Kingston, Rhode Island
1 Railroad Avenue Mail: PO Box 525, West Kingston,RI 02892-0525 West Kingston, RI 02892
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||Rhode Island Department of Transportation|
|Parking Lot Ownership||Rhode Island Department of Transportation|
|100 Long Term Parking Spaces||6 Short Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms||Accessible Ticket Office|
|Accessible Waiting Room||Accessible Water Fountain||Dedicated Parking|
|Elevator||Elevator Accessible||Enclosed Waiting Area|
|Help With Luggage||High Platform||Pay Phones|
|Quik Trak Kiosk||Restrooms||Ticket Office|
- Northeast Regional
(301) 564-5760 (ph)
Local Community Links:
- Town of South Kingston
- Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA)
- University of Rhode Island
- Friends of Kingston Station
Bright and chipper in its coat of yellow paint, the Kingston station has continuously served the people of the South County region since 1875. Erected by the New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad (NYP&B), the building has passed through the hands of various rail companies, survived a major fire, and has been moved a few dozen feet to allow for the enhanced right-of-way prepared for the introduction of Acela Express high-speed passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor.
Rail service at Kingston is complemented by local and regional bus transportation provided by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA). The station is also located on the William C. O’Neill Bike Path which follows the right-of-way of the former Narragansett Pier Railroad to link Kingston with the sea.
Compared to historic photographs, the clapboard clad Kingston station looks much as it did when it first opened to the public. Pairs of softly curving dormers punctuate the gabled roof and allow ample light to flood the interior. Through the center of the building, running east to west, a narrow second story reaches full height and is capped by a shallow hipped roof and chimney stack. With its windows giving unobstructed views down the tracks, the upper room functioned as the dispatcher’s office from where the signals to the east and west were monitored.
The ground floor originally held separate waiting rooms for men and women (and children), pointing to Victorian notions regarding the acceptable mixing of the sexes in public places. Adjacent to the waiting areas could be found the baggage room and the ticket and telegraph offices. The post office later moved to the site too, truly making the station the center for news that came over the wires or via the mail. Interior decoration included dark wood wainscoting on the walls, as well as decorative trim around the five-paneled doors and the tall windows. A wide canopy supported by oversized brackets wrapped around the station to protect passengers from inclement weather as they waited outside for the arrival of the train.
On the opposite side of the tracks, the railroad constructed a freight house, recognizable by its raised loading dock that was level with the floors of boxcars, thus allowing goods to be easily carted between the building and the train. A parcel express office stood nearby. Both sides of the tracks also had water towers, essential pieces of railroad infrastructure in the era of steam locomotives. The land bordering the station was planted with shade trees that created a pleasant park-like setting for passengers while also acting as a buffer between the noisy, smoky station area and the town beyond.
By the mid-20th century, national transportation policies had shifted towards federal funding of infrastructure for personal automobiles and jet planes. Although Northeast railroads attempted to remain competitive by upgrading tracks, renewing rolling stock, and maintaining older stations, they struggled and were in dire shape by the 1960s. The right-of-way through Kingston was held by three owners in the handful of years before it came under Amtrak’s control in 1976. By that time, the parcel express office and the freight house had been demolished and Kingston station stood in a state of disrepair.
To remedy this situation, local residents led by Barbara Dirlam, Rev. John Hall, and Professor Frank Heppner of the University of Rhode Island formed the all volunteer group “Friends of the Kingston Railroad Station” in 1973 to raise funds and oversee refurbishment of the building. More than 150 townspeople responded, and they worked together to scrape and repaint the old depot so that it could again serve as a point of community pride. Amtrak, which had been formed in 1971, took over responsibility for the property just as efforts were underway. It assisted the Friends by contributing paint and a new station sign. Concurrent with beautification and renovation efforts, the Friends also worked to list the depot on the National Register of Historic Places.
With the painting project completed, the Friends disbanded, but regrouped a decade later in the face of disaster. In December 1988, the Kingston station—built primarily of wood—caught fire and its roof was substantially damaged. Jack McCabe, then Amtrak’s lead clerk at Kingston, contacted Professor Heppner, and the Friends group was reconstituted with a small core that met once a month; membership soon grew to over 100 people, where it remains today. Rather than demolish the building, the Friends advocated for a full rehabilitation of the structure to better serve passengers.
Luckily, in 1991 the U.S. Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which opened up federal transportation funding for a variety of projects beyond highways. Under the guidance of Senator John Chafee, Kingston station was included under the first round of ISTEA funding as a demonstration project emphasizing the preservation of historic transportation-related buildings and the creation of intermodal transportation centers, then a relatively new concept.
Through the efforts of Claiborne Pell, Rhode Island’s other Senator, the state took title to the station and the adjoining land in the early 1990s, and a $3 million, multiyear, award-winning rehabilitation project was carried out. ISTEA funds, granted through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), covered roughly 80% of the costs, with the remainder obtained through bonds issued at the state and local levels. With the pending introduction of high-speed rail service in 2000, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) decided to move the building back 15 feet from the tracks to ensure passenger safety. It was also raised 3 feet to accommodate future high-level boarding platforms. The conclusion of the project was celebrated in 1998 with a day of festivities.
In 2005, Amtrak opened a new glass enclosed pedestrian overpass that allows passengers to easily move between the north and south bound platforms. That same year, RIDOT received $160,000 in federal funding through the FHWA’s Transportation Enhancements program, which was matched with a $40,000 local contribution. The funds were used for operations and maintenance at the Kingston and Westerly stations; the Kingston depot was repainted and water damage to the canopy was repaired. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, RIDOT obtained $300,000 to address further roof repairs. Improvements also continued inside the depot with the creation of the Rhode Island Railroad Museum, which showcases exhibits on regional railroading.
Today, the Friends run the museum, teach children about railroad safety through the Operation Lifesaver Program, mentor an emerging “Young Railroaders” club, and generally keep an eye on the station in order to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. During the holiday season, members decorate the station and bring cheer to travelers through a hospitality stand stocked with fresh coffee and snacks provided by local businesses. Since the late 1990s, ridership at Kingston has risen dramatically, due in part to the work of the Friends who persevered in their long-term efforts to improve the station.
In 1614, Dutch navigator Adriaen Block was one of the first Europeans to view and explore the Rhode Island coast, but the area remained free of European settlement for another generation. What is now Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams, a London-born preacher who had become unhappy with the practices of the Church of England. In 1631, Williams moved to North America where many Puritans, seeking to “purify” the church of any remaining Roman Catholic traditions and theology, had settled in what is now eastern Massachusetts. Williams did not concur with the Puritan leaders on all matters, and thus began a period in which he and his wife moved between various towns. By fall of 1635, Williams had worn out his welcome in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he was faced with deportation. To avoid arrest, he fled westward during the winter, and soon established a community that he termed “Providence,” which later became the capital of the Rhode Island colony.
Settlement in the South County area was made possible through the Pettaquamscutt Purchase of 1657, in which the Narragansett American Indians deeded roughly 12 square miles of land to a group of five men from Newport in exchange for a small payment. Conflict between English settlers in Massachusetts and local American Indian groups resulted in King Phillip’s War. In Kingstown—from which South Kingston was formed in 1723—the fighting was marked by the Great Swamp Massacre of 1675 in which the colonial fighters killed hundreds of Narragansett on the western edge of Worden’s Pond, severely weakening the tribe and eliminating it as a force within the region.
Post-war, the region developed as a vital economic center within the Rhode Island colony, and its rich farmland was coveted by neighboring colonies. In the late 17th century, New England was characterized by small land holdings, most of which were worked by their owners. The southeastern corner of the Rhode Island mainland diverged from this pattern, and became known as the Narragansett Plantations, where landowning families held large tracts that contained hundreds or thousands of acres. Located in a temperate zone with diverse landscapes including rocky outcroppings, salt and freshwater ponds, swamps, and pastures, the plantations were worked by tenant farmers, indentured servants and American Indian and African-American slaves. Corn, potatoes and oats were major crops, and horses, cattle and sheep were raised for export. One of the planters’ most famous products was the Narragansett Pacer, a horse breed known for its dependability.
The wealth generated by the plantations attracted skilled craftsmen, many of whom settled in what is now Kingston, but was then known as Little Rest probably due to the numerous taverns that lined the main roadway through the area. In 1752, the village became the county seat, and an educated populace of lawyers and government figures took up residence. Between 1776 and 1791, the courthouse also served as one of the meeting spots for the General Assembly. The plantation system would flourish until the upheaval of the Revolutionary War years. A few decades later, Rhode Island found itself at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in which cities and their factories came to dominate the economy.
Many of South Kingston’s oldest families remained active in local affairs over many generations. The Hazards bought into a wool-carding operation in 1804 that grew into a major mill along the Saugatucket River. It turned out wool blankets for the Union forces during the Civil War and was later highly regarded for fine goods such as cashmere shawls. The village of Peace Dale grew up around the mill complex, and the Hazards erected a library and other cultural and social institutions for the workers. The Perry family produced two of the country’s greatest naval heroes: Commodores Oliver Hazard Perry and Matthew Calbraith Perry. The former served in the Barbary Wars in North Africa, his career culminating with a victory over the British fleet on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Brother Matthew sailed to Japan in 1853, and the next year he signed a commercial and friendship treaty with the Japanese authorities, thereby opening up the island nation to trade with the West.
Although highways and port facilities were improved to foster regional growth, business and municipal leaders began to search out better and faster ways to obtain raw materials and ship out finished goods. The new railroads seemed to hold the most promise. The New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad (NYP&B) was formed in 1833 due to the merger of two smaller lines that had been chartered in Connecticut and Rhode Island. In November 1837, the section of track between Stonington, Connecticut and Providence opened to the public. At Providence, the state capital, the NYP&B linked with the Boston and Providence Railroad, which had opened between its namesake cities only two years prior. At Stonington, located on Long Island Sound, travelers transferred to steamships to reach New York City.
Laid on the west end of South Kingston, the NYP&B’s tracks bypassed all of the component villages that made up the town. Therefore, a new village formed around the tracks to the west of Kingston, and took the appropriate name of “West Kingston.” Service on the line originally ran three days a week, but demand soon meant that multiple trains were running on a daily basis, and West Kingston grew to accommodate travelers. A simple station was constructed where the tracks crossed Waites Corner Road, only a few hundred feet to the northeast of the current depot. Stations were natural magnets for business and residential development, but landowners around the first station refused to sell or lease adjacent acreage. In 1874, the railroad received permission to relocate the station to its present site.
Within a year of its opening, the new Kingston station became the endpoint for the Narragansett Pier Railroad. Funded by the Hazards as a way to ship out their textiles from Peace Dale, the line covered the eight miles to Narragansett, a town located on the Atlantic Ocean. The railroad also accepted passengers and was popular with vacationers who summered on the shore. Whereas Newport was a getaway for the fabulously wealthy—Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and the like—Narragansett developed into a respectable, slightly lesser cousin. The town’s principal draw was the Narragansett Pier Casino, designed by the noted architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White. Visitors played tennis, polo, and other sports and gathered for dances, musicales, and dinners within its elegant rooms. A great fire in 1905 destroyed much of the center of town, and Narragansett never recovered its former prestige.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, the NYP&B and most other lines in southern New England were absorbed into the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, commonly known as the “New Haven.” It quickly became the dominant freight and passenger line in the region, and controlled the prime inland and coastal routes between Boston and New York City. By the 1920s, the New Haven had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that it carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic. The right-of-way through central Rhode Island and along the Connecticut coast was known as the “Shore Line” to distinguish it from the main line that passed through Springfield, Massachusetts.
More than 170 years after the stop was first established, Kingston remains a busy station along the country’s most heavily used rail corridor. Summer finds tourists heading for the nearby beaches to the east and south, while others catch ferries to Newport and various island destinations. At holidays, such as Thanksgiving, the depot hums with the conversations of homeward bound University of Rhode Island students. Chartered as a state agriculture school in 1888 and located on the 140 acre Oliver Watson farm, the school was elevated to a university in 1951. The Watson farmhouse, dating to the 1790s, still stands on the property and now contains a collection of early 19th century furnishings.
Amtrak provides ticketing, but not baggage services, at this station, which is served by an average 18 daily trains.