A Bright Yellow Coat of Paint and a Dedicated Group of Volunteers Keep Kingston Station Alive

A bright yellow coat of paint and a dedicated group of volunteers keep Kingston Station alive. This historic wood frame New York, Providence and Boston railroad depot has served the community since 1875.

It replaced a former CN Outer Station that was located west of the city limits. The new location allowed CN to shift the mainline tracks north eliminating a long curve to the south.

The History

The Kingston railroad station, built at this site in 1875, is a rare surviving example of a rural railway depot from the late nineteenth century. It has recently attracted community and institutional attention and preservation action. The building is significant for its vernacular architectural quality and design, as well as its role in the history of railroad transportation in Rhode Island.

Imagine yourself transported back to the year 1849. A tree-barren level field suddenly becomes congested with men, construction equipment, and materials. Rugged men are transforming the area into a railroad “Y” (or WYE using proper railroad terminology). Two sets of additional tracks fastened to roughhewn crossties emerge from the main line running north from Rome and connect it with the Western and Atlantic Railroad main line. A large depot constructed of limestone blocks sits beside the tracks.

Initially, the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad’s tracks bypassed each of the component villages that made up the town of Kingston. Nevertheless, the demand for rail travel increased quickly. As a result, passenger trains were soon running on a daily basis. A simple station arose where the tracks crossed Waites Corner Road. Landowners were reluctant to sell or lease adjacent acreage, so the station and a village developed around the 1855 two-story stone Outer Station located about 3 miles (5 km) stagecoach ride north from downtown Kingston.

The Site

Located in the heart of Kingston, this historic train station is surrounded by restaurants that are among the region’s best, local shopping opportunities and the beautiful William C. O’Neill Bike Path that follows the old Narragansett Pier Railroad right-of-way. Free campus shuttle buses serve the station during URI class hours weekdays during the academic year.

Amtrak’s work to revitalize Kingston Station is an example of a multi-modal transportation center. The project has introduced new, accessible high-level platforms – meaning the platform is at the same level as the train cars – and passenger information displays. It has also added a third track to improve capacity and allow trains to pass those stopped at the station.

The historic wood frame New York, Providence and Boston Railroad depot has been serving the community since 1875. It has survived changes in national transportation policy, a fire and a few rounds of remodeling. Today, the station is watched over by a dedicated group of volunteers known as the Friends of Kingston Station.

In addition to RIPTA bus service, the station is within walking distance of the University’s landmark 2021 Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize winning Town House which provides performance, learning, exhibition and community spaces. The University is committed to providing a supportive and accessible environment for its students, staff and visitors. Detailed accessibility guides for this and all our sites can be found on the AccessAble website (external link).

The Building

The first station building was a small ticket office and loading platform that opened in 1875. It promoted the development of the village of West Kingston and encouraged further railroad activity, including freight house, coal yards, and lumber yards.

The building was so dilapidated that in 1972, a pair of activists from the URI community, Rev. John Hall and Barbara Dirlam, put out a call for a meeting to discuss how to restore the station. Over 150 townspeople came together to scrape, chip, and paint the old depot. They formed an all volunteer group that would spend tens of thousands of hours on the task. The group was known as the Friends of the Kingston Railroad Station.

Martone completed a significant exterior historic renovation of the Kingston Station in 2007. The project earned the group a PIPP Award for both its quality and complexity. The next phase of the work will address interior historic preservation, a complex task in a busy rail environment with as many as five trains passing through each hour at 130 miles per hour.

The Kingston Go Cycle scheme is a powerful example of how civic infrastructure can be beautiful, functional and accessible. By introducing up to date cycling facilities within a new linear landscaped park with public realm, the design re-addresses the balance of priorities away from cars towards more sustainable and sociable modes of transport, benefiting everyone in the local community.

The Friends

During the 1920s and 1930s, national transportation policies shifted towards funding infrastructure for personal automobiles and jet planes, leaving the railroads struggling to remain competitive. By the end of World War II, rail traffic had revived, but lack of resources meant the aging depot in Kingston was not upgraded to accommodate modern passenger trains. By the time the station came under Amtrak ownership, it was in serious need of repair and renovation.

In 1974 a group of concerned residents led by Barbara Dirlam and Rev. John Hall along with Professor Frank Heppner of URI, formed an all volunteer group called the Friends of the Kingston Railroad Station to find a way to refurbish the structure. The Friends quickly organized a series of volunteer coordinated workdays and scraped, sanded and repainted the weather worn building to transform it into a facility both the community and Amtrak passengers could use and be proud of.

Today the station is a busy Amtrak stop. The station serves thousands of people a year, most of them traveling to Newport or Providence for jobs, and the terminal hums with conversations of homeward bound University of Rhode Island students. In addition to the train service, the bus loop at the station is used by local and regional RIPTA buses as well as by the William C. O’Neill Bike Path that follows the old Narragansett Pier Railroad right-of-way through Kingston to the sea.

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