The View From Swamptown: Automobiles forever changed South County



South County, like the relaxation of the state, waited impatiently, poised for the starter’s pistol, as the first decade of the 20th century got here to a close, and the Age of the car revved its proverbial engines raring to begin. You see, a “automobile in each driveway” became extra than only a recreation changer, it was a global changer, and nothing could ever be identical. Everything of lifestyles right here in South County might be impacted; no nook of the location could be unchanged by using it, from the high society hustle and bustle on the Narragansett Pier to the manufacturing centers in Peace Dale, Lafayette, and Westerly, from the sleepy little seaport villages like Wickford, Galilee, and Saunderstown, to the bucolic farming groups in Exeter, Richmond, and Hopkinton, each corner and cranny in South County might soon be experiencing the simple, unstoppable wave of development that became the horseless carriage.

At the beginning of the century, the car was no longer a good deal more than a curiosity, a status image for the elite of the time. Indeed, in 1904, when Rhode Island issued its first license plates, passenger plate #1 went to politically related Dr. Rowland Robinson of Wakefield, and #2 went to businessman Joshua C. Tucker, owner of the Narragansett Pier employer. Tucker additionally became issued plate #33 and commercial registration code #X2, the second industrial plate inside the nation. Prominent Westerly resident E. R. Lewis became given plate #41 and the earliest commercial plate in Westerly, #X28, went to Albert B. Smith. In Wickford, the primary passenger plate become issued to one of the village’s wealthiest residents, Charles Boyer Reynolds, and its first industrial plate, #X49, went to farmer J. W. Tingley.

However, starting in 1909, with the mass-produced Ford version T, motors went speedy from determined curiosities to perceived requirements. Like the rest of the nation, South County started its staccato, fast-fire, take no prisoners race into the future. The early victims that fell by the wayside have been apparent ones; light rail passenger transportation like the sea View Trolley Line and the Narragansett Pier Railroad had been impacted, after which driven off the road utilizing the automobile’s breakneck pace of growth. Roads and bridges that had served the needs of horses and horse-drawn carriages and wagons for hundreds of years were insufficient before the proverbial windows had been rolled up on the cars that sped alongside the way. Parking was soon top-class anywhere in South County, necessitating modifications in each village from Shannock to North Quidnessett. Waterborne transportation quickly felt the horseless buggies respiratory down their neck as passenger tour dropped precipitously and the newly invented cargo truck ate into their freight sales. No manner around it, the auto changed into triumphing each race and capturing every prize.

160414ind cranstonThe double-edged blade of development that turned into the automobile sliced thru social stratums and village and family values as nicely, impacting South County parents each undoubtedly and negatively, frequently in a single fell swoop. On the one hand, an auto unfolded the sector to the not unusual man, his life, his schooling, and his paintings were now not tied inexorably to the village of his birth; however, that village cohesiveness, that feel of connection that so described what South County turned into, and had been for centuries, turned into forever altered via the auto. whereas soon as, while a villager’s heart turned to romance, he or she would forge an eye around their eligible pals and acquaintances; now they’d just hop off their jalopy and frequently locate actual love outside of the confines of their former comfort quarter. Yes, for higher or for worse, vehicles modified the entirety virtually.

So, those households, parked in front of mother Prentice’s famed Wickford residence at the near of the first decade of the twentieth century, at the same time as they truely ought to have loved their glorious day experience, hadn’t a clue regarding the tumultuous road that lay ahead for them and each different soul in South County as they careened headfirst into the Age of the car.


For all of you who love stories like this, April thirtieth ought to be a red-letter day for your calendar. You notice that’s the day that the 31st annual RI Statewide historical preservation conference rolls into South County in trendy and our very personal “Ye Olde old fashioned & historical” Wickford in particular, for a jam-packed day of records of each Swamp Yankee stripe. Don’t omit our friends; sign up these days at www. At the same time as preregistration has bought out, a few tickets can be launched on April 29. You already know this South County Swamper may be in attendance and that I positive wish you may be, too.
The writer is the North Kingstown town historian. The perspectives expressed right here are his own.
The writer is the North Kingstown city historian. The perspectives expressed right here are his own.