A Brief History of the William C. O’Neill Bike Path

Written by Bob Votava

The William C. O’Neill Bike Path, initially called the Kingston-Narragansett Bike Path, and then the South County Bike Path is located on the easement of the former Narragansett Pier Railroad. After the railroad stopped running in 1968, the first alternate use suggested was not a bike path, but instead a public school rail train. This very ingenious idea for bringing students to and from South Kingstown’s public schools was put forth by a former community organization called the Citizens Advisory Committee. The rail line passed by every school escept two, and a study showed that every child was within one-half hour walking distance from the railroad. This was certainly a model for today’s town planning.

Members of the committee included the late Frosty Drew and Leona Kelley (who later became a State Representative), and her son John G. Kelley. Their objective was for this commuter train to serve as the Town’s school tranportation system, and to vastly reduce the nuber of school buses, which today contribute to the congestion of our local roads. They presented their proposal to the Town’s school superintendent, who was not prepared for such a visionary concept and denied their request. If the concept had been implemented, it might have been the first “school train” in the country, and today it would likely be upgraded to a light-rail system to serve all residents of the area.

In 1981 local mil owner and Town councilman Anthony Guariello purchased the railroad. Both he and State Senator William O’Neill agreed that a bike path was the logical use for the easement, which could safely bring children to school by foot or bicycle. They successfully advocated the concept to the Town, and the State who had access to funding for bike paths. In 1991, the engineering firm of Fay, Spoffard & Thorndike completed the feasibility study for the path. Other bike paths in the state were also competing for limited resources, and the SCBP needed a constituency to convince the State DOT that South Kingstown was deserving to be next for construction dollars. In 1995, the Friends of the South County Bike Path was established.

During the next few years, the FSCBP worked with the Town of South Kingstown, State DOT, the Governor’s Office along with State and local elected officials, to promote the bike path. Federal representatives who have helped include the late Senator John Chafee, Senator Lincoln Chafee, and former Congressman Bob Weygand. Phase I was complete in 2000 and Phase II in 2003, for a total of 5.6 miles. Today Phase III is advertised to begin construction in 2009. Congressman Weygand and the FSCBP advocated that the path conclude at the South County Museum, neighboring the Atlantic Ocean. This outcome depends on the communities advocationg for it. Phase IV is in design.

A Brief History of the Narragansett Pier Railroad

Written by Bob Votava

Narragansett Pier, R.I. (today called Narragansett) was established as a small seacoast village, originally located in the town of South Kingstown. Their pier was built in 1813, mainly to supply lumber to inland villages. One was Wakefield, 3 miles away, in which the Hazard family had established a textile mill powered by the Saugatucket River. The mill was north of town in a valley named Peace Dale, and 3 miles farther norhtwest was Kingston, the county seat. Nearby were West Kingston the Stonington Rail Road (today the Amtrak line).

As the Mill developed, coal became the preferred source for power, but was expensive to haul from the Pier. In the 1860’s, the Hazard’s began thinking about building a railroad, but it was not built until 1876, and in onlly 5 months. The route from Narragansett Pier to West Kingston and the Stonington RR was 8.5 miles.

The NPRR was built not only to ship supplies inland, but also to carry passengers from the Stonington RR to the Pier, where a small steamboat would complete the journey across the bay to the exclusive resort of Newport. Narragansett Pier prospered and many hotels were built forming a more modest “Newport” on the West Bay. The railroad was never very profitable, but the passenger business paid dividends for investors. This resulted in the construction of three modest sized stations. They were located in Wakefield, Peace Dale and on the embankment of the bay on South Pier, and all were exemplary of railroad style architecture. The Kingston Station was built for the Stonington RR.

As we see our northeast section of the Amtrak line being electrified, it is interesting to note that NPRR included a partially electrified section for a breif period. A roadside inter-urban line known as the Sea View Electric Rail Road (a trolley) reached Narragnasett Pier from the north. It then turned west onto the NPRR tracks and went as far as the Peace Dale station. This electrified section of the NPRR was in operation only from 1902 to 1920 and was discontinued because of financial demise.

Gradually shipping at the Pier diminished and was replaced by a rail interchange at West Kingston. In 1946 the Hazard family sold the NPRR to industrialist Royal Little, who soon sold it to the Wakefield Branch Company. Passenger business declined and was permanently discontinued in 1951, with tracks removed from Wakefield to Narragnasett. The next owner was Dr. Miller from Connecticut who in 1981 sold it to the owner of the Palisades Industry Mill in Peace Dale, and former Town Council President Anthony Guariello who still owns portions of the easement. The remainder was sold or given to the Town and/or indivicuals.

(Information from the September 1974 issue used with permission from Model Railroader Magazine)

A Brief History of the Kingston Train Station

By Martha McCabe

On June 1, 1875 the present station opened with its “long spacious platforms and carriage drives…(it) might well be termed the model station of the road.”1 The American public welcomed rail service to their communities and the Kingston Station provided passenger and freight service for the South County area. The mail service and the telegraph were other benefits of the train station location.

The Victorian chalet-like style of the station is representative of the “balloon-frame, Stick Style architecture of the General Grant era.”2 The station’s two identical waiting rooms existed for the gentlemen and their spittoons on one side and on the opposite side, a convenient area for the genteel ladies and children. Lighting emanated from kerosene-fixtures hung from the central ornamental medallion in each waiting room and the outside lamps. Heating from a huge potbelly wood stove gave the station its warmth for the winter.

The Kingston Station weathered many hurricanes and disasters. But the reduced funding for the railroads in the 1960s was its lowest point. With the advent of Amtrak and later through the Friends of the Kingston Station helping to secure funding for painting the station for the country’s bicentennial in 1976, the station continued its service in better condition.

At the end of 1988, a significant fire ravaged the norheast corner of the building and the roof. Thankfully, the building had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places through the efforts of Dr. Edward Nichols of URI, and a founding member fo the Friends of the Kingson Station. The station was not demolished, and temporarily repaired. A complete renovation began in 1997 and included moving it 20 feet back from the tracks to it’s present location. This move was to provide for safety of passengers from the high speed Acela trains which began service in 1999.

Saving the station became a decade’s-long project for the FOKS. By the date of teh grand opening celebration in 1998, over ten thousand volunteer hours were logged on behalf of this restoration project. Today, the station is the oldest continuously operating wooden train station on the East Coast.

Th station was one of the first ISTEA (federally funded) demonstration projects. Thus, the Kingston Station became a national prototype for an intermodel transportation center. Today the station is a hub for rail travel, RIPTA bus service, commuter parking, taxi service and the William C. O’Neill Bike Path, which begins at the southern end of the parking lot.

For additional information, essays and books, see http://trainweb.com/kin

1. Stewart Schneider, Model Station of the Road: The Story of the Kingston Railroad Station, 1974 pg. 1

2. Kingston Intermodel Facility, FHA RIDOT, Fredric Harris, 1996 pg. 3

3. Martha McCabe, “Kingston Train Station–A History,” 2000