Historic Structures

Kingston Train Station, South Kingston Rhode Island

Date added: November 10, 2016 Categories: Rhode Island Train Station

In the 1830s, the principal mode of travel from Boston to New York was by stagecoach to Providence, with transfer to steamer from Providence to New York. As the ride could be difficult and the route often compromised by weather, it became increasingly apparent that alternative land-based transportation was a necessity. In 1835, the Boston and Providence Railroad was opened from Boston to India Point, east of the Providence Harbor. A second rail line on the west side of the harbor, the New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad opened in 1837 from Providence to Stonington, Connecticut. This line was known popularly as the Stonington Line. Passengers travelling through were ferried across the harbor between the two lines until 1847 when they were joined. The final allrail route between Boston and New York was not completed until 1889 when the drawbridge over the Thames River between Groton and New London, Connecticut was completed. In 1892, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad leased the New York, Providence, and Boston, and in 1893 acquired the Boston and Providence line, subsequently operating the run between Boston and New York.

The opening of the railroad to Stonington in 1837 was an important occasion for South Kingstown, for it made the small town one of the first in the nation to be served by this relatively new means of transportation. The first American passenger train had begun operation seven years earlier and there were only 2,000 miles of track in the United States at the time. The new railroad was put through what was to become the village of West Kingston. The first Kingston depot was built west of the tracks to the north of Waites Corner Road, an east-west thoroughfare in the village. At the time, there was a store adjacent to the depot and a neighboring residence, otherwise the area was undeveloped.

Local business people initiated a campaign to build a new station in the early 1870s when they petitioned railroad authorities to erect a depot south of the existing station. The original location proved to be inconvenient for several reasons. The depot was sited at-grade near the intersection of Waites Corner Road. Long trains blocked the intersection, especially when there was freight to be handled.

Also, the land adjacent to the depot was in private ownership and not available for development. This restricted expansion of the station and prevented construction of a vitally-needed freight yard. This also precluded the establishment of new businesses in the vicinity of the station. Another reason for the relocation may have been related to. plans that were developing at the time for the construction of the Narragansett Pier Railroad. The spur railroad was proposed to run from Narragansett through Wakefield and Peace Dale to connect to the main railroad at West Kingston. A new station located on the east side of the tracks at the proposed rail junction would provide access between the two lines.

In 1874, the Rhode Island State 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 corporations 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 new location, one-half mile southwest of the earlier depot and on the east side of the tracks between Waites Corner Road and Liberty Lane, allowed long freight trains to stand at the station without disrupting other traffic. It also permitted easier access for passengers, most of whom came from Kingston and Peace Dale to the east. A new section of road was built west of the Chipuxet Creek Bridge to provide access to the site. This road eventually became part of State Route 138, the primary east-west highway through this area.

An article in The Narragansett Times describes the station, then under construction:

“... a new station house, tasty in style and architecture, supplied with modern accommodations and appliances, the comfort of the travelling 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 rooms, 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. Two tank houses, furnished with water by a curiously constructed windmill and pump, supply the locomotives. A small steam engine has been set to be used when there is no wind.

A neat looking two story dwelling house adorns the extreme northeast corner of the lot, as a residence for the station agent. The grounds to the east and north of the station have been set with thrifty shade trees, and at no distant period will afford both shade and shelter to man and beast. With its long spacious platforms and graveled carriage drives, this might well be termed the model station of the road.”

A ca. 1875 photograph of the station shows the depot as it originally appeared with its decorative cantilevered canopy surrounding the building on all four sides. A hooded platform also rings the buildings and extends for some length north and south along the tracks. Lamps on stanchions provide illumination. The original wood railing at the circular drive is visible in this photograph. This was later replaced by the existing granite and metal fence. The freight house west of the tracks is a simple gable roofed, one-and-one-half story structure with vertical board and batten siding. This was completed the following year. One of the tank houses described in the 1875 article is visible in the photograph to the north of the freight house.

The station opened on June 1, 1875. The new depot became the center of community activity and promoted further development in the area. In addition to describing the new station, The Narragansett Times article also details the beginning of development of West Kingston Village.

“Messrs. Watson & Wells, two of our enterprising business men, have just completed a large store, packing house, and sheds. They propose dealing in poultry, calves, and farm produce. Flour, grain, coal and wood, patent manures, etc. Their location, with their business integrity, will secure for them, as it already has, a large share of public patronage, and as pioneers to the new settlement we wish them success. Through the endeavors of J.G. Clarke, Esq., the Post Office Department have established a Post Office at the station, naming it West Kingston ...

Mr. Joseph Sherman has in process of building a new residence, the size and style same as that of Mr. William Watson's at the old depot.”

These structures were apparently located on the new highway near the new railroad crossing. The Everts and Richards map of 1895 indicates that Mr. Sherman's house appears to still stand, facing the station at the east end of the circular drive.

In July 1876 the Narragansett Pier Railroad was completed, with Kingston Railroad Station as its western terminus. The tracks extended to the south end of the station allowing the long wood platform along the main rail to serve both lines. A turntable to the south of the station allowed engines to turn around. Remnants of the track and turntable are still visible. Narragansett Pier was a fashionable summer resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and Kingston Railroad Station witnessed summer residents passing through en route to private cottages and public hotels at the shore.

By 1895, the new station location fostered development of a substantial village known as West Kingston. The village developed primarily along the east-west highway (now Route 138) with approximately twelve houses, a boarding house or hotel, and at least two stores. The Rhode Island College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts (now the University of Rhode Island) was established a few miles to the east in 1889 and increased traffic through Kingston Railroad Station. The courthouse, previously located in nearby Kingston, was relocated to West Kingston in 1894. During this period, the Washington County Fairground was established near the station to the west of the tracks. A freight house, coal yards, and lumber yards developed at the periphery of the station to facilitate the delivery of goods into West Kingston and the shipment of local produce out of the area.

A review of historic photographs of the station documents changes at the site. By the late nineteenth century, the tank house to the east of the tracks had been removed, and a new gable-roofed tank house had been built to the north of the station on the east side of the tracks. This structure was subsequently replaced in the early twentieth century, by a one-story, gable roofed building with overhanging eaves and a large, square tower element at its south end. The building, located 128.7 feet to the north of the depot measured approximately 88. 7' in length, 14' deep, and was sited 11.6' from the tracks. It was composed of four separate but attached railroad offices and accommodated, from south to north, the original switching tower, the Railroad Express Agency, Inc., the baggage and shipping functions, and the maintenance room. A small shed north of this switching tower c.ompleted the complex at the height of the station's development in the first decades of the twentieth century.

By the early twentieth century the original canopy along the tracks at the west side of the station was replaced with a much longer platform canopy. The original wood platform had been paved, and the station may have been raised to accommodate a change in the elevation of the railroad tracks or platform. A third track was laid in 1918 to serve local traffic running as far north as Davisville, Rhode Island and was later removed. A freestanding switching tower was built by approximately 1930.

In 1936, a reinforced concrete railroad overpass was constructed at Route 138 to replace the original grade crossing. The construction of the bridge, its approaches, and embankments required the demolition or relocation of eight structures and drastically altered the setting of the village and station. The existing access roads to the station date from this period.

The rise of the automobile in the 1920s resulted in a decline of rail travel that continues to the present day. Use of the railroad revived briefly during World War II because of the gasoline shortage and the proximity of the railroad to the Quonset Naval Air Station. In the late 1940s, war-related prosperity lead the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad to propose modernization of the facilities at Kingston Station. Town officials rallied to upgrade the existing station rather than replace it with a new structure. Unfortunately, declining revenues in the 1950s derailed any modernization plans, along with the rail company's commitment to the facility. Kingston Railroad Station then entered a quarter century of deferred maintenance and neglect. Photographs from the late 1950s reveal that much of the early complex of structures surrounding the station was still extant, including the freight house to the west of the tracks, the early twentieth century baggage house and the switching tower on the east side. Declining ridership, however, resulted in the demolition of the freight and baggage structures in 1969, at which time the fate of the station and switching tower were also in question.

A local citizen's group, The Friends of the Kingston Station was formed after the fire in 1973, dedicated to the preservation of the station, development of its grounds, and the promotion and revitalization of rail travel in the Northeast Corridor. The Friends spearheaded a drive to reclaim the station from its decline, and successfully secured support from the railroad. In 1974, the station was restored and refurbished with funding from the railroad and extensive volunteer effort by the group. The Friends were also instrumental in moving the switching tower to its current location north of the Route 138 overpass. While separated from the station, its relocation assured its preservation.

The north end of the station was heavily damaged by a fire in December 1988. The station suffered subsequent damage from further deferred maintenance and exposure to the elements. Considerable emergency repair and stabilization was undertaken in early 1994 to prepare the building for its relocation and subsequent restoration and reuse in 1995.