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Kingston

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Kingston (note that the village is Kings ton, as opposed to South Kings town, both pronounced as spelled) was Little Rest until around 1825. Apparently no farmer's grumble accounted for its wry designation, but soldiers who camped here before the Battle of the Great Swamp (1675), which ended the hegemony of the Narragansett tribe in the area. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, in appearance and history, Kingston was reminiscent of two other inland Rhode Island villages—Union Village in North Smithfield and Hopkinton City in Hopkinton (see under those towns). Like them, Kingston came to flourish as a regional transportation hub with the attendant bustle of shops, blacksmithing, inns, taverns, and the sort of well-heeled rural professional elite of lawyers, bankers, and doctors typically drawn to such centers. Kingston's function as a transportation hub and the legal and banking center for the Narragansett plantation culture was augmented by the move in 1752 of the Washington County Courthouse from Tower Hill on the Post Road to Little Rest (where it originally stood directly across the road from its extant 1775 replacement). During the late eighteenth century and early decades of the nineteenth, all this activity supported relatively lavish building. An academy followed the courthouse in migrating from Tower Hill to Little Rest; originally the Pettaquamscutt Academy, it later changed its name with the village. The Rhode Island Advocateappeared in the 1830s as the first newspaper in the southern part of the state. Then, without water power to attract industry and bypassed by railroads, Kingston, like Union Village and Hopkinton City, stagnated economically, and for the same reasons. In Kingston's case, railroad building inflicted a double insult. First, the main New York–Boston line went west of the village, necessitating the creation of West Kingston. Then the Hazards ran their spur from the Kingston Railroad Station, well south of Kingston, directly to Peace Dale, Wakefield, and Narragansett Pier. The removal of the county court to West Kingston in 1876 was a further blow to the village. Then, the already foundering Kingston Academy finally collapsed after a major fire in 1882. But throughout these adversities a sense of gentility hovered over Kingston, as well as its two sister towns, all three precariously sustained by old money, the sense of old culture, and the threadbare economy of certain transactions which continued by custom. Such conditions also protected the old buildings, since there was little call for replacements. So, there they sat for decades, in the three villages, waiting for nostalgia to return their old luster. Of the three, Kingston has the most extensive and varied architectural heritage. By contrast with its sister towns in North Smithfield and Hopkinton, Kingston had significant counters to stagnation: first, for a while, the county courthouse, then, after 1889, what is now the University of Rhode Island.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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