Westerly, RI (WLY)
Constructed in 1912, the station features a center block with arcade flanked by two wings. The warm material palette includes red brick, red clay roof tiles, stucco and cream-colored terracotta.
14 Railroad Avenue
Westerly, RI 02891
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 42,560
- Facility Ownership: State of Rhode Island
- Parking Lot Ownership: State of Rhode Island
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Resembling the “great house” of a Mexican hacienda with its arcades and roofs of Spanish tile, the Amtrak depot in Westerly looks out of place in the cool clime of Rhode Island, but is representative of a period in American architecture when designers felt free to draw on a myriad of inspirations from across history and cultures. Constructed in 1912 by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad—commonly referred to as the “New Haven”—it was one of a handful of Spanish Revival style stations built by the company in the early 20th century across southern New England. Interest in the country’s colonial Spanish ties was strong due to the admission of Arizona and New Mexico as states that same year.
The need for a new station as well as a nearby freight warehouse was necessitated by a curve reduction project undertaken by the New Haven. In many ways, the new station’s picturesque and somewhat exotic architecture was an appropriate choice for Westerly, which by the late 19th century had become a gateway to the South County coast. The beaches and coves of the undulating shoreline were favored by wealthy elite that summered in villages such as Watch Hill. Many arrived by train from Boston and New York, and the station would have been their introduction to the summer of fun and splendor to follow.
Approached from Railroad Avenue, the symmetrical structure is easily divided into three distinct parts: the center block and wings to the north and south. The center block rises to one-and-a-half stories, and features an attic level delineated by a stone beltcourse above which are located clerestory windows. To the sides, the wings are slightly lower at only one story, and project beyond the center block to create a shallow, welcoming forecourt at the front of the building. Further enticing travelers, an arcade runs across the facade between the two wings; here, people can wait free of the rain, snow, or hot sun.
Although constructed of rich red, textured brick laid in Flemish bond, most of the building is covered in stucco to keep with the Spanish Revival aesthetic. The brick is instead used to highlight important structural components of the station, such as the base and the quoins. Spanish design is especially noticeable in the choice of roofing material: tejas, or curved red clay tiles. The hipped roofs all display deep eaves that cast strong shadows onto the station walls when the sun shines bright in the summer sky. They also offer passengers some protection from inclement weather while they wait outside for the arrival of the train. Peeking out from beneath the eaves are coved rafter tails that add another decorative element to the roof line, and they are further complemented by paired, heavy brackets on the center block.
To finish off the streetside façade, the architect added a touch of grandeur through the use of tan terracotta decoration. An arched parapet breaks the roofline and is crowned by a scrolled cartouche, or shield, featuring a “W” for the town. Pilasters with Corinthian capitals bear the arch and also support urns with flames of fire that traditionally symbolize the eternal spirit of humankind. Underneath the cartouche is a decorative, circular, inset stone panel framed with a wreath of Laurus nobilis, or bay laurels, which since ancient times have symbolized victory and honor. Below the panel, the year of construction and the railroad’s name take center stage. The symbolism of the urns and wreath indicates that in 1912, the New Haven perhaps had a very positive view of its own power and longevity—not without reason, as by the 1920s, the railroad had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that it carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic.
On the center of the trackside façade there is a projecting rectangular bay with windows on all three sides. It corresponds with the placement of the ticket desk inside, meaning that the station manager could get up from his desk, and without leaving his office, peer out the windows for an unobstructed view down the tracks. Carved wood brackets support a generous canopy along the platform. The adjacent wings were used to store packages and parcels as well as baggage. To reach the far side of the tracks, passengers descend into a “subway” or underground walkway; the entrances to the staircases on the north and south side of the tracks are protected by small stuccoed structures whose hipped roofs and arches mimic those of the depot.
The loftiness of the main waiting room is emphasized by the sunlight that streams through the large double-hung sash windows and those at the clerestory. Although the configuration of the space has varied over time, the five-sided ticket desk remains in place. Its windows are framed by carved wood pilasters that support an entablature and cornice, while the grills display a Greek key motif. Above the central window is a clock that has kept passengers aware of the passing minutes for almost a century.
In the late 1990s, the state of Rhode Island purchased the Westerly station. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), working with the town and Amtrak, proceeded to plan and execute a full restoration of the building that returned it to its 1920s appearance while making allowances for modern mechanical systems such as air conditioning and electrical. The project scope, budgeted at roughly $2 million, included roof replacement, restoration of the waiting room plaster and woodwork, and cleaning and repair of the exterior. A grand black-tie “Function at the Junction” party was held in 1999 to celebrate the completion of the project. In 2005, RIDOT received $160,000 in federal grants through the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancements program, which was then matched with a $40,000 local contribution. The funds were used for operations and maintenance at the neighboring Westerly and Kingston stations.
Under state law, when state funds are used to construct or rehabilitate a building, 1 percent of the total funds must be devoted to the creation and installation of public art. Therefore, the station site received a new sculpture at the corner of Canal Street and Railroad Avenue. Designed by local artist Kam Ghaffari, it incorporates three smooth granite boulders that recall the town’s former quarries and carving workshops. Interspersed among the different colored blocks are three bronze fish drawn from the town seal. They represent the Westerly salmon that were noted by early 17th century colonists. The station restoration has been viewed as a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Westerly. Efforts such as new streetscaping have been funded through $710,000 in Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as by additional contributions from the Providence-based Rhode Island Foundation.
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 by fall of 1635, he had worn out his welcome in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Faced with arrest and deportation, Williams fled westward during the winter, and soon established a community that he termed “Providence.”
When European colonists first explored the Westerly area in the early 17th century, the shores of the lower Pawcatuck River, where it empties into Little Narragansett Bay, were known as Misquamicut, meaning “a place for catching salmon.” The territory was shared between various American Indian groups who came to take advantage of the abundant fish stocks, and its fame as a fishing area later influenced the seal of Westerly, which displays three salmon. In 1669, the town was incorporated with about 30 resident families.
For the most part, the region remained largely unsettled well into the mid-18th century. This was in part due to conflict between Massachusetts and Connecticut settlers and local American Indian groups that culminated in King Philip’s War of 1675-1676. A triumph for the colonists, the conflict secured southern New England for colonial expansion. Following the war, western Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut remained disputed territory until the border—established at the Pawcatuck—was delineated in 1728. A permanent bridge over the Pawcatuck was finally constructed around 1712, and the area around it became known as Pawcatuck Bridge (today the towns of Pawcatuck and Westerly). Although divided by the river, they have long operated as one community, sharing essential facilities such as a post office and wharves.
As in many coastal towns, shipbuilding became a major industry along the river, with boats constructed for the fishing trade, and later for whaling. To guide mariners, the colonial government financed the erection of a beacon in 1745 where the river met Block Island Sound, in an area referred to as Watch Hill. Rhode Island was also one of the first states to embrace the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution, and model mill villages were formed across the state. A mill complex north of Westerly was purchased by the Knight Brothers of Providence in 1875, and subsequently produced cloth marketed under the “Fruit of the Loom” brand.
The expansion of industrial concerns led business and municipal leaders began to seek out better and faster ways to obtain materials and ship finished goods. The new railroads, although rough around the edges during their early, experimental years, 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, which passed through Westerly, opened to the public. At Providence, 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.
Early depots varied in design precisely because they were a new building type. Westerly’s first station, erected the year the NYP&B arrived, was a one story combination depot, meaning that the passenger and freight functions were housed under one roof. Located in the general vicinity of the present station building, it stood between a pair of tracks, with the north one serving passengers and the south reserved for freight business.
An east-west route along the Connecticut coast proved a challenge to rail investors, for any trackage would have to cross numerous rivers and take into account the undulating shoreline. In 1848, the New Haven and New London Railroad (NH&NL) was chartered to build a line between its namesake cities, and it opened in the summer of 1852. That same year, the New London and Stonington Railroad was chartered, thereby bridging the gap between the NH&NL and the NYP&B. In 1857, the New London and Stonington merged with the NH&NL to form the New Haven, New London, and Stonington Railroad (NHNL&S); the long awaited connection with the NYP&B was made in December 1858, and through service between Boston and New York began the next year.
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. 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. 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.
For approximately $8,000, the New Haven replaced the original depot in 1872 with a larger, more modern one story facility. It had a gabled roof with prominent cross gables facing the tracks and the street; a canopy supported by oversized brackets wrapped around the building. The old station was moved across the tracks and added onto the freight shed. These structures were all demolished in 1911-1912 when the New Haven undertook its curve reduction project to level out Dixon Hill and construct the present station, freight house, and sidings.
Westerly’s greatest wealth was discovered by Orlando Smith, a Connecticut stonemason who came upon an outcropping of granite in 1846. Upon further investigation, he and others discovered that the town sat on vast deposits of the stone, which was present in colors such as white, blue, pink and red. The best granite was recognized for its fine grain, strength, and uniform color, and quickly became popular for use in sculpture, while lesser quality deposits were broken up for more utilitarian uses such as paving and curb stones.
Towards the ends of the century, the impact of Smith’s discovery was clear: in 1892, almost 60 percent of Westerly residents were somehow engaged in the granite industry, and the town was known far and wide for its artistic output. Guidebooks listed the quarries and workshops as prime tourist attractions. Skilled immigrants, including many from Italy, which was famous for its marble, settled in Westerly and produced sculpture that still graces thousands of public parks, plazas, historic national battlefields, and cemeteries. Carvers developed specialized skills, with some excelling in letter cutting while others became famous for their human forms. The large quarries thrived well into the 20th century, but work slowed considerably during the Great Depression and many of the companies closed after a brief revival during World War II.
Just as the materials of the earth made Westerly prosperous, its natural beauty also made the area a sought after tourist destination. Located on a glacial moraine, the town is dotted with picturesque hills, salt and freshwater ponds, meadows, and beautiful sandy beaches. From the mid-19th century onward, Watch Hill grew into a famed resort attracting a summer crowd from as far as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that populated its grand Victorian era hotels and later put up fashionable seaside mansions designed by the best architects of the day.
The village remains a popular vacation spot, noted for its sheltered cove. Kids may enjoy a ride on the nation’s only surviving “flying horse” carousel. Decorated with paintings of horses and cheerful seaside scenes, it elicits thrills from riders young and old due to the fact that the hand carved wooden horses are suspended from the ceiling by rods and chains and thus swing outward when in movement. Summer in Westerly kicks off with the annual Pawcatuck River Duck Race held in late April. More than 20,000 yellow rubber ducks are launched into the water to begin their nail-biting sprint to the finish line. Cheering bystanders take chances on the ducks for various prizes, and all the proceeds benefit local school programs and charities. Later in the summer, residents and visitors alike enjoy movies on the beach, the surf gently rolling in the distance. The season comes to a close in late August with River Glow, during which more than 30 floating fires on the Pawcatuck add an element of mystery and magic to a night of entertainment that includes musical performances, face painting, and dancing.
Amtrak provides ticketing, but not baggage services, at this station, which is served by an average 13 daily trains.
- 30 Short Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift