond Cove Road in Little Compton, nestled in a cove between Briggs and South Shore beaches. Mooring, the name given to the beloved home, became (as its name suggests) an anchor for generations of family members and friends.
Bertha was a meticulous record keeper and began a guest book on her very 1st visit to 8 Little Pond Cove Road on June 3th,1949. For the rest of Bertha’s life, and for subsequent decades, the guest book has chronicled the lives of family and friends who’ve considered Little Compton their extended home.
Reading through the guest book is a journey through family history with news of births and deaths, platonic and romantic friends as well as new recipes and recent fishing yields.
Molly and her husband Gus Levey raised their three sons, Chris, Doug, and Bryan, in Berea, Kentucky but spent every year from late May to late August in Little Compton. Rigel and Bertha added an additon to the house to create a private space apart from the whirlwind of three active, growing boys all summer long. The boys knocked at precisely 11 am, but had to be invited in by Grandma or Grandpa, for elevensies, featuring cold drinks and treats for all.
Rigel, whose avocation was writing poetry, penned a poem about the small house addition affectionately called ‘Little Thistle.’
Thistle, thistle, thistle down!
Bertha’s joys do know no bound.
Unlike the down that floats away,
May your joys have longer stay.
Like the ocean’s rockey stand,
May your joys have farmer stand.
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