Class and Leisureat America's First ResortNewport, Rhode Island1870-1914

Newport's Nickel Trolleys

Transportation companies facilitated Newport's growth, transforming the town from a fashionable resort into a popular destination for people of all classes. Newport's trolley lines facilitated this development.

Opening Newport to the Masses
Trolley at Easton's Beach
Trolley at
Easton's Beach
In July 1889, the Newport Street Railway opened Rhode Island's first electric street car on Commercial Wharf. [1] The company soon found that the line could not accommodate the numbers of summer travelers attempting to use the new trolleys to get to Easton's Beach.

To answer the increased demand for service, the City Council constructed spurs along its original routes to lengthen the line and offer service to other areas. The crowds responded, as an article in the August 31, 1889, edition of the Newport Mercury explains:

"Tomorrow, the old Colony Railroad is bringing from Boston the largest excursion of the season. At noon Friday, 3,000 tickets had been sold. 60 to 70 cars will be required to haul the patrons. Yesterday, two excursions came in. One was from the Providence division and the other from the new road between Randolph and Somerset. Wednesday, the Old Colony brought in a large excursion from Plymouth and vicinity in 27 cars.' — 'The street cars continue to do a rushing business, thousands of passengers being carried every day. Last Sunday was the company's busiest day. Over 9,000 fares were collected on the two lines, the Broadway route alone turning in about 4,000." [2]
By 1893, electric trolleys ran from Commercial Wharf and Broadway to Easton's Beach, Morton Park, and Middletown. The fare was 5 cents and included passage anywhere on the lines. Newport's trolley lines were short, and trolleys could go no faster than 10 miles per hour through town. As a result, there were sometimes long waits for cars at the ends of routes. [3]

Connecting the Rest of Rhode Island
Newport's trolley system continued to grow in response to the summer tourist demand. A trolley line between Fall River and Newport opened in June 1898, maintained by the Newport and Fall River Street Railway Company. Other lines were added to the Naval Training Station and War College through Farewell, Walnut, and Third Streets.

In June 1904, the Newport and Providence Street Railway connected Newport with Providence via Bristol Ferry. The timing of the trip was as follows: 45 minutes from Washington Square in Newport to the ferry, 20 minutes on the ferry, then another 45 minutes from Bristol to Providence. The trolley ride to Bristol Ferry was 20 cents. The ferry was 10 cents. At 2.25 hours, this became the shortest route from Providence to Newport. [4]

By June 1913, Newport was connected to street car lines in other cities through its Stone Bridge route to Fall River. The trolley system reported 1913 as a profitable year. [5]
Leisure Along the Lines
Boardwalk at Easton's Beach
Boardwalk at
Easton's Beach
Large crowds of summer travelers came to Newport in the early 1900s, and trolley car traffic was heavy.

Some streetcar companies offered leisure activities off their routes to attract these customers. The Newport and Fall River Street Railway Company established Portsmouth's Island Park, a mini beach amusement park that featured a dancing pavilion, a bathing beach, a merry-go-round, and a roller coaster. Newport followed suit in 1913, adding a boardwalk and its own line of amusements at Easton's Beach, which it advertised in guidebooks.

Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001