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Kingston Free Library and Little Rest Archives (Kings County Courthouse; Little Rest Museum, Old County Records Office)

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Kings County Courthouse; Little Rest Museum, Old County Records Office
Library: 1775, 1876. 1951, restoration of portion of second floor, John H. Cady. 1995, Extrados. Archives: 1857–1858. 2605 Kingston Rd.
  • Kingston Free Library and Little Rest Archives (Kings County Courthouse; Little Rest Museum, Old County Records Office) (John M. Miller)

When the original Kings County Courthouse was moved to Little Rest in 1752, it occupied a site directly across the road. It was demolished after it was replaced by this building in 1775. The present building served as the county courthouse but also as one of the five original state houses in five different locations around the state among which the legislature rotated between 1776 and 1791. Later, it met here biennially from 1842 to 1854.

Originally, the courthouse was a big barn of a building with a substantially projecting tower topped with the existing bell cupola. The insertion of a mansard roof over a bracketed cornice in 1876 raised the cupola and completely transformed the character of the building. Now the large scale of the flared mansard with scoop curve and decorated dormers takes visual precedence, and the original building appears to be the base of what is above, especially for the climactic sequence of forms from mansard to faceted cone to the cupola. The cupola simultaneously caps the building and curiously seems to float above it as a levitated gazebo. The double door into the tower with its bracketed hood also belongs to the Victorian remodeling and can be compared to the more sedate, more planar doors at either end of the building, which are original. The building also retains its row of granite posts in front, which support a continuous pipe for mass hitching.

Inside, the first story retains the open plan (although densely “furnished” with freestanding book shelving) with a row of Doric columns across the middle of the building, the same configuration seen in the Newport Colony House, on which this smaller, less expensive version was modeled. Only a fragment remains of the northeast (right rear) corner staircase, superseded by the vertical circulation system and new entrance installed as part of the renovations.

The gabled box in square-cut, rough-faced granite beside the courthouse was built for the storage of court records. The only openings are metal doors flanked by two windows with metal sash, all surrounded by the bluntest of granite frames, which are smoothly finished to contrast with the walls. After the court moved out of Kingston the structure served a variety of purposes. In 1951 it became a museum and 1971 the Little Rest Archives, which houses early land and genealogical records.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


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William H. Jordy et al., "Kingston Free Library and Little Rest Archives (Kings County Courthouse; Little Rest Museum, Old County Records Office)", [South Kingstown, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 390-390.

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