For most of its time after settlement in the early 1700s Kingston was known as Little Rest. No one really knows why. An early theory maintained that troops rested here while fighting in King’s Philip’s War in 1675. In Colonial times as many as five taverns operated here so there was ample opportunity for a little rest in the village for travelers.
The Washington County government set up here in 1752 and Little Rest joined the five-town rotation of the Rhode Island Assembly. Still the village remained clustered around its traditional core. After 1840 few buildings were added and when the village name was changed in 1885 to Kingston the population was still less than 300.
A few years later the school that is now the University of Rhode Island arrived but it developed to the north of Kinston Village. Walking down Kingstown Road you won’t even know it is there. In Rhode Island: A Guide to the Smallest State, compiled during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Kingston is described as “a quiet town with a wide main street, untouched by commercialism, and lined with elm trees, some of which are from 150 to 200 years old.”
That description would apply to our walking tour, except that there are more cars on Kingstown Road and the trees are 80 years older...
Washington County Jail/Pettaquamscutt Historical Society
2636 Kingstown Road
What looks today like a well-groomed, peaceful stone house was in fact the county jail when it was built in 1858. The granite walls are buried three feet in the ground and are three feet thick. If any prisoner thought about tunneling to freedom the floors were two feet thick with a coating of concrete. The ceilings are stone and the doors and windows made of heavy iron. The first Kingston jail was built across the street and replaced with a two-story wooden jail on this site in 1792. The prisoners were kept in cell rooms upstairs while the jailer’s family lived downstairs. Breakouts were common with such a set-up. In 1812 two prisoners escaped by burning part of the jail and in 1827 came the Great Escape - everyone broke out. There were still escapes after this fortress was constructed but they were not the fault of the building. In 1956 Rhode Island closed its four county jails in Kingston, East Greenwich, Bristol and Newport in favor of a state prison system. In 1960 the newly formed Pettaquamscutt Historical Society bought the jail for $1.00 and has adapted the building as its headquarters.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE OLD JAIL TURN RIGHT AND WALK DOWN KINGSTOWN ROAD, STAYING ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE ROAD.
Kingston Congregational Church
2610 Kingstown Road
The first Congregationalist sermons in Kingstown were preached in 1695. Construction on the current church began in July of 1820 on land donated by Elisha Reynolds Potter who served several times as the Speaker in the Rhode Island State Assembly and as a United States Representative from 1796 to 1797 and 1809 to 1815. On January 17, 1821 the meetinghouse was dedicated; the town clock arrived in 1877.
John Douglas House
2574 Kingstown Road
The core of this two-story yellow frame house with a gable roof, central stone chimney, green shutter, small-paned windows and a side ell, is one of the oldest in Kingston, erected in 1753.
Kingston Hill Store
2528 Kingstown Road
This two-story building of weathered clapboards was built in 1897 as a general store. It has been an emporium of sorts ever since, most recently dispensing rare books and antiques.
Kingstown Road at Route 138
Elisha Reynolds built this frame structure in 1738 after purchasing the land from Henry Knowles. Reynolds was grandfather of Elisha Reynolds Potter who served for some thirty years in the Rhode Island legislature, was four times elected to the federal Congress, and in 1818 was unsuccessful candidate for the governor of this state. But the house is remembered more for its legacy after it departed the Reynolds family. South Kingstown’s first newspaper, The Rhode Island Advocate, was published here. Its successor was the South County Journal in 1854, which became the Narragansett Times that continues to operate out of Wakefield. Beginning in 1888 the building was used to house visitors to Kingston, including students attending the state agricultural school that became the University of Rhode Island. One early visitor was Viennese opera star Pauline Lucca who came to rest in Kingston after a strenuous performance run in New York City. She enjoyed her stay so much she requested the inn be called the Lucca House. In 1911 the Tavern Hall Club, an organization of students, faculty and village residents began meeting here. In 1923 the club became institutional sponsor of Boy Scout Troop 1, Kingston, one of the oldest continuously operating boy scout troops in America.
CROSS THE STREET TO THE NORTH SIDE OF KINGSTOWN ROAD AND TURN LEFT.
South County Art Association Annex
2579 Kingstown Road
This building was constructed in 1759, shortly after Little Rest became the county seat. It served as a private school for some time.
2587 Kingstown Road
Christopher Helme was born in Sutton, England in 1603 and died in Warwick in 1650, leaving four young sons and beginning a long line of descent that would one day include President Jimmy Carter. Helme came to Rhode Island with the Gortonists after Samuel Gorton was banished from Massachusetts for his radical beliefs. Helme was a prosperous farmer who was under constant scrutiny of the suspicious authorities and awaiting trial when he died. This family home was built in 1802. Since 1944 it has been the home of the South County Art Association that organized in 1929.
Kingston Free Library
2605 Kingstown Road
Although the legislators wouldn’t recognize it today, this was one of Rhode Island’s original state houses when the General Assembly rotated its meetings among the five counties between 1776 and 1791. When Kingston was dropped from the rotation it reverted to its original use as the county courthouse. The building was constructed in 1775 using posts and beams hewn from the thick forests nearby. For its 100th birthday the courthouse received a Victorian makeover highlighted by a French Empire-style mansard roof supported by an abundance of decorative brackets. The original belfry was the plopped on top of the new roof. The new look couldn’t forestall the march of time, however, and in 1895 a new courthouse was built in West Kingston. The first floor was converted into the town library and the second floor became a community meeting hall. For its 200th birthday, in 1974, the old courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Little Rest Archives
2605 Kingstown Road
The original King’s County Court House was built across the street in 1752. All that remains of its existence are the court records and in 1857 this fireproof granite vault was constructed to store them. After the courthouse moved to West Kingston in 1894, the records went with them. So too, apparently, did the combination to a large safe in the back of the building which no one today knows how to unlock or the contents inside. Under the auspices of the Kingston Free Library Association the little building became the Little Rest Museum.
TURN RIGHT ON UPPER COLLEGE ROAD.
University of Rhode Island
Upper College Road
What would one day become the University of Rhode Island was established at Kingston in 1888 as the Rhode Island Agricultural School and Agricultural Experiment Station. For the cost of $5000 Oliver Watson’s 140-acre farm was purchased for the new campus. The first graduating class in 1892 had 17 members. In short order the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park and the most famous landscape architect in the country, was retained to design the grounds. It was their vision that created the school’s Quadrangle and the tradition of locally quarried gray granite buildings. To tour the Rhode Island University campus continue on Upper College Road through the granite World War I Memorial Gateway. From an enrollment of 562, Rhode Island State College sent 334 men to war. Twenty-three were killed. In addition to the Quadrangle, some of the buildings to look for include Oliver Watson’s farmhouse, still standing from the 1790s and the oldest building on campus (Farmhouse Road) and Lippitt Hall, a Tudor-style granite building constructed as a drill hall and gymnasium. Named for sitting governor, Charles W. Lippitt, the recently restored building was completed in 1897 as the third building to populate the Quadrangle.
RETURN TO UPPER COLLEGE ROAD AND WALK BACK TO KINGSTOWN ROAD. CROSS THE STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.