SOUTH KINGSTOWN – As they work to maintain the Kingston Station, to keep its doors open and provide South County with a viable option for transportation, the Friends of the Kingston Station are preserving a piece of history, a land mark of southern Rhode Island.
The historic Kingston Railroad Station, located in West Kingston, was formerly owned and operated by the Penn Central Station Railroad, but in 1973 the railroad company reached its peak and fell into bankruptcy, according to Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Kingston Station Frank Heppner. The Kingston Railroad Station, the single South County station bringing passengers to and from Boston, New York and Washington was falling into disrepair until owners Reverend John Hall and Barbara Dirlam of the University of Rhode Island decided to do something.
Hall and Dirlam organized a group of local community members, who contacted the railroad company requesting if something could be done for the maintenance of the station. When Penn Central Station said they did not have enough funds to provide maintenance, the group of local community members, who called themselves the Friends of the Kingston Station said they would volunteer.
The railroad company, however said hiring volunteers would be impossible because maintenance jobs were supposed to be done by union workers. Heppner said the Friends pointed out that the union workers would never do the jobs because there was not any money to hire them anyway. The Friends then suggested a fundraiser to pay for the union workers. During many negotiations with the railroad company, unions and now Amtrak, who took over the station after Penn Central, agreed to give the Friends a waiver for the work to be done to restore the Kingston Station.
For one week in June 1973, Heppner said 100 people crawled throughout the station, restoring the historic building to its finest. In 1977 to protect the station, the Friends of the Kingston Station worked to have the railroad station placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends succeeded. They did what they came to do; restore and protect the station. In 1977, the volunteer group voted itself out of existence. They believed their job was done.
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