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A little over 110 years ago, on June 25, 1904, at a time long before environmental impact studies and building permit requirements, the rail wars of South County officially began.  At first light on that fine Saturday morning two enormous work crews working for two separate rail lines met at the site of the rail overpass known as the Hunt’s River Crossing on the North Kingstown – East Greenwich border and set to work. The crew laboring for the New Haven Line, one of a long string of predecessors to today’s Amtrak, constructed two long wooden passenger platforms along its northbound and southbound tracks, and the workers toiling for the Sea View Electric Trolley line labored away at installing a spur from their line down a slight grade ending alongside the newly constructed passenger platforms.  This initial “blitzkrieg” action in the smoldering battle between three of South County’s four rail companies was completed before darkness set in.

The New Haven Railroad, the obvious “alpha dog” of transportation in southern New England, had always had a contentious relationship with the third party in this battle, the Narragansett Pier Railroad (NPRR); and in the spring of 1904 they decided to strike preemptively and began secret negotiations with the Sea View Line to intersect the NPRR’s bread and butter business, through passengers from Providence headed to the Pier, and redirect it to the Sea View Line. The negotiations and the subsequent contract were kept “on the QT” and the construction activity at the Hunt’s River was performed on the weekend so as to draw a minimum amount of attention. But during that week before the Fourth of July –well during that week, the media blitz began. Four express trains each weekend morning out of Providence met with four electric trolley express runs from Hunt River to the Pier and the exact same arrangements occurred each late afternoon/evening. In forty minutes, for only $1 round trip, a hot sweaty hard-working Providence factory worker and his family could be on the beaches of Narragansett or strolling the Casino grounds. This was 25 cents cheaper and one half hour quicker than utilizing the NPRR out of Kingston, and there was no longer any reason to lug your picnic basket the three quarters mile from the NPRR’s Boon Street station to the beach, as the Sea View’s Ouida Station was right there next to the Pier beach house. And heck, if you didn’t feel like hauling that picnic basket, the Sea View folks had arranged a ticket upgrade that included a shore dinner at a nearby Narragansett Pier hotel. As you can imagine the effect upon NPRR weekend ridership was immediate and devastating. The NPRR lashed back at the only entity they could, the Sea View Electric Trolley Line, when they voided their long standing contract which allowed trackage rights over NPRR owned lines for Sea View cars heading into Wakefield and Peacedale.  In 1907, the Sea View struck back, now backed by not only the New Haven Line, but Marsden Perry’s enormous and powerful United Electric Railway, it constructed its own tracks from Sea View Junction, over the south side of Tower Hill and down the center of Main Street in Wakefield stopping abruptly just north of the NPRR tracks. The NPRR retaliated when they refused to allow the Sea View to cross their tracks, thereby by quashing the dreams, held by both the Sea View management and powerful Providence transportation mogul Marsden Perry, of trolley service from one end of the state to the other.  

Throughout all these battles, the New Haven Line, like a kid who had just poked a giant hornet’s nest with a stick, sat back and waited for it all to settle down. They couldn’t lose you see, no matter who emerged victorious from the South County Rail War, they still needed the New Haven Line, at least that’s what their management thought . But, it was all a moot point really, a new kid with a bigger stick was soon moving in down the street. That “kid’s” name was Henry Ford and his stick, the Model T, would change everything.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

(2) comments

Amanda C. McDaniel

Knowing about the history of Rail wars in the Swamptown area was pretty interesting for me. I was not aware of real reason behind these rail wars that officially began in the South County but you have provided well information covering all of these aspects in this article. You can studyclerk.com/essay-writing-help for help in research writing. Being history student, your posted information is really useful for me.

Velva Brune

I really enjoed to read this articale. nicely done

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