Then and Now

Reaching Out


By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, trolley lines ran from Providence through all of eastern Warwick. The route followed the old Warwick Railroad line to Buttonwoods and went on to Westcott, where there was a power substation to complement the main power base on Manchester Street in Providence. At Westcott the lines connected with the Providence-Riverpoint-Washington line and with the Hope-Crompton line at Riverpoint. In addition, the East Greenwich line, which extended to Wickford, was intersected at Apponaug. In Warwick the trolleys were housed at the Rocky Point and Riverpoint car barns and at the Clyde car barn.

Horace Belcher, writing about the old Warwick and Oakland Beach Railroad, reports that fares were low on the new trolley lone. For passengers without baggage the fare to Auburn was five cents and to Lakewood, Shawomet, Riverview, Bayside and Old Warwick it was 10 cents. For the longer ride to Oakland Beach and Buttonwoods the fare was 15 cents.

Along with the growth and success there were also serious problems. When a head-on collision of two trolley cars on June 10, 1900 occurred in Warwick, resulting in the death of four and the injury of 28 passengers, double tracks and automatic signals were introduced for safety. Working conditions on the trolley lines were very poor. Scott Malloy, in his research on streetcar employees, cites a number of cases where conductors worked under extremely poor conditions. Malloy notes, “Italian workmen were singled out for special discrimination…they worked almost exclusively on the low-paying track gangs.” He says, “They had to bribe the foremen ten dollars to get the job and leave fifty cents thereafter in the boss’ hat on payday.”

There was often extreme overcrowding on the cars, very poor heating in the winter and inadequate ventilation in the summer. Despite these shortcomings, the trolley provided an escape from the bonds that had tied mill workers earlier. With inexpensive and relatively fast transportation, workers no longer had to live in the vicinity of their employment and could travel further to seek higher wages and better working conditions. In addition, the trolley provided the means for workers to leave their hot, crowded homes in the summer for a day of pleasure at Warwick’s shore resorts. This demand for transportation resulted in a half-mile line built from Grant’s Station, below Longmeadow, to Rocky Point, and another from Buttonwoods to Westcott. In the summers, “bloomers,” or open cars, were in use and thoroughly enjoyed on the trolley from Arctic to Oakland Beach via Toll Gate Road and Apponaug.

When the trolley was at its peak, there was a natural alliance between the proprietors of the trolley lines and the owners of the amusement parks. The electric streetcar lines very often advertised the attractions of the parks and, on occasion, contributed their own personnel to help build and maintain the resorts. The parks, in return, encouraged people to come by trolley and often included trolley schedules. The powerful drawing cards of the concerts, clambakes, dances and popular amusements increased the need for more trolley cars in the summer. Two of the resorts that prospered greatly by the trolley in the early 20th century were Rocky Point and Oakland Beach.

In time, the automobile and the bus brought about an end to the trolley car. By the 1930s, streetcar companies found the long lines to the suburbs were not economically feasible and the streetcars were operated only on an intra-city basis in Providence.

In 1911, R.A. Harrington purchased Rocky Point Amusement Park from the Providence, Fall River & Newport Steamship Company and ended wild speculation concerning the future of the park.


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