There's a lot more history behind the answer to this month's "Where Am I?" question than most probably realize. #WhereAmI #MiddletownRI
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“WHERE AM I ANSWER?” — SEPTEMBER 2022
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (SEPTEMBER 15, 2022) – Unique architectural elements are abound across Middletown.
Whether they’re in myriad of private residences or public buildings like Middletown Town Hall, the community is rich with diverse, beautiful structures.
The oft overlooked large stone semicircle supporting the railroad tracks on the west side of town along Burma Road just south of the intersection with Greene Lane is no different.
Local residents Mary K. Martins, Brian Ernest and Dave Eddy knew almost immediately the location of this month’s “Where Am I?” question, sending an email to WhereAmI@MiddletownRI.com with the correct answer. We thank them and everyone else who chimed in with “Where Am I?” — a regular feature intended to help spur interest in some of Middletown’s lesser noticed locations and elements.
Typically, the location is not quite as visible at this time of year. Recently, Naval Station Newport had significant parts of the stretch along Narragansett Bay cleared of brush and undergrowth.
The result was many spots that were overgrown are now are more open and visible from passing cars and bicycles. Previously, a Navy spokesman said the goal of that work was to improve the views and vistas to the bay.
Town Engineer Warren Hall said he didn’t know how old the stone masonry arch bridge was, but it was likely built by workers connected to the railroad tracks there.
At one time during the later 1800s, the rail line was one of the main means of getting from point A to point B across the region.
The piece “History Of The Newport Line” by Donald M. O’Hanley and George L. Kenson said a 50-foot-wide right-of-way from the Massachusetts state line to Newport was offered to the Old Colony Railroad to link Aquidneck Island with the wider rapidly expanding rail system.
The two authors wrote that offer to Old Colony proved to be too enticing to turn down. In 1862, they said the Fall River rail was extended toward Newport and construction went well at first. But when workers tried to build a span over the Sakonnet River, that undertaking was plagued with problems due to tidal currents.
Yet, after stone was used for a bridge base instead of dirt, work again picked back up. So much so that a passenger train ran to Stone Bridge Village in Tiverton in November 1863. Regularly scheduled passenger service began in February 1864, including direct rail service to Boston.
O’Hanley and Kenson wrote the rail line hit its peak in the summers of 1912 and 1913, when 24 trains arrived and departed a day. Unfortunately, that success was relatively short-lived and after World War I, they wrote the number of passenger trips declined steadily.
By the early 1930s, they wrote the new private automobile cut into the number daily trips and by mid-1937, one train served Newport a day. In early 1938, the last passenger train ran to Newport from Boston without any big sendoff.
However, rail freight service to Newport continued every day until the interstate highway network in the 1960s cut into the number of trips, reducing that number to tri-weekly then once a week.
Eventually, the line was abandoned and the state of Rhode Island bought the rights to the line. Today, it isn’t used much other than the Newport Dinner Train and Rail Explorers experience, both providing guests a view of Aquidneck Island from a totally unique perspective.
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/5664/WAI-September-2022