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Model Station of the Road
This Essay was written by one of the original members of "The Friends of the Kingston Railroad Station", Stewart P. Schneider, and published in the Narragansett Times in May of 1974
"The Model Station of the Road"--
The Story of the Kingston Railroad Station
by, Stewart P. Schneider
Peace Dale, RI
May 20, 1974
Everyone knows about Whistler's mother, but who's ever heard of Whistler's father? Major George Washington Whistler was well known to the residents of South Kingstown long before his son painted the portrait which enshrined Mother Whistler as the epitome of Victorian womanhood. For it was Whistler's father who had laid down the railroad which was opened in November, 1837, making South Kingstown one of the first communities in the United States to be served by this new mode of transportation. The first passenger train in the country had begun operation only seven years previously, and there were only about 2,000 miles of track in the entire United States at the time.
Point Judith was largely responsible for South Kingstown's early initiation into the Age of Steam. In the early 1830's, the principal route of travel from Boston to New York was by stagecoach to Providence and thence by overnight steamer to New York.
The opening of the Boston and Providence Railroad in 1835 eliminated the uncomfortable stagecoach ride, but travelers on the steamers still had to endure the perils of Point Judith and, according to one account,"the passengers did not always feel like eating just after the boats struck the long swell off Narragansett Pier." To avoid this unhappy state of affairs, a railroad was built from Providence to Stonington, Ct., where passengers could transfer to the steamers and continue to New York on the calmer waters of the "inside route."
Although the new railroad was only fourty-seven and a half miles long and was situated mostly within the state of Rhode Island, it bore the impressive corporate title of The New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad. This served to advertise its purpose of accommodating persons traveling between these cities. Locally, however, the road was known from the start as The Stonington Railroad, an appellation which it retained until it was absorbed by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford in 1892.
The opening of the new road on November 10, 1837, was the occasion of much festivity. The steamer Narragansett was chartered to bring a delegation of dignitaries from New York to Stonington and, after a sumptuous breakfast, "the company left in two trains of superb cars, handsomely decorated with miniature American flags, the band playing many spirit stirring airs, and by means of the Locomotives Stonington and the Little Rest , they sped rapidly over the course on their way to Providence." One of the trains was detained at Greenwich by "a slight accident to one of the locomotives" (the reporter failed to note whether it was the Stonington or the Little Rest), but the other continued to Providence where it was joined for the return trip by a third train carrying the guests from that city. Upon arrival back in Stonington, the trip having been completed in the remarkable time of two hours and twenty-five minutes, a dinner for over 400 was served, following which "numerous sentiments were called forth." Among the most apt was that of the otherwise unidentified Jacob S. Carpenter who proclaimed, "Our forefathers refused to pay tribute to Great Britain in former days; who will consent to pay tribute in this enlightened age to "Point Judith, when they can travel the Stonington Railroad?"
Regular service began the following week. At first the trains ran only three times as week and stopped only at Greenwich, Kingston, and Westerly. The volume of traffic soon required that the number of trips be increased, and by the following spring there were two trains each weekday: the "Steamboat Train", which connected with the overnight boat for New York, and the "Accommodation Train," which handled much of the local business. When the latter train was added to the schedule, a nautically-minded copywriter for the Providence Daily Journal noted that it would also stop at Apponaug, Wickford, and Charlestown to "land" and receive passengers. The early locomotives had no cabs as the officials of the railroad felt that such refinements were not needed in view of the fact that stagecoach drivers managed to survive without them.
The first Kingston station was located on Waites Corner Road, which was then the principal highway between South Kingstown and the towns to the west. The depot stood on the west side of the tracks, which meant that all traffic from Wakefield and Kingston had to cross the rails in order to reach the depot. This arrangement caused little trouble at first, but eventually became one of the principal reasons for moving the station to its present location. As trains increased in length, they began to block the highway while they were stopped at the depot and, when there was much freight to be handled, traffic was often halted for considerable periods of time. One correspondent to the Narragansett Times noted that travelers were sometimes "compelled to wait 4 or 5 hours from the morning train for conveyance to their destination, because no team could be obtained near the Depot." "Who of the traveling public," he wrote,"has not been compelled to stand upon the south side of the rail road, for eight or ten minutes in the early morning, with a cutting north-west wind from across the pain, blowing directly in his face, the thermometer below zero, and wait for one of the three or four early freight trains to take wood and water before he could cross the track and get into the Depot yard? Not long since I was so caught, while beside me stood a carriage containing a family, with a young lad on the front seat. While there waiting, his nose became chilled, and when they drove up to the platform it was white and frozen. I called the attention of a R.R. official to the fact, but he said the Co. were powerless to remedy the evil."
The reason that the railroad could not correct the situation was that the owners of the land adjacent to the depot were unwilling to sell or lease additional land to the railroad or to anyone else. As the same correspondent pointed out elsewhere in his letter, "the road has been in operation for thirty-five years, and around every one of the original Depots, with this exception, building and business have continued to increase, but ... here there has been no increase of business and no building solely for the reason that no land could be purchased or leased for a reasonable or even an exorbitant price."
Another factor which played a part in the eventual relocation of the station was the lack of proper drainage in the depot yard. Although the railroad had originally dug drains from the depot almost to the Chepuxet River, these had gradually filled in over the years and no longer served their purpose. They were, however, instrumental in producing a very lush crop of grass which the adjacent landowners found highly desirable. Consequently, they refused to let the surveyor of highways clear out the drains. As a result, "with every rain the Depot yard [was] flooded and the traveling public compelled to wade, wallow, and swim through from six to twenty-four inches of water and mud, and good substantial mud, too."
The movement to relocate the station got underway in February, 1874, when the businessmen of South Kingstown circulated a petition to the president and directors of the railroad setting forth the advantages of relocating the depot one hundred rods southwest of its existing location. Here, according to the petitioners, sufficient land would be given to the railroad and lots sold "at reasonable prices to all who wish to buy." This move prompted Benjamin and William Watson, the owners of the land surrounding the old depot, to offer to sell the railroad as much land as it needed at a fair price; but they were apparently unwilling to sell to the businessmen who wished to locate their enterprises near the railroad, and there seems to have been some question about the owners' ability to prove clear title to the land. The movement to relocate the station prevailed, and on June 17, 1874, the RI General Assembly passed an act authorizing the railroad "to change the location of their station at Kingston, ... and to take down and remove their present Kingston Depot and abandon that station: Provided, said corporation shall locate a new station and build a new depot upon the line of their said Railroad within one mile of their present station."
The site chosen for the new station was approximately a half mile southwest of the original depot. It was situated about midway between the two existing highway crossings (Waites Corner Road and Liberty Lane) thus permitting long fright trains to stand at the depot as long as necessary without blocking the highway. The passenger depot was erected on the east side of the tracks so that passengers coming to the station from Kingston and Wakefield (the principal sources of the railroad's business) would not have to cross the tracks to reach the depot. A new road (the present Route 138) was built from Chepuxet Bridge to the railroad to facilitate access to the station.
The new station was opened on June 1, 1875, and, in anticipation of the event, the Narragansett Times of May 28 published an enthusiastic description of the building and its setting: "With a new station house, tasty in style and architecture, supplied with modern accommodations and appliances, the comfort of the traveling public will be greatly increased. The house is in the main but one story, with an outer tower two stories high, sixty-seven feet long, and thirty wide, located east of the track, and about four hundred feet south from the new highway; surrounded upon all sides by a piazza and wide platform. The apartments consist of two sitting room, each thirty feet square;baggage room; ticket and telegraph offices are upon the first floor, with a private office above. Directly opposite, and upon the west side of the track, will be the freight house,not yet completed. ... The grounds to the east and north of the station have been set with thrifty [thirty?] shade trees, and at no distant period will provide both shade and shelter to man and beast. With its long spacious platforms and gravelled carriage drives, this might well be termed the model station of the road."
A new post office (West Kingston) was established at the station, and before opening day, Watson and Wells had "completed a large store, packing house, and sheds nearby,"thus becoming the first business establishment to take advantage of the new location.
Activity at the Kingston station reached its peak during the 1890's and the early years of the twentieth century. Narragansett Pier was at the height of its career as a fashionable watering place in the Nineties, and during the summer months through parlor and sleeping cars operated from New York to the Pier via the Narragansett Pier Railroad, which connected with Stonington Railroad at Kingston. The founding of the University of Rhode Island (originally Rhode Island College of Agricultural and Mechanic Arts) in 1892 brought an increase of travel between Kingston and other parts of the state. In that year the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad acquired the Kingston station when it leased the new York, Providence, and Boston in one of the New Haven's first steps toward eventual monopolization of virtually all transportation in the New England states. This development contributed to increased traffic over the Shore Line as the New Haven favored this route over the inland routes which had handled the bulk of the trough Boston-New York traffic prior to the completion of the drawbridge between Groton and New London in 1889.
At one time nine men were employed at the Kingston station, which was open twenty-four hours a day. Fourteen trains a day stopped at the station, and at times three ticket clerks were needed to handle ticket sales. On Friday evenings, in the days when most URI students traveled by train, $900.00 worth of tickets would be sold for the two evening trains. There was a restaurant in the station which served snacks and light lunches, and an ice cream vendor peddled his wares through the open windows of the trains while they were stopped at the station on hot summer days. (When there was much baggage, express, and mail to be handled, trains remained at the station long enough to make his enterprise worthwhile.)
After the establishment of the steam ferry between Saunderstown and Jamestown, travelers to Newport sometimes left the train at Kingston and proceeded overland to Saunderstown, a route which involved less travel by water than the older route through Wickford or a trip on the Fall River Line. The station was, accordingly, host to occasional celebrities, and General Pershing himself was among the famous who detrained here shortly after World War I.
The growing popularity of the automobile brought a decline in rail travel during the 1920's and 30's, but the Kingston station became a busy place again during World War II when the scarcity of gasoline and the proximity of the Quonset Naval Air Station contributed to heavy use of the trains. The station was still used by an average of 500 persons a day in the 1940's when town officials met with representatives of the railroad to discuss the possibility of replacing the venerable depot with a modern structure. Fortunately, the parties agreed to modernize the old building instead and to construct an underground passage to provide safer access to the westbound track. Faced with declining revenues, the New Haven Railroad never carried out the modernization program. The station entered on a quarter century of neglect. The future of the building seemed in doubt when the railroad demolished the adjacent express office and the freight house in 1969. Cutbacks in service had reduced patronage to its lowest ebb, and Amtrak instituted further reductions in service when it took over the operation of inter city passenger trains in 1971. There was an ominous feeling the Kingston stop would soon be eliminated.
Today the future of both the station and train service seem assured. Even before the energy crisis focused the public's attention on the importance of preserving rail service, there had begun to be a modest increase in patronage at the Kingston station. This past winter the station was used by many who had all but forgotten its very existence, and the recent increases in service promise to make the train a more feasible alternative to highway travel in the future. With the Friends of the Kingston Railroad Station's refurbishing project about to get underway, the future of the station looks brighter in more ways than one. May it once again deserve to be called the "model station of the road" as it enters its second century of service next year.
Written by Stewart P. Schneider, West Kingston, Rhode Island. Mr. Scheider passed away on December 8th, 2003. He attended Friends of Kingston Station board meetings regularly even up to the October 6th monthly meeting of 2003. He was one of the original volunteer members of the original "Friends" group in 1974.
Kingston Station Home Page: | Prepared for this website by Martha H. McCabe and Jack McCabe 3/1/99
Special thanks to Steve Grande of in Fullerton California for hosting our site,
Jack McCabe of West Kingston RI for creating and maintaining the Kingston Station website,
Friends of Kingston Station Inc. Board and members for hosting and continued support.

copywrited material ©

Dow, Charles H. History of Steam Navigation between New York and Providence from 1792 to 1877. New York: Wm. Turner & Co., Printers, 1877.
Farnham, Elmer F. The Quickest Route: The History of the Norwich and Worcester Railroad. Chester, Ct. Pequot Press, c. 1973.
McAdam, Roger Williams. Salts of the Sound, rev. and enl. ed. New York: Stephen Daye Press, c. 1957.
Narragansett Times, Wakefield, R.I. January 9, February 20, March 20, 27, June 26, 1874 April 16, May 28, 1875.
Providence Daily Journal, Providence, R.I. November 10, 12, 16, 1837 and advertisements for New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad through June, 1838.
Weller, John L. The New Haven Railroad. New York: Hastings House, 1969.
Also, transcripts of interviews with Howard M. Carpenter, East Greenwich, R.I. and Florence Carlin, West Kingston, R.I.